Action Lauded by Human Rights Groups
By ICC's Pakistan Correspondent
International Christian Concern
Christian leaders and human rights activists have lauded Pakistani police for rescuing several Christians accused of blasphemy and for controlling the violent situation that followed the accusation against Christians in late June. According to media reports, several Christians were accused of committing blasphemy on June 30 in Makki village in the district of Sheikhupura, about 21 miles from Lahore, Pakistan.Local sources informed International Christian Concern (ICC) that a poor Christian family in Sheikupura was accused of desecrating the Quran when they used a piece of a banner from an educational institution as a floor mat. The banner carried a phrase in Arabic from the Hadith meaning, "Oh God increase me in my knowledge".
A local Muslim cleric reportedly provoked his followers into attacking the Christians, named Owais Qamar, his wife Rukhsana, and his sister Rehana, after claiming that the banner being used as a floor mat was insulting the Quran.
After beating the victims, the mob shaved the victims' heads, blackened their faces, and paraded them around the village on donkeys. The display ended when police arrived and prevented the Muslim mob from killing the Christians. Qamar and his family were quickly taken to safety by police and were advised not to return to their village. Two of the clerics who incited the mob were later arrested.
While talking with ICC, Peter Jacob, Executive Director of Center for Social Justice, welcomed the change in police behavior and in the will of the political leadership to keep harmony between the two communities. Jacob said, "This is very encouraging to see that some of the recent blasphemy allegations have been effectively handled and snapped by police in Sheikupura, Lahore and Mirpurkhas in Sindh during the running year."
"Although I have to be very careful to see it as a precursor of any change in part of the government, it is showing that [the] government is prepared to handle such allegations. They want to handle it administratively which is [a] good and welcome change, yet we would like to see an approach towards legal reforms as well as political response,"Jacob continued.
Father Cecil Paul, Chairman of Nai Zindge Welfare Foundation, said, "It is an encouraging step by the Punjab police that they rescued the blasphemy accused and provided security to the Christian families in the neighborhood."
"However, to curb religious extremism and misuse of religion, the administration has to do a lot more for a peaceful and secular society.In the same manner, police should investigate the incident irrespective of political and religious pressures and [investigate] the cleric for false accusations according to the law," the Chairman demanded.
Attaurehman Saman, a human rights activist, hailed the police for their professional intervention in this sensitive situation saying, "We appreciate [the] positive and result oriented attitude of police in a village in Shiekhupura as well as in Sandha in Lahore in May where police defused [a] situation and protected the Christian community before it turning it into another Joseph Colony and Kot Radha Kishan where mob set hundreds of houses on fire and rousted a Christian couple for blasphemy accusation."
"All of the state departments, particularly officials of law enforcing agencies, should be vigilant enough to tackle these situations professionally rather becoming part of the emotionally charged sections. The positive and logical attitude displayed by police officers should be followed by others, which would carve the way to build a tolerant and peaceful society," Attaurehman commented.
The police refused to file an FIR (First Information Report) against the accused Christian family before moving them to an unknown location for security. Local media highlighted the statement made by District Police Officer Sohail Zafar Chattha. Zafar said, "I would not register a case because no blasphemy has been committed, but I have registered a case against the cleric and 400 others for inciting violence and endangering the lives of the couple."
For many Christians in Pakistan, the police action in this case is seen as a glimmer of hope that religious minorities will be treated fairly, even when a religious minority is accused of blasphemy. Pray that this trend of tolerance and justice continues.
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RM-SAsia@persecution.org
# # #
You are free to disseminate this news story. We request that you reference International Christian Concern (ICC) and include our web address, www.persecution.org. ICC is a Washington D.C.-based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides Awareness, Advocacy, and Assistance to the worldwide persecuted Church. For additional information or for an interview, contact ICC at 800-422-5441.