LAHORE, Pakistan: Muslims in Pakistan have told 300 impoverished villagers they must either produce a Christian accused of blasphemy, leave the area, convert to Islam or be killed, sources said.
Imran Masih, a 28-year-old resident of Chak 44 village in Punjab Province’s Mandi Bahauddin District, was accused on April 19 of keeping a ‘blasphemous’ video clip on his mobile phone. Area Christians said he is an illiterate man with no knowledge of the Internet.
Tensions flared after a local Islamist outfit issued a Fatwa (Islamic edict) against Masih and sanctioned his killing. Masih, a sweeper at a rural health center in nearby Bosaal, and his family have since fled the village. Some 44 Christian families are now left at the mercy of the 2,000-plus Muslim population, which has imposed a social boycott on the community after police thwarted an attempt to burn down their homes on May 6.
While some details surrounding the blasphemy accusation remain unexplained as Masih and his family were not available for comment, a Christian who represents the villagers told sources that Masih was accused of possessing a video clip offensive to Islam. Amir Yaqub said that Masih was working at the health center on April 19 when a Muslim pharmacy worker identified only as Bilal arrived.
‘According to Masih, he had left his cell phone on a desk for charging the battery, and when he came to the room he saw Bilal and a couple of other men inspecting the device,’ Yaqub said. ‘Masih told me that as soon as they saw him, the three men accused him of possessing a blasphemous video in his phone. The men later pounced on the Christian sweeper and beat him black and blue despite denials that he did not know anything about the video clip.’
The Muslim assailants locked Masih in a room, Yaqub said, and from there Maish contacted his family through a second phone, informing them about the accusation against him.
‘The family contacted the local Catholic church committee, and a delegation from the village immediately left for the health center where Masih was being held hostage,’ he said, adding that he was part of the team that went to rescue Masih. ‘We assured the Muslims, including the doctor in-charge there, that no Christian could even think of committing blasphemy against Islam’s prophet, and that Masih, an illiterate man with no knowledge of the Internet, had been wrongly accused by his colleagues of downloading a sacrilegious sermon.’
Yaqub said that during the attack, Masih’s phone was destroyed and that he found out about the Fatwa when he went to work the next day.
‘He immediately fled the center and went into hiding, fearing that he might get killed by angry Muslims,’ he said.
Bilal and other Islamist elements then reached out to the mosque committee of their village in Chak 44 and informed them about the incident. While Masih’s family, still in the village, was told to produce him before the committee, a local Muslim businessman announced a 1 million rupee (US$9,500) bounty on Masih’s head, dead or alive.
One of the mosque committee members, Riaz Ahmed Dhadhra, had proposed burning down area Christians’ homes if they did not hand Masih over to them, he said.
‘Fayyaz Ashraf, a local Muslim who is sympathetic towards the poor Christians, tried to stop the mob from attacking our homes, but he was beaten up and left for unconscious,’ Yaqub said. ‘Ashraf telephoned me from his cell phone and asked us to immediately vacate our houses as the situation was going out of hand. I informed the other Christian families, besides calling the police helpline.’
A large police contingent arrived in the village just in time to prevent the mob from burning down their homes, he said. Some Christian families had already left the village by then, fearing a repeat of attacks on Gojra in 2009 and Lahore’s Joseph Colony three years ago.
Police Doubt Accusation
Inspector Zafar Iqbal, officer in-charge at the local police station, said that none of Masih’s colleagues admitted to having seen the alleged video on his cell phone. Each one tried to put the onus of providing evidence against Masih on the other, he said.
‘It’s quite clear that no incident of blasphemy has taken place,’ he said. ‘I have refused to register a case against Imran Masih and also warned the local Muslims and the mosque committee of stern legal action if they try to harm the Christians or their homes. I hope there will be no incident of violence in the village because of our intervention.’
The officer had immediately sent a police party to the village when informed about the mob’s plan to burn down Christian homes, he said.
Iqbal said he had no knowledge of the Christians’ claim regarding a social boycott against them.
Source: Morning Star News
As you pray for Masih and his family, if you haven’t done so yet please sign our current campaign petition calling for the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws http://chn.ge/23UKCTB