04/04/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Accused of blasphemy, an 11 year old boy risks the death penalty

by Qaiser Felix
Toba Tek Singh police open an investigation into blasphemy claims against five local Christians, including 11 year old Daniel. Local activists and priests say the case has been fabricated to target innocent people who have nothing. Christian families barricade themselves in their homes, fear could affect Holy Week celebrations

Toba Tek Singh (AsiaNews) – Among those “guilty of blasphemy” is 11 year old Daniel and the Punjab police are searching the entire province for him.  The group of five is accused of disrespecting Mohammad and of having desecrated pieces of paper bearing the prophets name.   

One of the five, Salamat Masih, has been arrested while other four are at large. The will all be tried under article 295 C of Pakistan’s Penal Code, the infamous blasphemy law, which provide life imprisonment and death sentence respectively for situations such as these.

Fr Bonnie Mendes a priest of Toba Tek Singh told AsiaNews that “the Christians had done nothing. It is a totally fabricated case against innocent Christians”. Fr bonnie further added that “the situation in the area is tense and people are scared although local police claim the situation is under control”.

Shahbaz Bhatti, chairman All Pakistan Minorities Alliance had strongly condemned the blasphemy charges against five Christians. He urged the government to provide full protection to Christians in TTS and demanded for a judicial inquiry of the incident.  Talking to AsiaNews he said “there is only one solution to stop the misuse of this law and that is total repeal of the law.  Procedural changes are just paper work and bring no relief to poor people who are still being trapped by extremists just because of this law”. 

Fr Mendes explained that it all boils down to a quarrel between families.  Local Muslims were offended by the behaviour of the five Christians and during a procession agreed to report them.  Not content, they also tried to attack the five during a march.  The five saved themselves by running away, but one of the Christians present– Ratan Masih, disabled – did not succeed in fleeing far and was savagely beaten.  He is now in hospital.  

The day after Salamat Masih’s arrest, local Christians began a campaign asking the authorities to intervene.  Moreover, they explain there have been substantial procedural errors made during the, course of investigations: the police has not even investigated the accusations made against the Christians; they simply arrested them on the hearsay of the Muslim’s report.  

The government has promised full collaboration and has sent some police to patron the Christian schools and Churches in the area, to avoid extremist reprisals.  The delegation then met with some influential Muslim leaders, explaining their situation to them.  

Currently, however, the Christian community of  Toba Tek Singh is living in fear.  Salamat’s family fears for his life, for he risks being attacked by yellow inmates while in prison.  Family members avoid leaving their homes, given that the accusations of blasphemy could also be used against them.  Despite this the local community is preparing for Easter celebrations which they hope they will be able to conduct without further violence.

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