04/02/2014, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Catholics and Muslims fasting and praying together for Asia Bibi and Sawan Masih

by Jibran Khan
Peaceful demonstrations took place today in Lahore and Islamabad to show solidarity with "persecuted Christians" and demand justice for the victims of the "black law". For a Lahore priest, the rallies are an "encouraging" response of civil society. "Disgusted" by the situation, a Muslim activist expresses his in solidarity for "our Christian brothers and sisters."

Lahore (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Church of Pakistan today celebrated a Wednesday of Prayer and Fasting on behalf of Sawan Masih and Asia Bibi, two victims of the Asian country's controversial blasphemy laws.

Both have been sentenced to death and are awaiting for their appeal process to start. Meanwhile, several civil society organisations and ordinary believers have joined the initiative "in favour of the persecuted Christians".

Today activists and religious leaders led various peaceful demonstrations in Lahore and Islamabad in "a sign of kinship and solidarity."

Asia Bibi has become a symbol of the struggle against the "black law". Since she was sentenced to death in November 2010, she has been on death row, held in solitary confinement for her own security. After several delays and long prevarication, her appeal trial should start on 14 April.

Sawan Masih, a 26-year-old Christian from Lahore, was recently convicted in a lower court, on false charges made by the person with whom he had a personal disagreement.

His alleged actions led to a targeted attack minority Christians in the Joseph Colony in Lahore in which Islamic extremists set fire to hundreds of homes and two churches.

The Lahore High Court is set to hear his appeal on 25 July 2014. 

Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr Asher Arshad, from the Archdiocese of Lahore, noted the "encouraging response " that came in recent days from civil society groups who decided to respond positively to a call for fast and prayer on behalf "of Asia Bibi and Sawan Masih, both persecuted because for their faith."

In fact, "As we pray and fast" for the two victims, "we join our Christian brothers and sisters in solidarity," said Aqeel Mehadi, a human rights activist from Lahore.

"As a Muslim," he added, "I am disgusted by what has happened and what continues to happen."

Speaking about Ali Jinnah, the Founding Father of modern Pakistan, he said that the latter always stressed in his speeches the principle of religious freedom, imagining a liberal and multicultural nation where all citizens have "the right to practice their religion and not be imprisoned because of their faith."

"It is indeed sad to see that what has become of Pakistan," said Fr John Barkat, a priest and activist in Lahore.

"Unfortunately a handful of fanatics have promoted intolerance and paved the way for sectarian violence; as a result we have witnessed incidents like those in Shanti Nagar, Gojra and Joseph Colony. Let us therefore fast and pray for the persecuted in Pakistan."

In a statement, the Masihi Foundation and Life for All Pakistan also said, "Blasphemy remains a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan. The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used to settle personal vendettas [. . .]. We peacefully protest against Masih's sentence and demand justice for Asia Bibi."

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