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    » 04/02/2014, 00.00

    PAKISTAN

    Catholics and Muslims fasting and praying together for Asia Bibi and Sawan Masih

    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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    See also

    20/12/2012 PAKISTAN
    Rimsha Masih: My Christmas close to Asia Bibi and victims of blasphemy
    "I'm happy," says the girl, "I would like as a gift for the holidays nice clothes and sneakers." The desire to return to school, but the problem of her safety remains. Her father thanks Jesus, Paul Bhatti and the government, but warns: "we feel in danger." Rimsha and family send greetings to Pope Benedict XVI and wish him and all Christians of the world, "Merry Christmas."

    05/04/2007 PAKISTAN
    Life of 11-year-old Christian in danger even though he is not charged with anything
    Blasphemy accusations have been made against five Christians, the youngest a 16-year-old, after a quarrel between boys that was blamed on the 11-year-old. Local Christians are afraid that he might become the target of violence.

    21/12/2010 PAKISTAN
    Asia Bibi affair: Pakistani Christians to march on Christmas Day against blasphemy law
    The High Court in Lahore will soon set a date for Asia Bibi’s appeal. Christians will take to the streets in Lahore to demand the law’s repeal. “The government will take all appropriate measures” in order “to stop growing incidents of misuse of the blasphemy law,” Pakistan president says.

    29/05/2006 PAKISTAN
    Without evidence police arrest Christian on blasphemy charges
    A Christian from Karachi is arrested for allegedly sending blasphemous cellphone messages "as revenge for last month's attacks against churches by Muslims." Human rights activists demand that he not be remanded into police custody because too many people die in prison without trial.

    09/10/2006 PAKISTAN
    Two Catholics arrested for blasphemy against the Qur'an
    James Masih and Buta Masih, both 70, are accused of burning some pages of the Qur'an. The two illiterate men are jailed despite the lack of witnesses. The Bishop of  Faisalabad protests the vulnerability Pakistani Christians must endure. He calls on the faithful to pray for those jailed on the basis of lies.



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