04/17/2013, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Faisalabad: Muslim leaders defend young Christian against false blasphemy accusations

Shafique Khokhar
Philip Masih was accused of removing a poster on a shop wall by a Muslim neighbour who got armed men together to punish the alleged blasphemer. The police and the authorities successfully prevented a violent escalation. The two had argued before and the Muslim man wanted revenge.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - Philips Masih, a 19-year-old Christian man, and his family are still in hiding at a safe house, following blasphemy charges brought against him, but his case appears to be ending on a positive note thanks to the intervention of police and some Muslim leaders. The Masihs will remain in hiding since Islamic extremist groups vowed reprisals until the situation has calmed down. Based on past experiences with the 'black' law, security forces have increased controls and deployed agents in riot gear to prevent possible attacks or anti-Christian pogroms.

The case in question began last Saturday in Daudnagar, Faisalabad (Punjab), scene of a serious anti-Christian incident in 2010 in which two Protestant clergymen, Revs Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid Emmanuel, were shot dead by extremist gunmen outside a courthouse where they were on trial for blasphemy.

This time, the victim of the 'black law' was a shopkeeper, Philip Masih, who sells electric material. He was accused of blasphemy by one of his neighbours, Muhammad Jameel, because he had tried to remove the poster (pictured) of a Muslim conference from a wall in his store. When the Christian man began to take the notice down, Jameel told him to stop and went out to get some armed Muslims to strike at him.

Only the timely intervention of the police prevented a mass attack against the Christian minority. Agents in fact took Masih and his family to a safe place where they have been hiding for the past four days.

Meanwhile, Muhammad Jameel and his acolytes tried to file a complaint against the young Christian man based on Article 295 B of the Pakistan Penal Code.

However, as a result of the testimony of some local residents and the decisive intervention of Islamic religious leaders, including Muhammad Rehan, who is a member of the local Committee for Interfaith Dialogue, and Mufti Muhammad Zia Madni, the charges were dropped.

From the investigation, it appears that Philips Masih and Muhammad Jameel had had a disagreement. The Christian man was renting commercial space owned by the Muslim man, which he used his store. However, he was forced to close because he was late in paying the rent.

When he finally came up with the rent money, he took all his stuff from the store and complained to the owner for loss business. The latter did not take it very well and an argument broke out between the two.

Jeol Aamir Sahotra, a Christian and a former member of the Provincial Assembly, spoke to AsiaNews about the incident, condemning it and all those "who use the blasphemy law for personal gain."

At the same time, he wanted to thank "Muslim religious leaders, the local administration and police for settling the matter in a peaceful manner."

Remembering Shahbaz Bhatti's sacrifice and the fate of Asia Bibi, who is still in jail pending appeal, the Christian politician noted that he is still the object of death threats because of his fight against the 'black law'. Despite it though, the government has recently decided to take away his escort.

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