02/23/2018, 15.53

In Punjab, fear spreads among Christians after young man is charged with blasphemy

Kamran Chaudhry

About 800 Christian families have left their homes in the village of Dhir after Patras Masih, 18, was accused of sharing an offensive post on Facebook. Police watch over empty homes to prevent robberies. For priest, “Illiterate people do not need to buy expensive smartphones as they do not know how to use social media”.

Shahdara (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of Christians have fled their homes in a village in Punjab fearing violence from Muslims. This follows allegations that Patras Masih, an 18-year-old Christian resident in the village of Dhir, near the city of Shahdara, disrespected the prophet Muhammad on Facebook.

An angry mob of members of the Islamic group Tehrik-e-Labaik Ya Rasool took to the streets on Monday, calling for the young man be executed. He has now been arrested and charged with blasphemy, whilst his family has gone into hiding.

AsiaNews tried to contact some of the families that fled, but no one wanted to make any statements. In all, around 800 families escaped from their homes. Through the empty streets of the village, homes are bolted and padlocked.

Christians fear for their lives after Muslims staged a protest that lasted at least 12 hours. Masih, who says he is innocent, is accused of sharing a Facebook post showing a person on top of the Roza-e-Rasool, Muhammad’s mausoleum in Madinah.

The assistant parish priest at St Luke Catholic Church in Shahdara visited the Christian families in the area. A group from the National Justice and Peace Commission (NCJP) also visited the village.

“I have not returned home since the protests,” said Farhat, an intelligence officer speaking to AsiaNews. “We are protecting the empty Christian houses from thieves. The culprit has been arrested and the matter is resolved. We are calling on community leaders to urge their members to return”.

According to Father Qaiser Feroz, director of the Workshop Audio Visual Education studio, the national Catholic communication centre, Patras Masih is innocent. “We strongly condemn the false blasphemy accusation against him,” he said.

NCJP director Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani said that he tried his best to prevent the registration of First Information Report in this case.

In his view, “Illiterate people do not need to buy expensive smartphones as they do not know how to use social media. We are urging [members of] the community to delete controversial images/posts as soon as they receive them.”

“Everybody has to be careful and respect the state religion,” Fr Yousaf noted. “I believe our connections in Muslim community and friends in majority can help in such incidents.”

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