04/27/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Mob and police torture Catholic man accused of blasphemy

by Qaiser Felix
Without any evidence angry Muslims torture Sattar Masih, 28, for allegedly blaspheming against Muhammad. Police moves in but only to arrest him. He was supposed to get married the following day.

Kotri (AsiaNews) – A mob of Muslims tortured a Catholic man on April 13 in Kotri, Sindh province, accusing him of writing blasphemous words against Muhammad. When the Police intervened, it arrested the tortured man. In prison he was tortured again in order to get him to “confess.” According to the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), Sattar Masih, a 28-year-old Catholic man, was arrested by police despite the lack of evidence, put in jail and tortured to get his confession. He was supposed to get married the following day.

Instead, Maulana Mohammad Umer, imam at a local mosque, filed a complaint against Mr Masih under Section 295–A and 295–C (commonly known as the blasphemy law) of the Pakistan Penal Code. Penalties include the death sentence for anyone who offends Islam’s prophet and sacred texts.

The Police also arrested Sattar Masih’s 60-year-old uncle, Mushtaq Masih, and his son, who was later released. Mushtaq Masih, who is employed as a sweeper by the municipal administration, is still in the lock up in the same police station for investigation but was suspended from his job because of his arrest under suspicion of blasphemy.

In piecing together the events that led to the arrest of the two Masih, APMA found that it all started when a group of Muslim men came to Sattar Masih’s house with a piece of paper that had Masih’s picture on it and blasphemous words written against Muhammad in the Urdu language. Although Sattar Masih rejected the allegations, his accusers did not believe him but still they went away.

Later that day Imam Mulana Umer announced during Friday prayers that the mosque had found a sacrilegious paper against the prophet Muhammad in the donation box. The imam then showed the paper to worshippers with Sattar Masih’s photo and address.

Many Muslim worshippers were enraged and marched on Sattar Masih’s house, stormed it and tried to kill him. But before they could act the Kotri police intervened and took Sattar into custody. In jail he was charged with blasphemy and tortured.

APMA chairman Shahbaz Bhatti slammed the police for acting without evidence and before conducting a full investigation into the affair.

“How could any sensible person write those words against the prophet and then leave name and photo, when he knows that punishment of such an act is death,” Mr Bhatti told AsiaNews.

In reality, “Christians and other religious minorities are being subjected to false accusations under the blasphemy law,” he explained. “Often they are murdered in extra judicial killings or languish in prison for years. Victims’ families are forced out of their homes as a result of threats, harassment and a sense of insecurity.” The situation is such that “religious extremists take the law in their own hands and don’t even wait for the courts’ decisions.”

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