Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – Gunmen shot to death Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid Masih Emmanuel, two Christian brothers on trial for blasphemy, as they left court in Faisalabad city (Punjab). The men were handcuffed together when the attack took place; they were on their way back to prison after their court appearance.
When they were arrested on 2 July, the Christian community sounded the alarm bell, fearing possible attacks. Immediately right after their arrest, Muslims organised a protest demonstration, calling for the two Christian brothers to be put to death.
The brothers were killed by two gunmen outside the Faisalabad courthouse, where they had been taken for a hearing. They were an easy target for an execution-style assassination since they were shackled together. A police officer accompanying the two victims was also wounded. The killers escaped.
For several days, Muslim religious leaders in Faisalabad had been fanning the flame of hatred against the two brothers, calling for their death. The two were arrested less than a month ago after leaflets allegedly bearing their names and featuring derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad were found around town.
Local sources said that police were going to clear them because an analysis of the hand-written leaflets showed that the two brothers were not the authors.
For Pakistani Minority Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the accusations against the Christians were fabricated by people who had a grudge against them. One of the two brothers was a Protestant clergyman. Their families maintained their innocence all along.
Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church of Pakistan, slammed the crime without mincing his words. He called the death of the two brothers, plain and simple murder, on allegations of blasphemy. He also renewed a call for the repeal of the law, stressing the “deep concern” of Pakistan’s Christian community. He also criticised the government for doing little to stop the abuses of the law.
Last week, many Christian families fled Faisalabad’s Waris Pura neighbourhood, where the incident allegedly occurred, for fear of violence. On 15 July, Muslim protesters marched through the city calling for the death of the two brothers. The next day, at the end of Friday prayers, Muslim religious leaders egged on the Muslim faithful to demonstrate against the Christians. During the demonstration, the Holy Rosary Catholic Church was attacked with stones and rocks.
The murder of the two brothers, whose arrest had shocked the Christian world, coincides with a visit to Pakistan by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.