Lahore (AsiaNews) - The situation of Christians in Punjab is becoming more critical, Fr Joseph Xavier, from Lahore tells AsiaNews. "The incidents against Christians are increasing at an alarming rate. Central Punjab is the area most affected. Over the past three years there have been over 35 incidents, and most of them have not been reported because of the influence that local landlords have in the areas, and the influence of local MPs. They hold police and judges in the palm of their hands; the roam freely after having killed or robbed. This issue requires special attention; otherwise this problem will become even more frequent. Christians are not safe, many are forced to convert to Islam to save themselves. Also, if the Ministry of minority groups is abolished, what will happen to minorities in Pakistan?".
The most recent episode involves a young man killed by his Muslim employers, who were reported to police, after public outcry, after the police dallied, reluctant to take up the case. Imran Masih, 24, a resident of Ghakkar Mandi Gujranwala, was killed by employers, who say he committed suicide. Imran Masih, married for eight months, worked as a driver for two Muslims, Bashir Ahmed Cheema and Munir Ahmed Cheema. Imran’s father, Lal, had held the job before but because of age he passed to his son.
On February 5, Imran was unable to go to work because he felt sick. The next day he went to work. It seems there was a verbal confrontation with Munir Ahmed Cheema. And immediately after Imran was attacked and killed. Munir Cheema sought the help of some friends, and Imran's body was hung from the ceiling, and his father, Lal, was told his son had killed himself.
Lal Masih received her son's body, covered in blood, and with clear signs of torture. Lal Masih told AsiaNews: "My son was killed by these animals. Cheema and his son used to insult me every day, they said that we Christians were their slaves. They have abused my son, he responded and then they killed him. There are signs of torture on the body. " Lal Masih went to the police to complain, but the assistant sub-inspector (ASI), Zubair Cheema, refused to accept the "Fir" (First Information Report) due to Bashir Ahmed Cheema’s influence in the area. The neighbours, however, hadheard noises and voices of people who insulted Imran, and then attacked him.
Apparently the Christian residents of Nut Kallan and areas near Mandi Ghakkar have been targeted by Muslim landlords. In September 2010, a widow was forced to leave Nut Kallan, because a Muslim landowner seized her land and home. Previously, three evangelical pastors were assaulted, but no report was lodged because of the influence of the land owners of the area. In the last year two brothers who were accused of blasphemy were killed outside a courthouse. Asia Bibi is still in prison, waiting for the high court to fix the date of her appeal. Recently two women were attacked with false accusations of blasphemy.
Khalid Gill, chief coordinator of the APM (All Pakistan Minorities Alliance) together with other members of the organization blocked the Great Trunk Road near Ghakkar Mandi, to protest against the police and demand that the report be upheld, and the guilty arrested. Following the protest a police officer Shahid Rana arrived on the spot, and finally filed the report.