05/11/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Sialkot: Muslim businessman uses blasphemy law against Christian rival

by Jibran Khan
Gulzar Masih and his son Suleman own a bookstore. They were forced to flee to avoid being attacked by a mob. Both are accused of burning a copy of the Qur‘an. In reality, they were set up by the older Masih’s Muslim business partner, who was envious of their success. Catholic priest bemoans the abuses linked to the ‘black law’ and warns that “extremist elements are getting stronger” in Pakistan.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Once more, Pakistan’s ‘black law’ strikes again. A Muslim businessman has used the infamous blasphemy law against a rival and former associate, who happens to be Christian. More and more, the law is being used to persecute the country’s Christian minority or settle personal scores. The victim is Gulzar Masih, from Sialkot, who owns a bookstore. Yesterday, he and his son had to flee town, fearing reprisals by local Muslims who tried to set fire to his shop. Only the intervention of police stopped the attackers.

Ten years ago, Gulzar Masih opened a bookstore in Druman Wala Chowk, a Sialkot neighbourhood, along with a Muslim associate Abdul Rauf. As business increased, they bought a bigger store.

“As soon as the business started growing, Abdul Rauf wanted to take over the business. Some issues started between the partners, and ultimately in 2009 the Delight Book Shop was divided into two shops, Delight Books and New Delight Books,” said Fr Anwar Feroze, who knows the victim. “However, because Gulzar Masih had good contacts with suppliers, his business grew. Rauf was not happy with that and quarrelled with his old partner.”

Yesterday, there was a showdown. Gulzar Masih’s son Suleman went to open the store and found some burnt pages of the Qur‘an under the shutter. After witnessing the scene, employees of Abdul Rauf began to shout, accusing Gulzar and his son of the deed.

According to Fr Naeem Taj, a priest involved in defending Christians, the burnt pages were deliberately planted in order to frame the Christian businessman and his rival was behind it to drive his competitor out of business. “The blasphemy law is being once more as a pretext to settle a personal score,” the clergyman said.

Upon hearing shouts from the Muslim bookseller, a group of Muslims gathered in order to attack Suleman Masih, who was however able to flee and inform his father. In the meantime, the mob went over to the shop owned by the Christian man to set it on fire. Police intervened in time to prevent the fire and disperse the crowd, but they did not file any charges for the attempted arson.

In light of the situation, father and son have disappeared, leaving behind their business.

Fr Javed Gill, parish priest at the Saint Peter Catholic Church in Abbotobad, scene of the recent US raid against Osama bin Laden, has but hard words for what is going on. “The abusive use of the blasphemy law has increased in the past few years,” he lamented. “The issue must be addressed. Unfortunately, extremist elements are becoming stronger in our society.”

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