05/20/2014, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Sindh, four Christians arrested for "distributing religious materials"

by Jibran Khan
A man and three women were arrested while handing out Christian pamphlets near the Mirpur Khas station. Reported by a local Muslim leader, they were arrested and transferred to prison amid tight security. Serious risk of attacks by extremists. Priest in Karachi: "They were unwise, but there is a pervading lack of religious freedom."

Islamabad ( AsiaNews) - The four evangelical Christians arrested on May 18 on charges of distributing material of a religious nature in the vicinity of the station Mirpur Khas, Sindh province appeared today in court. Those arrested are: Younis Masih, his wife Nazia and two other women named Mary Rose and Kiran. A Muslim religious leader , belonging to the Islamist Sunnat wal Jammat movement, read the material and, realizing that it was Christian literature , immediately reported the four to the police. Shortly after their being detained, a crowd surrounded the train station with the intention of punishing the four. In order to prevent further accidents and to maintain control of the situation , the police ordered their immediate arrest and escorted the group to the nearest barracks . Prosecutors have opened an investigation file , for violations of Article 298-506 A- II -295, which punishes those who dishonor and desecrate religion.

Outside the barracks a group of extremists began to chant slogans and songs praising Islam , while calling for exemplary punishment for those arrested . Now the investigation has been passed on to  the judiciary, ahead of a probable trial; for reasons of public order , the four Christians were transferred to the prison in Hyderabad amid tight security. There is currently no more information regarding the four Christians and whether they were operating in the name of or on behalf of any religious organization . Today the judge for preliminary investigations ordered their detention and adjourned the trial to Friday 23 May, pending a completion of the investigation. They are likely to be tried for inciting unrest of a religious nature.

Fr. Arshad John of the Archdiocese of Karachi, engaged in the protection of minority rights, says "The claims that the religious minorities are free to practice and preach their religion, is clearly evident from this act. Although the act of distributing the religious material and preaching in such areas is not very wise, in the past such cases have produced unfortunate results. We pray for the group and hope they will be released soon."

With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia. About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent). Violence against ethnic and religious minorities is commonplace across the country, with Shia Muslims and Christians as the main target, with things getting worse. Dozens of episodes , including targeted attacks against entire communities - such as in Gojra in 2009 or Joseph Colony Lahore last year - or places of worship  (Peshawar in September last year) or abuses against individuals ( Sawan Masih and Asia Bibi, Rimsha Masih or the young Robert Fanish Masih, who also died in his cell), are often perpetrated under the pretext of the blasphemy laws.

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