10/09/2006, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Two Catholics arrested for blasphemy against the Qur'an

by Qaiser Felix
James Masih and Buta Masih, both 70, are accused of burning some pages of the Qur'an. The two illiterate men are jailed despite the lack of witnesses. The Bishop of  Faisalabad protests the vulnerability Pakistani Christians must endure. He calls on the faithful to pray for those jailed on the basis of lies.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistani police arrested two Catholic men from Faisalabad for allegedly burning a copy of the Qur'an despite the fact that their accusers did not see them commit the act itself.

Their arrest spared them a possible lynching by a mob of 500 Muslims who had surrounded the house in Munir Park where James and Buta Masih, both 70, lived.

A catholic attorney, Khalil Tahir, took on their case. He told AsiaNews that "the police locked up in an isolation cell rather than go before a judge for fear that extremists might attack them".

Section 295 (B) of Pakistan's Penal Code, more commonly known as the 'blasphemy law', imposes life in prison or the death penalty for desecrating Islam's holy scriptures.

It has often been used to eliminate individuals involved in private disputes.

Although it was recently amended to include the death penalty for those guilty of making false accusations of blasphemy, any one who defames Islam should go to the gallows.

A local priest, Fr Yaqoob Yousaf, told AsiaNews that "the Muslim employer of James Masih's daughter Nargis, who works as a maid for his family, gave her items that she might reuse. She took them to her father's house. After sorting out things they kept some for themselves and sold some in the market. Her father burnt waste papers in the street. Both are illiterate and are unaware whether any pages from a holy book was among them".

More importantly, no one say them burn pages from the Qur'an.

Arshad Mubarak, a local Muslim, made a complaint at the local police station against James Masih and his neighbour and friend Buta Masih for burning the Qur'an in the street. He told the police he didn't actually see the two accused burning the Qur'an but that other local people told him that that was what they were doing.

However, Father Yaqoob said that the plaintiff was trying to get James Masih to sell his house to no success and that the accusation gave him the opportunity "teach him a lesson for refusal".

Mgr Joseph Coutts, bishop of Faisalabad, told AsiaNews that "these incidents show who vulnerable Christians are in Muslim Pakistan," adding that "we are paying a heavy price for unintentional offences".

For this reason, he is calling on the "international community to pray for the two men, their families and attorneys."

"Let us not forget," he said, that Shahid Masih, who was arrested on the basis of lies, in still in prison".

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