10/29/2009, 00.00
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Save Christians and Pakistan from the blasphemy law

by Dario Salvi
The blasphemy law - prison and death sentences for those who offend the Koran or Muhammad - is a tool to eliminate religious minorities. AsiaNews launches an awareness campaign for its repeal. Because of this law, since 2001 at least 50 Christians have been killed, families and entire villages destroyed. In the country Islamic and Christian voices appeal for its cancellation.
Rome (AsiaNews) - Robert Fanish Masih is the latest Christian victim of the blasphemy law in force in Pakistan since 1986. This law punishes with imprisonment or the death those who profane or desecrate the Koran or the prophet Muhammad. It’s enough to accuse a person of this to have him arrested and imprisoned.  A aberrant law and harbinger of discrimination, which "legalizes" violence against religious minorities and whose perpetrators go unpunished in most cases, thanks to the connivance of police and government officials. 20 year old Robert from the village of Jaithikey, not far from the city of Samberial in the district of Sialkot (Punjab), was arrested on Sept. 12 on charges of blasphemy. The day before a crowd of Muslims had gathered around the local church first damaging the building, then setting it on fire. The extremists also looted two houses adjoining the church.
The youth was accused of having "provoked" a girl, of taking a Koran from her hands and "throwing it away". The truth is that wrath of Islamic fundamentalists was provoked by the relationship between the Christian and the Muslim girl of twenty one, the witness who incriminated Fanish, in fact, is the young woman’s mother. Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church (NCJP), made it clear that fundamentalists "will not tolerate a Muslim girl falling in love with a Christian." The night between 12 and 13 September Robert Fanish Masih died in prison, from violenceinflicted upon him. The body of the young man showed signs of deep wounds to the head, caused by an edged weapon. Shortly after the discovery of the corpse, Waqar Ahmad Chohan, an officer of the police district of Sialkot, reported that Fanish "committed suicide in his cell." A theory that has been flatly rejected by many Christian leaders, some of whom saw the young man’s body before the funeral. Nadeem Anthony – a member of the National Commission for Human Rights (HRCP) – immediately filed a report of the case as "legalized homicide", contradicting the police version of "hanging in jail."
The activist then added that Robert "was tortured, after which he died. There are visible signs of beatings and wounds on his body, as is clear from the photographs. " In the days following his death, AsiaNews has received photos of the corpse, confirming the torture inflicted, and that his death had nothing to do with signs of strangulation by hanging. Fanish Masih's funeral, celebrated on 16 September, was marked by tear gas, many injuries and a series of arrests, the police charged the crowd of Christians gathered for the funeral, justifying the harsh attack, by saying that "they wanted to prevent further disorder ". The body was buried in a Catholic cemetery in Sialkot, the district of origin of the young man, where for several days an atmosphere charged with tension reigned.
The accusations of blasphemy often lead to decreeing the destruction of homes and Christian villages. On 30 July a crowd of 3 thousand Muslims attacked and burned the villages of Koriyan to punish an alleged case of blasphemy. On August 1 the fanatics attacked the village of Gojra, killing 7 people, including women and children, burning them alive. The history of recent decades in Pakistan is full of attacks on churches and Christian villages on the grounds of perfectly fabricated blasphemy scandals: Kasur (June 2009), Tias (Karachi, April 2009); Sangla Hill (2005); Shantinagar (1997). The Joint Action Committee for People's Rights (JAC), a Pakistani non-governmental organization that campaigns for human rights in the country, expresses "great concern" about the increasing violence, while the Christian community through appeals – which have so far fallen on deaf ears – for justice to be done; promises of compensation remain unfulfilled
The list of incidence of violence against Christians by Muslim groups, citing a blasphemy, is long and concerns not only Christians but also other minorities, not just individuals but entire towns and villages. Faced with the growth of this gratuitous and petty violence, covered by the cloak of religion, opposing voices that are increasing in strength are beginning to emerge. On 6 October, the Lower House of Parliament Sherry Rehman, former Minister of Information, and Jameela Gilani, both Muslims, called for the repeal of the blasphemy law.  The same day, the Christian MP Akram Masih Gill launched a provocation: "If there is life in prison - he says - for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran, why not introduce a similar punishment for those who shame the name of Christ and the Bible? !”. Confident of this interfaith support, on 25 October, the leaders of Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), which gathers all the Christian organizations in the country, organized a conference in Rawalpindi under the threat of Islamic fundamentalists. The aim was "the total abolition of the blasphemy laws."
In turn, on December 12 and 13 next, the International Minorities Alliance (IMA), a Christian-based organization, launched an "International Conference on Minorities" in Lahore to discuss the future of Pakistan and minorities. Pakistan, which in fact originated as a secular state in defence of all ethnic and religious communities, has become an Islamic republic, which gradually kills minorities, even those most devoted to building the nation. The abolition of the blasphemy laws and all laws against minorities are also the way to true progress of the entire population of Pakistan.
With this special issue, AsiaNews , which has always been attentive to issues of religious freedom and respect for human rights, aims to offer some tools for understanding and also to show solidarity with Christians, Ahmadis and Sikhs against this shameful law.
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See also
"We are optimistic," says Paul Bhatti as Rimsha Masih's bail hearing postponed to Friday
Karachi, a Christian sentenced to life imprisonment for blasphemy
The Catholic Church in Pakistan (An overview)
Christian charged with blasphemy released
Governor of Punjab; the law on blasphemy should be abolished


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