Christian leaders in Lahore come out against religious violence. Imam says the only punishment for blasphemers is decapitation (Video)
by Kamran Chaudhry

Islamic groups demand the release of suspects held in connection with the lynching of a young student accused of blasphemy. For them, the prisoners are “servants of the Prophet Mohammed." When the state is missing, crimes go unpunished.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The arrest of 47 young people suspected of lynching a young man accused of blasphemy is dividing the nation.

Whilst some Islamic groups call for their release, Catholic and Protestant leaders demand a fair trial and the end of impunity for such violence.

"The government must reject any expediency and do what is good for the nation," said Rev Shahid P. Meraj, dean of Lahore’s Anglican Cathedral of the Resurrection, speaking to AsiaNews.

"We want to honour the sacrifice of Mashal Khan (the victim) and we demand clear punishment for his assassins,” he added. “What we ask for is an impartial country that unfortunately is disappearing! For years we have been victims of these extremists. Politicians should go beyond power games and begin to save people's lives."

Khan was accused of blasphemy against Islam and killed by a violent mod at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan on 13 April.

Rev Meraj spoke at the wake for the dead man held on Sunday at the Liberty Roundabout by the Cecil and Iris Chaudry Foundation (CICF), an NGO that helps religious minorities. More than a hundred participants shouted slogans against religious extremism and mass violence under a blow-up of the dead student.

Several Church leaders praised the police for arresting Imran, the first suspect in the assassination who was Khan's schoolmate. In his confession, Imran claims that he shot Khan because he was guilty of blasphemy and that he was not sorry for murdering him. Mardan police said that 47 of the 49 suspects are in custody.

Last Friday, after Friday prayers, the Muttahida Ulema Council organised a demonstration near the office of the Mardan administrative district demanding the release of all the suspects.

At least 8,000 people shouted slogans such as: "Curse the blasphemers! Curse Mashal! Curse His Companions! Down with the useless and insolent Media!"(See video)

"The young university students jailed in Mardan are servants of the Prophet Muhammad,” said a Qur‘anic scholar in a video posted on social media. “Heed what they say; otherwise, I do not know how you can present yourself before the Prophet Muhammad on Judgement Day. The only punishment for blaspheming the prophet is decapitation."

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, urged the government to wake up. "Only the state can stop these elements; [civil] society is helpless. Law enforcement should take note of this kind of talk: they are an open challenge to the state itself. Looking at social media after this tragedy shows how the level of radicalisation has become extremely alarming."

The CICF also wants justice for the victims of blasphemy. In a public statement, the NGO said "If the perpetrators of Mashal Khan’s assassination and of all assassinations perpetrated in the name of religion are not put in jail, they will continue and multiply."

"Taking justice in one’s own hands is indicative of an absent government, the failure of the civil administration to enforce the law, and the ambiguity of the judicial system. The latter continues to allow such crimes against humanity to go unpunished. Impunity linked to violence in the name of religion must end."