05/02/2009, 00.00
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Christian families flee Punjab in wake of presumed blasphemy case

by Qaiser Felix
Accusations against a social activist for having marked the Koran with ink and chewing gum. Rival politics within the Christian community at root of case. Protests force accused family to flee village.

Lahore (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Twelve Christian families are on the run after receiving death threats from other Christians and Muslims who are alleging that the families have committed ‘blasphemy’. The episode occurred in the village of Chak, Sahiwal, where the Christian community numbers 6,500.

Local Muslim sources report that a week ago, unidentified people broke into Harrappa Government Community Model Girls Primary School in the village. Later students found a page of the Koran on the ground smeared with black ink and gum. The blackboard had the following words written on it: “I am don”.  Pakistan People’s Party Member of the National Assembly, Zahid Iqbal and local police said that the words on the blackboard led to the assumption that a Christian social activist, well-known in the area, named Shani was responsible for what had happened, as he was also called ‘don’.

However the politician and local police did not exclude that the writing and Koran page could have been planted to deliberately sully Shani and they added; “It could have been a conspiracy against Shani”.  Sources on the ground report that following the incident, a group of Christian families already opposed to Shani started accusing him of committing blasphemy and instigated Muslims and other Christians of the area against him.  

The enmity between Shani and some members of the local Christian community arises from Shani’s support for the politician Zahid Iqbal, while the other families support Rai Azizullah.


As a result, mosques in the area made announcements saying “it is matter of respect of Islam”. On April 30th a large number of Christians and Muslims protested at the arrival of Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab, in Sahiwal, demanding the arrest of Shani. Later the charged mob started shouting slogans against Shani and tried to torch his house and those of his friends and relatives who had already fled the area. However, police intervened and succeeded in restoring calm to the village. There is still no news of the whereabouts of the friends and family of Shani.  Local sources claimed they had sought refuge with the local police; which was immediately denied by the police.


Despite this Friday May 1st, a mob from a neighbouring village tried to burn the houses of the accused. Calm was only restored after the intervention of local figures of note


On the same day, a meeting was also held to resolve the matter during which Zahid, police officials and local Muslim and Christian leaders resolved that nobody would be allowed to create unrest in the area. They also decided that police would book those responsible for the crime after a thorough investigation. Allah Ditta, Harrapa police chief, with help of local Muslim leaders succeeded in convincing people that it was not a case of blasphemy, confirming that the pages of the Koran could have been marked during a robbery in the dark and that above all, it was not clear who had broken into the school.


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