10/01/2015, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Gujrat: imprisoned for blasphemy, four Christians risk their lives. Government: No protection

by Jibran Khan
The Christian community, Catholic and Protestant, is ready to take to the streets in defense of pastor Aftab Gill and three others. The court has ignored their appeal and there is a strong risk of extrajudicial killing. They are in jail following a new case of abuse of the "black law". Muslim lawyer: innocent victims of a distorted system

Gujrat (AsiaNews) - The Christian community of Gujrat (Punjab province) is ready to take to the streets in defense of four Christians in prison on charges of blasphemy, and likely to be killed in the context of an extrajudicial killing.

On Sunday, October 4 all the churches of the city, even the Catholic community, are ready to demonstrate for the life of Pastor  Aftab Gill, brother Unatan Gill and two other people in jail on charges of violating the "black law" and awaiting trial. At this time the court has set October 16 as the first date of the trial, it rejected the request for extra security measures in prison and has prevented relatives from visiting the men in prison.

According to sources close to the families, the four men have been subjected to threats and risk being killed even before they appear before the judges, to face charges.

Fr. Irfan James, parish priest of a Catholic community of the city, does not hide his disappointment at the judges’ decision, who did not want to take into account that "the lives of the accused are in danger." The threats are repeated with increasing frequency, and "the system seems reluctant to provide protection and guarantees. I pray for their safety. "

Their story dates back to August. During the funeral of the pastor Fazal Masih, the local community repeatedly spoke of the man’s "sanctity" for his behavior in life and devotion to God. At the funeral a few pamphlets were published and distributed in various parts of the city that contained the word "holiness", translated in Urdu with "rasool". However, the term (which also makes the word "messenger") was considered offensive and blasphemous against Islam and Muhammad.

Asked about the issue, the leader of a mosque in the area accused Christians of Memda of committing blasphemy and demanded the arrest and punishment of the alleged perpetrators. Hence the arrest made by the police of Pastor Aftab Gill and three other people, now on trial and risking their life. Meanwhile local extremist groups have tried to set fire to the homes of Christians and only the intervention of the police averted a massacre.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the Muslim lawyer Imtiaz Shakir, a friend of one of the defendants (Unatan Gill), defines the story as "madness" originated "from a distorted system" that puts innocent people in the dock. "The authorities seek an excuse - he added - to give rise to an extrajudicial killing. The lawyers I work with threatened me, telling me not to take up their defense, even if I am Muslim, innocent victims. However, my faith does not authorize me to give wrong interpretations of Islam or allow injustice. " I invite the Christian community, he concluded, to "take up the defense of these innocent people, who are in isolation waiting for justice."

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).

Scores of violent incidents have occurred in recent years, against entire communities (Gojra in 2009, and Joseph Colony, Lahore, in March 2013), places of worship (Peshawar, September last year) and individuals ( Sawan Masih, Asia Bibi, Rimsha Masih and Robert Fanish Masih, who died in prison), often perpetrated under the pretext of the country's blasphemy laws.

AsiaNews has published a detailed dossier, documenting the most obvious cases of abuse and hoping for the change to prevent abuses and violations.

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