05/07/2010, 00.00
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Lahore: Christians accused of blasphemy forced to leave their homes

Five boys are accused of "desecrating" a banner that was inscribed with Qur‘anic verses. To avoid trial and prevent confessional tensions, all five leave their homes. On 26 May, Martha Bibi goes on trial. She is 45-year-old mother of six accused of defaming the Prophet Muhammad. She could get the death penalty.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Five boys accused under Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy law have had to leave home in Lahore’s Green Town area to avoid violence by Muslim extremists. A local court has set 26 May as the trial date for a Christian woman, Martha Bibi, accused of blasphemy. If convicted she could face the death penalty.

Sohail Johnson, coordinator of Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP), told Assist News Service (ANS) that “five Christian boys had to leave their homes” in the Green Town area of Lahore or they would be brought up on blasphemy charges.

They five are Shoaib Ilyas, Chaman Ashraf, Ashar Masih, Neeta Masih and Sunny and have become scapegoats for rising tensions between the Muslim majority and the Christian community.

They are accused of “desecrating” a banner inscribed with Qur‘anic verses

According to SLMP, everything goes back to 30 April. On that day, some Christian boys were standing near an electric pole when a banner, inscribed with Islamic verses, fell down due to heavy wind. Shoaib, one of the accused, picked it up and handed it to a Muslim man who later accused Shoaib and local Christians of desecrating the banner.

In order to defuse the situation and avoid a possible accusation of blasphemy against the boys (which is punished by life in prison or the death penalty), an agreement was brokered whereby the five would leave the area. This in turn would secure reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.

In the meantime, a court in Lahore set the trial date for Martha Bibi, a 45-yra-old Christian married woman, mother of six. She is being tried under Article 295-C of the Pakistani Criminal Code, the so-called ‘blasphemy law’, for offending the Prophet Muhammad.

The episode that led to the charges dates back to 22 January 2007. Christian sources said the reason for the accusation lays in unpaid bills by a Muslim contractor for supplies she and her husband, a bricklayer, provided to a construction site.

Afraid that she might be attacked by Muslim extremists, she covered her face with a scarf in a previous court hearing.

Sohail Johnson is closely following the proceedings, and urging Christians around the world to pray for Martha’s protection and “her deliverance from the blasphemy trial."

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See also
"We are optimistic," says Paul Bhatti as Rimsha Masih's bail hearing postponed to Friday
Another Christian imprisoned for “blasphemy”
Martha Bibi, Christian baselessly accused of blasphemy, is released
Christian woman accused of blasphemy without evidence still in prison
Punjab: Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy


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