Tag: Pakistan

‘Facebook blasphemer’ given death penalty

Facebook has yet to comment on the death sentence

A man accused of posting blasphemous content to Facebook has been sentenced to death by a court in Pakistan.

Taimoor Raza was convicted after allegedly posting remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, his wives and companions within the site’s comments.

The public prosecutor involved said he believed it was the first time the death penalty had been awarded in a case related to social media.

Human rights campaigners have expressed concern.

Facebook itself has yet to comment on the case.

The US firm previously announced in March that it was deploying a team to Pakistan to address the government’s concerns about blasphemous content on its service, but added that it still wished to protect “the privacy and rights” of its members.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has described blasphemy as being an “unpardonable offence”.

Religious debate

Raza’s case was heard by an anti-terrorism court in Bahawalpur – about 309 miles (498km) from the capital Islamabad.

His defence lawyer said the 30-year-old had become involved in an argument about Islam on the social network with someone who had turned out to be a counter-terrorism official.

The public prosecutor said the accused had been arrested after playing hate speech and blasphemous material from his phone at a bus stop, following which his handset had been confiscated and analysed.

Raza will be able to appeal against the death penalty at Lahore High Court and then, if required, in Pakistan’s Supreme Court.

The Express Tribune, a local newspaper, reported that the verdict came days after a college professor was refused bail in another case involving accusations of blasphemy on social media in Pakistan.

Amnesty International recently published a report critical of the country’s blasphemy laws.

Its Pakistan campaigner, Nadia Rahman, has called for Raza’s immediate release.

“Convicting and sentencing someone to death for allegedly posting blasphemous material online is a violation of international human rights law and sets a dangerous precedent,” she told the BBC.

“No one should be hauled before an anti-terrorism court or any other court solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief online.”

There were anti-Facebook protests in 2010 after a competition to draw the Prophet Muhammad

The developments come seven years after a Pakistan court temporarily blocked local access to Facebook after the social network was used to promote a contest to draw images of Prophet Muhammad – an act considered to be offensive by many Muslims.

Analysis – Tahir Imran, BBC Urdu social media editor

This is a dramatic time for Pakistani social media. Once considered a platform where people could express themselves freely, it is now a place where people worry about the consequences of commenting.

Instead of acting to restore confidence and safeguarding the masses’ right to freedom of expression, the government has been busy making threats through TV and newspaper adverts.

This is happening with a clear understanding about the gravity that accusations of blasphemy can have. There have been several incidents of vigilantes taking the law into their own hands after such claims.

Human rights activists accuse the government of pushing through a controversial cyber-crimes law without addressing their concerns.

In a country where fewer people have been convicted of blasphemy than have been killed after being accused of the offence, this ruling will not calm nerves. And increasingly people prefer to use chat apps and closed groups to post content so that their thoughts cannot be seen by the wider public.

Source: BBC



Asia Bibi Needs Your Urgent Prayers for Her Upcoming Hearing Appeal Against Her Death Sentence

Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman and mother of five, has suffered eight years behind the prison bars in the city Multan in Pakistan.

Her final chance for life will be at her upcoming sentencing. Her death sentence will be confirmed on October 12 or 13, 2016. This is the last chance she has to escape the unjust death sentence she was given under Pakistan’s “blasphemy laws”. She is desperate to be reunited with her five children and family again. Her crime? She drank water from the same metal cup meant for Muslims’ use.

Asia Bibi was the only Christian who worked in the berry fields among her female Muslim co-workers in Sheikhupura district of Punjab Province. She was asked to fetch water from a nearby well, which she did, and on the way back drank from the metal cup meant only for Muslims.

Upon this act, the Muslim women insulted her and her faith, stating that Christians are dirty filthy infidels and are not allowed to drink from the same cup. Asia, upon defending her faith said, “I believe in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?” No response, and full of rage, they accused her of blasphemy and the district court of Sheikhupura charged her with a death sentence. Unbelievably, the simple act of drinking from the same cup Muslims use can put a Christian life on the death row!

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The first two weeks of October, in fact the whole month, is very significant for Bibi, her family, and for all the Christians of Pakistan as they wait in prayer for the verdict from the Supreme Court of Pakistan on the case.

Islamist groups are planning to attack her if she is released from the jail. Jamait Ulema, one of the worst extremist groups, has pledged to take the law in its own hand, and to kill her if the Supreme Court releases her. They have offered an equivalent of $10,000 reward for anyone who would execute her, and there are 10 million willing Muslims who would do it.

There is no safe haven for Asia, either in the prison or outside the prison bars. Her health is deteriorating in the bad conditions of the prison, and she is constantly threatened by other inmates with death and poison in her cell.

There is no escape.

Her family has been threatened by numerous radical Muslim groups, and was forced into hiding. Her children cannot leave the shelter for fear of abduction.

Life is not safe for Christians living in Pakistan. Any who dare to question mistreatment by blasphemy law are put to death. Even the Governor of Punjab, Salaman Taseer, was killed by his own security guard, Mumtaz Qadri.

Qadri was highly praised and applauded by extremist Muslims. The Federal Minister of Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhati, was murdered by gunmen in an ambush in his car. Both of these men in high position supported Asia Bibi and paid with their lives.

Christians who voice their persecution know they will likely meet with the same fate. For this reason, many such cases go unreported; victims never see justice, and with the situation never changing to accept the Christian community or allow their faith.

Please urge your members of the US Congress to intervene with the government of Pakistan to push on the release of Aisa Bibi.

The Pakistan government needs moral and legal support from America to stand and fight against the pressure of Islamist groups. Financial Aid could be restricted by US on the grounds of Aisa Bibi’s release or for that matter, for the protection of Christians in Pakistan.

Please also request US to be ready to help arrange the escape of Bibi out of the country, as quickly as possible upon her released from jail. American government does have influence—should it choose to exert it.

Stand alongside Christians in Pakistan in this crucial two weeks of October, and pray for their safety and spiritual strength as they hold protests for Bibi’s case.

Especially pray for Bibi’s lawyer, Khalil Tahir Sindhu that God fills him with courage and strength as he fights for her in the courtroom. This woman is innocent and suffering in jail for eight years for standing up for her faith.

Fervently pray for Bibi’s continuous strong believe in Jesus, her children, husband and her relatives’ protection and faith. Sign petitions and raise awareness about her case among your friends, family and church members so more and more people can join in to pray. Her safe release would signify that justice is done for at least one Pakistani Christian.

Source: Christian Freedom Iternational



Pakistan: Christian boy, 16, arrested for Kaaba ‘blasphemy’

In another village, Christians attacked after Muslims’ Friday prayers

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Nabeel Masih, 16, is alleged to have “defamed” the Kaaba in Mecca, the building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque. Amalia Sari / Flickr / CC

A 16-year-old Christian boy has been accused of committing blasphemy by “liking” and sharing a post on Facebook which “defamed and disrespected” the Kaaba in Mecca, the building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque.
Most of the Christians in the boy’s village have since fled their homes for fear of an angry backlash against them.

At around 3pm on Sunday (18 Sep.), several police vans raided Nabeel Masih’s house in Dina Nath village – in the Kasur district of Punjab province, 30 miles southwest of Lahore. There are at least 300 Christian homes in the village.

The complainant, Akhtar Ali, filed this accusation at the nearby Phoolnagar Police Station: “On 18 September, I was with my friends Bakht Khan and Saddam … We took our friend Waqar’s mobile phone and started seeing pictures of his various friends on Facebook. But when we opened Nabeel Masih’s profile, there was a picture posted in which the Kaaba is defamed and disrespected. Seeing that picture, our religious feelings were hurt.”

“It was only a mistake and he clearly stated that he did not intend to hurt [anyone] but to condemn the post.”

–Imran Masih
Nabeel’s cousin, Imran, 24, told World Watch Monitor that Nabeel had nothing against Muslims and meant no harm.

“It was only a mistake by him and he clearly stated that he did not intend to hurt but to condemn the post,” Imran said. He added that Nabeel is illiterate and works as a labourer in a nearby ghee factory.

Pastor Samuel Masih, who was visiting his sisters in the village, said that, although everything seemed calm, “many of the Christians have left the area due to fear of security”.

Phoolnagar Police Station head, Shahbaz Ahmed Dogar, reiterated that everything was under control and urged Christians to return.

“There was no announcement from mosque loudspeakers or any gathering of people,” he said. “Those who have left the area have taken only precautionary measures and I would encourage them to return to their houses.”

In several instances in the past, Christian neighbourhoods in Pakistan have been targeted following blasphemy allegations, resulting in the looting, ransacking and burning of Christian homes. In 2009, more than 100 Christian homes were ransacked and set on fire in Gojra, near Faisalabad, while in March 2013 another 150 Christian homes were set on fire in Lahore’s Joseph Colony.

Christians attacked after Friday prayers

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Shahzad Masih, 25, his brother Zahid, 23, and his mother Parveen, were hospitalised after the attack. World Watch Monitor

Meanwhile, a poor Christian neighbourhood in a remote village 20 miles south of Faisalabad came under attack after Muslim Friday prayers on 16 September.
Five people were hospitalised, including two women who also faced public humiliation after their clothes were torn, but police said the injuries were not sufficient for the formal registration of a case.

At least 20 men armed with sticks and firearms attacked the Christian neighbourhood – in the village of Chajwal, in the Samundri district. The incident took place only the day after the Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, told local media that “minorities in Pakistan are more secured (sic) than [in] other countries of the region”.

Villager Razaq Masih, 55, lodged a formal complaint at the Samundri Saddar Police Station, in which he named six alleged attackers. He said that, at around 4pm on Friday, those six, alongside 30-35 others, came to the village, “yelling that today they would teach a lesson to these ‘chuhras’* … [and] attacked the Christians”.

Masih added that the assailants had stormed into the house of a Christian woman, Sharifan Bibi, “torn [her] clothes” and “while beating her, dragged her … out of the house”.

“My sons are labourers and they had just returned from their work. I tried to save my sons, after which they beat me with clubs and attacked us with bricks.”

–Parveen Bibi
Parveen Bibi said she was also beaten as she tried to protect her two sons – Shahbaz, 25, and Zahid, 23.

“My sons are labourers and they had just returned from their work,” she told World Watch Monitor from her hospital bed. “I [pleaded with the attackers] and tried to save my sons, after which they beat me with clubs and attacked us with bricks.”

Arif Masih, 55, who also works as a labourer, was returning home from a wedding when he was beaten.

“I could not even understand why they were beating me,” Masih told World Watch Monitor at the hospital.

Hundreds of Christians from the village gathered together on Sunday evening (18 Sep.) and resolved to seek justice. They told World Watch Monitor the attackers must have had support from local politicians, which is why the police had refused to officially register the case, and said they were fearful of further attacks.

“About 300 to 400 Christian households are in Chajwal, whom the influential community of Gujjars [an agricultural caste] have been trying to suppress for a while,” said Shahid Masih Paul, chairman of Christ Assemblies International, a Pentecostal group. “The Gujjars are influential in the area. Decades ago, these Christians were dependent … on [these] landlords, but over time their number has decreased and most of them work as labourers in the city.”

What sparked the attack?

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Christians gathered on Sunday evening (18 Sep.) and resolved to seek justice. They said they suspected the attackers had support from local politicians and that they were fearful of further attacks. World Watch Monitor

Razaq Masih told World Watch Monitor that he had been sitting with a Muslim man in front of some Christian homes, when some Gujjars, as well as people from the Julaha (weavers) caste, arrived and wanted to beat up the man.
“They had a grudge against him because of a relationship he had a year ago with a young woman, who was also Muslim,” Masih explained. “The Christians intervened and said that if the relationship had ended, then why should he be beaten? Within no time, about 30 men arrived, yelling that we will teach these ‘chuhras’ a lesson for raising their heads [to defend the Muslim].”

Chairman Paul said that the Gujjar and Julaha communities had long wanted to direct their sewerage water into the cesspit beside the Christian community, but that “Christians have been refusing because they think that the pond would then overflow and their houses would be inundated. That is the core issue. It is not bearable for the Gujjar and Julaha that these poor Christians, who have long been their tenants, have started to resist them.”

Razaq Masih said all the Christians live on government land. “They have not been able to buy the land, but for decades they have been living there. If the [Gujjars] are allowed to channel their sewerage water there and it inundates the Christians’ houses, they would then have to leave the village.”

Rao Kashif, provincial parliamentarian for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, told World Watch Monitor that he could not confirm whether or not the Christians were beaten up.

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Arif Masih: ‘I could not even understand why they were beating me.’ World Watch Monitor

“I regularly come to my office but how can I know if none of them has come to me?” he said.
The Christians complained that since the incident no parliamentarian has yet raised their case. In the past, many incidents of violence against Christians have taken place, which have been seen as a precursor for later evicting them from the government land they live on.

Christians continue to be regarded as lower-class citizens and are often forced to live in the less desirable parts of an area, such as close to sewerage-filled ponds. This attitude towards them is reinforced from schooldays onwards.

A recent report by Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) says the government has failed to keep its promise to eradicate religious “hate material”, including against minority Christians, from textbooks used in schools.

After the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in Dec. 2014, the government introduced a 20-point National Action Plan to discourage religious extremism and to provide a counter-narrative to promote religious harmony, saying an “end to religious extremism and [the] protection of minorities will be ensured”. However, the NCJP report, “Freedom from Suffocating Education”, claims that no curriculum reforms have so far been adopted at the school level, aside from the production of a few booklets.

This backs up the findings of another recent report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which concluded: “The trend toward a more biased curriculum towards religious minorities is accelerating. These grossly generalized and stereotypical portrayals of religious minority communities signal that they are untrustworthy, religiously inferior, and ideologically scheming and intolerant.”

The NCJP report, which focused on textbooks used in the 2015-16 school year, noted that “hate material” previously identified had not been removed from the curriculum yet.

Source: World Watch Monitor



Pakistan: Christian family flees after WhatsApp blasphemy accusation

by Asif Aqeel

A Pakistani Christian and his family have fled their home in the religiously conservative city of Gujrat, after he was accused of committing blasphemy by sending an offensive message via mobile-phone text.

Nadeem James, 23, from the Yaqoobabad area of the city, and his family are on the run after a friend of the family, Yasir Bashir, 30, went to the police on Sunday (10 July), saying that James had sent him a blasphemous poem, which was against Islam and its prophet, using the WhatsApp texting service.

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Gujrat is a religiously conservative city in Pakistan’s Punjab region. Wikimedia / CC

One of James’s brothers, Faryad, told World Watch Monitor that police then “forcibly took away and beat” two of Nadeem’s sisters-in-law, including one who has an 18-month-old son, in order to pressure them to provide information of James’s whereabouts. However, the police told local newspapers that the two women were being kept in “protective custody” and would be released if any organisation took responsibility for their safety.

In the evening, the police came and took our women into custody and beat them in order to pressure the family to reveal Nadeem’s whereabouts.

–Faryad James

The women’s detention has heightened tensions in the area. Several Christians, including all remaining members of the James family, have fled the area for the fear of their lives. Locals told World Watch Monitor that police from several other areas have been brought in to keep the situation under control. BBC Urdu reported that 200 policemen had been deployed.

Faryad James said two clerics – members of the Sunni Tehreek group, known for its rigid stance on blasphemy – went to the police station to lodge an official complaint and are now “demanding Nadeem’s immediate arrest and threatening a backlash if the police fail to arrest him”.

In a First Information Report submitted to police on 10 July, Yasir Bashir wrote: “On 4 July, I received text messages from a cell phone owned by Nadeem Masih*, son of James Masih, of the Christian caste. I saw these messages today, 10 July. The messages are insulting to the Prophet, the orthodox caliphs and other respectable personalities … Take action against Nadeem Masih and end this social vice.”

Parvaiz Masih, a resident of the nearby Father’s Colony, founded by a local Catholic church, said “one person’s irresponsible act has exposed the entire community to peril”.

Faryad James expressed disbelief that a family friend had lodged an accusation against his brother.

“Yasir has been our friend for more than 15 years,” he said. “He worked as a painter with my brother, Shahbaz, and we are unable to understand what exactly took place because we are unaware of the texted messages.

“On Sunday, I was home, but Nadeem had already fled when people started saying that he had sent blasphemous text messages to Yasir. I am unaware if any religious discussion took place between the two, before such messages were texted.

“In the evening, the police came and took our women into custody and beat them in order to pressure the family to reveal Nadeem’s whereabouts. Since then they are in the police station, while we are totally unaware about Nadeem.”

According to BBC Urdu, the police have said that the message shows that a religious argument had been going on between Bashir and James and that the allegedly offensive message was part of the conversation. The police added that they are investigating whether the alleged message was first sent to Nadeem James by someone else, before he passed it on.

In the past two months, there has been a spike in blasphemy cases against Christians. In May, a young Pakistani Christian woman was accused of blasphemy for allegedly using an advertising banner bearing the name of Prophet Muhammad as a floor covering. The accusation, which was later withdrawn, came just a few weeks after another Christian was accused of blasphemy in a village 100 kilometres away.

In June, 10 Christian families fled their village after a man from a Christian community was accused of sending a blasphemous message on Facebook Messenger. Also in June, a court jailed two Pakistani Christians (also from Gujrat) for six years for calling a Christian leader a “prophet”. And in the district of Gujranwala, 50 kilometres from Gujrat, an anti-terrorism court sentenced a school principal to death for blasphemy. The man had initially sought police protection, after alleging he was the victim of blackmail and extortion. Instead, he was charged with blasphemy by the police, after the men he had accused levelled charges against him.

*“Masih,” which stems from “Messiah”, has been used for many years in Pakistan as a term to refer to whole Christian communities.

 

Source: World Watch Monitor



Christian Woman in Pakistan Stripped And Assaulted By Muslim Men Angered By Her Brother

A Christian woman in Lahore, Pakistan was stripped naked and assaulted by four Muslim men enraged that her brother eloped with a married woman.

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Open Doors USA’s 2015 World Watch List report ranked Pakistan as number 8 on the list of nations where Christians face the most severe persecution. Reuters

According to the Indian Express Tribune, Samra, 28, told police that the four armed men on Sunday forcefully entered her house and asked her about the whereabouts of her brother Badal, who had eloped with the wife of one of the attackers.

When she told the armed men that she did not know about her brother’s whereabouts, they began to violently assault her.

“They dragged me to a room and tore apart my cloths and tried to rape me. I managed to flee towards the roof and jumped to the house of a neighbor where a woman provided me clothes,” she told the outlet.

The young woman added that she nothing to do with the activities of her brother. However, while a case has been registered against Badal for allegedly kidnapping the wife of one of the attackers, police have not taken any action against the men on Samra’s complaint.

Currently, several Christian organizations have appealed to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to order action against the suspects involved in torturing and striping of the woman.

According to World Watch Monitor, Lahore is a largely Christian-dominated city in the predominantly Muslim country. However, Christians are nevertheless considered religious minorities and treated as inferior citizens by their Muslim counterparts.

Last month, Muslim extremists in the region threatened to burn alive members of a Christian family and abduct and kill young Christian girls in the area after a Muslim woman eloped with a Christian man.

In June, a pastor was brutally attacked and beaten by police after a Muslim man complained the church service was too loud. The congregation became very upset and Christians later staged a protest on Ferozepur Road and blocked traffic.

In light of rampant persecution, Pakistan’s People’s Party Vice President and Senator Sherry Rehman last month criticized the government for its failure to protect religious minorities and said that inaction amounts “tacit approval” of the crimes.

“Pakistan cannot continue to tolerate continual religious persecution of its minorities. They are not second-class citizens and should not be treated as such.” Rehman said.

Rehman urged the government to come up with a plan to combat such persecution: “The government needs to take a clear position on how it treats its citizens, especially the marginalized and vulnerable. It needs to have a plan of action that we can all uphold and pursue,”

Open Doors USA’s 2015 World Watch List report ranked Pakistan as number 8 on the list of nations where Christians face the most severe persecution.

Source: THE GOSPEL HERALD