70 year old Christian man arrested and detained for blasphemy
01 Feb 2017
Lahore: February 1, 2017. (PCP) Gujranwala police have arrested a 70 year old Christian man from the village of Lambanwali over an alleged act of blasphemy on Saturday 28th January 2017.
Mukhtar Masih (70 yrs) and his family had all gone to sleep when at 10pm they heard a large banging on their door. When his daughter in law Shamim Anjum (38 yrs) opened the door she was almost pushed to the floor as 10 police officers waded into the family home.
To the horror of the family they discovered that a blasphemy allegation had been laid against Mukhtar Masih in which local Muslims alleged he had written blasphemous messages. In the usual clumsy and malicious modus operandi of Pakistani police authorities the whole family was arrested, including Mukhtar's daughter Shaima (38 yrs) son Anjum Mukhtar (40 yrs) and his children Romilla (14 yrs), Nehmeeia (10 yrs), Shaima (8 yrs).
BPCA officers were informed about the incident at 12.20am on Sunday and immediately set out to travel for six hours to Gujranwala. When they arrived they found the police constabulary extremely reluctant to release any of the victims.
A First Incident Report had already been filed against Mukhtar under FIR 49/17 in which a charge of blasphemy had been registered under section 295A and 298 of the Pakistani Penal Code, meaning that Mukhtar could now face a 10 year jail sentence. However like in many previous cases the charges could be increased to include a conviction under 295C during a court hearing, which would increase the sentence to death by hanging.
After extremely long negotiations our BPCA officer convinced senior police officials at Rahwali Cantt Police Station to release the non-accused members of the family. However the police retained Mukhtar Masih's son Anjum for further questioning and only released him yesterday (Monday 3oth January). BPCA has placed all the family members in one of our safe houses and has agreed to cover the legal costs for the family.
Station Head Officer (SHO) Gohar Abbas informed BPCA that local residents of the village had filed an application at Rahwali Police Station against the accused. He provided an FIR (attached) in which it states that blasphemous letters containing derogatory comments towards Muhammed and the Quran were received by Qadri Shahbaz Hussain lmam of Gulzar Mosque on 26th January 2017. The FIR confirms the letters are in the possession of the Police. Along with the Imam the FIR was also requested by Sabir Ali, three brothers; Pervaiz ahmed, Qari Shahbaz Hussain, Muhammed Anwer and Muhammed Mansha.
Two Christians initially accused of blasphemy turned informants against Mukhtar under duress. Sadly this act may well serve to incriminate Mukhtar beyond any hope of escape from this injustice.
Police have not confirmed that the writing in the letters matches that of Mr Akhtar and it would seem that no investigation has taken place into the potential forging of the letters.
Anjum, spoke to the BPCA, He said: "These charges are completely false my father is innocent. We tried explaining this to the police but they still arrested us and they beat my elderly father and I with their lathi trying to force a confession.
"I am sure that if you look at the letters the writing will not match my fathers. He would never dare enact such an offensive crime knowing it would endanger his family.
"Some men have been chasing us for our property and were offering a very low price. They threatened to kill us if we did not leave and now this has happened.
"There is never any peace for Christians in Pakistan Muslim's hate us."
Lambanwali is a small village located a few miles from Gujranwala city centre. Only a few Christian families are living there - in our estimate around 15 families.
Sadly the allegation of blasphemy has increased local schism against Christians residing in the area. The families are being threatened and the small community is extremely frightened that they may face retaliatory violence against the perceived blasphemy. Community leaders have been warned that the local police force may not be able to protect them should a mob attack ensue and many are considering a swift exit from their homes until community tensions simmer down. Those that leave are very aware that their vacant properties will probably be ransacked before their return and a dark depression has hit the beleaguered Christian community.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said: "Another blasphemy case has been enacted under the flimsiest of evidence.
"A 70 year old man and his son have been tortured for a confession yet have again resolutely defended their innocence.
"Now this elderly man Mukhtar Masih will probably die in prison or by hanging for a crime he did not commit.
"This dilemma is compounded by the knowledge that Britain and America plough the taxes of their citizens into a nation of extremists, much of which supports security forces including the police whose blind prejudice ferments persecution."
In a recent statement Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan the current Interior Minister (equivalent of UK Secretary of State for Home Office) for Pakistan stated that the blasphemy laws of Pakistan are not being used to target Christians or other minorities (click here). Using skewed statistics from the Sindh Province he posited that 76% of blasphemy cases are registered against Muslims. Yet even on that basis a huge disparity exists as minorities make up around 5% of the population which is the very reason why the Government has agreed a 5% quota for Government employment and elected positions fpr minorities. Moreover, in that data Mr Khan has failed to separate the outlawed Ahmadi faith from mainstream Muslims. Mr Khan has also failed to admit that the majority of minorities live in the Punjab province where you will also find a much higher percentage of minority blasphemy cases.
"When senior government officials are willing to intentionally twist statistics to pervert the campaign for equal rights for minorities, it bodes ill for their future in a nation where they are considered pariahs.
"Sadly Mr Khan's comments even when taken at face value suggest that minority persecution is way above the expected values for such a small percentile of Pakistan's population
"His contrived results have failed to recognize that Christians in recent years have become the number one target of blasphemy allegations. It is our belief that a large proportion of the 26% of blasphemy convictions listed against minorities will have sentenced Christians, yet we contribute only 1.6% of the entire national population.
"If this is how the rest of the Government feels then I believe hope for Christians in Pakistan has reached its lowest ebb."