Lahore: March 5, 2018. (PCP) During a rain swept day in Lahore Pakistani Christian campaigners and Muslim friends rallied peacefully before the famous Lahore Press Club at 3 am, adamant they would raise concerns about the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, which are being used as a tool for discrimination and persecution against minorities.
Despite warnings that the 3rd of March would be the start of a 7-day heavy storm, members of British Pakistani Christian Association, Christian Times, Voice of Minorities and Peoples Democratic Front, Feminist Collective, People Solidarity Forum and Muslim group Awami Party, Revival for Youth Fellowship, converged outside the media establishment to declare solidarity with the many victims and to demand change and appropriate Governmental action.
Slogans were chanted which translate as; "Give justice to Sajjid and Patras Masih!"; "Wake up Government of Pakistan!"; "Give equal rights to Pakistani Christians!"; "Pakistani Christians should be counted as equal citizens!"; and "We want a fair investigation for our brother Sajjid, what was the fault of Sajjid?"
In recent weeks the treatment of two young men has brought the misuse of the blasphemy laws to the forefront of the political agenda, after a vulnerable teenager was arrested on the 19th of February for allegedly sharing blasphemous images on Facebook (click here). Patras Masih the suspect states he lost his phone days before the images began to appear and has several witnesses that can attest to this. His appeals fell on deaf ears however and a mob of 3000 Muslims demonstrated before his home baying for his blood after local mosques preached 'death for a blasphemer'. The mob demanded that Patras be released to them for extrajudicial lynching or to the police for a similar fate over a longer period of time (click here). Moreover, as passions rose they began to collect vessels containing flammable liquids and threatened to roast Christians alive during a proposed mass arson attack. Naturally the Christian community fled their homes leaving thousands seeking refuge at the homes of friends and relatives.
Fearing for the safety of his family and community members, young terrified Patras bravely gave himself up to the police, ending a national manhunt triggered by the charges of blasphemy and the inability to find him at his home or any other location he regularly frequented.
In an attempt to intimidate Patras, his cousin Sajid Masih was also arrested and his phone confiscated by federal Investigation Officials who then tortured the two boys incessantly whilst in their custody, beating them, abusing them and attempting to use duress to make the two young Christians perform a sex act on one another, as the sadistic officials watched and videoed them (click here). The pressure became too much for Sajid Masih to bear and he leapt from a fourth-floor window intent on escaping the severe torture being enacted against the two young men. His leap essentially saved the Christian community from a homophobic backlash (click here).
BPCA's National Director Mehwish Bhatti, spoke at the event, she said: "This unjust social environment must end. Christians have endured excessive pain and violence for decades with no respite.
"Young girls are kidnapped, raped and forced into Islamic Marriage, Young men are accused of blasphemy by emotionless accusers, who are later discovered to be settling personal vendettas.
"These accusers can sentence young Christian men to death without a second thought and watch as their communities are persecuted illustrating the pariah status of Christians in a highly intolerant nation.
"Our brothers Sajid and Patras Masih deserve justice and we are gathered today to show solidarity with these victims and to demand their immediate release."
Guest speakers included: John Younas from Christian Times, Shazia Haneef and Dr Sana Albert from Voice of Minorities, Sabir Ali from Peoples Democratic Front, Sarah Suhail from Feminist Collective and People's Solidarity Forum, Farooq Tariq from Awami Party provided Muslim support and Peter John and Riaz John from Revival for Youth Fellowship
The event was also joined by the father of torture victim Sajid Masih a Mr Abid Masih and Sajid's maternal uncle Pervaiz Akhtar. Abid Masih broke down in tears during a recital of the famous Christian Zaboor from Psalm 20, which begins with the verse " May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you." (click here)
When he was asked to share his feelings, he said: "I don't want to say much, I simply want to plead for justice for my son, he has done nothing wrong."
Sarah Suhail from the Feminist Collective and People's Solidarity Forum, said that "Our Christians brothers have suffered greatly, simply for their adherence to the Christian faith. These men must be given justice.
"Our Agencies must remain within their code of conduct and humans must be treated like humans. Our ancestors blood is invested in this land just like the ancestors of our Muslim brothers."
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said: "When I read accounts of horrific persecution in Pakistan, I am never surprised. Pakistan's human rights record registers amongst the lowest performers in the world, largely because the Government of Pakistan is apathetic and religiously intolerant despite their rhetoric.
"Sajid and Patras were born social pariah's for no other reason then their Christian faith which is legal but undermined through law and Government policy.
Increasingly Islamist social values pervade through Pakistani society, having been cultivated through textbooks which demonize and caricature minorities, even going as far as labelling Christians as spies for the west. It is therefore no wonder that minorities are treated like anathema in Pakistan.
The notorious and very draconian blasphemy laws in Pakistan are enacted on the whim of any Muslim and are increasingly used to persecute the Christian minority. 4 teenagers have already been convicted in the last 8 months and this number will no doubt increase.
"Innocent victims are being trapped through social media via stolen phones meaning they cannot defend themselves against contrived evidence. They and their communities are then targeted for violence by incensed Muslims whose ire is increased when Imams preach 'death to blasphemers' via their mosque tannoys.
"Once in custody Christian victims are routinely tortured and have to undergo lengthy sentences in isolation, as they await an appeal through a creaking overburdened court system.
"The worst part of all this is that no Islamic scripture endorses wordly punishment for blasphemy, the current laws are simply measures intriduces to satiate the tyrannical egos of hardline Islamic clerics. Since General Zia introduced the harsher version of the blasphemy laws in the 1980's the country has spead along an already dangerous trajectory that for all intents and puposes should be labelled as genocide.
"Pakistan has for the first time in its history had a consecutive democratic election and has moved away from a repeating pattern of military coups. But nothing has changed for Minorities as democratic values are still to be instilled into governmental values which are still steeped in theocracy.
He added: "In the case of Sajid Masih, the sadistic nature of the attack by FIA officials must be thoroughly investigated and the elite trained FIA officials prosecuted. The interrogation practices of the FIA have been found to infringe international laws against torture and must be eradicated.
"These two men are innocent and the world is now watching their trial, Pakistan must exonerate and compensate these victims and their community which has been attacked. Failure to do will only further blemish an already poor international reputation."