The problem started when a Muslim opened a private school not far from him. Unable to face healthy competition, he used unhealthy means to close down the school of Pervez Masih. He falsely accused Pervez Masih of disgracing the prophet Mohammed. He was able to stage this tragedy of jealousy and falsehood with the help of his two Muslim students.
Pervez Masih was arrested without enquiry, and beaten by police. The members of his family were threatened. "The Bar Council of Sialkot has announced that any lawyer taking up the case of Pervez Masih would be killed." There are threats from the militant groups to those who would try to help Pervez Masih and his family in any way.
There were twenty Christian and about six hundred Muslim families in the village where the incident happened. Out of fear, most of the Christians have moved to other places. The atmosphere is intense and volatile around that area.
A journalist from Agency France Press (AFP) interviewed Pervez Masih in the cell where he is confined. Pervez Masih showed the journalist the cuts and bruises on his body that resulted from the police beating. "Even if they free me, some fanatic will kill me. My whole life is ruined as well as that of my family, he said. I am worried about my younger sister Rani, who is still unmarried. I am worried about my father who has lived most of his life in extreme poverty, selling eggs and cleaning houses." The police "beat me with rifle butts and kicked me. I almost lost consciousness. They said I should recite the first tenet of Islam. I refused. They blind folded me and lowered my trousers and said
2... They would circumcise me and make me Muslim, he said through tears." He is under fear in his cell because of the constant threats from the Muslim inmates of the prison and the jail authorities. This happened in April.
Situation for minorities is deteriorating in Pakistan also due to the continuous pressures to run the country like the Talibans do in Afghanistan, a neighbouring country that has lately shocked the world by destroying the beauty of the relics of the Buddha resting in the caves of history. Moreover, the Talibans have introduced extremely repressive laws for women.
The Deoband Conference in Peshawar in the first week of April that was attended by about one million Muslims demanded to convert Pakistan into a state like that of Afghanistan. In the middle of April there was a conference of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, an organization of fundamentalists, near Lahore that was attended by around 200, 000 Muslims. They also demanded to convert Pakistan into a complete Muslim state. They condemned the Christian schools in Pakistan on the ground they kill the Islamic spirit of their students. They planned to open more Muslim schools to prepare young students to wage holy wars against infidels. All non-Muslims, including Christians and Jews, are infidels for fanatics.
As I have mentioned in my previous letters, the blasphemy laws are time bombs that have been tied to the bodies of the minorities of Pakistan. The remote control of these time bombs is in the hands of the fanatic Muslims of Pakistan who have been misusing them since their introduction by Zia-ul-Haq. Your honour knows that he was a military dictator, who introduced these laws to tighten his control over Pakistan.
Under the blasphemy laws, Christians as well as Ahmadis have been arrested without inquiries. The accused of the blasphemy laws are not granted bail. Inside the jails, they are tortured by the inmates as well as by the authorities.
The accused are not allowed to hire non-Muslim lawyers. Even Muslim lawyers do not want to represent these cases because of their fear of fundamentalists. The worst part is that the only penalty for such crimes is death. Moreover, there is no punishment for false accusers. This encourages the abuse of the blasphemy laws. The judges are also afraid of hearing such cases, particularly after a judge was killed because he freed Salamat Masih, a Christian boy of twelve years, who was accused of writing against the prophet Mohammed. The Christian boy was illiterate.
Acquittal of the accused under the blasphemy laws is not acquittal in the real sense because fundamentalists either kill them or they have to run away from Pakistan after their acquittals. Even the families of these accused are never free from danger.
The blasphemy laws have divided further the already divided nation. This division does not help the country. Rather, it hampers the growth of nationalism, security and prosperity. Moreover, these laws are vague and discriminatory. Considering the constant misuse of the blasphemy laws and the thick atmosphere of bigotry and terror that these laws have created, I would request your honour to take a bold step to repeal these laws. I would be pleased to send a copy of the monograph that I have prepared to support this stand.
3... My cardinal purpose here is to present a portrait of the mental and physical anguishes of the minorities, particularly of the Christians of Pakistan. I am sure your honour is also aware of these anguishes. That is why your honour has often tried to improve
the human rights situation in Pakistan. I would like to repeat that the blasphemy laws have created an atmosphere of terror for the minorities in Pakistan. The result of this atmosphere is violence, revenge and attacks on Shanti Nagar, Khanewal, churches and false accusations.
The BBC News of May 19 has "estimated that hundreds of people are currently being detained on blasphemy charges, and minority religious groups complain the law is used to persecute them. Under the current system, if someone is accused of blasphemy, the police have to make an arrest without investigation."
Just in few months of 2001, several Christians have been implicated in the blasphemy laws. The list includes Amjad and Arif, two Christian boys from Jhang. They were given life imprisonment in March under section 295/B. In January, eight Christian evangelists, including Rev. Yousif Masih were arrested for showing a film about Jesus in a Christian locality in Jacobabad. Last year, Justice Nazir Akhtar, a Lahore High Court judge, declared that those who are accused under the blasphemy laws should be killed on the spot by Muslims under their religious obligation. He added that there was no need for legal proceedings for blasphemers. These remarks by a High Court judge were published in the news media of Pakistan.
I would like to bring to your attention that Christians, about 14 million, are not more than 3 percent in Pakistan. Moreover, they are poor and scattered throughout Pakistan. To break the blasphemy laws is like inviting death for them and their families. Bishop John Joseph was personally involved with the cases involving blasphemy laws. He repeatedly said both in the media and personally to politicians that these laws are used to settle personal scores. He sacrificed his life to persuade the establishment to repeal these laws. Amnesty International, an independent and respectable body of human rights activists, in their July 1994 Report notes that "hostility towards religious minority groups appeared in many cases to be compounded by personal enmity, professional or economic rivalry or a desire to gain political advantage." Asama Jehangir, a prominent Muslim from Pakistan, says that the blasphemy laws are "misused to create anarchy in the already complex society of Pakistan. She gives the examples of several extra-judicial murders as manifestations of the general atmosphere of intolerance that is being fomented by these laws."
According to fact finding committee of the Christian Liberation Front, the accusations against Pervez Masih are based on business jealousy. It is a crime against humanity to involve innocent citizens, particularly when they are from minority groups, in blasphemy laws which stipulate a mandatory death sentence, and close all the doors for fair trials according to international standards.
Your honour can make it possible for the case of Pervez
4... Masih to be heard objectively and without any religious bias. I would request your honour to see that the life of Pervez Masih remains safe inside the jail and after his acquittal, and those police officers who tortured him are identified and brought to justice immediately. This noble gesture would indicate to the world that you honour is genuinely interested in stopping the violations of human rights and in safeguarding minorities.
Humanity needs your humane measures to save the lives of innocent citizens who have been made a target of the religious hatred that has been fomented by the blasphemy laws.
Stephen Gill (Canada)
Pakistan embassy at ottowa.
All selective press.