The Burning neighborhoods – For how long? By Shamim Masih


Another victim of the blasphemy law was being punished. According to the BBC news, Sajjad Masih was sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of two hundred thousand rupees for sending blasphemous text messages to Muslim clerics to seek revenge from his ex-fiancée in Gojra.
Sajjad Masih, a resident of Pakpattan district, was arrested in December, 2011. Gojra is religiously sensitive, having witnessed massive attacks on Christians triggered by reports of desecration of the Holy Qura’an in 2002. Eight family members were burnt alive and forty houses and a Church were set ablaze by a mob on August 1, 2009.
A recently released, highly researched report conducted by a senior judge suggests that violence against Christians in Pakistan over the past five years could have been prevented by the country’s local authorities. The government reportedly ordered a senior judge to conduct a review following the anti-Christian riots which took place in Gojra. The mob, which accumulated strength in numbers over several days following encouraging sermons at local mosques, torched the Christian neighborhoods of Gojra after it was rumored that family members of a Christian couple used torn-up pieces of the Holy Qura’an at a Christian wedding ceremony.
The purpose of report is not only to address the past incident but also to determine how to end the violence relating to the disputes, including an incident in Gujranwala in which Muslim mob attacked Christians, resulting in the injury of five Christians and the damaging of property, including a church and vehicles. The extensive research finds that local intelligence agencies and law enforcement were aware that the some activists of banned outfit, Sipah-e-Sahaba organized riots against Christians, yet they did nothing to stop the violence.
This is not the end, on September 21, 2012, a church and a high school in Church compound was reduced to ashes. And the March, 2013, an over 3,000 strong mob set ablaze more than 150 houses in a Christian locality Joseph Colony, Lahore to “take revenge of the blasphemy” allegedly committed by a Christian man. This is the episode of continuous violence and is still on and would not surely stop or there is anyone who dares to stop it. US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported that it had tracked 203 publically reported incidents of sectarian violence resulting in more than 1,800 casualties, including over 700 deaths. The report said that between January 2012 and June, 2013, there were 77 attacks against Shias, 37 against Christians, 54 against, Ahmadis, 16 against Hindus and 3 against Sikhs. More than 5 Christians and 7 Hindus girls were rapped.
This is blasphemy law, embedded in sections 295 B, C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which is frequently misused for personal revenge. It carries no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy. For example, the very recent blasphemy case of Rimsha in Islamabad the Apex Court has thumbed on Islamabad High Court judgment. Time will tell whether the courts will punish the false accuser.

Force conversion is another issue; innocent females are trapped, kidnapped and married forcefully. On the other hand, minorities are not even free to preach openly. If any person converts to Islam, it is proudly highlighted while Christians have no right to argue on it.
Consequences of the laws
Since 1986 blasphemy laws have been frequently used to intimidate and persecute religious minorities and to settle personal vendetta. Hundreds of innocent people have been imprisoned, forced to leave the country or killed by religious fundamentalists. It encourages hostility towards minorities and has proven to be a license for abuse of law and religion. The instigators motivated by religious bigotry, personal prejudice, selfish gain or professional rivalry have used allegations for their convenience. In many cases complaints are filed at the insistence of a number of local clerics or outfits inciting hate against minorities. The laws are inherently arbitrary and restrict freedom of speech and other fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitutions and international human rights laws.
Christians in Pakistan have been suffering since independence; the discrimination is seen in the constitution as well. With the passage of time the screw is being tightened. “When the state and constitution make preference on the basis of religion, they end up violating the rights of their citizens.”
Human Rights organizations
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), along with relevant Special Procedures should monitor the situation in Pakistan and offer a response to situation concerning human rights abuses, especially of the religious minorities.
But who will the bell the cat? All human aid organizations, USAID, UK AID, etc are helping Muslims in Pakistan. They are working for their vested interests. Since they are in Pakistan, whether these human aid organizations have ever helped Christians …….. All scholarships for education go to Muslim students….. How come they can claim, they are helping humanity equally. Pakistani Christian Human Rights Activists are busy in leg pulling of each other, some write about the incident and other condemn it and give their own opinion to attract donor’s attention…… People are threatened and if reported some human rights activist deny it and give their own opinion to become champion.
Christian leadership
So called efforts by some of the country’s prominent leaders to repeal or amend the law have gone in vain. Pakistani Christians all claim to be born leaders. As the saying goes, some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. As Sir Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher is born great leaders, so they are! Time has proven that they are all leaders, and this the main cause of their sufferings.
During the past era, the minority members in legislative assemblies have signed and endorsed these laws. It is observed that as soon as there is mess, the seasonal creepers come out and earn money on the name of human rights service for the next tenure. Even the religious leaders are involved in illegally selling Church properties, Evangelical Bishops receive billions of aid from their sister Churches in Western countries for promotion and preaching of Gospel and NGOs funded for charitable programs but they lavishly spend those funds hosting Muslim political leaders and for self promotions instead vulnerable communities. They are crazy and spend millions for their political positions but will not support any Christian student for their education. During the past months, Christian schools have expelled the Christian students for not paying their school fees. When few leaders were asked to take responsibility of their dues, they simply refused; saying that they don’t have funds for them. But very next month the same leadership spent millions of rupees in election campaign of mainstream political parties in hope of selection as member of legislative assemblies.
All of the Christian leaders need to put their act together for the collective good of the community instead of following a divisive course.

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