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Christian Bodies Denounce Suspension of Students, Staff for Alleged Blasphemy

ICC Note: This article provides more information on the Christian nursing students who were suspended from their college after they were accused of desecrating the Koran.

UCANews (www.ucanews.com)

6/7/2007 Pakistan (Catholic Online) – Leaders of Christian organizations have denounced the suspension of six Christians from a nursing college after they were accused of desecrating Qur’anic verses in a hostel.

The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Pakistani bishops has strongly condemned the suspension of the Christians from the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad . The four students, instructor and Staff Nursing College principal are accused of crossing out a Qur’anic verse posted on a notice board.

A cross also was said to have been drawn over inscriptions from the Qur’an and Hadith, collected sayings and deeds attributed to Prophet Muhammad, which were on a water cooler. The incidents allegedly occurred May 17.

The principal, Stella Nazir, was on leave that day. A few hours before her suspension on June 1, hundreds of protesters including clerics and mostly female students gathered outside the institute demanding the government punish the offenders.

About 40 baton-wielding female students of Jamia Hafsa, an Islamic seminary associated with Lal Masjid, or the Red Mosque, in the capital, attempted to enter the college hostel but were stopped by police. At a press conference that day, they claimed they went to PIMS after two Muslim nursing students told them about the alleged blasphemous acts.

The school was later closed and is due to reopen June 17.

Local police have registered a case charging the suspects with violating Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code. Under this section, anyone convicted of blasphemy against the Qur’an faces life imprisonment. Section 295-C makes insulting Prophet Muhammad a capital offense.

According to NCJP executive secretary Peter Jacob, certain religious groups instigated the protests. In his June 1 press release, Jacob said religious extremists are furthering their agenda by abusing the blasphemy laws, but the government refuses to discuss this in any proper forum.

He expressed his grief over the “unfortunate” incident and demanded the repeal of the blasphemy laws.

On June 3, at a demonstration in front of the Red Mosque, more than a thousand female students from Jamia Hafsa condemned the alleged desecrations.

According to Joseph Francis, national director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), Muslim staff from the college together with Red Mosque administrators planned the incident “to vent their prejudice” on the Christian principal.

CLAAS is a Christian organization that pursues cases of alleged religious discrimination.

“There is a trend among middle-class Christian families of sending their daughters to study nursing as a profession, since they cannot afford higher university studies,” Francis told UCA News by phone. “The recent incident has blocked a path of development for the affected families.” Christians make up 40 percent of the institute’s 200 students.

Jamia Hafsa came into the spotlight in late January, when about 3,000 women students, armed with rifles and staves, occupied a library after authorities decided to demolish 81 illegally built mosques in Islamabad .

Since then, seminary and Red Mosque personnel have engaged in activities such as threatening video shop owners with closure, burning audio and video cassettes as “un-Islamic,” and abducting women thought to run brothels.

The imam (prayer leader) of Islam’s holiest shrine, the Ka’bah in Mecca , Saudi Arabia , criticized the Red Mosque administration when he visited Pakistan recently.

In comments to the media on June 3, Sheikh Abdur Rehman Al-Saudis appealed to the mosque administration to stop the path it has been pursuing, saying mosques should not be used for mischief and conflict.

The imam said an Islamic state has its official institutions, and nobody has the right to impose Shari’a (Islamic law) in his or her own way.