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Pakistani Christians detained over blasphemy

By Dan Wooding and Sheraz Khurram Khan
03/03/09 KASUR, PAKISTAN (ANS) — Two Pakistani Christian men, one of whom is said to be a follower of a deceased Christian man, who practiced necromancy, have been accused of blasphemy after they laid sheets of cloth inscribed with Quranic verses on the grave of the Christian man.

Waliat Masih, a Christian resident of Maloki village in the Kasur district and close to the Pakistani city of Lahore, and his Christian friend, Mushtaq Masih, a resident of Lahore along with their Muslim friends, had laid green colored sheets on the grave of Mohari on March 1.

The laying of sheets on the graves or shrines of Muslim saints by their followers is a common practice in Pakistan.

The draping of a Christian man’s grave with cloth sheets bearing Quranic verses gave local Muslims an excuse of accusing the Christian men of committing blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and Muslim saints.

Officials at Police Station Shaikhum have since lodged a First Information Report (FIR) against Waliat Masih and Mushtaq Masih.

The Muslim complainant also accused Muslim friends of the two men of blasphemy but the Muslim men have told the police that they did not know they were going to lay cloth sheets on a Christian man’s grave.

“Local Muslims beat up Waliat and Mushtaq and later tied them with a tree, ” said Shahzad Kamran, a case worker with the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP).

The outraged Muslim mob only handed over the Christian men to the police after wresting assurance from the police that a blasphemy case would be lodged against the men accused of blasphemy, said Shahzad.

He criticized police for filing an FIR without doing adequate investigation.

Kamran said the angry Muslims are already threatening some 50 Christian families of setting a small village church on fire.

“The Christians have removed furniture from the church after receiving threats from Muslims,” he said.

Mr. Joseph Francis, the National Director of Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) and Chief Coordinator of the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan, Sohail Johnson urged Muslims to “calm down.”

Mr. Sohail Johnson blamed Muslims clerics for escalating Christian-Muslim tension in the pre-dominantly Muslim village.

He said the Muslim prayer leader made several announcements from the mosque, inciting people to avenge alleged blasphemy.

ANS has discovered that the situation remains tense and the local Christians are still in grip of fear.

Among other Christian villagers, families of the two Christians detained over the blasphemy accusations, have become vulnerable to attacks, threats and persecution from angry Muslims.

“I have got two sons. I fear fatal attack from Muslims,” SLMP quoted Sakina, wife of Waliat as saying.

To press their demand for legal action against the detained Christian men, hundreds of Muslims started shouting slogans when the superintendent of police arrived at the scene of incident on March 2.

According to SLMP’s Shahzad Kamran, some of the protesting Muslims demanded death for the Christian “blasphemers.”

The visiting police officer has since assured SLMP caseworkers that investigation would be “transparent.”