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Distributing Christian Literature Seen as Affront to Islam

5/20/2014 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that four evangelical Christians, including three women and a male pastor, were arrested after being accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. The Christians have been charged under Article 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, which punishes those who “outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Local Islamic extremists have begun holding protests against the Christians demanding exemplary punishment be meted out on the accused Christians.

On May 18, Pastor Younis Masih, his wife, Nazia, and two other Christian women, Mary Rose and Kiran, were arrested by Pakistani police in Mirpur Khas, a district located in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh. According to reports by Asia News, “the four Christians were distributing Christian literature at a local railway station when a Muslim religious leader, belonging to Isalmist Sunnat wal Jammat, read the material and, realizing that it was Christian literature, immediately reported the four to the police.

Talking with ICC, Mr. Imtiaz Amanat, a local human rights defender, said, “Sixteen [Christian] evangelists were visiting house to house and preaching in the Christian area [of Mirpur Khas]. Four members of the team set up a bookstall carrying Christian literature for free distribution at the Mirpur Khas railway station.

A mob of enraged Muslims surrounded the train station shortly after police detained the four Christians with the intention of exacting mob justice. To prevent violence, police arrested the four Christians and moved them to the nearest police station. The mob followed and began calling for punishment to be meted out against the Christians immediately.

The local police managed the group well-in-time and protected the [Christians],” a local Catholic priest told ICC. “However, they filed the First Information Report (FIR) against the accused due to extraordinary pressure from the local Muslims and Islamic clerics.

An eyewitness told ICC after the arrests were made, hundreds of Muslims gathered and “attacked” a local Christian area in Mirpur Khas. According to the witness, they marched through a Christian area chanting slogans against Christians and demanding the police hand the “blasphemers” to the “faithful.

Local prosecutors have opened a blasphemy case against the four Christians and have charged them under Article 295-A for distributing literature that “outraged religious feelings.” The Christians appeared before the court today, May 20, where a local judge ordered their immediate detention and adjourned the trial until Friday, May 23. Due to security concerns, the four Christians were transferred to a prison in Hyderabad amid tight security.

The allegations against these Christian is unfair and against religious freedom,” Father Samson Shukardin, the Regional Director of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, said in reaction to the arrests and blasphemy accusations. Ms. Gulnaz Yousaf, Chairperson of Dignity First, has asked the authorities to “ensure the protection of all religious minorities, especially the accused in this case.” She further demanded, “Equal rights, equal opportunities and equal justice be shown to the four Christians, regardless of their religious identity.

ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “This is only the most recent example of how Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are used to persecute religious minorities. Originally written to protect against religious intolerance, the law has warped into a tool used by extremists to settle personal scores and persecute Pakistan’s vulnerable religious minorities. In 2013, 36 individuals were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. Of that 36, 30 were religious minorities, 12 of which were Christians. Given that Christians only make up two percent of Pakistan’s population, the fact that one-third of blasphemy accusations made in 2013 were leveled against Christians is highly disturbing. Often, local authorities are forced into bringing blasphemy cases due to pressure from Islamic extremists. This pressure has transformed trial courts into little more than rubber stamps for blasphemy accusations bought against Christians, regardless of the evidence brought to bear in the case. Unless Pakistan is able to drastically revise its blasphemy laws or take them off the books altogether, they will continue to be used as a tool to persecute religious minorities in Pakistan.