800 Christian Families Flee Their Homes in Pakistan Fearing Mob Violence
ICC Note: At least 800 Christian families in the Shahdara neighborhood of Lahore, Pakistan fled their homes earlier this week fearing mob violence. A blasphemy allegation against a Christian teen from Shahdara sparked the mass flight. Accusations of blasphemy against members of a religious minority community often lead to instances of mob violence. In 2013, the Christian neighborhood of Joseph Colony, also located in Lahore, was burned to the ground following a blasphemy accusation against a Christian resident.
02/22/2018 Pakistan (World Watch Monitor) – Several Islamic clerics and a few Christian leaders held a press conference at a police station in Lahore, Pakistan, this evening (20 February) to send a message to at least 800 families who fled a Christian neighborhood in the city after a 20-year-old Christian man was accused of posting blasphemous content on Facebook, causing an angry mob to form.
The press conference was held at the Shahdara Police Station, after which a joint statement was signed calling for Christians to return and live peacefully with their Muslim neighbors, as before. The statement also noted that “the Christian community has guaranteed that they would not interfere in the religious matters of Muslims any further. And neither would any such incident [of disrespect] take place anymore. [Christians] will respect the religion of Muslims and holy places and their religious festivals and they [the leaders] will teach this to the members of their community”.
The mob had yesterday (19 February) set tyres alight and blocked part of the Grand Trunk Road, a main artery in Lahore that connects the city with other major parts of the country, demanding Patras Masih be publicly hanged for posting content alleged to have disrespected the prophet Muhammad.
Lahore is a big metropolitan with a population of more than 15 million, including the largest population of Christians in Pakistan – no less than half a million. Around 2,000 Christian families, including Masih’s, live in the Dhair neighborhood of Shahdara, a northern suburb of Lahore, and Bishop Emmanuel Masih of God’s Church in Lahore told World Watch Monitor that at least 800 fled to stay with relatives elsewhere, fearing a repeat of several previous instances when Christian neighborhoods have been set on fire following blasphemy accusations.
Patras Masih had a nominal education and has been working as a cleaner in a bank, where his father, Inderyas, also works as a driver.
Masih’s paternal uncle, Arif, told World Watch Monitor his nephew was friends with both Christians and Muslims. “A few weeks ago, Patras posted a picture in a group of his friends that had both Christian and Muslim members,” he said.
According to the First Information Report (FIR) of the crime, lodged by a man named Muhammad Awais, the allegedly blasphemous content was posted more than a month ago, on 16 January, on a Facebook group named PaglonKiBasti (The Town of Lunatics).
“After seeing this post, I asked Muhammad Siddique [moderator of the group], who immediately phoned the suspect, Patras Masih, and asked him to remove the post. But Patras refused to remove the post, after which the area residents are quite upset and angry,” Awais stated in the FIR.
Patras Masih’s mother, Saima Bibi, told World Watch Monitor that on the evening before the trouble started, Sunday 18 February, three men of Pashtun descent came to her home, showed her son’s picture and inquired if he was home. “Patras’s younger brother told them that he was not home,” she explained. “Then again four boys came inquiring about him. When Patras came home, we told him and he could not make sense of why these people were looking for him.
“Early the next morning [19 February], Patras and his father left for work, where his friend told him on the phone that people were gathering outside, after which the two of them fled while I came back home. The police knocked on the door while I was in the washroom. They left after searching, without finding me. I spent all day in the washroom and at night I went to the second floor of the building and jumped to a neighbor’s house.”
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