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Losing phone and having a Facebook account rank among other normal teen behaviours that are high risk activities for young Pak-Christian men
On 19 February 2018 Patras Masih (17 yrs) a member of Bethania Church, faced the terror of having a mob call for his beheading and Hafiz Muhammad Awais rendered an FIR for blasphemy against him. Patras himself has denied that charge insisting that his phone was lost a while ago and that alleged blasphemous content on his Facebook profile were input by an unknown person.
It has been alleged that a shared a photo of a Hindu wearing shoes in Roza-e-Rasool, the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Non-Muslims are prohibited from entering Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holy cities.
“…he is a member of a Facebook page titled “paglo ki basti ” (district of the mad). This photo incites all Muslims and may end up in dire consequences,” read the FIR.
News of the allegations triggered a huge mob that gathered from 7am outside the house of Patras, led by Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) an extremist group. Demonstrators threatened to lynch him and to burn down the homes of Christians if they did not act swiftly and handover the frightened teenager to them or the police, so that he could be killed. The mob burnt tyres on Grand Trunk Road a major route that passes through Lahore.
A police investigation failed to locate Patras Masih who had fled from his home after the initial allegation. Over 1000 Christians from a community of 1500 in his neighbourhood now terrified have fled the neighbourhood or are staying indoors for fear of reprisals against who the mob deems ‘Wicked Christian defilers’ (click here). Bravely Patras later turned himself in to police at around 5:45pm, concerned that others would be hurt by the violent mob brandishing petrol cans and ready to set the streets alight.
In a meeting on 21st February at Shahdara Police Station, that was attended by 7 Islamic clerics from a local peace committee and 12 Christian leaders, including five pastors, a peace treaty was signed.
http://www.getpetition.com/petitions/terminateblasphemylawMary Gill MP with Muslim and Christian leaders at a meeting presided over by local police.
Mary James Gill, a Christian member of the Punjab Assembly, officiated over the meeting after which a statement was produced in which local Muslims, said:
“We will allow Christians to return to their homes. Muslims and Christians should live in peace and brotherhood like before,”
In what has been deemed a shambolic appeasement by Christian leaders they also added words to the statement that said. “Such an incident will not happen again. We shall respect Muslim faith, matters and festivals and urge our community to do the same,”
However there is no agreement about whether the “incident” actually occurred or what would identify any future incidents. Clearly Christians in the community wish the same promise was made by the Imams.
Local Police and politicians have urged the Christian men to return back to their homes but have advised that women and children should wait some time, as there is still a potential threat of violence after Friday prayers and some ‘residual animosity’ still exists from ‘more hard-line Muslims’.
Few if any of the 60% of Christians residing in the area, who fled for safety, have returned to the location.
In total 3 previous Christian teen-aged boys were arrested for blasphemy and are currently incarcerated for alleged blasphemy. Allegations against 16 y/o Asif Stephen 12 Aug 2017 resulted in a similar baying mob who even went as far as to drag the young lad out of his prison cell to beat and torture him (click here).
One is Nabeel Masih arrested 18th September 2016 (click here) also for alleged blasphemous images on Facebook. The other Shahzad Masih was a sweeper at a hospital where he was accused of making blasphemous remarks on What’s app, by his Muslim colleagues, he was arrested on 13th July 2017 (click here).
The youngest of all the Christian victims to be accused of blasphemy in Pakistan was Rimsha Masih a young child of 11 years with a mental impairment who in 2012 was similarly accused of burning a Quran, though later in her case police established the Quran was burnt by a local imam desiring to implicate the Christian child (click here).
Sadly in her attack mirroring the case of Patras Masih, local villagers in her community also fled their homes for safety after they were warned never to return. Initially they fled to the local forest were they made makeshift homes from bits of tree and cloth and later they relocated to disused government land, having left their homes, their jobs and everything else behind in order to save their lives. Not one of these families ever gained
any compensation and in fact many years later the new homes they built on Government land were almost taken away from them after a Supreme Court ruling (click here).
Only the prompt intervention of EU Ministers at an event organised by a BPCA officer prevented these deprived families becoming homeless again (click here).
These risks of false blasphemy allegations, that proceed to trial and end in a guilty verdict are not rare events, but an everyday and fearsome possibility that exists for Pakistani Christians of all ages. In a country where people supposedly are free to practice their own faith – they are sometimes offereda chance to convert under compulsion of a blasphemy charge. In one case a court prosecutor was forced to resign after offering exoneration for
conversion (click here). Often after refusing an offer to deny their faith in Jesus Christ and recite the shahada these victims of circumstance, false witnesses and a hateful mob are stitched up in a corrupt court system like prey in a web. The officers of the court feeling they have been merciful seal the fate of the person
with death or long prison terms. It is a strange kind of mercy that is sought when these religious charges are involved. A Muslim teenager of 15 was even so desperate to exonerate himself that he severed of his right hand from the wrist to prove he did not blaspheme on 11th January 2015 (click here).
Pastor Safaniya of Bathania Church spoke to the BPCA, he said:“I have not nor has anyone else been able to speak to the family since the arrest as they have fled for safety and switched of their telephone (BPCA have Patras’s father’s and mother’s telephone number). Even wider relatives have no way to communicate with them and no nothing of their whereabouts.
“At the time of the incident I spoke to the mother and she confirmed to me that her son had lost his phone before the blasphemous messages began appearing on Patras’s Facebook page. I know that several different stories have emerged since then.
“I am also aware that around a month ago Patras, his brothers, his cousins and friends were playing cricket in a local play area when they had an argument with a local group of Muslim boys. The same boys led the protests for Patras to be killed and even burned tyres in the road and shouted slogans calling for Christian homes to be burnt.
“To me this whole debacle simply seems to be an act of revenge based on the cricket game enmity.”
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:
“In the harsh religious climate of Pakistan another Christian teenager will face up to either life imprisonment or a death sentence. Worse still from the accounts received from family members the youth is innocent of the crime for which he faces the harshest of punishment.
Rather bizarrely all accounts of the image on the facebook profile point to an insult that hurts Muslim religious sentiments rather then being directed
towards Mumhammad but the case has been registered under section 295c rather than 295a which would have the lighter sentence of 10 years. A
shocking exaggeration of a non-existent crime.
“Losing your phone, a falling out, sticking up for yourself, getting thirsty, being the only person of your faith in your class, going out for dinner with friends, falling in love, being too smart, good at your job or otherwise “not knowing your place” can all be named among the high risk activities Pak-Christian boys can number among the initial causes of danger, incarceration and violent death.
“What teenager anywhere has not done any of these once if not numerous times? Even the national past-time has become a dangerous activity for a Pakistani Christian boy.
“The use of a panchayat (local meeting of elders) to bring control to rioters is a damning indictment of depressing lack of authority held by the local police – a systemic malaise that is manifest in all of Pakistan’s police authorities.
Exacting such a requirement “that no such incident will happen again” in this statement is a frightening prospect that shows clear systemic persecution against Christians exists in Pakistan in that all Christians in the area may be in even more danger if whatever is deemed an “incident” occurs again. Now the homes of the Christians who have fled remain empty because of the fear of return and are readied to be pillaged at any indication of displeasure by the local Imams or individuals such as those who formed each of the mobs calling for Patras death.
“This boy will get no justice in a country that has designed its constitution and laws to undermine and oppress minorities. Sadly with the removal of the moratorium on death sentences in the country after the terrible Taliban machine gun attack on a military school in Peshawar in 2014, this means that poor Patras Masih will likely not live to see a grey hair on his head, a betrothal and marriage, or even complete his studies.”
Please sign our petition calling for a termination of the draconian blasphemy laws of Pakistan (click here)