Tuesday, May 17, 2016

RLPB 357. Pakistan: blasphemy law used a weapon

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 357 | Wed 18 May 2016

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By Elizabeth Kendal

Once again, members of a small and vulnerable Christian community suffer terror and loss as radicalised Muslims wield the weapon of Pakistan's infamous blasphemy law against them. A simple, unsubstantiated accusation is all it takes for the accused to be rendered as good as dead and his or her property forfeited. Furthermore, the trend today is for collective punishment. A fatwa from a fiery cleric or some incitement from the local mosque is all it takes for the Muslim community to be fuelled with so much Islamic zeal and murderous outrage that they are prepared to burn their Christian neighbours. The only reason Christians rarely die in Pakistan's 'blasphemy pogroms' is because the process has become so routine and predictable that Christians know to flee at the first hint of trouble.

Located in Punjub's Mandi Bahauddin District (about 160km south of Islamabad), Chak (Village) 44 is home to some 2500 Muslims and 300 poor 'untouchable' Christians (45 families) who serve the Muslims as labourers. Saint Anthony Catholic Church is the only church in the village and Imran Masih (28) was the only Christian in his workplace. Although accounts vary, it seems that on 19 April, Imran -- a janitor at the local health clinic -- left his mobile phone unattended while he worked. When he returned to collect his phone, he found it in the hands of a pharmacist named Bilal who was showing others video footage he deemed 'blasphemous'. Though Imran denied any knowledge of the material, he was beaten and locked in a cupboard and his phone was smashed. Fortunately, Imran had a second phone which he used to call for help. The Catholic Church Committee came to his rescue, explaining to the senior doctor that, as Imran was illiterate and unable to speak English, it was unlikely the YouTube content was something he had downloaded. The doctor agreed, Imran was released and the matter seemed to be resolved -- except that Imran's accuser was not satisfied. Bilal sought advice from a fundamentalist cleric in nearby Sargodha, who declared Imran a blasphemer who must be killed. As soon as Imran was informed, he fled for his life.

The Christians of Chak 44 tried to appease the Muslims by offering their apologies, only to have the Muslims present their conditions for 'peace': hand over the blasphemer so he can be burned alive in front of the church. After prayers on Friday 29 April, local Muslim clerics announced over the mosque loudspeakers that Muslims were to boycott the Christians of Chak 44 until they delivered Imran the 'blasphemer' to them. A local businessman offered to pay a large financial reward to anyone who could produce the culprit -- dead or alive. Fearing for their lives and without access to food, water or work (due to the boycott), most of the Christians of Chak 44 felt they had little choice but to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. Only the frail, lame and those with absolutely nowhere else to go remained.

Christians seek assistance from CLAAS
(Centre for Legal Aid
Assistance & Settlement)
Incited by mosque leaders, Muslims gathered after prayers on Friday 6 May for a pogrom to torch the homes of Christians. Fortunately, the police arrived in time to disperse the large, agitated mob. Rumours abound that the remaining Christians have been ordered to deliver Imran to the Muslims, convert to Islam, or leave the village. Tensions are soaring; the situation is volatile. According to some reports, Imran may have been targeted for being in a relationship with a female Muslim co-worker, something impermissible in Islam. Convinced the blasphemy accusation is false, local police have refused to register a case against Imran Masih. Police told Morning Star News they would investigate the matter of the boycott.


* intervene to keep Imran Masih, his family, and the Christians of Chak 44 safe. 'The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.' (Proverbs 18:10 NIV)

'Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me.' (Psalm 17:8-9 ESV)

* intervene in the hearts and minds of the Muslims of Chak 44, so they will be convicted of sin, leading to repentance and enabling true reconciliation. 'For nothing will be impossible with God.' (Luke 1:37 ESV)

* awaken and embolden Pakistan's liberal, secular, 'moderate' Muslims so they will rise up against such shameful, uncivilised behaviour; may those who dare to enrage the Islamists by courageously promoting religious liberty, Christian security, equity, justice and peace receive all the help and support they need.


On 19 April Imran Masih (28), an illiterate Christian janitor living in Chak (Village) 44 in Punjab's Mandi Bahauddin District, was accused of blasphemy. Though Imran has fled, the Muslims of Chak 44 are demanding that the Christians deliver him up so they can burn him alive. Otherwise, the Christians must convert to Islam or leave the village. The local mosques have organised a boycott of the village's 45 Christian families, leaving them without food, water or work. Convinced the blasphemy accusation is false, the police have refused to register a case against Imran. On 6 May they prevented an organised mob from burning the Christians' homes. Tensions are soaring; the situation is volatile. Please pray for Imran. Pray for Pakistan and may its Christians know liberty, security and justice.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Elizabeth Kendal’s new book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is presently being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) and will be available shortly.