Pakistani Boy Accused of ‘Blasphemy’ Relates Ordeal

Cell phone mishap results in mob attacking home of Ryan Stanton, 16.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – When 16-year-old Ryan Stanton and his father returned to their home in the middle-class area of Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Karachi, the night of Oct. 8, they were stunned to see the local mosque leader and about a dozen other furious Muslims waiting for them.

We saw about 10-15 locals led by Khursheed Alam, the main complainant in the case, and Pesh Imam Qari Ghulam Qadir, prayer leader of the colony’s mosque, standing at our door – they were visibly angry,” said the latest Christian youth in Pakistan to be charged with blasphemy. “They told my father that some people in the residential-cum-office compound of SSGC [Sui Southern Gas Company] had received a blasphemous text message from my phone number. Their tone was very aggressive, and it seemed they were fully poised to kill me.”

Ryan said the men showed his father a text message allegedly sent from Ryan’s phone to the cell phone number of one of his neighbors.

His father, Bryan Patrus, told Morning Star News that the imam’s threats became increasingly harsh as the group built up pressure on the boy to admit to sending the text message.

He told them that it was a big misunderstanding and someone had misused his phone, but they weren’t ready to listen,” Patrus said.

As resolution nears in the case of Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old girl accused of desecrating the Koran, the accusation against another Christian youth has sent a shockwave through Pakistan’s Christian community.

In hiding while his attorneys attempt to get charges against him dismissed, Ryan was accused of sending a text message on Oct. 7 mocking Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, to several people, including his Muslim friends. The next night enraged Muslims ransacked the boy’s house in the SSGC compound and set fire to their furniture.

Making derogatory remarks about Muhammad is punishable by death under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s internationally condemned blasphemy laws, and Mobina Town Police also charged him with violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act and Section 29 of the Telegraph Act.

Seriously,” Ryan told Morning Star News, “I still don’t understand why they would even think that any Christian would dare do such an act when so many people had been killed during the anti-Islam film [‘Innocence of Muslims’] protests.”

Sitting next to his father at an undisclosed location, Ryan said that on the night before the attack, he had gone to a cricket match with five other boys in the family car.

While we were heading towards the venue, my friend Shahzeb asked for my cell phone,” he said. “It was with him for almost 15-20 minutes until I asked for it. Shahzeb said that he had handed it over to our other friend, Danish. Eventually I got the phone back.”

Ryan did not receive any hint of danger until the next day.

The elder brother of my friend Saqib called on my cell phone and asked why I had sent him a text message mocking Prophet Muhammad,” he said. “I was shocked!”

Saqib’s brother asked him whether he knew the consequences of making derogatory remarks against the Muslim prophet.

Of course I knew! I’ve lived all my life in Pakistan … I know the grave consequences of such a charge. Besides, we Christians are taught from childhood to avoid discussing religion with our Muslim friends and neighbors.”

The caller told him to check the sent messages folder of his cell phone. Ryan said that he assured his friend’s brother that he hadn’t sent the text message and hung up. He added that he found no such message in his phone’s sent messages folder.

In the First Information Report (FIR) registered against Ryan – filed at about 1 a.m., a few hours after the mob looted and ransacked his family home on Oct. 8 – the complainant and others allege that he admitted to forwarding the offending message to some people without reading it. But Ryan said he admitted no such thing before the Muslim accusers.

I do not know who sent the text message, neither is there any record in the sent messages,” he said. “But they wouldn’t listen and kept insisting that I should admit my action.

Ryan and his father said that the group issued threats of retribution as they walked away.

As soon as they left, my father told my mother and younger sister to grab only the bare essentials and get into the car, as he could sense danger,” he said. “While we were leaving, a Muslim neighbor asked us where we were going. We told him that my father was unwell and we were rushing him to the hospital.”

The family sped away to a Christian’s home; from there a Christian rights group provided them shelter.

Peer Pressure to Convert

Patrus said that his son’s Muslim friends had framed him.

On more than a dozen occasions, some of Ryan’s friends had asked him why he wouldn’t accept Islam, but Ryan used to ignore their nagging,” said Patrus, who has twice suffered strokes that have left his left side paralyzed. “On the night of Oct. 7, Ryan and his friends went to see a cricket match in our family car. The very next night, Ryan was being hounded [sought] around the city.”

At his home that night, the mob led by the imam, Qari Ghulam Qadir, was reportedly forcing their way through the door. Finding no one, they settled for looting and arson; media reported that several people were seen running away with valuables while others burned furniture on the street.

Soon afterwards, police arrived and managed to bring calm by assuring agitators of a strong case against the Christian boy. Besides accusing him of using derogatory words against Muhammad, they also charged him under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which calls for the death penalty or life in prison for anyone who “commits an act of terrorism” resulting in death.

It also calls for prison terms and fines for acts likely to cause death or hurt or that cause grievous injury or damage to property, and for death or life in prison for kidnapping or hijacking.

Deputy Inspector General East Shahid Hayat declined to tell Morning Star News why police had charged Ryan under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Hayat did say that the complainant, Khursheed Alam, and others had alleged that Ryan had admitted before them that a boy named Samuel had sent him the blasphemous text message and that he had forwarded it to other people without reading it.

Another police official said on condition of anonymity that application of the Anti-Terrorism Act was uncalled for.

I don’t know the reason for this, but the contents of the message would have provoked any Muslim,” he said. “The police are no exception.”

He said police were investigating the case from all angles.

We have information that suggests that some SSGC employees were jealous of Ryan’s mother’s position in the company,” he said.

The officer added that the family was lucky to have fled in time.

The situation would have been very dangerous for them,” he said. “It took us a while in placating the mob.”

Rights Groups Object

Farrukh Harrison, executive director of minority religious rights group World Vision In Progress (WVIP), said inclusion of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) in the FIR was malicious.

Our legal team is preparing to challenge the charges,” he told Morning Star News. “There’s nothing in the FIR that warrants inclusion of ATA. The police wanted to ensure that the boy gets tainted for life.”

Harrison said the family would not be able to return to Karachi even if they are cleared of the charges.

We will have to relocate them,” he said. “Returning home is sadly not an option for most people accused of blasphemy.”

Napolean Qayyum, a Christian rights activist affiliated with the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and WVIP, said the incident has left people already unnerved by the Rimsha Masih case even more frightened.

Just a month ago Rimsha Masih was charged with desecrating the Koran, and now this boy’s case,” Qayyum said. “Everyone’s concerned how frequently such incidents have started occurring.”

Qayyum said that a Christian working at a private office had shared with him how his Muslim colleague had jokingly threatened him with blasphemy charges.

Qayyum said the Christian told him, “For my Muslim friend it was a joke, but I have not been able to forget it … Even the thought of this ever happening gives me a fright.”

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