Pakistani Preacher Jailed for Sermon at Funeral

Muslims accuse him of ‘blasphemy,’ order relatives to leave village or be set ablaze.

LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – An evangelist accused of defaming Islam was telling mourners at a funeral about the sacrifice of Christ when Muslims present took offence, his son said.


Karma Patras, a 55-year-old resident of Chak 113-RB Bado Malhi of Punjab Province’s Nankana District, has been languishing in jail since Oct. 13 for allegedly “outraging the religious feelings” of Muslims at the funeral of a Christian where most of those present were church members. He faces a sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine under Section 295-A of Pakistan’s widely condemned blasphemy statutes.


“My father addressed the gathering at the bereaved family’s house by sharing Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection,” his son, Robin Masih, told Morning Star News. “He did not know that there were some Muslims sitting among the mourners. He shared with the people how Christ had sacrificed his life for our sins … Muslims have a different view on this subject, and those present thought he was challenging their belief of sacrificing animals.”


Patras, who recently started a Pentecostal church in his own village, had been invited to speak at the funeral in the neighboring village of Mehmandwali, Chak 111-RB on Oct. 13, a few days before Islamic Eid-ul-Adha celebrations involving animal sacrifice.


“They fiercely objected to his sermon and even tried to attack him,” Masih said. “He escaped a beating due to timely intervention by the other Christians.”


Some reports state Patras was asked the Christian position on the animal sacrifice of Eid-ul-Adha, an Islamic practice in remembrance of Abraham sacrificing a ram instead of his son. Patras’ son insisted that Patras said in his sermon only that Christians do not have to sacrifice animals because Christ had made the ultimate sacrifice for them on the cross.


“He did not say anything offensive to Muslims and was just elaborating the Christian belief of Christ’s sacrifice to the gathering,” Masih said. “The Muslims thought that he was challenging their faith by denying animal sacrifice.”


Christians at the funeral were able to cool flaring tempers, he said, and the incident seemed to have been resolved. But when Patras returned home, Muslims from Mehmandwali called his cell phone and asked him to meet them in their village. Patras gathered a few Christians from his village to accompany him, but before they could set off for Mehmandwali, police arrived and arrested him, Masih said.


After the arrest, a Muslim mob besieged the Sangla Hill Police Station and demanded that officers hand Patras over to them, but by then he had already been transferred to another location.


Masih said that after his father’s arrest, area Muslims told him and his four brothers to leave the village or else they would set them on fire. They also ordered the Christians not to lock their houses.


“My brothers and I have three-to-four children each, and we did not have many choices at that point,” he said. “We gathered whatever valuables we could and left our homes.”


There are about 200 Christians in the village, and Masih’s family and those of his brothers sought refuge with relatives elsewhere, he said.


Patras awaits a second hearing on his bail application; the first was denied. Sangla Hill Civil Judge Mansoor Qureshi rejected Patras’ bail application because police had yet to submit their findings.


Patras’s lawyer, Tahir Naveed, told Morning Star News that he was preparing a new bail application. The blasphemy law’s Section 295-A requires evidence of intent for conviction.


“The case against the pastor is religiously motivated, and although it may take some time, I’m confident that he will be released soon,” Naveed said.


In Pakistan, however, trials can go on for years, and lower courts tend to decide blasphemy cases based on fear of violence by Islamist groups rather than on merit; most blasphemy acquittals take place at the appellate level, after courts have denied bail so often that the accused spend years in jail.


Pakistan is nearly 96 percent Muslim, according to Operation World, and religiously charged court cases commonly involve clamoring crowds of Muslims and other pressures coming to bear on lawyers and judges. Christians make up 2.45 percent of the population.


Extra-Judicial Killings

A recent study by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) found that from 1953 to July 2012, there were 434 people blasphemy “offenders” in Pakistan, including 258 Muslims, 114 Christians, 57 Ahmadis and four Hindus.


Those acquitted of blasphemy charges also face threats from homicidal vigilantes. Of 52 people extra-judicially murdered after being charged with blasphemy in Pakistan, 25 were Muslims, 15 were Christians, five were Ahmadis, one was Buddhist and one was Hindu, according to the CRSS report.


Section 295-A states, “Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Pakistan, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, or with fine, or with both.”


Sangla Hill was the site of mob violence in November 2005 after a Muslim accused Yousaf Masih of burning a Koran. Some 2,000 Muslims attacked four churches in the area. Masih was later acquitted after his accuser, Mohamed Saleem, admitted that he had not seen the Christian set fire to a building used to store copies of Islam’s sacred book.


Area residents later said that Saleem had leveled blasphemy accusation after suffering heavy gambling losses to Masih.



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