Despite Settlement, ‘Blasphemy’ Charge Sought against Christian in Pakistan

Complainant, mullah seek to make example of illiterate vendor.

Wazirabad tomb and mosque. (Morning Star News via Wikipedia)

Wazirabad tomb and mosque. (Morning Star News via Wikipedia)

ISTANBUL (Morning Star News) – An illiterate vendor in Pakistan beaten by an Islamic mob for unwittingly using pages containing Koranic verses received “forgiveness” from his accusers, but the complainant filed a blasphemy case against the Christian anyway under direction from Islamic leaders.

In Pakistan’s northeastern town of Wazirabad, 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Lahore, 15 to 20 furious Muslims severely beat Tariq Masih in late October after discovering fireworks bought from him were encased with pages from a children’s instructional book on Islam containing verses of the Koran. Although Masih cannot read or write and was unaware of the verses, he apologized to those who beat him.

Khurram Shahzad, who had purchased the fireworks, pardoned Masih, the complainant told Morning Star News. Shahzad added, however, that a day after he and others beat Masih “for desecrating our holy book,” he spoke of the incident with the prayer leader of his mosque, Mullah Sherazi, who told him that a “blasphemer” should be sternly punished for his “crime.”

“I registered the case against Tariq Masih and his brother on the directions of Mullah Sherazi and prayer leaders of three other mosques of the area,” Shahzad said. He also noted, “We would have thrashed him more had our elders not stopped us. Tariq Masih admitted before us that he had used the holy pages and sought forgiveness. He even promised us that he would not make the fireworks again.”

Masih has gone into hiding, and police have arrested his brother, Arif Masih, in order to keep Muslims’ anger from growing violent and to pressure the fugitive Christian into turning himself in, authorities said.

A conviction for desecrating the Koran – which requires proof of intent – is punishable by life in prison. Attorney Salvance Jacob told Morning Star News that a First Information Report (No. 533/13) under the penal code’s Section 295-B, which forbids desecrating the Koran, was registered on Oct. 29 against his Christian clients, residents of a locality called Thattha Faqirullah in Wazirabad, Gujranwala District, Punjab Province.

Jacob said Tariq Masih was employed at a local crockery manufacturer and also made fireworks at his home. Shahzad, also of Thattha Faqirullah, bought some fireworks from him on Oct. 27 for a friend’s wedding.

“According to Shahzad, some of the firecrackers he bought from Tariq Masih did not go off,” Jacob said. “He says that when a friend emptied the explosive material from the casings the next day, he found that it was made up of Koranic pages. A group of about 15-20 Muslims then marched towards Tariq Masih’s house and beckoned him to come outside.”

The mullah, Sherazi, was not present in the area during the ensuing beating, and he did not participate in the settlement meeting in which Tariq Masih apologized. Jacob said registration of a case just one day after the Muslim mob had decided to drop the matter indicated hidden hands wished to make an example of Masih and create religious strife through misuse of the blasphemy statutes.

Shahzad said the investigating officer has assured them that police will capture Tariq Masih soon.

“The police have also told us that they have put his name on the exit control list at all airports, and he will not be able to leave Pakistan,” Shahzad said. “His punishment will be an example to all those who dare insult Islam and our holy book.”

Sub-Inspector Maqsood Alam told Morning Star News that police arrested Arif Masih on Oct. 29 to prevent the situation from getting out of hand – that is, to appease Muslims’ tempers and forestall aggression against the Christian community, as typically accompanies blasphemy accusations in Pakistan.

“Arif Masih was taken into custody as he is a co-accused in manufacturing of the fireworks,” Alam said. “He has now been sent to Gujranwala District Jail on judicial remand. We are making efforts to arrest Tariq Masih as it is vital to resolve the issue amicably.”

Although the matter had already been settled peacefully before registration of the blasphemy case, Alam said that the complainant party was demanding Tariq Masih’s arrest before sitting for talks “to settle the matter peacefully.”

“We have been urging both sides to maintain peace to avoid recurrence of the Joseph Colony arson incident,” Alam said, referring to March 9 riots that devastated a Christian area of Lahore due to a false blasphemy allegation (see Morning Star News, March 11). “So far we have been successful in protecting the Christians, but they have to surrender Tariq Masih for investigation. I assure you that the police will investigate the case on merit and without bias.”

The police official was critical of some Christian rights groups whose actions were counterproductive, he said.

“Two relatives of the accused had come to us with an application seeking protection in the wake of anticipated violence. We kept them in safe custody for three days, but then a Christian NGO [Non-Governmental Organization] filed a habeas corpus petition in the High Court and brought a bailiff to raid our station for their ‘recovery,’” he said. “We showed the bailiff the men’s application for protection and asked them to leave with him. The police are sincerely trying to resolve the matter, but it needs the support of the Christians … Such tactics will only create problems for them and us.”

Asif Pervaiz

In Sheikhupura District also in Punjab Province, a banned Islamic extremist group allegedly pressured police into charging another Christian with blasphemy last month.

Asif Pervaiz was charged under all three parts of the Section 295 blasphemy statute as well as 25/D of the Telegraph Act (FIR No. 678/13) on Oct. 2 at the Green Town Police Station for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages to Saeed Ahmed Khokhar.

Islamic extremists with the banned Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) were said to have a role in the arrest of Pervaiz, a father of two children. He was under judicial remand after being arrested from Narang Mandi.

Khokhar alleged that he had received at least three text messages from a mobile number registered in the name of Pervaiz.

“I received the first message on Sept. 25, the second on Sept. 26 and a third text on Sept. 29,” Khokhar claims in the FIR. “The texts were extremely insulting towards Islam, the Holy Koran and our Holy Prophet, Muhammad.”

Pervaiz denies sending the derogatory messages. He stated to authorities that he lost his cell phone SIM card, which was later misused by unknown others.

Repeated attempts to contact the complainant and investigating officer were unsuccessful.

Pakistan’s population is nearly 96 percent, with Christians accounting for only 2.45 percent of the population, according to Operation World.


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