Religious minorities under threat as Burma President submits bills

December 15, 2014 by admin  
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Burma ChristiansBurma, December 11, 2014: Burmese President Thein Sein has been criticised by human rights associations for approving a draft bill that curbs conversion to other religions and marriages between Buddhist women and men of other religions. Initially proposed by nationalist Buddhist monks who form the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, a group also known as Ma Ba Tha, the bill was signed on 3 December and submitted to Parliament for final approval.

If approved, the new bill will force anyone who converts to a different religion to seek a range of permissions from the authorities, or face penalties (not yet stipulated). And if a Buddhist woman wishes to marry a man from another religion, they must first apply to local authorities for permission. A public notice of the engagement will be produced and only if no objections are made can the couple get married. If they fail to follow this procedure, they could face a jail sentence of up to two years.

Although the new bill does not mention any religion in particular, some commentators believe that the new restrictions are proposed in a bid to prevent Muslim men from coercing Buddhist women to convert to Islam through marriage. Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012 saw more than 200 deaths.  It will also introduce other restrictions on family life.

Opponents of the draft bill have criticised it on the basis that it is discriminatory towards women and religious minorities. The proposed restrictions on changing religion would also affect Buddhists who want to convert to Christianity.  Speaking out on the subject, the Archbishop of Yangon, Charles Bo, said that “the right to marry, convert and vote are inviolable human rights”.

According to Human Rights Watch, improvements have been made in terms of Burma’s human rights record since Thein Sein was sworn in as president in 2011. Several hundred political prisoners have been freed and some laws have been amended. However, many repressive laws remain in place and the religious liberty situation remains a serious concern.

The US Secretary of State re-designated the country as a “Country of Particular Concern” with regard to religious liberty in August 2011, for engaging in or tolerating particularly severe violations of religious freedom, and again in 2014 for serious abuses against ethnic minority Christians in Kachin state during recent military interventions there. According to the 2013 report produced by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, there is evidence of “the targeting of religious venues in military operations, forced labor of church members, restrictions on building places of worship, destruction of religious venues and artifacts, and prohibitions on some religious ceremonies”.

- barnabas team

Malaysia: Christians seething after Bibles stamped with warning

December 11, 2014 by admin  
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Bible stampedMalaysia, December 9, 2014: Iban and Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians in Sarawak are seething over the stamping of Malay and Iban-language Bibles with a warning by the Selangor religious authorities, saying the act of desecration had marred any sincerity over the release of the holy books which were seized earlier this year.

Pastor Graman Ujang, the chairman of Gempuru Besai Sarawak, the largest Christian grouping representing 6,000 Iban-speaking congregations in the state, said the Selangor religious authorities had showed bad faith in the return of the Bibles.

“It showed they were not sincere in wanting to return them. They did so because they were pressured to. “But why on earth did they do that, stamping the Bibles?” Ujang asked.

Ujang said he also felt embarrassed because the stamping showed Muslims in Malaysia were so weak in their faith that they would go to such lengths to reassure themselves.

“It also shows they just don’t have any respect for other religions,” Ujang told The Malaysian Insider.

The Bibles contain the Arabic word “Allah” for God. In the Alkitab and Bup Kudus, the Iban-language Bible, God is referred to as “Allah Taala”.

A total of 321 copies of the Bible were seized by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) bookshop on January 2. They were released to Sarawak Christians through the Association of Churches of Sarawak (ACS) at a ceremony witnessed by the Sultan of Selangor on November 14.

They were released to Sarawak Christians rather than the peninsula-based BSM from where they were seized, as the scriptures were not to be used in Selangor, a press statement by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) had explained.

However, the Bibles were stamped with a warning that the holy books were not to be published or used anywhere in the state of Selangor.

The warning in English reads: “Strictly for non-Muslims usage only and shall not be published or used in any part of the state of Selangor pursuant to section 9 (1) Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988″.

The Malaysian Insider had reported on Sunday that the stamping was most likely discovered only after the handing over ceremony of the Bibles towards the end of November, as the BSM had released an earlier statement thanking the sultan for helping to secure their release. It had also considered the matter settled then.

The BSM, in a strongly-worded statement on Sunday, had demanded an apology from the Selangor religious authorities.

“The Christian minority in this country has been made to suffer at the hands of religious zealots and extremists working within the government,” BSM president Bishop Datuk Ng Moon Hing had said in the statement.

The BSM also considered the stamping a repeat incident of desecration, the first time being in March 2011, when 5,000 copies of the Alkitab were stamped and serialised by the Home Ministry, which held the consignment worth RM70,000 (US$20,000) for two years after seizing them at the Kuching Port on March 20, 2009.

Prominent social activist Nicholas Bawin told The Malaysian Insider he was “very angry” as the desecration had violated one of the greatest fears Sarawak’s founding fathers of Malaysia had, that the freedom to worship any religion in predominantly Muslim Malaysia would gradually be eroded.

“Where is the hope of freedom of worship with all these,” said Bawin, who is also a PKR politician.

Ujang had earlier this year commented on the January 2 seizure of the Bibles from BSM’s bookshop in Petaling Jaya, calling it a “serious and intolerable” violation of the constitutional right of Christians to practise, preach and propagate their faith.

“If one copy had been taken, it would have been understood to be for inspection.

“But seizing multiple copies is a clear attempt to restrict the Iban-speaking Christians from accessing the Bible in our own language,” he had said.

Iban Christians make up some 52.6% of Sarawak’s Christians. Christianity is Malaysia’s third largest religion, with 2.6 million followers or about 10% of the country’s population, a 2010 census showed.

Malaysia has an ongoing dispute in the courts over the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims, which began with the Catholic Church’s suit against the government for banning the word in the Bahasa Malaysia edition of its newsletter, Herald.

The Federal Court first denied the church leave to appeal a Court of Appeal ruling which banned the word, and has now fixed January 21 to hear the church’s review application to set aside the earlier ruling and to establish a new panel to re-hear the leave application.

The word “Allah” and several other Arabic words pertaining to prayer, faith and worship were first banned from non-Muslim publications under a Home Ministry circular in 1986. This prohibition is now in several Islamic state enactments.

A 10-point agreement by the federal government issued before the April 2011 state elections in Sarawak allowed the Alkitab and Iban-language Bibles to continue being imported, distributed and used.

But there has been ambiguity in its implementation, with some politicians saying it can only be used by Sabah and Sarawak Christians in their states, despite the fact that many of them live and work in the peninsula.

News of the recent stamping and the BSM’s angry response follows a plea by Sarawak’s largest church group, Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Sarawak, for the right to use the word “Allah” in worship throughout Malaysia.

SIB Sarawak president Rev Dr Justin Wan had said that “Allah” was used in almost all native languages of the Sarawak natives, and noted the “high mobility” of people between the two Borneo states and the peninsula. – December 9, 2014.

- the malaysian insider

Pak: Blasphemy case lawyer gets death threat

December 10, 2014 by admin  
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blasphemy lawKarachi, December 5, 2014: A Pakistani lawyer says he has been threatened by gunmen posing as members of the Islamic State movement for defending a man accused of blasphemy.

“Two gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire outside my residence at 9:30pm [on Wednesday] and sped away. They returned again after midnight, knocked at my door and dropped a letter,” Shahbaz Gurmani told ucanews.com on Friday.

Gurmani is defense counsel for Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer in the English department at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Karachi.

Hafeez was arrested in March 2013 after being accused by the student wing of a hardline Islamist party of posting derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad and Allah on his Facebook page.

Hafeez denies the charge, claiming he was falsely accused by a supporter of the party who wanted his job but was overlooked for the position.

“In the letter, supposedly sent by Daish, the Arabic acronym for IS, I have been told to withdraw from the Junaid Hafeez case or face serious consequences,” Gurmani said.

“Haven’t you learned any lesson from what we did to Rashid Rehman Khan? You will be beheaded if you do not quit this case,” he said, quoting the letter.

Rashid Rehman Khan, a lawyer and coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was shot dead inside his office in May this year for defending Hafeez.

Khan had taken up the case after two other defense lawyers, Muddassir Sagheer and Haq Nawaz, withdrew following death threats.

Gurmani said he would not be intimidated by threats and would continue to fight Hafeez’s case.

Rights campaigners say Pakistan’s blasphemy law is misused to target minorities, stoke religious hatred and settle personal scores.

- ucanews

Nepal will become “the highest peak” in the Kingdom of God

December 5, 2014 by admin  
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NepalNepal, December 02, 2014: Catholics in Nepal “are not only God’s messengers. They are messengers of God in a former Hindu monarchy. Today this country is known for Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. Now we want to make the nation the highest peak in the Kingdom of God,” said Mgr Paul Simick.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate is clear about his mission as apostolic vicar to Nepal. Appointed by Pope Francis last April, he has already identified the most pressing challenges the local Catholic Church faces.

“Nepal is a very diversified country in religious, cultural, ethnic and linguistic terms,” Mgr Simick told AsiaNews. “For this reason, more than others, it urgently needs dialogue”.

However, “The laity must be the engine of dialogue, as the link between government, political parties and other religious groups. Giving them more power can only benefit the nation.”

“In order to implement the dialogue I have in mind,” he added, “we have to teach lay Catholics the concepts of openness and identity”.

“Everyone should be open to other faiths, and be ready to respect their neighbours. At the same time, we must not forget to share our identity, without fear. “

Admitting to growing spiritual hunger in the country, he said, “We should make our just and meaningful presence through works of charity. After we reach people, we can share the Good News but it is God who converts people.”

- asianews

Bangladesh: Extremists attack believers during baptism

December 1, 2014 by admin  
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bangladesh christians prayBangladesh, November 9, 2014: On Nov. 9, Faith Bible Church baptized 42 believers from Muslim backgrounds in Lalmonirhat, north Bangladesh. While the event was going on, at least 200 local Muslims attacked the new believers and pastors Salim Haidar and John Arif.

The Muslims called the police and had the Christians arrested. Charges were then filed against the two pastors. They were accused of converting Muslims by offering them money.

“The police detained the believers all night,” said a local Open Doors source. “The believers strongly denied the allegations.”

The believers were released the next morning, but the two pastors were kept in custody. They posted bail with the help of a lawyer, but it was denied. The first hearing is set for next Monday.

“The officer-in-charge said that he cannot release the pastors because of pressure from Islamic leaders,” added the same source.

- open doors

Christians, Muslims unite for justice over couple burned and killed

November 26, 2014 by admin  
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Protesters against killing of Shahzad Masih and his wife ShamaLahore, November 20, 2014: In the two weeks since a Christian couple was killed by a Muslim mob in Pakistan, local leaders from both religions have come together repeatedly to call for justice in the matter, and an end to the misuse of blasphemy allegations.

On Nov. 4, Shahzad Masih and his wife Shama were reportedly killed and their bodies burned by a mob after they were accused of desecrating the Quran. The couple lived in Kot Radha Kishan, a city located nearly 40 miles southwest of Lahore.

The couple worked at a brick kiln, and it has been reported that the kiln owner noticed Shama burning some belongings of her recently-deceased father-in-law, and charged that some pages she burnt were from the Quran – he then detained them. They owed him money, and he refused to release them without being paid.

It was then announced from local mosques that the couple had desecrated the Quran, and a mob forced their way into the room where the Masihs were held, and beat them. Reports vary as to whether or not the couple’s bodies were thrown into the kiln before or after their deaths.

The incident has led to calls for better justice and increased solidarity throughout Pakistan.

On Nov. 18, a group of Muslim and Christian scholars and religious leaders met with Mohammad Sarwar, governor of Punjab, the province in which Kot Radha Kishan is located, “to express our deep shock on this barbaric act of burning alive, the fears of Pakistani Christian religious minority and our reservation on the follow up of this heinous crime,” according to a report by Fr. James Channan, O.P., director of the Peace Center Lahore.

The meeting “was also to listen to the point of view of the government of Pakistan and what strategy it has adopted to deal with such a crime and would justice be ever done?”

Fr. Channan was joined at the meeting by Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, chairman of the Pakistan Ulama Council, and two Anglican bishops.

Sarwar condemned the killing, Fr. Channan reported, and “said that the case of Radha Kishn is a test case for the government of Pakistan. We want that all those who are involved in this heinous crime must be given exemplary punishment so that no one else dares to commit such a crime in (the) future. Our government will make sure that all the criminals are brought to justice.”

Robert Azriah, the Anglican bishop of Raiwind, said that it was unfortunate that the government had failed to punish the perpetrators of such acts in the past, saying that had those criminals been punished then such incidents would not have taken place.

“The miscreants must be punished and all those who misuse these laws must be given exemplary punishment so that no other person dares to misuse these laws,” Fr. Channan reported him saying.

The Dominican also noted that Tahir Ashrafi lamented that in the past, “no one was punished who attacked Christian villages and colonies. That is big question for me … if they were penalized then this incident would have not taken place.”

“He said we are with our fellow Christian citizens and we lament and mourn with them. He said that a group of 100 Ulama went to the site of the crime and condoled our Christian brothers and sisters. We are with you and will raise voice so that justice is done to you.”

The Pakistan Ulama Council had already, on Nov. 12, demanded “that judicial inquiry should be conducted into the Kot Radha Kishan tragedy and the culprits must be brought to justice.”

On Nov. 18, the kiln owner and more than five other suspects in the case of the Masihs were jailed on judicial remand, according to the Daily Times, based in Lahore.

The previous day, relatives of the Masih’s said at a press conference that they were being pressured to withdraw the case against those who are believed responsible for their deaths, with both threats and promises of land and money.

Sajid Ishaq, chairman of the Pakistan Interfaith League, said “We want the government to relocate the family to a safer place to protect them from the people pressuring them,” according to The Express Tribune.

On Nov. 13, the Peace Center Lahore, United Religious Initiative, and the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Forum of Minhaj ul Quran organized a peaceful protest march in Lahore over the Masihs’ tragedy.

Minhaj ul Quran reported that its secretary general, Khurram Nawaz Gandapur, “said that those who have perpetrated this horrible crime are not only enemies of Islam but also of humanity” and “that the purpose of this interfaith prayer and protest is to give message to the peace-loving people of the world that they should play their individual and collective role for establishment of peace.”

In addition, the Pakistani bishops’ conference and the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan on Nov. 12 sent joint letters to several government officials, and to the U.N. Council on Human Rights in Islamabad, demanding that the government take action to protect minorities in the wake of the Masihs’ case.

The matter “is a grim reminder that intolerance in the name of religion in Pakistan has escalated beyond the rule of law,” read the text of the letter, which was made available to the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

“The situation has now reached beyond the application of laws for justice, to where crowds and police are repeatedly setting precedents for street justice … such incidents reflect lack of governance.”

The letter, signed by Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi and Fr. Pascal Paulus, O.P., presented six demands to the Pakistani government, including that all those involved in the crime or inciting the violence be dealt with according to law, that clerics responsible for inciting violence through mosque loudspeakers be held accountable; that the government “take immediate measures to stop the misuse of the Blasphemy laws”; and that mob violence be curtailed by “training and sensitizing its police force and hold them accountable in future for any negligence on their part.”

Pakistan’s state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim. The nation has adopted blasphemy laws which impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad.

The blasphemy laws are said to be often used to settle scores or to persecute minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only 3 percent of the Pakistani population, 14 percent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2013 report cited “chronic” sectarian and religiously motivated violence in the country, as well as the Pakistan government perpetrating and tolerating “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.”

- cna / ewtn

Pak: Top activist hopeful for blasphemy changes

November 25, 2014 by admin  
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Blasphemy laws pakistanLahore, November 23, 2014: Condemnations by Pakistan’s top clerics and Islamist parties against the misuse of blasphemy laws could help reverse a rising tide of mob killings, according to one of the country’s leading rights activists.

A Christian couple accused of desecrating a Qur’an were beaten to death by a mob of 1,500 and their bodies thrown in a furnace this month in the latest in a spate of lynchings in conservative Pakistan.

A day later, a policeman hacked a man who had been accused of blasphemy to death with an axe while he was in custody.

Pakistan’s tough blasphemy laws can include the death penalty for insulting the prophet Mohammed, but critics say they are often used to settle personal disputes.

While there have been no civilian executions for any crime since 2008, anyone convicted, or even accused, of insulting Islam risks a bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.

Such incidents have been met with general condemnation in the past, but little action has been taken against either the perpetrators or instigators — a factor, say activists, driving a rise in such crimes.

But for lawyer Asma Jahangir, recently given France’s highest civilian award and Sweden’s alternative to the Nobel prize for her decades of rights work, the response to the Christian couple’s killing offers hope for change.

“There is a positive development, that religious scholars and parties including Jamaat-e-Islami went there and came forward against the incident, which is a good omen,” she said at her offices in the eastern city of Lahore.

“I think it is a very big change and we should appreciate and welcome it.”

Pakistan’s religious right has for decades used supposed threats to Islam to stoke up support in a country where 97 percent of the population are Muslims.

But Jahangir said the mounting number of gruesome vigilante cases was now forcing even those who had traditionally been the law’s most vocal supporters to pause.

The All Pakistan Ulema Council, a leading clerical body, has chastised the government for failing to act and pledged that in the case of the Christian couple, justice for the victims must be served.

It may sound like wishful thinking, but few Pakistani rights activists have achieved the credibility of Jahangir, a lawyer and daughter of a left-wing politician.

The former UN special rapporteur on religion has braved death threats, beatings and prison time to win landmark human rights cases and stand up to dictatorship.

Pakistan still suffers terrible violence against women, discrimination against minorities and near-slavery for bonded laborers, but Jahangir insists human rights causes have made greater strides than it may appear.

“There was a time that human rights was not even an issue in this country. Then prisoners’ rights became an issue,” she said.

“Women’s rights was thought of as a Western concept. Now people do talk about women’s rights — political parties talk about it, even religious parties talk about it.”

Military undermining democracy?

Jahangir can count a number of victories, from winning freedom for bonded laborers from their “owners” through pioneering litigation to a landmark court case that allowed women to marry of their own volition.

She has also been an outspoken critic of the country’s powerful military establishment, including during her stint as the first ever female leader of Pakistan’s bar association.

The 62-year-old was arrested in 2007 by the government of then military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and two years ago claimed her life was in danger from the country’s feared ISI spy agency.

She recently engaged in a war of words with cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose anti-government protest movement she says is backed by the military — a claim his party has denied.

Khan’s push to unseat Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has lost momentum since peaking in late August, but he plans a mass rally in Islamabad on November 30.

Jahangir said it was clear that Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, who led a parallel protest, were being aided by the military.

“I have lived in politics, I was born in a political house, it runs in my blood — so I know when certain faces are coming out, where they are coming from,” she said.

- afp/ucan

Sri Lanka: a priest who protected thousands

November 25, 2014 by admin  
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Fr. Benjamin Henry Miller (center) is awarded the National Peace Council's Citizens Peace AwardSri Lanka, November 23, 2014: When Father Benjamin Henry Miller left the US as a Jesuit student priest bound for Sri Lanka in 1948, he could have not predicted the changes he would see over the next 66 years.

To those who know him today, Fr Miller is an exemplar human rights defender. But the 89-year-old remains discomfited by such accolades, declining interview requests and telling a reporter recently that he had no desire to discuss his accomplishments.

“I don’t want publicity,” he explained apologetically, after welcoming the visitor into his sparse room located inside an attic in St Michael’s College in Batticaloa.

These days, the beatific American priest moves slowly, shuffling on crutches as he gets up to answer an endless string of phone calls and descending from the attic only with the aid of a friend. But when he arrived in the eastern Sri Lankan city, just months after the country’s independence, he was agile and driven from the start.

Almost immediately, Father Miller took on a role far beyond that of a parish priest helping to build bridges between communities as educator, priest, protector and witness.

But it was when civil war broke out in 1983, that his efforts reached their nadir. As rights abuses mounted, he demonstrated against the government, security forces and several militant groups including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

He also took to his motorcycle, traveling the nation in increasingly dangerous conditions to collect reports of disappearances, torture and killings that he passed on to local and international actors.

The same year, he founded the Batticaloa Peace Committee (BPC), providing a safe space for relatives of those attacked.

At the BPC, Father Miller helped thousands of families file police complaints and search for information on their relatives. Many were not even aware of the location of the prisons.

“Father Miller recorded all complaints from aggrieved people on violations of human rights, totaling around 8,000 cases that were forwarded to international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, and diplomats,” said Dr T Jayasingam, professor of Eastern University.

“The priest commits himself never to leave the people in their time of need,” he said.

Father Miller’s outspoken criticisms of human rights abuses were a rare beacon of truth at a time of a vast cover up.

“His work became a voice for the voiceless and the poverty-stricken whose fathers, sons and brothers had been abducted or killed, and who had been too frightened to report their suffering to the authorities but ran to the priest who accepted them,” he said.

At the BPC, Father Miller provided advice on legal procedures surrounding detention and how to locate those being held.

“It was a great relief for the people who were looked upon by the forces as suspected terrorists,” said Bishop Joseph Kingsley Swampillai, Bishop of Trincomalee diocese.

Amara Hapuarachchi, who works closely with Father Miller, said the priest enjoyed a rare “healthy respect” from security forces, which allowed him to succeed where few did.

“There was no proof of arrests therefore the priest forced the military to give a receipt to the family of victims when they arrested them and it helped to prevent them disappearing,” she said. “That is the only assurance a wife had that her husband did not disappear.”

In addition to the BPC, Father Miller formed the Council of Religions to help seek a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict.

The integral role of Father Miller’s work has been evident time and again. When the Sri Lankan government pushed to end the war after more than 25 years, they turned to the priest as a ceasefire monitor.

Earlier this month, Father Miller was awarded the National Peace Council’s (NPC’s) Citizens Peace Award. The award, granted only to Sri Lankan residents, is given in recognition of those who “have stood up for the protection of and enforcement of human rights and fundamental rights when such rights are under threat and such action requires unusual courage and self sacrifice to do so”.

“Father Miller became instrumental in setting up forums for community leaders and religious figures to engage in dialogue with one another,” said Joe William, Chairman of NPC.

“As the conflict and its effect on the people of Eastern Province worsened, he became a repository for thousands of human rights abuses and disappearances that took place,” he said.

Though time has slowed him, Father Miller shows little intention of stopping his work. In 2009, he returned to his native New Orleans, only to quickly turn around and go back.

When he stood up to receive his award, the priest explained that he had long come to see Sri Lanka as home.

“I will never stay in the US, now this is my home town.”

- ucanews

Family of slain Christians in Pakistan fear for safety

November 20, 2014 by admin  
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Shehzad Masih and Shama BibiLahore, November 19, 2014: Relatives of a Christian couple that were lynched to death over allegations of blasphemy in Pakistan’s Punjab province earlier this month have called for government protection, saying they are being pressured to drop their case against the alleged killers.

Shehzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi, bonded laborers, were attacked by a mob of 1,500 villagers and then thrown into a lit kiln after announcements were made over a mosque loudspeaker saying the couple had committed blasphemy by burning and throwing out pages of the Qur’an.

Police rounded up 43 suspects after the November 4 attack in Kasur district, including the brick kiln owner and mosque prayer leader. Four suspects were remanded in police custody, which is set to run out today.

“We are receiving threats on phone to take back our case,” Shahbaz Masih, the brother of Shehzad Masih, told a press conference in Islamabad on Monday. “We have been offered money and land as compensation in return for withdrawal of the case against the accused,” he said.

“We have informed the district police officer of Kasur about the threats,” he said.

Masih appealed to the Supreme Court to take up the case independently and order an impartial inquiry.

“We only want justice through fair investigations,” he said, adding that a judicial commission and joint investigation team should be formed to carry out the probe.

Shahbaz and his wife Parveen Bibi said that members of religious minorities should be included in the commission.

The Pakistan Interfaith League (PIL), a group of clerics and rights activists promoting religious co-existence, urged harsh punishments for those involved to dissuade others from misusing religion as an excuse to settle personal feuds in the future.

“Had the perpetrators of Gojra and Joseph Colony riots case been punished, no one would have dared to burn the Christian couple now,” said PIL chairman Sajid Ishaq, referring to riots against Christians in 2009 and 2013 that saw more than a dozen killed in mob attacks.

“PIL urges the government to ensure the security of this terrified family and shift them to a safer place,” he added.

In a separate case, police said Tuesday they had arrested a Christian man in Lahore last week over blasphemy allegations.

Thirty-eight year old Qaiser Ayub, a computer science teacher, was sent to jail by court order on Monday in Talagang in Chakwal district, where he was declared an absconder in a case dating back to 2011.

“Ayub has been charged with uploading sacrilegious posts on his Facebook page against the Prophet Muhammad,” a police officer at Talagang Police Station told ucanews.com.

The charge carries either the death sentence or life imprisonment.

Sardar Mushtaq Gill, Director of Christian advocacy group Legal Evangelical Association Development, said that Ayub had been on the run for three and a half years.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and even unproven allegations often trigger mob violence.

- ucanews

Christian arrested for blasphemy; investigation into the murder of Kasur continues

November 20, 2014 by admin  
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blasphemy lawLahore, November 17, 2014: The Christian Qaiser Ayub, 40, was arrested for an alleged case of blasphemy by the police in Lahore. The complaint was registered pursuant to art 295-C of the Penal Code (insulting the Prophet), the same for which Asia Bibi was sentenced. Ayub is a professor of computer science and has taught in several schools in Lahore. As reported to Agenzia Fides by lawyer Sardar Mushtaq Gill, according to the police Ayub had been a fugitive for about 3 years, since the alleged blasphemy dates back to 2011. The charge against him is that of having written blasphemous comments on his blog.

Meanwhile, the police announced that two brothers, Imran and Irfan, Muslims, among the most wanted for the lynching of Shaazad Masih and Shama Bibi, which occurred in Kasur, were arrested in Pirmahal, Punjab. 50 suspects still remain in custody.

Meanwhile in Faisalabad human rights defenders, Muslims and Christians in a meeting urged the government of Pakistan to take a clear position on the misuse of the blasphemy laws. “The government must announce and clearly demonstrate its position to prevent extrajudicial killings and attacks against minorities, justified from the misuse of the blasphemy laws” they remarked during the meeting, organized by associations like “Awam” (Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation) and “Reat” (Rights of expression, assembly, association and thought).

- agenzia fides

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