Pakistan: Christians Fear More Unrest After Arrest of Ministry Leaders

( [email protected] ) Jul 23, 2010 12:53 PM EDT

Muslims in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad are threatening to torch the houses of Christians after the arrest of two Christian brothers over alleged blasphemy charges in the first week of July, ANS has learned.

Walter Naveed of Human Rights Focus Pakistan told ANS that Rashid Emmanuel, 32 and Sajid Masih, 30, had been running "United Ministries Pakistan" for the last two years in Daudnagar near the Warispura Christian colony of Faisalabad.

He said the pair was accused by Khurram Shahzad, a Muslim man, of pasting allegedly blasphemous posters in a truck station in Faisalabad.

"The arrests have provoked Muslims to take out agitation rallies across Faisalabad," Naveed told ANS.

He explained how they had been set up.

"They (Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid Masih) received a phone call a week ago. The caller told them that he would like to meet them in connection with their ministry's website," said Naveed.

When Rashid went to meet the caller at the nearby railway station, the appointed venue of the meeting, the police were already there waiting for him.

Mr Naveed said that the police took Rashid to police station and he was later charged with committing blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad.

"When Sajid, Rashid's brother, went to tell the police that his brother was innocent, he too was arrested by the police."

The two Christian men now could face the death penalty.

295-C of Pakistan Penal Code reads: "Use of derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."

Naveed disclosed that Khurram Shahzad had lodged a police First Information Report (FIR) against Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid Masih and quoted him as stating stating that he read many posters containing "blasphemous content" in the Faisalabad Lorry Station and that details of the United Ministries Pakistan were present on the posters.

Naveed said that Khurram Shahzad stated in the FIR that he took the poster to the owner of the steel factory where he worked and quotes the complainant as stating in the FIR that the factory owner's eyes "welled with tears" as he read the poster so he accompanied with Khurram Shahzad to the police station.

Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid's family members have fled to safety, fearing more trouble, according to Naveed.

He described the situation in Warispura Christian colony in Faisalabad as "tense" and that the Christians there are hoping not to face a "Gojra-like situation".

Gojra, a small town in province Punjab of Pakistan exploded into international limelight last year when seven Christians were burned alive by angry Muslims over rumors that Christians had committed blasphemy.

Naveed said that the Christians of Warispura, a large Christian colony in Faisalabad, are feeling "highly insecure" after Muslims have held a string of rallies over the past week.

The local human rights activist said that a large number of enraged Muslims attended a rally in Warispura on Monday, and among those there were students of nearby Madrassas (religious schools).

Mr Naveed said that agitation rallies were taken out across Faisalabad city on Tuesday. He said these rallies headed towards Ghantaghar and Railway Road Faisalabad.

He quoted one of his friends, who had heard on mosque announcements provoking Muslims to protest at a rally and also to "burn the houses of Christians".

Neveed said that Muslims could not succeed in setting Christians' houses on fire on Friday but did not rule out this possibility in the days to come "as the situation on the ground stands tense and uncertain".

He said that Rashid and Sajid were imprisoned in district Jail Faisalabad.

Asked if the two Christian men could be attacked in prison, he referred to "extra judicial killings of Christians in police custody" in past and said that an attempt to kill the two men in prison "could not be ruled out."

According to media reports, the Christians of Daud Nagar, Warispura, Barkatpura, Bilal Town, Ibne Marriam and Jhandapir in Faisalabad are living under constant fear as a result of processions taken out by extremist Muslim organisations.