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Pakistani Christians charged with blasphemy

Rights group says charges stem from personal vendetta

Pakistani Christians charged with blasphemy

Rights activist Khalid Shahzad visits the relatives of the accused brothers reporter, Gujranwala

November 1, 2013

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Two Christian brothers in Pakistan were charged with blasphemy after a local Muslim complained the pair desecrated pages of the Qu’ran, a minority religions rights group said on Thursday.

Under the law, the two could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty.

The alleged blasphemy occurred in Thatta Faqirullah, a village in Wazirabad town in Gujranwala district, according to World Vision in Progress, a non-profit foundation working for the rights of Christians and other minority religions in Pakistan.

Police spokesman Samiullah Khurram Shahzad said a Muslim man filed a complaint on October 29, seeking action against two brothers, Tariq Masih, 24, and Arif Masih, 27, for using pages of the Qu’ran in the preparation of fireworks.

“Arif has been arrested and raids are being conducted to arrest Tariq, who has escaped,” Samiullah told in a telephone interview.

Police have also detained their third brother, Waris Masih, who will be released once Tariq surrenders, he said.

The two brothers were falsely implicated as a result of a personal vendetta, according to World Vision.

The foundation said Tajammul Butt, a Muslim, bought fireworks from Tariq to use at a wedding ceremony. Several hours later, Tajammul and the complainant returned and alleged that pages from the Qu’ran were found in the fireworks material. They beat up Tariq and his uncle, Munawar, also a fireworks seller, despite the two maintaining their innocence.

In Thatta Faqirullah village, Christians feared a potential mob attack over the incident. Khalid Shahzad, a Christian rights activist, said local Christians asked police to provide extra security for the hundreds of Christian families living in the village.'

Early in October, four Christians were arrested in two separate cases of blasphemy in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, more than 1,000 people have been charged under the stringent laws since 1986. More than 50 extrajudicial killings have been carried out since the adoption of the laws. But the death sentence has never been implemented.

Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl, was held in a maximum security prison last year before she was cleared of desecrating the Qu’ran in November.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of four, has been imprisoned for the past four years after she was found guilty of drinking water from a cup that was reserved for Muslim women.

In May 1998, Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad committed suicide on the steps of the Sahiwal courthouse to protest against the death sentence on a Christian man convicted of blasphemy.

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