Pakistani Muslims protect Christians over blasphemy charge
Committee stops a public attempt to call for the burning of Christian houses
Pakistani civil activists participate in a protest vigil against the murder of a Christian couple killed two years ago for allegedly desecrating pages of the Quran in the eastern village of Chak 59. (Photo by AFP)
A group of Muslim and Christian community leaders have formed an interreligious peace committee to thwart violence after torn pages of the Quran were found on a street in Lahore.
The 20-member committee, half of whom are Christians, was formed in Kamahan village where a Christian pastor Babu Shahbaz was arrested on Dec. 28 for alleged blasphemy.
Locals claim the Quran pages found in the Pakistani city bore the name of Shahbaz whose family is now living in hiding.
"We called his family for questioning when three pages were found the first day and they agreed to meet us and answer all our questions [the Christians denied that pages belonged to them]. But then more pages were found in the street. How can a culprit leave such clear evidence twice?" Asif Ali Babar, a committee member, told ucanews.com.
"Some people tried to use the local mosque's loudspeaker to announce the burning of Christian houses but they were stopped. We have been living with Christians like a family and will not allow this. Only the one responsible should be punished," he said.
Babar has been organizing village councils in his shop located in front of Nasri Church in Kamahan village, home to about 600 Christian families.
Veero Masih, the accused’s elderly father, says the Christian community has been apprehensive since the incident. "We no longer walk with our chin up. I am not sure about the fate of my son. Even New Year prayers were held in a tense atmosphere," he said.
Amnesty International claims the most frequently invoked blasphemy laws in Pakistan’s Penal Code are Sections 295-A (outraging religious feelings), 295-B (desecrating the Quran), 295-C (defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammad) and 298-A (defiling the names of the family of the Prophet Muhammad, his companion or any of the caliphs).
The government has formed several ulema committees in the past to review the misuse of laws but could not change them owing to domestic pressure.
According to a Punjab government report, 1,296 blasphemy cases were registered involving 2,299 persons, while 119 cases were cancelled in the province from 2011 to 2015.
These included 48 cases filed by Muslim complainants against non-Muslims. Conversely, only six non-Muslims accused Muslims of blasphemy.
Church leaders have long charged that the laws are abused for personal gain and that religious extremists are furthering their agenda by abusing blasphemy laws.
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