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Religious leaders condemn Pakistan blasphemy arrests

Christian men arrested for using the word 'prophet' in a personal pamphlet

ucanews.com reporter, Karachi

ucanews.com reporter, Karachi

Published: August 21, 2015 09:46 AM GMT

Updated: August 20, 2015 11:39 PM GMT

Religious leaders condemn Pakistan blasphemy arrests

Pastor Aftab Masih Gill, Latif Masih and Shafqat Gill at a police station in Gujrat. (Photo courtesy Syed Azhar Shah, president of Electronic Media Association)

Pakistani religious leaders and rights campaigners on Aug. 21 criticized the arrests of three Christians and one Muslim over the use of the word "prophet" in a pamphlet honoring a dead minister.

The arrests were made in Gujrat district of Pakistan's Punjab province in mid-August. 

Shahid Tanveer, head of a local police station, said that the three Christian men, Aftab Masih Gill, Shafqat Gill, Latif Masih and an unnamed Muslim man who owned the printing press, were arrested and charged under blasphemy and anti-terror laws. 

According to Ahsan Masih Sandu, a local Christian leader, Aftab Gill printed the pamphlets to mark the anniversary of the death of his father, Fazal Masih. The pamphlet referred to biblical verses that used the word "prophet" to pay tribute to his father for years of service to the local religious minority community. 

The three men were taken into custody after voluntarily going to police to offer a statement. 

"We [Christians] have already apologized to our enraged Muslim brethren for this misunderstanding and asked for forgiveness, but they have rejected our apology and pressed the police to arrest the organizers," Sandu said. 

Sandu also noted that three days before the arrests, local officials demolished the walls of St. Savior Church, a 120-year-old church, in order to build a parking lot. 

"We have lodged an official complaint with the district commissioner against the demolition of walls," he said.

Basharat Euriem, a senior Protestant minister, sharply criticized police, saying the arrests "violate our fundamental right to practice our religious beliefs freely."

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