1994-04-12 00:00:00

A Christian on trial under Pakistan´s blasphemy law was killed and two Christian co-defendants, one 13, injured by three motorcyclists who shot them in broad daylight at a bus stop here.

A fourth Christian was also wounded in the incident.

Manzoor Masih, 35, died in the shooting that occurred April 5 as he, Rehmat Masih, 37, and Salamat Masih, 13, all related, were returning from court. The unidentified assailants fled and no arrests have been made yet.

The three Masihs, Christians from a village in Gujranwala district 80 kilometers from Lahore, were arrested in May 1993 for allegedly writing defamatory remarks about Prophet Mohammad on the wall of the local mosque.

However, Manzoor and Salamat Masih are reportedly illiterate, and the original accusation, taken up later by a local "maulvi" (Muslim religious leader), came from an 8-year-old boy that Salamat had a fight with.

Due to these and other suspicious circumstances and Salamat Masih´s age, the case aroused national and international attention. After being jailed for over five months, Salamat was released on bail in late 1993.

Manzoor and Rehmat Masih appeared before the Lahore High Court Jan. 12 to apply for bail and request their cases be transferred to Lahore, the Punjab provincial capital, for security purposes. Both requests were granted.

At previous local hearings, militant Muslim fundamentalists packed the court, intimidating lawyers and witnesses.

The three accused came from Gujranwala to Lahore, 288 kilometers southeast of Islamabad, to appear in District and Session court beginning April 4.

After court proceedings April 5, they were waiting at a bus stop when three cyclists opened fire on them with automatic weapons.

Manzoor Masih died on the spot. Salamat, Rehmat Masih and another Christian, John Joseph, were all wounded and admitted to the hospital.

Thousands of Christians protested in the streets April 7. Processionists marched down Mall Road, Lahore´s main thoroughfare, and staged a sit-in in front of the provincial governor´s house.

They presented a memorandum to the governor through the assistant district commissioner demanding the immediate arrest and exemplary punishment of the culprits involved in the murder of Manzoor Masih.

Traffic remained blocked for several hours and a heavy police contingent accompanied the protesters to avoid incidents.

The procession was led by Julius Salik, a Catholic national assemblyman and parliamentary secretary for minority affairs; Asma Jehangir, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; Mubashir Hassan, a former finance minister; and officials of several Christian organizations.

Manzoor Masih was buried later in the day at the Jail Road Cemetery.

A statement condemning the attack and murder was released by Dominican Father James Channan, prominent in Christian-Muslim dialogue; Fathers Francis Nadeem, president, and Inayat Bernard, general secretary, of the Pakistan Catholic Press Association; and Church of Pakistan deputy moderator Bishop Samuel Azariah of Raiwind.

They demanded that the government immediately arrest and punish the culprits and repeal the blasphemy law, which, they charged, has initiated genocide against Christians and is a serious threat to the national integrity.

Manzoor Masih is not the first Christian accused under the law to be killed.


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