Blasphemy charges heighten Easter tensions for Pakistani Christians

By Ecumenical News International
April 6, 2007

Christians in Pakistan say they are fearful during the final days of Holy Week about the registration of what they say is a trumped up blasphemy case that has triggered violence against the tiny Christian minority in the Punjab province – writes Anto Akkara for ENI.

"We Christians are worried. We are appealing to the government to ensure the safety of Christians and to drop the false blasphemy charge," Victor Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Pakistan told Ecumenical News International on 5 April 2007.

The previous day, the NCCP, which groups four Protestant churches in Pakistan, said there was tension and that violence had been meted out to Christians in the Toba Tek Singh district of Punjab province. This occurred after a blasphemy case had been registered against an 11-year-old boy and four other Christians on 1 April.

Blasphemy is punishable by death under the laws of overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan, although nobody has been executed for it. Courts have acquitted those accused of blasphemy in more than 100 cases after overruling lower courts.

But 20 people facing blasphemy charges including six Christians have been killed during their trials. Most Christians acquitted of blasphemy flee Pakistan, and Christians noted that a judge who ruled for an acquittal in a blasphemy case was murdered.

"Once a blasphemy case is registered anything could happen. The Christians there are really worried," noted Azariah.

According to the case registered by the police, a Christian boy and his relatives have been accused of blasphemy for desecrating a sacred band with Quranic inscriptions worn by a Muslim boy, who worked for a rival television cable operator to one of the Christians.

"We are trying our best to contact as many Muslim groups as possible to convince them this is a fake charge," said the Rev Bonnie Mendis of the Roman Catholic parish at Toba Tek Singh, near Faisalabad where Christians number 10,000 among three million Muslims.

A quarrel between the two boys working with the rival TV cable distributors, "has been turned into a fight between two communities", he told Ecumenical News International in a telephone interview.

Christians in the area say that the blasphemy case was concocted by Muslims after the Christian boy's family members went to the Muslim family to question why the boy had been beaten up for refusing to play with the other boys.

After this, a group from the village marched through the village during which they are said to have attacked a disabled Christian who could not flee.

"Though most people know this is a fake case, the police have not withdrawn the case. The extremists could use it to incite violence against us. That's our experience," lamented Catholic priest Mendis.

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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