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Pakistan

Pakistani Christian accused of blasphemy in coma after attack

28 May 2004

May 28 2004

Another Christian accused of blasphemy in Pakistan has been savagely attacked in the name of religion, this time allegedly by a policeman.

Despite being under police protection, Samuel Masih, 32, was hit around the head with a brick cutter, having been admitted to hospital with tuberculosis. He now lies in a coma, suffering from serious head injuries.

Samuel Masih was accused of throwing waste against the wall of a mosque and was beaten up last August by a Muslim prayer leader and others in Lahore, and then handed over to the police. He was arrested on August 23, 2003 and held in Lahore Central Jail, where he remained until May 22 when he was hospitalised with tuberculosis. A police guard was provided for his security in the hospital, but on May 24 at 4.30am, a police constable attacked him.

A fact-finding team investigated the incident and was told by the police that the constable who attacked Samuel had told them that his faith compelled him to try to kill Samuel. "I have offered my religious duty for killing the man. I'm spiritually satisfied and ready to face the consequences," he is reported to have said.

Samuel Masih's father, Mr Emanuel, says his family has faced threats. "I do not believe that he committed blasphemy," he told our source. "It is a wrong allegation against my son. We were threatened and harassed and warned that if we will pursue his case, we will face dire consequences. That is why we were not pursuing his case. I am very much worried for my son. I want to see [him] alive. Kindly pray for his life."

The attack on Samuel Masih is the latest in a string of recent incidents of Islamist-led violence in Pakistan. Earlier in May, 23-year-old Christian Javed Anjum died as a result of torture by Islamic militants, and Christian leaders in Quetta, Baluchistan province, received threatening letters. One pastor, Wilson Fazal, was kidnapped and tortured, although he subsequently escaped. Other Christians have gone into hiding.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has campaigned for many years for the repeal of the blasphemy laws. Last week, in a significant speech on human rights, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf called for a review of these laws. However, he has so far stopped short of a full repeal and CSW has asked supporters to encourage him to take this step.

Stuart Windsor, CSW's National Director said: "We welcome the Pakistani President's call for scrutiny of the blasphemy laws, which have been widely misused since they were introduced over 20 years ago, but we would urge him to go further and repeal the laws completely. Too many people have been killed, seriously injured, unjustly imprisoned or are living in fear in a climate of violence and intolerance as a result of these unjust laws. In the interests of creating a more tolerant, peaceful society in Pakistan, we call on the Government to repeal these laws. CSW will not stop campaigning until these discriminatory laws are repealed."

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Pakistan has a population of 150 million, 96 per cent of whom are Muslim. Islam is the state religion, but the constitution provides for religious freedoms. 1.96 per cent of the population are Christians and 2.02 per cent Hindus.

For more than 20 years, the Blasphemy laws under Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code have been widely misused and caused fear and suffering. It is not only Christians whose security is jeopardised by these laws. Other minorities, such as the Ahmadis, and indeed Muslims themselves are affected by the legislation. It only requires the testimony of one Muslim man to bring charges against another person for blasphemy, and so the law has been used as a tool in disputes that have nothing to do with religion. The ultimate penalty is death, although no one has been executed under the laws.

Samuel Masih is not the first person charged with blasphemy to face serious threats to his life. In 1992, Tahir Iqbal, a Christian convert from Islam, was poisoned to death in jail. Niamat Ahmer, a teacher, poet and writer, was murdered by extremists in 1992, accused of blasphemy. Bantu Masih, aged 80, was stabbed and killed in the presence of the police in 1992, and Mukhtar Masih, aged 50, was tortured to death in police custody. In 1994, Salamat Masih, aged 12, Manzoor Masih aged 37 and Rehmat Masih, aged 42, were fired on in front of the Lahore High Court by extremists, after they had been acquitted of blasphemy. Manzoor Masih died on the spot, while Salamat and Rehmat sustained serious injuries. One of the judges in that trial, Arif Iqbal Bhatti, was later murdered.

The Senior Judge of Lahore High Court, Justice Nazir Akhtar, has said in a public statement that "it is a religious obligation to kill the blasphemer on the spot without trial". That illustrates how dangerous the climate is in Pakistan under this law. The Government and police have failed to protect those accused, and the law has only led to an increase in religious intolerance and violence.

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