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by Peter Riddell
On July 19, 2010, two Christian brothers accused of distributing
blasphemous material were gunned down on the premises of the sessions court
Pakistan. Rashid Emmanuel, a 36-year-old pastor, and Sajid Masih Emmanuel,
30, had been running United Ministries Pakistan for the last two years in
community of Dawood Nagar. Their murder represents the latest episode in the
ongoing troubles of Pakistani
A member of a shadowy Islamist group reportedly told police that the two had distributed blasphemous leaflets in a city bus stand. Rashid Emmanuel agreed to meet an anonymous caller, only to find himself surrounded by police carrying photocopied papers denigrating the prophet Mohammad and purportedly bearing the signatures and phone numbers of the two brothers. They were taken into police custody on July 2 and charged with blasphemy under Section 295-c of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Within days of their arrest, Muslim groups began calling for the death penalty. Hundreds of Muslim youth marched into Dawood Nagar, throwing stones and bricks at the Waris Pura Catholic Church and shouting insults at Christians and Christianity.
An Asian Human Rights Commission press release pointed to the mosques as the source of the incitement:
Muslim extremist groups . . . made announcements through the mosque loudspeakers asking Muslims to gather at the district courts building when the Christian brothers would be produced. They also spread rumors one day before that the Christian brothers would be free to go home from the Civil Lines Police Station, Faisalabad.
In fact, the police were set to exonerate the two brothers because a handwriting examination by the prosecution showed that the signatures on the leaflets did not match the brothers’ signatures.
As they emerged from the court after the proceedings, five armed, masked men opened fire on them, killing both and severely wounding a member of their police escort. The shooters escaped into the crowd.
In the wake of the killings, protests by Christians erupted in Dawood Nagar. In response, further announcements were made from local mosques asking people to come out to fight “rampaging” Christians, according to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.
The events were noticed at the highest levels in Pakistan, with President Asif Ali Zardari instructing the authorities in Punjab to investigate the murders, and asking the provincial government to pay suitable compensation to their families.
However, such statements do little to assuage the concerns of Pakistan’s Christian community about the ongoing injustices meted out under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Since their enactment in 1986, over 120 Christians have been charged and left to languish in prison while awaiting trial. Other victims of these laws have included members of other religious minorities, as well as some Muslims whose approach to their faith earned the displeasure of the religious authorities. Fr. Aftab James Paul, director of Interfaith Dialogue and Ecumenism for the Catholic diocese of Faisalabad, said that “almost all blasphemy cases are false and fabricated.”
In response to the incitement from the mosques, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Christian Federal Minister for Minorities, has proposed draft legislation against preaching hate and printing or distributing hate material. However, a Muslim cleric, Allama Ahmed Mian Hammadi, said that Bhatti’s comments were in themselves blasphemous, adding, “It is not a cruelty to kill blasphemers; rather blasphemy itself is such an enormous brutality that the one who commits it neither has got a right to live in this world nor is there any pardon for the blasphemer.”