Evangelistic team cheats death; separately, stray gunshot leads to false charges.
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, July 15 (CDN) — Suspected Islamic extremists fired bullets into the car of a Christian evangelist with impunity last month, while in another Punjab Province town stray gunfire led to two Christians being falsely accused of murder.
Following a youth revival in Essa Nagri, near Faisalabad, the Rev. Kamran Pervaiz, a guest speaker from Rawalpindi, was in the passenger seat of a Toyota Corolla returning to Faisalabad with his team on June 25 when 12 armed men tried to stop their car, the pastor said.
Pastor Naeem Joseph, an organizer of the revival, was leading the ministry team by motorbike, and he led them past the armed men as they reached the Narawala Road bypass at about 1:15 a.m.
“I didn’t stop,” Pastor Joseph told Compass. “A gunshot was fired at me, but it missed, and instead of going straight I turned right towards the Sudhar bypass and took the motorbike into the fields.”
Pervaiz Sohtra was driving the car.
“Rev. Kamran asked me to increase the speed,” Sohtra said. “The armed men shouted to stop and directly fired at the car. I saw from the rearview mirror that they were coming after us, and I told everyone to stay down.”
The rear window suddenly broke to pieces as bullets pierced the car.
“Pervaiz [Sohtra] turned off the lights and took the car into the fields and turned off the engine,” Kamran Pervaiz said. “The attackers drove by, near the road, without noticing the fields. No one was injured. We were all safe.”
Pervaiz said he was certain that they were targeted because of their involvement in the Christian revival meeting; response to Pervaiz’s preaching jumped when a crippled man was healed after the evangelist prayed for him at the event. Muslim groups had warned the Christians to abort the meeting after banners and posters were displayed across Essa Nagri.
“A local Muslim group tore the banners and threatened us, telling us not to organize the meeting or else we would face dire consequences,” said Salman John, one of the organizers.
A police patrol responded to the ministry team’s emergency number phone call, reaching them in the field shortly before 2 a.m. and escorting Pervaiz and the others in their bullet-damaged car to Model Town, Faisalabad.
Pastor Joseph filed an application for a First Information Report (FIR) at Ghulam Muhammad Abad police station in Faisalabad. Acting Superintendent Shabir Muhammad took the application but declined to register an FIR due to pressure from local Muslim groups, he said.
“I am trying to register the FIR, but the things are out of my control at higher levels,” Muhammad told Compass.
In Gujrat, by contrast, police soon arrested two young Christian men after shots fired into the air by a drunken man killed a neighbor.
Cousins Saleem Masih, 22, and John Masih, 23, were falsely accused of robbery as well as murder, a later police investigation found, and they were released. Both worked at the farm of Chaudhry Ashraf Gondal, who became inebriated along with friend Chaudhry Farhan on June 18, according to Riaz Masih, father of Saleem Masih.
“They were feasting and then got drunk and started firing gunshots into the air for fun, and one of the bullets hit a passer-by near their home, and he died on the spot,” Riaz Masih said.
Yousaf Masih, father of John Masih, told Compass that when police arrived, Ashraf Gondal “gave them some money and asked them to take care of the matter.”
On June 22, police went to Yousaf Masih’s house asking for Saleem and John Masih. When Yousaf Masih said they were at work and asked if everything was alright, the inspector told him that the two young men had robbed and murdered shopkeeper Malik Sajid on June 18 at about 11:30 p.m.
“My son and Saleem came home around 6 p.m. and they didn’t go out after that,” Yousaf Masih told the officers. “On June 18 they were at home – they didn’t go out, so how could they murder Sajid?”
Police went to Ashraf Gondal’s farm and arrested the two young Christians. When police told Ashraf Gondal that they had robbed and murdered Sajid, he replied that they were capable of such a crime as they often asked him for advances on their pay and “they even sell alcohol.” Alcohol is illegal for Muslims in Pakistan and can be sold only by non-Muslims with a license.
Riaz Masih said he and Yousaf Masih rushed to Ashraf Gondal for help, but that he spoke harshly to them, saying, “Your sons have robbed and murdered an innocent person, and they even sell alcohol. Why should I help criminals, and especially Christian criminals?”
The two fathers went to the police station, where the Station House Officer (SHO) refused to allow them to meet with their sons. They went to Pastor Zaheer Latif.
“I’ve known Saleem and John since they were small kids, and they could never rob or murder anyone,” Pastor Latif told Compass. “They were targeted because they are Christians. The SHO and Ashraf knew that these boys would not be able to prove themselves innocent.”
The pastor referred the fathers to the senior superintendent of police operations officer Raon Irfan, who undertook an investigation. When he spoke with Ashraf Gondal, Irfan said, the landowner denied that Farhan had visited him on June 18.
“I have read the inquiry report by the SHO,” Irfan told Compass. “I am aware of the fact that this SHO is a corrupt person, and it is clearly a false report.”
Irfan said that, after talking with villagers, he concluded that Farhan was with Ashraf Gondal in Gujrat on June 18, and that they shot into the air for fun and one of the bullets killed Sajid.
“Ashraf bribed the SHO to arrest someone else and file charges of robbery and murder,” Irfan said. “Ashraf is an influential person, and he told the SHO to file the case against Saleem and John, as they are Christians and would not be able to prove themselves innocent.”
Advocacy group Peace Pakistan filed an appeal of the false charges with the Gujrat Session Court on June 25. In light of Irfan’s report, Session Judge Muhammad Gulfam Malik on June 27 released Saleem Masih and John Masih and suspended the SHO for corruption and filing a false case.
No action, however, was taken against Ashraf Gondal or Farhan. Police have not arrested either of them.
Report from Compass Direct News
One community in Punjab Province faces threat from grenade, another from bulldozer.
SARGODHA, Pakistan, July 13 (CDN) — Christian communities in two areas came under attack in Punjab Province earlier this month.
In Sargodha, an unidentified motorcyclist on July 1 tossed a grenade in front of the gates of St. Filian’s Church of Pakistan, next to a small Christian-owned amusement park where children were playing, Christian sources said.
One of the owners of the playground, Shehzad Masih, said the hand-made grenade was thrown just before 9 p.m., when hot summer weather had cooled and the park was crammed with parents and their children. It did not explode.
Masih said children told him that after throwing the grenade, the motorcyclist sped away, disappearing into the traffic of University Road in Sargodha, a major street where government offices are located. Masih said police confirmed that it was an explosive device that did not go off.
The Rev. Pervez Iqbal of St. Filian’s said the Bomb Disposal Squad and New Satellite Town police took the grenade away. High-ranking police officials cordoned off the area, declaring a “High Red Alert” in Sargodha, he added. He and Masih said the whole area was evacuated.
“By the grace of God, that hand grenade did not go off, and there was no loss of life or property despite the fact that the alleged militant made his best efforts to throw it close to the entrance of the church, possibly inside the church,” Iqbal said.
A retired member of the army who now serves as a clergyman told Compass that a standard hand grenade normally has eight ounces of explosive material capable of killing within 30 to 50 yards.
“Nowadays Muslim militants are able to make their own hand-made grenades,” he said on condition of anonymity, adding that the explosive content in the undetonated grenade has not been revealed.
Area Christians said the attempted attack comes after many Christian clergymen and heads of Christian organizations received threatening letters from Islamic militants.
In spite of the incident, the following Sunday service took place at its usual time.
Iqbal told Compass that police have taken no special measures to protect the church building since the attempted attack, though a police patrol vehicle is stationed outside the church gate.
“This is the only measure taken by the police to beef up security at the church,” he said.
At a small village near Sheikhupura, Punjab Province, a church building and Christian homes came under threat of demolition on July 5. Islamic extremists issued threats as, accompanied by local police, they intended to demolish the Apostolic Church Pakistan structure in Lahorianwali, Narang Mandi, with a bulldozer, area Christians said.
Assistant Sub-Inspector Rana Rauf led Narang Mandi police and the extremists in an attempted demolition that was averted with the intervention of Christian leaders who called in district police.
The attempted assault followed the arrest on July 1 of local influential Muslim Muhammad Zulfiqar, who had forcibly stopped renovation of a church wall on that day; he was released the same day.
“Rana Rauf disdainfully used derogatory remarks against Christians, calling them ‘Gadha [donkey],’ and said they go astray unless a whip is used to beat them and show them the straight path,” said Yousaf Masih, a Christian who also had been arrested and released on July 1, when Rauf, Zulfiqar and the extremists stopped the renovation work.
Another area Christian, Zulfiqar Gill, told Compass that the Islamic extremists threatened the Christians in the July 5 incident.
“They said that if we ever tried to rebuild the walls or renovate the frail Apostolic Church building, they would create a scene here like Gojra,” said Gill. On Aug. 1, 2009, Islamic assailants acting on a false rumor of blaspheming the Quran and whipped into frenzy by local imams attacked a Christian colony in Gojra, burning at least seven Christians to death, injuring 19 others, looting more than 100 houses and setting fire to 50 of them. The dead included women and children.
Khalid Gill of the Christian Lawyers’ Foundation said Zulfiqar has tried to illegally obtain the church property and attacked the structure twice previously in the past two years. Younas Masih said Zulfiqar demolished one of the church walls on Oct. 8, 2008, and local Christian Akber Masih said Zulfiqar set aflame the tents and decorations of a Christmas Service at the Apostolic Church Pakistan in 2009.
In each case, Christians filed charges against Zulfiqar, but because of his wealth and influence he was never arrested, area Christians said.
A Deputy District Officer Revenue report states that Zulfiqar has illegally occupied land and wishes to seize the church property and the house of an assistant pastor. Zulfiqar has already demolished the house of the assistant pastor, Waris Masih, according to the report.
Lahorianwali is a predominantly Islamic village of more than 350 Muslim families and only 36 Christian families, sources said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Rival merchants threatened to kill potato seller if refused to convert to Islam.
MIAN CHANNU, Pakistan, March 22 (CDN) — Six Muslims in Khanewal district, southern Punjab Province, killed a Christian with multiple axe blows for refusing to convert to Islam this month, according to family and police sources.
The six men had threatened to kill 36-year-old Rasheed Masih unless he converted to Islam when they grew resentful of his potato business succeeding beyond their own, according to Masih’s younger brother Munir Asi and a local clergyman. The rival merchants allegedly killed him after luring him to their farmhouse on March 9, leaving him on a roadside near Kothi Nand Singh village in the wee hours of the next day.
The Rev. Iqbal Masih of the Mian Channu Parish of the Church of Pakistan said Rasheed Masih was a devoted Christian, and that both he and his brother Asi had refused the Muslims’ pressure to convert to Islam.
“As the Christian family strengthened in business and earned more, the Muslim men began to harbor business resentment, as Muslims are not used to seeing Christians more respected and richer than them,” the pastor said. “That business rivalry gradually changed into a faith rivalry.”
Mian Channu police have registered a case against the six men and an investigation is underway, but the suspects are still at large, police officers told Compass. Police said the suspects were Ghulam Rasool, Muhammad Asif, Muhammad Amjad, one identified only as Kashif and two other unidentified Muslims; they were charged with torture and murder.
Masih’s family lives in Babo John Colony, Mian Channu of Khanewal district. Masih’s brother Asi is a representative of the Council of Mian Channu.
“Our continuous denial to recant our faith and convert gradually turned into enmity,” Asi told Compass. The FIR further states, “Both the Muslim men [Rasool and Asif] were not only inviting them to Islam but hurling threats of dire consequences and death on them for the last six months in case they refused to convert.”
Police said Rasool – a radical Muslim who along with Asif had threatened to kill the brothers if they did not convert, according to Asi – called Rasheed Masih to his farmhouse ostensibly to purchase potatoes on March 9, and that Rasheed went to it by motorbike at about 5:30 p.m. Waiting for Masih there, police said, were Rasool and Asif with an axe, Amjad and Kashif with iron rods and the two unknown Muslims with clubs.
They began striking him as soon as he arrived, police said.
An autopsy under the supervision of Dr. Muhammad Khalid of Tehsil Headquarters Hospital Mian Channu revealed 24 wounds all over the body of Masih, according to a copy of the report obtained by Compass.
“In my opinion, cause of death in this case is due to the shock caused by all the above-mentioned injuries collectively and torture,” Khalid states in the report. “All the injuries are ante-mortem and sufficient to cause death in an ordinary course of nature.”
According to the FIR, when Asi and two Christian friends went to the farmhouse when Masih failed to return after a few hours, they were stunned to hear Masih shrieking as they witnessed him being beaten and struck with an axe.
“As Ghulam Rasool and his accomplices saw me at the farmhouse,” Asi told police, according to the FIR, “the Muslim men put my fatally injured brother on a motorcycle and then threw him off the road near village Kothi Nand Singh.”
Asi and his Christian friends found Masih by the roadside after he had succumbed to his injuries. The Muslims had absconded with Masih’s motorcycle and 350,000 rupees (US$4,088), as well as his cell phone, according to the FIR.
As Asi and his Christian friends were on their way to the hospital with the body of Masih, a city police station patrol met them and transferred the body to the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital Mian Channu.
At press time the Muslim suspects were at large even though police have filed a case strong enough to apprehend and prosecute them, Asi said. He appealed for assistance from Christian rights groups and politicians, as his family is still receiving death threats in a bid to intimidate them into withdrawing the case, he said, and they feel powerless in comparison with the influence and wealth of the Muslim suspects.
Report from Compass Direct News
Local Muslim leaders prompt officers to arrest, abuse evangelistic team.
DHAKA, Bangladesh, August 4 (Compass Direct News) – At the urging of local Muslim leaders, police in western Bangladesh have tortured a pastor and two other Christians for legally proclaiming Christ.
Habibur Rahman, 45, pastor of Boalia Spiritual Church (Boalia Ruhani Jamat) in Boalia in Cuadanga district, 220 kilometers (136 miles) west of Dhaka, said he was about to meet with 11 others for a monthly meeting on evangelism at 8 p.m. on June 8 when local police stormed in and seized him and Zahid Hassan, 25, and a 40-year-old Christian identified only as Fazlur.
The first question the police commander asked him, Rahman said, was, “Why did you become Christian?”
“Using a lot of filthy words, he charged me that I was teaching the Bible and converting people to Christianity in this area,” the pastor told Compass.
In May, a police patrol chief had threatened to seize him at a church meeting but was misinformed about the time it would take place, Rahman said.
The commander who seized him and the two others was a sub-inspector with the name Khaleque on his badge, Rahman said. Police dragged them to a nearby parked vehicle and transported them to Shamvunagar police camp.
“Police told us, ‘We will teach you in the camp how to forget your Christ,’ while dragging us to the vehicle,” said Rahman.
Police blindfolded them after reaching the camp and took them to three separate rooms.
“I heard blood-curdling scream from other rooms,” Rahman said. “I was sitting on the floor blindfolded. I could not understand what was happening around me. Later several police came to me and one of them kicked me on the back of my head, and my head ricocheted off the wall. They also kicked my waist.”
Ordering him to say how many people he had converted to Christianity in the Muslim-majority nation, the commander said he would kick him a like number of times. The official told him to call out to Jesus, saying he wanted to see how Jesus would save him, Rahman said.
“While beating us, police told us there will be no Christian in this area,” the pastor said. “Police hurt our hands, lips, thighs and faces with burning cigarettes. They beat me in the joints of my limbs with a wooden club. They beat us for one hour, and I became senseless at some point.”
Police officers told Rahman to admit that whatever he had done in his life was wrong, he said. When they sent them to Boalia police station early the next morning, dozens of Christians arrived to try to obtain their release.
Police, however, were reluctant to release the detained Christians.
“Some Christian villagers then said, ‘We are also criminal because we believe in Christ like Habibur Rahman and the other two Christians,’” Rahman said. “They told police, ‘If you do not release them, then arrest us and put us in jail.’”
Police did not release the three Christians until 9:30 that night.
The next day, June 10, thousands of Muslim villagers demonstrated in front of a local government office called the Zamzami Union Council chanting, “We want a Christian-free society,” and “We will not allow any Christians in Cuadanga.”
The frenzied mob called for Rahman to appear at the local government office, and a sub-district administrative chief called in 10 Christians and 10 Muslims including imams to try to resolve the matter. In that meeting, the administrative official told everyone to practice their religion freely without disturbing others.
“The administrative chief also said nobody should interfere in other religions, but even now we cannot attend our churches for worship,” Rahman said. “Local people said, ‘You will come in the church alive but return home dead.’”
Police denied carrying out any torture, saying they arrested the Christians for interrogation because villagers had informed officers that some underground Maoist terrorists had gathered in the house.
Jotish Biswas, executive director of Way of Life Trust, said the marks of torture were unmistakable.
“There were streaks of blood on their legs, hands and faces,” said Biswas, who interceded with police on behalf of the arrested Christians. “I have seen marks of cigarette burns on their bodies. They were beaten so severely that they could not walk properly.”
Biswas said he had learned that a local official and some Muslim clerics had prompted police to torture the Christians because they objected to their evangelistic activity.
“Police violated the rights of minorities enshrined in the Bangladeshi constitution,” Biswas said. “It was a gross violation of human rights.”
Chanchal Mehmud Kashem, a Christian journalist who visited the area, told Compass that the area is lacking in freedom of religion.
“Torture by police suggests that those Christians are not citizens of Bangladesh,” Kashem said. “It suggests they are illegal, alien and that evangelism is a crime.”
Kashem added that the notion that “underground terrorists” had gathered in a house was a pretext for harassing the Christians. “Rahman has been working as an evangelist in this area for one and half years,” he said.
There are 176 Christians in the area where Rahman works as an evangelist and pastor, he said.
“The local government council chairman told me two times not to come in this area,” Rahman said. “He said, ‘There is no Christian in this area, so why do you come here to make Christians?’”
Local Muslim villagers have since refused to give work to area Christians, most of whom are day laborers dependent on obtaining daily jobs to survive.
Report from Compass Direct News