The following article reports on the stoning of many girls in Iraq for dressing in western clothes. Over 90 girls have been stoned to death in a month in this disgraceful display of Islamic extremism.
Orthodox church members strike two evangelical worship buildings, beat evangelist unconscious.
NAIROBI, Kenya, April 15 (CDN) — Evangelical Christians in an area of Ethiopia unaccustomed to anti-Christian hostility have come under attack from Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) members threatened by their existence, Christian leaders said.
In Olenkomi, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, two church buildings were attacked by an EOC mob in Olenkomi town, Oromia Region, on Jan. 27 – leaving one evangelist unconscious and other Christians fearful of Orthodox hostility. Area Christians fear the assailants will not face justice due to the EOC’s powerful presence and impending elections.
A Mekane Yesus Church building was destroyed in the assault, while a Brethren Church structure suffered damages.
Attacks against evangelicals in the area are rare, but recently Christians have come under immense pressure as they face isolation and verbal threats, church leaders said. Located in the West Shoa Zone of Oromia Region, Olenkomi is a small town where most people there and in surrounding areas belong to the EOC. All officials in government are EOC members, and evangelical Christians encounter difficulties obtaining land for church buildings, church leaders said.
The attack followed an accidental fire from liturgical candles that burned an EOC building. EOC members blamed evangelicals, and in the ensuing assault evangelist Abera Ongeremu was so badly beaten the mob left him for dead. Another three Christians also sustained minor injuries.
Ongeremu was visiting from Neqemite, 260 kilometers (161 miles) away. After the mob stoned the Brethren Church, they next targeted Mekane Yesus Church, where Ongeremu was staying in guest quarters. A member of the mob took a Bible from his guest room and told him to burn it.
“How can I burn the book that showed me life?” the shocked Ongeremu asked.
He said that he told the mob that they could do anything they wanted, but he was not going to burn the Holy Bible. The attackers tied his hands and legs together and threw him back into the room, sprinkling diesel on the walls and roof and locking him in before setting it on fire, he said.
“I thought it was my last,” Ongeremu said. “I now understand nothing will happen to you without the will of God. That was not the day God allowed for me to die.”
Some of the assailants argued that Ongeremu should not die by burning, but by beating. Two of them dragged him out of the room and continuously beat him, covering his face in blood. He sustained wounds on his skull and right arm.
“After repeated beatings I lost consciousness,” he said. “I didn’t know how and when they left me. I only recall they argued about how to kill me.”
Federal police were summoned from Ambo – the nearest town some 50 kilometers (31 miles) away – to disperse the mob, but too late to avert the injuries and damages after their rugged journey of nearly three hours.
Prior to the attacks, according to church leaders, there was no substantial build-up of tension between the two groups, though EOC priests had expressed anger about the expansion of evangelical churches and had questioned why teachers from evangelical backgrounds were prevalent in the high school in Olenkomi.
Most of the teachers at Olenkomi Secondary High School are evangelical Christians, according to church leaders, who said this circumstance was solely coincidental. Although teachers of evangelical faith are prevalent in the school, they are forbidden by law to promote their faith in class.
The EOC members had been constructing a building for a church in Olenkomi, but because of funding shortfalls they revised the plan and built a temporary structure. Evangelical church leaders said EOC priests had seized the land without formal process, but sources said the EOC’s strong presence in the area kept evangelical church officials from protesting brazen construction efforts.
The EOC’s small structure was being used for liturgical purposes.
“The shelter-like house has faced fire disaster in various incidents,” said a church leader in Olenkomi. “The materials used to build it, and the curtains they hung on walls exposed the shelter to several fire incidents. The [candle and lantern] lights the priests used for liturgy were causing problems. We heard that a number of times the fire had lit curtains, and the priests stopped before it spread.”
Such a fire broke out on the day of the attack, this time out-pacing the frantic efforts of the priests. The fire consumed curtains inside the house and spread to roofs and walls. To douse it the priests went to a nearby government-owned water tank operated by an evangelical woman. She granted them water, and the structure did not burn entirely.
When they later returned to wash, however, they put their hands inside the tank and sullied the public water source. When the operator objected, the EOC members spoke derogatorily of her as a “Pente” and began to spread the rumor that she was responsible for the burnt structure, church leaders said.
EOC members quickly formed into groups of various sizes, sources said, and rolled into town chanting, “This is the day to destroy Pentecostals and their churches!” They first went to the Brethren Church, located by the side of a highway that stretches through Olenkomi to western Ethiopia.
“When we first heard stones falling on the roof, we thought the wind was tearing up iron sheets,” said one evangelist. “We also heard a loud noise from outside. It was around 12:30 p.m. I opened the main door to check what was happening. The whole compound was filled by men and women who carried stones and sticks. It was a very scary sight.”
They were stoning the church building, forcing the praying believers to escape through a back door. The assailants continued breaking doors and windows, thinking worshippers were trapped inside.
Local police arrived, the evangelist said, but they failed to disperse the violent mob.
“Despite firing into the air, the officers didn’t do anything serious to stop the mob,” he said. “They later said it is beyond their capacity and would call Federal Police from Ambo town. The anti-riot police arrived two and half hours later, practically after the mob effectively carried out all the destruction.”
Of the attack on Mekane Yesus Church, one church leader said the mob broke in and set fire on everything they found.
“They gathered benches, office chairs and tables, documents, musical instruments, public address system, choir uniforms and other materials and set them on fire,” he said. “They also lit fire to the church building, which reduced it to ashes.”
The mob was not finished. They proceeded to the high school, where they attacked Christian teachers as students rushed to defend them. Church leaders said the targeting of the school was evidence that the attack had been planned before with well-considered aims.
With Ethiopia scheduled to hold parliamentary elections on May 23, government officials don’t want to upset voters by punishing those behind the attacks, church leaders said. It is likely that officials would pressure church leaders from both camps to settle for the sake of stability, but Christians fear that in doing so their complaints will be overlooked.
Some suspects have been identified, but church leaders don’t expect they will be punished.
“It is like hitting a fire ball,” said a church leader from Brethren Church. “When you hit the fire, it would round back to you. It can even burn you. You may also distribute the fire to new places.”
In spite of the violence, evangelical Christians have engaged in “fervent witnessing ministry and prayer,” he said.
“It awakens us to think, pray and unite,” he said. “There is no good in persecution. But God turned it around for the good of us. The persecution was intended to destroy our commitment, but it rather built our faith.”
As election day draws closer, said the leader, EOC priests could easily motivate followers to attack.
“That would be bad times for believers,” he said. “Let’s pray for people in Olenkomi to know the will of God and repent from evil from which they assume to serve God.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Flood of refugees to camp in Kenya brings Muslims hostile to his family.
NAIROBI, Kenya, December 9 (CDN) — Somali Christian Mohamud Muridi Saidi last month fled a refugee camp near Kenya’s border with Sudan after Muslims threatened to kill him.
For Saidi, a father of four, the recent relocation of 13,000 refugees from the Dadaab refugee camp near the Somali border to the Kakuma camp, where he had lived since 2002, brought its own nightmare: the arrival of Muslims from Somalia’s Lower Juba region who knew of his father’s Christian activities in his home village.
After Somalis four times threw stones at Saidi’s iron sheet home in the Kakuma refugee camp – once in mid-October, and again on Nov. 17, 21 and 22 – word spread that they intended to kill him. Case workers for a Lutheran World Federation (LWF) service group confirmed the death threat.
“I know the attackers are the Muslims who forced us to leave Somalia in 2002,” Saidi told Compass in Nairobi, adding that he was unable to bring his family with him when he fled on Nov. 23. “They are not safe, and that is why we should be out of Kakuma as soon as possible.”
Saidi has reported the attacks to the LWF service group as well as to police in Kakuma. Case workers for the LWF service group confirmed that the stoning of his home had escalated to the threat of him being assassinated.
“Saidi has security-related issues fueled by the new refugees from Dadaab,” said one LWF service group worker, who requested anonymity for security reasons, last month. “I did some investigation and found out that Saidi’s life is threatened.”
On one of the occasions in which his house was stoned as his family slept, Saidi turned on a flashlight and neighbors rose up, scaring off the assailants.
He and his family had enjoyed some tranquility since fleeing raging conflict in Somalia, but that ceased with the transference of the Somali Muslims from Dadaab refugee camp to Kakuma in August. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees relocated the refugees to ease congestion in the crowded Dadaab camps of Ifo, Hagadera and Dagahaley, where close to 300,000 Somalis had arrived to sites designed to house only 90,000 refugees.
The influx of those refugees from the Dadaab camp more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) away came with the quickly spreading word that Saidi and his family must be Christian, since his father was a well-known Christian while living in Somalia. A Somali Bantu from Marere, Lower Juba, Saidi’s family left Marere in 2002 after strict Muslims sought to kill them when they found out they were followers of Christ.
Saidi’s late father had coordinated activities for a Christian charity in Lower Juba. Since the death of his father in 2005, Saidi has been working as a translator for a Non-Governmental Organization. As a translator, he became known to the newly arrived Somalis from Dadaab.
Because of the dangers, Saidi has been forced to abandon his job for fear of exposing himself to other Muslims who might know of his father. He is the sole supporter for his family, including his 55-year-old mother, wife and four children.
“It is not safe for us to continue living in Kakuma – we have to move away, possibly to Nairobi,” Saidi said.
As a stop-gap measure, Saidi said he hopes to work as a freelance translator, for which he would need a computer, printer, photocopying machine and laminator.
“This would be a temporary measure – asylum for my family would be a permanent solution,” he said.
Despite the relocation of the refugees from Dadaab, overcrowding has not eased due an influx of newly displaced people fleeing fighting in southern Somalia. Earlier this month, radical Islamic al Shabaab militia recaptured three key towns, including the key town of Dobhley, in Lower Juba province along Somalia’s border with Kenya. They retook control from the more moderate Isbul-Islam militants as they each try to overthrow the Western-backed Transitional Federal Government of president Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed in Mogadishu.
Report from Compass Direct News
Hindu extremists entice preacher into house, beat him unconscious.
NEW DELHI, October 21 (CDN) — A group of Hindu extremists in Madhya Pradesh earlier this month beat a pastor unconscious and chewed off part of his ear, pelting him with stones after he fainted from the pain.
Paasu Ninama told Compass that the six attackers first lured him into a house in Malphalia village, Jhabua district with an offer of water on Oct. 4. The 35-year-old resident of Pipal Kutta village said he was on his way back from his regular Sunday service in Malphalia at 4 p.m. when six men sitting outside a house invited him in for a glass of water.
When he saw a photograph of Jesus Christ in the house, he knew they had set a trap for him – Pastor Ninama said he knew they would accuse him of providing the photo and trying to “forcibly” convert them.
“I immediately turned to escape when they all jumped on me and started to beat me, accusing me of luring people to convert,” he said.
They badly beat him with wood on his hands, legs and back.
“I joined my hands and begged them not to beat me and let me go, but they mercilessly continued to hit me black and blue,” Pastor Ninama said.
One of the Hindu extremists chewed off Pastor Ninama’s left ear, which bled heavily. Pastor Ninama fell unconscious.
“A piece of my ear was in his mouth, and it went missing,” said Pastor Ninama, in tears.
The attackers started pelting the unconscious pastor with stones until villagers intervened. There were two eyewitnesses who will testify in court of the attack, said Pastor Bahadur Baria, who lives in a nearby village.
When Pastor Ninama regained consciousness, he found himself in Life Line Hospital, Dahod, Gujrat state, 33 kilometers (20 miles) from the site of the attack. He sustained internal injuries and had severe pain in his chest from the beating and stoning, he told Compass.
Pastor Baria said the attackers planned to trap Pastor Ninama by saying he had given the photo of Jesus to them and that he had tried to convince them to forsake Hinduism for Christianity.
Pastor Baria told Compass that a group of Hindu fundamentalists later went to the Meghnagar police station on behalf of the attackers to file an FIR against Pastor Ninama, accusing him of entering their house with a photo of Jesus and trying to convert them to Christianity.” The officer refused to consider their complaint, he said, based on the obvious harm that the attackers had done to Pastor Ninama. Police also stated that they would not consider any complaint that could lead to violence in the name of religion.
Pastor Ninama has filed a First Information report (FIR) at the Meghnagar police station against Ramesh Ninama and his five accomplices. Police have filed a case for voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means, punishment for voluntarily causing hurt and “obscene acts and songs” under the Indian Penal Code. Depending on the results of a medical report, they will decide whether to add the charge of voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means.
Sub-Inspector B.K. Arya told Compass that no arrests have been made yet. He confirmed that the charges could be modified depending on the expected medical report.
“I will personally see to it that the investigation is expedited and the culprits nabbed,” Superintendent of Police Abhay Singh told Compass.
Pastor Ninama, who converted to Christianity five years ago, said that his faith and bold ministry have earned him many enemies.
“Twice the Hindu extremists tried to put me behind bars,” but they had not treated him so severely, he said.
A year ago, he said, he was praying at a meeting in Malphalia village when two men approached him with a sword and made false accusations against him because of his ministry. One of them, Prakash Gadawa, had accused Pastor Ninama of forcefully converting his daughter, son and wife. They took Pastor Ninama to a police station, where they reached an agreement to drop charges, but six months ago Gadawa again attacked, this time entering the pastor’s house with a sword and threatening to kill him.
“I went to file a complaint against him in the police station, but instead the police arrested me and kept me in custody for the whole day and took no action against Prakash Gadawa,” he said.
Pastor Ninama revealed that around five days prior to the Oct. 4 incident, Gadawa came outside his house and shouted obscenities – accusing him of preaching the Bible and converting people.
“I did not take any action against this, for I know that no action will be taken by the police,” the discouraged pastor said.
Pastor Ninama said he and his family became Christians after his wife was delivered from demonic possession by a pastor’s prayer.
“After just three days, my wife was completely healed,” he said. “Me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
For the past three years, Pastor Ninama has traveled a distance of 28 kilometers (17 miles) every Sunday to conduct four services in different churches in the area. More than 100 people gather to worship at Vadli Pada village, he said, 200 people meet in Pipalkutta village, 15 in Malbalia village and 13 families in Kodali village.
The independent pastor said he works as a day laborer in farm fields to sustain his family: 32-year-old wife Bundi Ninama, four daughters and two sons, the youngest boy being 5 years old.
Pastor Ninama told Compass that the Dahod hospital has referred him to Baroda’s Nayak Hospital for further treatment and grafting of his ear.
“I will continue to do the work of the Lord,” Pastor Ninama said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Christian natives of Somaliland face opposition from authorities, relatives for sharing faith.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, September 16 (CDN) — A convert from Islam in Somalia’s self-declared state of Somaliland has been jailed for distributing Christian materials, and another is on the run from both family members and police upset over his new faith.
Christian sources said Somaliland native Osman Nour Hassan was arrested on Aug. 3 for providing Christian literature in Pepsi village, on the outskirts of the breakaway region’s capital city, Hargeisa.
Promotion of any religion other than Islam in Somaliland is prohibited, contrary to international standards for religious freedom such as Article 18 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5(1-2) of the Somaliland constitution states that Islam is the state religion and prohibits the promotion of any other faith, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report, and Article 313 outlines penalties for Muslims who change their religion.
Hassan was accused of providing Christian literature to a village Muslim boy, who later showed it to his family and friends. The boy’s Muslim family reported the incident to the police, the sources said, leading to the arrest of the 29-year-old Hassan. He was taken to Hargeisa central police station.
The arrest has upset underground Christians who see it as a muzzle on religious expression. They said other Muslim villagers had received Christian materials from Hassan and took no offense, and that Christian Ethiopian refugees in the area have distributed the same literature without problem.
On Aug. 6, the Muslim family who accused Hassan met with his family and agreed that Islamic teachers, or sheikhs, should go to see him in jail to advise him on Islamic doctrine. Two sheikhs met him in the police station cell and implored him to stop spreading Christianity.
“You are from an Islamic family, and therefore you should not disgrace or paint a bad image of the family,” argued one of the sheikhs, according to a source who spoke with Hassan. In response, according to the source, Hassan told them that he had received the Christian materials as educational material for himself and for others who cared to read them, and that Jesus was his Savior.
Convinced that Hassan had truly left Islam, and angered by his defiance, the sheikhs urged authorities to take him to the harsher conditions of a jail in Mandera, 60 kilometers (37 miles) away, but at press time Hassan was still incarcerated in Hargeisa.
“His stand is that he is waiting for the coming of Issa [Jesus], just as the whole world is also waiting,” said one neighbor.
Somaliland, which is vying for international recognition as a nation, is bordered by the Gulf of Aden to the north, by Ethiopia to the southwest and by Djibouti to the northwest.
Another Somaliland convert to Christianity, Mohamed G. Ali, is on the run from both authorities and family members. Ali has fled to neighboring Ethiopia, but the 27-year-old father of three said this will not be enough to deter relatives who seek to punish him for leaving Islam.
He said relatives previously abducted his wife, who is expected to give birth to their fourth child within the next two weeks, and that they are again looking for ways to kidnap her as well as the children.
The native of Hargeisa said he has already survived several attempts on his life by Muslim fanatics since becoming a Christian in 1998. Family members, close relatives within his tribe, the larger community and local officials have all done him harm, he said.
He first came to Ethiopia in April 2002, subsequently marrying Fatumo Mohamed at the Church of the Nazarene. News of his Christian marriage circulated, preceding him upon his return to Hargeisa; soon after his arrival, he said, Muslim fanatics kidnapped his wife and demolished his house.
Fatumo Mohamed remained captive for several months, later managing to escape and rejoin her husband. For more than three years, as they were displaced from the community and went into hiding, he faced open and official threats. When life became unbearably dangerous, they decided to flee to Ethiopia in August 2005.
Speaking only in general terms to protect loved ones he left behind, Ali said Somaliland authorities were seeking him for reasons related to his Christian faith; other sources confirmed this.
Even after he arrived in Ethiopia, Ali was sought by the Somaliland government, which published a notice on April 11, 2007 displaying his photo in two local Somaliland newspapers, Jamhuuriya and Maandeeq. The notice ordered him to appear before a district court within 30 days, saying failure to do so would result in stiff action being taken against him.
That was just one more episode in a journey of faith that began when he broke his leg in 1996. Receiving treatment in Djibouti, he stayed with a close relative who told Ali the New Testament account of Jesus forgiving an adulterous woman brought for judgment. Amazed at Jesus forgiving the woman, Ali began researching Christianity; three years earlier, he had witnessed the stoning of five young women accused of committing adultery in Hargeisa.
“At that point I failed to see the meaning of compassion in Islam,” he said. “Many questions started coming to my mind – that not even a single person in the midst tried to call for compassion for the young ladies. I felt that it could have been even better to kill them with a gun than subjecting them to such inhumane killing.”
Ali, who is seeking asylum and has conveyed his security concerns to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, is struggling to meet the basic needs of the family – food, shelter, education and clothing – and he is facing an urgent health concern. For three years he has been living with a bone infection, he said, and the danger of paralysis is rising. Looking worried and frightened, and that without asylum he could lose his family as well as his life.
“I will continue trusting in God’s protection, for blessed are those who are persecuted for His sake,” he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Proposed amendment reportedly shot down after international outcry.
LOS ANGELES, June 29 (Compass Direct News) – A member of Iran’s Parliament reportedly revealed last week that the country’s Parliamentary Committee has stricken the mandatory death penalty for those who leave Islam from proposals for an amended penal code.
Citing a BBC Persian news service report on Tuesday (June 23), United Kingdom-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) announced on Friday (June 26) that a member of Iran’s Legal and Judicial Committee of Parliament, Ali Shahrokhi, had told the Iranian state news agency (IRNA) of the decision to eliminate the mandatory death penalty amendment, which had drawn international protests.
The Parliamentary Committee had come under intense international pressure to drop clauses from the Islamic Penal Code Bill that allowed stoning and made death the mandatory punishment for apostates.
The new penal code was originally approved in September 2008 by a preliminary parliamentary vote of 196-7.
In Friday’s statement, CSW said that the bill must now pass through a final parliamentary vote before being sent to Iran’s most influential body, the Guardian Council, which will rule on it.
The council is made up of six conservative theologians appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by Parliament. This body has the power to veto any bill it deems inconsistent with the constitution and Islamic law.
The Christian and Baha’i communities of Iran are most likely to be affected by this decision. Iran has been criticized for its treatment of Baha’is, Zoroastrians and Christians, who have all suffered under the current regime.
Joseph Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, said the timing of the announcement of the decision during protests over contested elections might not be coincidental.
“Were the regime to maintain [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s presidency then pass and enforce a restrictive penal code, the international pressure on Iran would be unbearable for the regime,” said Grieboski. “I do not consider it a sign of opening up. Instead, I see it as a sign of self-preservation.”
Huge protests over the election results demonstrated considerable opposition to the Iranian government’s heavy-handed tactics, and although the official churches have taken no official stance, many Christians have supported the opposition, according to sources connected to social networking sites.
In the face of the massive protests, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, Hassan Qashqavi, released a statement condemning Western involvement in Iranian affairs and accusing the BBC and Voice of America networks of spreading “anarchy and vandalism.”
This passing of blame bodes ill for minorities in the country, including Christians, whom the Iranian government sees as pawns of the West; they could expect even harsher treatment in a feared post-election clamp-down.
“Since minorities, especially Baha’is and Christians, are often seen as fronts for the West, we can expect that they will feel the greatest backlash by the regime during the protests, and I would argue an even worse crackdown on them if Ahmadinejad and [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei come out of this,” said Grieboski.
An Iranian Christian who requested anonymity told Compass that both Christians and Iranians as a whole were tired of the dictatorial regime and asked for prayers for relief.
“The people are really tired, they have no hope, mentally, financially, spiritually, it is really difficult to live in Iran,” the source said. “You can’t have a private life, you can’t make a decision about what you believe, women can’t even decide what to wear. We just pray for the whole nation.”
The Iranian source was reticent to predict how the government might react to Christians following the elections but said that if there were a reaction, they could be among the first victims.
“So what the reaction of the government will be we can’t be 100 percent sure,” the source said, “but they could have a very radical reaction.”
Iranian Christians Maryam Rostampour, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, who were arrested on March 5 for their Christian activities, are still held in the notorious Evin Prison. The facility has drawn criticism for its human rights violations and executions in recent years.
Compass has learned that the women have been placed in solitary confinement.
Report from Compass Direct News
Religious reconciliation meetings produce first such acquittal as imams issue fatwa.
ISTANBUL, January 23 (Compass Direct News) – Five Christians charged with “blasphemy” against Islam during April 2007 religious holidays were released on Monday (Jan. 19) after reconciliation meetings between Christian and Islamic leaders – the first verdict to have resulted from such efforts in Pakistan.
A Punjab court released Salamat Masih, 42, his 16-year-old son Rashid, and their relatives Ishfaq, Saba and Dao Masih after a judge acquitted them. Their acquittal and release came through out-of-court meetings between Muslim leaders and a Christian Non-Governmental Organization.
“This is a wonderful sign that has made history,” said Shahzad Kamran, a case worker for Sharing Life Ministries Pakistan (SLMP), which negotiated with the Muslim leaders. “This case can set a precedent for future blasphemy cases against Christians.”
The reconciliation meetings between SLMP and local and national imams began last November. Rather than attempt to settle the matter in court, the legal advocacy group sought out Muslim leaders directly to persuade them that the accused were innocent; the Islamic clerics then compelled area Muslims to drop their charges.
The meetings took place between four Islamic clergymen, National Assembly Representative Mushtaq Ahmed and Sohail Johnson of the SLMP. Ahmed was unavailable for comment in spite of repeated attempts to contact him.
Johnson of SLMP took precautionary measures to keep from being exposed to violence, meeting with the imams in neutral locations away from mosques and Muslim parts of the city. The SLMP team managed to convince the Islamic clerics to release the Christians by persuading them that the alleged blasphemy grew from a misunderstanding.
“There is permission granted in Islamic law that if someone unintentionally commits an offense, it can be reconciled,” Johnson said. “[The cleric] said he would do it because he did not want to bring harm and injustice to the community.”
The Islamic clergymen agreed to issue a fatwa (religious edict) declaring the accused men innocent of blasphemy. The Muslim witnesses in the case withdrew their testimony on Jan. 13, and District Judge Sheik Salahudin acquitted the five men in a Toba Tek Singh court.
The legal advocates involved in the case said they would employ reconciliation in future cases of false blasphemy charges. They said that battling such cases in court can still free innocent people, but it does not help to solve sectarian strife that leads to violence and false charges.
But with reconciliation meetings, “the word of God has affected the hearts of the Muslims and changed their behavior,” Johnson said. “With our good behavior we can change the people.”
The SLMP’s Kamran said the imams declared the defendants innocent because they knew the men did not intentionally insult the Islamic religion. The situation likely escalated because it took place during an Islamic holiday, with the April 2007 Muslim celebration of Eid-e-Millad-ul-Nabi (Muhammad’s birthday) turning into mob violence after the spread of false rumors against Christians. Local Christian Ratan Masih was severely injured. Other Christians fled for fear of their lives, according to SLMP.
Approximately 2,000 Muslims attacked Christian Colony, a Christian neighborhood, stoning houses and torturing Christians, according to an SLMP report. Initially the mob violence began over a quarrel between Rashid Masih’s younger brother Daniel, 12, and a Muslim child named Sunny. In the course of the argument, a sticker fell off Sunny’s shirt that bore the words Yah Rasool Allah, a reference to Muhammad as God’s messenger.
A local resident, Mohammed Farsal, saw the sticker on the ground and accused the Christian children of blasphemy. Violence soon broke out, and police eventually arrested all five men on charges of insulting Islam.
Blasphemy charges against non-Muslims are not uncommon in Pakistan and are typically applied in cases of sectarian violence. Islamic leaders are often under community pressure to blame Christians in these situations.
Human rights lawyers hope this case sets a precedent for future blasphemy cases, with spurious charges of insulting Islam or its prophet becoming more difficult to press.
Other legal cases of blasphemy continue in Pakistan, including the arrest of Munir Masih and his wife Ruqiya Bibi for insulting Islam. They were granted bail yesterday in Kasur.
At the hearing, 20 local Muslims pressured the judge not to grant them bail, according to a report from the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement.
On Wednesday (Jan. 21), Hector Aleem from Islamabad was falsely accused of blasphemy, most likely as a backlash to his role as a human rights activist, the report said.
Christian lawmakers in the Muslim-majority country of 170 million hope to curb these legal abuses by abolishing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Report from Compass Direct News