Pakistani Churches Demand Justice for Christian Cousins Accused of Blasphemy
Protestant and Catholic churches in Pakistan have come together to start a movement to call on the government to ensure justice for Christian cousins accused of blasphemy, one of whom recently survived a jump from a fourth floor after being told to perform oral sex on his cousin durning interrogation.
More than 200 churches gathered in front of the Punjab Assembly in Lahore on Friday to demand an independent inquiry into the case and a fair trial, according to ucanews.com.
The rally was organized by a new group, Pakistan Christian Action Committee, which was formed a day earlier during a meeting of Christians at the National Council of Churches in Pakistan.
"The committee will function as a permanent ecumenical entity to counter the increasing cases of violence against minority Christians. Peaceful protests will be carried out all over the country until the Christian youths get justice. The ongoing persecution has become a national issue. We are also ready for martyrdom," said group convenor Pastor Amjat Niamat was quoted as saying.
Patras Masih, 17, and his cousin, Sajid Masih, 24, a sweeper at a school, are the accused in the blasphemy case. The complainants are members of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah and other religious parties. They claimed that Patras had posted a blasphemous photo to a Facebook group.
Last week, Sajid was called by the Federal Investigation Agency in Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province, for interrogation. He was first beaten inside a bathroom at the agency's cybercrime wing, and then asked to perform oral sex.
"They told us to insult each other by using the word 'Laanti' (men under a curse), my frightened young cousin complied under great duress," Sajid told his lawyer in the hospital where he was admitted after he jumped off the fourth floor. "They asked me to remove my cousin's trousers and have oral sex with him. I refused outright. I explained that I can't have oral sex with him because he is my brother, but my pleas made them angry. They then started shouting loudly at both of us. I saw a window in the room and quickly jumped out of it."
Al Jazeera reported Saturday that Sajid is at an intensive care unit in critical condition. Doctors are waiting for him to stabilize before they do surgeries on his neck, face and legs. Both of his legs are in casts.
"We are all Sajid and Patras Masih. Do not push us to the wall. Sexual harassment by police is both immoral and irreligious. Sajid is a kid and a Pakistani. We demand proper medical treatment for him," Bishop Azad Marshall of Raiwind said at the protest rally on Saturday.
His cousin Patras' lawyer, Aneeqa Maria, told Pakistan Today earlier that a group of about 15 people led by the prime complainant, Hafiz Awais, attacked her client outside the district courts where the police had taken him for seeking remand last Friday, the day Sajid jumped off the fourth floor.
"The complainant and his accomplices slapped and punched Patras when the police brought him out from the courtroom. Later the police handed over his custody to the FIA and the IO (investigating officer), Khalid Saeed, asked the complainant party to also reach the FIA HQs for recording their statements.
"We requested the police to provide security to the accused and his family as we feared that the complainant party might attack them again, but our appeal fell on deaf ears. Even at the FIA office, I requested Khalid Saeed to ensure the security of Patras's family, but he said it was not his responsibility. Hardly a few minutes after we left the FIA building, we were informed that Sajid had 'fallen off' the fourth floor …"
A few days earlier, hundreds gathered outside Patras' home in Lahore's Shahdara area, calling for him to be executed and even beheaded. One man held up a sign that reads: "Wicked Christian Patras should be punished for committing blasphemy!"
Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws are embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the country's Penal Code. The laws carry the death penalty with no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy. Allegations of blasphemy often stem from the Muslim accuser's desire to take revenge and to settle petty, personal disputes, according to Christian groups working in the country.