UPDATE: Pakistan: Investigation into massacres of Christians

For the first time the Pakistani assembly has discussed the need to amend the Blasphemy Laws, and there's a constitutional review committee in the parliament. Many civil society groups are pushing for a secular basis to the constitution. On August 28, 2009, the investigation report of 48 detained accused were submitted before the Anti-Terrorism Court. All the detained accused in Korian case will be produced before court again on Sep 11, 2009.
• 26 accused in Gojra case were produced before the Anti-Terrorism Court for Challan. The next appearance will be on Sep 14, 2009. The Trial has not begun yet.

• The Inquiry Tribunal of High Court recorded statements of 4 more people into Gojra incident including District Nazim (Nazim) Toba Ch. Abdul Sattar, Ex-DCO (District Coordination Officer) Toba Tek Singh Mr. Imran Sikandar, Tehsil Nazim Gojra Chaudhary Asad Zaman Cheema and District Coordination Officer (DCO) Toba Tek Singh, Mr. Rana Amaam ullah.September 1, 2009

• Mr. Peter Jacob, Executive Secretary of National Commission for Justice and Peace visited Gojra and Korian along with staff met the affected Christian community and religious leadership there on August 31, 2009. They held meetings with lawyers defending the victims at these two areas.

• Mr. Rana Sanaullah, Punjab Law Minister reviewed the relief and rehabilitation work in Gojra and Korian on August 31. He said the Government allocated Rs. 20 Million for construction of the buildings damaged in violence that would be completed in the stipulated time. He further stated that the Government would constitute a committee having Christian representatives to help police in investigation of the violent attacks in which seven Christians were burnt alive.

Daily Dawn September 1, 2009

• The Christian communities in Islamabad and Rawalpindi organized peaceful rallies to express their solidarity with the victims and bereaved families of Gojra and Korian after Sunday services on August 30. More than 1200 participated in these two rallies who displayed banners, placards and raised slogans demanding justice and repeal of blasphemy laws.

• In a hearing regarding arguments on bail applications of 4 accused (Muhammad Umaar, Muhammad Safdar, Ali Raza and Adnan) in Gojra case the defense lawyer requested for time in order to prepare case. The court allowed time till next hearing.

September 4, 2009

The Anti-Terrorism Court, Faisalabad dismissed the bail applications of 4 accused (Muhammad Umaar, Muhammad Safdar, Ali Raza and Adnan) in Gojra case today (Sep 4) after hearing the arguments of complainant and defense lawyer.

Note: Mirror Update is a dispatch on current human rights situation in Pakistan, issued time to time, by National Commission for Justice and Peace (Pakistan Catholics Bishops’ Conference). If you do not wish to receive this please notify by a return mail.


Sample letter

Subject: Urgent call to Pakistan to repeal its Blasphemy Laws

Dear Sir/Madam,

We join local human rights organizations, international women’s groups and religious minorities in calling for Pakistan to urgently repeal its Blasphemy Laws which have not only curtailed citizens’ freedom of expression, but have also been misused by violent religious extremists to commit grave acts of violence against others and to spread religious intolerance. In several cases the law has been used to settle personal scores and rivalries.

The urgent need for law reform has been highlighted by the recent deadly attacks on a Christian community in Punjab, Pakistan. At a wedding in Korian village near Gojra in Punjab province, on 24 July 2009, it was reported that a group of Muslims accused three Christians of tearing up paper on which Quranic verses were written. It is reported that on the following day, at a meeting held by Muslim and Christian elders called one of the accused was invited to offer an apology over the incident, and the issue of desecration was resolved with his apology. Then on 30 July, the clerics of mosques in Korian and nearby villages began spreading allegations of Christians desecrating the Quran, inciting an attack on Christians. That evening, a mob of hundreds descended on Korian and demanded that those accused of desecrating the Quran be handed over to them. Out of a fear for their own safety the Christians ran away while the mob looted property and burned Christians’ houses.

On the evening of 31 July 2009, Muslim clerics announced from the mosques a strike in response to the alleged desecration of the Quran by Christians, and asked Muslims to assemble at Malkanwala Chowk in Gojra. On the morning of 1st August, the local Muslim clerics led a procession to the Christian colony in Gojra. In the afternoon, the mob, led by some armed and masked men (reportedly belonging to a banned fundamentalist organization, Sipah-i-Sahaba), attacked the colony and set fire to 68 houses. Six Christians, including four women and one child, were burnt alive, Mr. Hameed Masih, was shot, while the residents’ belongings were stolen and two churches were ransacked.

It has been reported by the Hotline Asia project that policemen present on the scene did not try to control the violent mob. Indeed, in many recorded cases of violence against religious minorities in Pakistan, police and local authorities have failed to act effectively despite prior warning of communal tensions. Rather it is the victim of false allegations of blasphemy, often on the word of just one witness, that faces punishment. According to data collected by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, 960 individuals have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan since 1986.

In 2002 Women's Action Forum (Lahore) demanded the government of Pakistan to repeal the Blasphemy Laws after Rukhsana Bunyad, a local social activist and district councillor, was charged under these laws for having allegedly made remarks against the Holy Quran.

The Blasphemy Laws, especially Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, have been used and misused, in the words of Hina Jilani, a lawyer with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to spread fear and terror… It's a tool to be used against anyone you are in conflict with." Those who have worked to overturn false charges of blasphemy have themselves become the target of violence. A former Lahore High Court judge, Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, was murdered by a religious extremist, reportedly because he acquitted a blasphemy case. A number of lawyers and journalists have also been harassed for defending people accused of blasphemy and campaigning against the Blasphemy Laws. The Blasphemy Laws are not only a convenient provision for the religious extremists to eliminate their enemies and intimidate civilians, but also for criminals to legitimise their violence.

In the short period between May 2005 and February 2006 at least 7 churches, a college of the Christian community, a place of worship of Ahmadis, a Temple of Hindus and 3 hospitals of the Christian community were destroyed in various provinces and cities; a Hindu couple, accused of blasphemy, lost their property; 10 persons belonging to religious minorities were killed, 27 individuals were booked under blasphemy laws; and hundreds were harassed and injured by fanatics in different incidents. Furthermore, Ahmadis, (a sect of Islam banned in Pakistan where its members are seen as apostates), are forbidden from praying in mosques or reading from the Quran and they must vote under a separate electoral system. The attack on Christians of Gojra happened within a month of attacks on Christians in Kasur district where about one hundred houses were damaged. During the last year there has been highest increase of threats against religious minorities in Pakistan and Minority Rights Group International, a London-based watchdog organization, ranks Pakistan as the world's sixth- most dangerous country for minorities.

We respectfully ask you to further investigate and address two points: firstly the violent persecution of this Christian community in the Punjab in July 2009, and the prosecution of the perpetrators of the violent crimes committed against its members, and secondly to join us in calling for the urgent repeal of Blasphemy Laws on the grounds that they excuse violence and repression and lead to impunity.

Yours Sincerely,