In yet another incident of the abuse of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws at the hands of extremist Muslims, three Christians of the same family from Lahore, the capital of the province of Punjab and the second largest city after Karachi, have been accused of blasphemy.
According to the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), a blasphemy case was registered at the Police Station Factory Area, Lahore, against Yousaf Masih, Bashiran bibi and Zahid Masih on July 5, 2010 under section 295-B of Pakistan Penal Code
The 295-B code reads: “Whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Koran or of an extract there from or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.”
A fact-finding from CLAAS team, who went to investigate the case, told the ASSIST News Service (ANS) that they had discovered that Yousaf Masih was living in “abject poverty” in a rented house with his wife Bashiran bibi and daughter Nida Yousaf near the Model Town area of the city. Masih’s tiny house, they said, “was in a bad condition and even had a bathroom without a roof.”
The group said they had learned that the landlord had stopped receiving rent from Masih “after learning about his financial circumstances.”
According to CLAAS, Lal Masih, a cousin of Yousaf Masih, who would visit him once a week, had brought a hard plastic sheet last week to cover the bathroom.
Amanat Ali, a local Muslim resident had claimed to CLAAS that the plastic sheet “had some Quranic verses inscribed on it.”
A CLAAS Pakistan caseworker quoted Amanat Ali as saying that Lal Masih would not remove the controversial sheet covering Yousaf Masih’s bathroom in spite of local Muslims’ reservations about it.
As the contentious issue between Lal Masih and some local Muslims stood unresolved, a heated verbal altercation over the disputed sheet took place between him and Muhammad Imran, Masih’s Muslim neighbor, on July 4, 2010.
Muhammad Imran told CLAAS workers that Lal Masih would not remove the controversial plastic sheet from his bathroom’s roof even after the dispute.
“I asked Lal Masih several times to remove the sheet because holy words were inscribed on it, but Masih did not heed my advice. He refused to remove the sheet even after the dispute,” Muhammad Imran told the CLAAS team.
Enraged over this, Imran shared this matter with two other local Muslims, who then went to Yousaf Masih’s house but nobody, was present so they asked Zahid Masih, a Christian man who lived opposite to Yousaf Masih, to remove the controversial sheet.
According to CLAAS, Zahid thought it inappropriate to remove the sheet in the absence of Yousaf Masih’s family.
An eye-witness said, “The two Muslim men flew off the handle after they failed to get Zahid Masih’s consent on removing the contentious sheet and the two sides traded harsh words.”
The explosive arguments between Masih and the Muslim men drew other local Muslims to the scene, who then accused Zahid of “sacrilege of Quranic verses.”
Amanat Ali told CLAAS that he finally removed the disputed plastic sheet from Yousaf Masih’s bathroom when he saw enraged Muslim mob marching towards the house.
Ali told CLAAS that about 2,000 angry Muslims arrived at the scene and blocked the road outside.
CLAAS then quoted Ali as saying that the mob refused to unblock the road until a blasphemy case was registered against Zahid Masih, Yousaf Masih and Bashiran bibi.
ANS has learned that the accused managed to flee the scene, fearing more trouble, so instead, the police instead arrested Lal Masih and James Masih, relatives of the three people accused of blasphemy to allegedly coerce them into turning them into the police.
CLAAS has reported to us that its caseworkers tried talking to the Christian residents of the area, but they preferred to maintain silence for the fear of trouble from extremist Muslims.
And the key to this latest situation is that, according to CLAAS, “no Quranic verses were inscribed on the divisive plastic sheet.”
The CLAAS Pakistan team ,led by Mr. Joseph Francis, its National Director, met with the police investigation officer and urged him to “play his role” in bringing about reconciliation between the accused and the local Muslims.
According to CLAAS the investigation officer assured Mr. Francis about his cooperation to broker reconciliation between the two sides but stressed that Zahid Masih, Yousaf Masih and Bashiran bibi would have to turn themselves into the police.
Dan Wooding, Assist News Service