Thursday, May 21, 2009

Christian Brothers Spend Two Months in Prison for Blasphemy:Released After Intervention by Police and Christian Lawyers

International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that two Christian brothers accused of "blasphemy" against Islam in Pakistan were released from prison on April 16 after police and Christian groups were able to negotiate a settlement with their accusers out of court. However, even the accusation of blasphemy can stigmatize a person in Pakistan for life, and Christian leaders fear that these two Christian men will not be able to continue their work and school due to this incident. Naveed Aziz, 17, was originally accused of blasphemy on January 27 in Narrowal, Pakistan, by a fellow student who noticed a pamphlet in his bag. The student told an instructor that Naveed was carrying "blasphemous" material, and the teacher proceeded to search Naveed's bag, confiscate the pamphlet, and report him to the principal. A group of angry Muslim students crowded the principal's office, demanding that Naveed be expelled from the school and handed over to police. The principal attempted to calm down the situation, but did agree to expel Naveed from the school.News of Naveed's pamphlet spread, however, and one week later Muslim students from nearby high schools and colleges conducted a rally against Naveed.Radical Muslim groups persuaded the mob to seize Naveed and his brother, Pastor Shafiq Masih, 35, burn their house and stone them. Police intervened by arresting the two brothers and taking them to prison.This provides a rare case of Pakistani police defending Christian minorities, as the police did not permit the accusers to file a court case against the two men. Instead, when a Christian legal group came to investigate the situation, they found that police were attempting to allow a local "Peace Committee" to negotiate an out-of-court agreement between the Muslim accusers and the two brothers. As a result of intervention by the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), a Christian legal group, the two brothers were finally released on April 16 after spending two and a half months in prison.Jeremy Sewall, ICC's Advocacy Director, said, "While this is an encouraging victory, these two brothers will face intense social pressure from Muslims who see even the accusation of blasphemy as reason enough for execution. Until Pakistan can address this societal pressure, even the best policing in the world will not be able to protect Pakistani Christians."

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