Mandi Bhauddin: More than half of Christians flee from Chak 44 remaining on pins and needles

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Two Christian resident of Chak 44 managed to reach the Lahore office of CLAAS disclosed the horrific situation the Christian residents of the village are facing. They told that the Christians are forced to flee as they are anticipating an attack by a mob, as a payback for the alleged blasphemy committed by a Christian resident Imran Masih.

Pakistani Christians suffering from extremism

Seeing the escalating situation, Father Tariq from the only church in the village sent Aamir Yaqoob and Arif Masih two residents of the village to narrate the horrible situation to CLAAS anticipating help for the stranded Christian residents of Chak 44.

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The two Christians disclosed that there are about 45 Christian families which make up about 300 Christians in the village. Whereas, there are 25, 00 to 3,000 Muslims in the village, they told. They said that the Christians are considerably poor however; they own the houses they live in. Majority of the Christians are laborers. Saint Anthony Catholic Church is the only church in the village. About 75 percent of the Christians villagers have fled anticipating an attack from the Muslims, and the ones remaining are in a dire condition and fearful for their lives.

CLAAS team was informed that blasphemy accusations against one of the Christian namely Imran Masih had incited antagonism among the local Muslims. They told that the respondent Imran Masih son of Sharif Masih works at a local Health Care Center as a janitor. The hassle started on April 16, when Imran recorded a video clip at the wedding ceremony of his Muslim colleague’s daughter; later on April 19 he went back to work, his Muslim colleague asked him to show the video clip he had recorded at the wedding; Imran handed his cell phone to one of his Muslim colleagues and went on to finish his work.

When Imran Masih returned after finishing his work, he saw that his mobile phone was with Bilal a Muslim drug store owner, who was showing the lectures of Pastor Sami Samson from Imran’ phone to the fellow Muslim workers who had gathered around him. The assembly got furious and Imran asked for his phone but bashed him for watching anti Islam sermons online.

Imran continued to swear that he did not browse or watch anti-Islamic lectures yet the mob refused to let him go and accused him of blasphemy. They beat him severely and locked him in a room at the health center. Fortunately, Imran had another mobile phone and he called his fellow Christian villagers and informed about his confinement.

After Imran’s phone call, members of the local church’ committee members rushed to the health center to rescue him from the agitated mob. They told a senior doctor at the health center that Imran is an illiterate and it is not possible for him to browse the internet and search for anti- Islamic content online. After a prolonged discussion and argumentation, the committee managed to get Imran released from the confinement.

For the next two days, the situation remained in control however, but on the third day Maulvi Manzoor one the coworker of Imran told him that Bilal was still mad at him. Maulvi Manzoor suggested Imran that he should ask Bilal for forgiveness. When they reached Bilal’ drug store they found that he was npt there, but Maulvi Manzoor contacted Bilal he told him that he was in Sargodha in order to discuss the issue of Imran with Islamic clerics. Bilal told Maulvi Manzoor that the cleric had issued a fatwa (religious decree) that Imran should be put to death because he had committed blasphemy by watching anti-Islamic sermons.

After learning this, Imran got frightened and did not return home. Sharif Masih got dismayed when Imran did not reach home and called at his work place next day in order to inquire about his son. Sharif Masih was informed that Imran was not on duty. Shortly, Sharif took some of the local Christians and went to the health center, in order to inquire about Imran. Maulvi Manzoor told Sharif Masih about the incident and Bilal’ threats to Imran and that Imran has gone in hiding because of fear.

Soon the news of the incident spread to other villages and caused widespread agitation among the Muslims. On April 29 the cleric of local mosque prompted Muslim villagers to boycott the local Christians of Chak 44. The cleric forbade Muslims to stop buying or selling goods to Christians because they had been hiding the blasphemer.

Moreover, a local Muslim Irshad Jhakar has announced a bounty of rupees ten lakh ($ 10,000) reward for killing Imran Masih. A local mosque’ committee announced to organize an attack to torch houses of Christians and their church. Hate speeches are being delivered from the mosque loudspeakers every day and tensions are rising as they are planning to attack the Christians.

When a large mob gathered outside the mosque and sensing the danger a local Christian Amir Masih called the police helpline and informed the police that the local Christians are in danger of being attacked. Amir Masih told that within 20 minutes about eight to ten police personnel arrived at the scene and managed to disperse the agitated crowd. After few minutes the Deputy Superintendent of Police arrived with more police personnel and recorded statements of the members of the local Muslim Committee.