LAHORE, PAKISTAN (By BosNewsLife)–– There was uncertainty Monday, September 16, about the whereabouts of dozens of Christian families who fled their homes in a village near the Pakistani city of Lahore after a local pastor was accused of blasphemy against Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, representatives said.
The tensions began last month when Pastor Sattar Masih, 37, was accused of saying that Muhammad was “a brutal man who killed innocent people” said the news service of Open Doors, a group supporting Christians persecuted for their faith.
Masih denies the accusations, saying he didn’t make derogatory remarks about Islam or its Prophet.
The pastor was pressured to appear in front of Islamic clerics to plead his case, Christians said. “The clerics will decide if he blasphemed against our Prophet and in case he refused to appear before the clerics then we will kill him,” his accuser, publicly identified as 18-year-old Ali Hassan, was quoted as saying.
Masih told Open Doors news service World Watch Monitor (WWM) that one cleric had asked him if he had said Muhammad was a cruel man. “I clearly refuted the claim and told him that I had only defended that the Bible is still in its original form,” he explained.
Fearing he would not be given a fair trial, Masih fled to Lahore with 21-year-old Christian Wasim Raza who had introduced the accuser to the pastor. Just before they left, a Muslim mob began a house to-house search for them, local Christians said.
On September 2, more than 250 Muslims reportedly gathered to discuss the case against Masih. Seven Christians from the families of Masih and Raza defended him, saying that no insulting language about Islam or its prophet had been used, Christians said.
Soon after, teachers from the village school reportedly asked Christian students about the “religious teachings” Masih had been giving them. More than 100 of them were sent home, raising alarms among their families and prompting “many of them to flee from the village,” WWM reported.
Though local police said in published remarks they intervened and that Christians were “in no danger” many believers were still reluctant to return Monday, September 16, including Masih and Raza, who fear that they will be killed.
Pakistan has come under international pressure to change blasphemy laws that critics claim have been misused against minorities, including Christians, or to settle personal disputes.
At least 52 of the accused and their supporters are believd to have been murdered in the last two decades, according to rights activists. Even in police custody blasphemy suspects are not safe.
In December last year, an angry mob reportedly broke into a police station in Sindh province and beat a blasphemy suspect to death. He had been accused of burning pages of the Koran.
Earlier in Ahmedpur East in July 2012, a man accused of throwing pages of the Koran on the street was dragged by crowds from a police cell and killed, after being pulled through the streets behind a motorbike.
BROTHERS, POLITICIANS KILLED
In July 2010, two Christian brothers, Sajid Emmanuel and Rashid Emmanuel, were shot dead at the courthouse where they had been declared innocent.
Two prominent politicians, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and Christian federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated in 2011 for criticizing the country’s blasphemy legislation.
Pakistan ranks number 14 on the 2013 World Watch List, an annual ranking of the 50 countries where Open Doors claims life as a Christian is most difficult.
Pakistan’s “Christians are caught between Islamic militant organizations, an Islamising culture and a weak government with a military complicit in fueling Islamic militants,” Open Doors said.