Saturday, January 15, 2011

Blasphemy allegations: Another Christian family on the run

Express Tribune, Pakistan
Blasphemy allegations: Another Christian family on the run
Rana TanveerRana Tanveer
June 07, 2010
Supporters of one of several Namoos-i-Risalat groups, Shahab Islami Pakistan chant slogans and wave flags during a rally to support the assassin of Salmaan Taseer in Rawalpindi. PHOTO: AFP
Supporters of one of several Namoos-i-Risalat groups, Shahab Islami Pakistan chant slogans and wave flags during a rally to support the assassin of Salmaan Taseer in Rawalpindi. PHOTO: AFP
LAHORE: Two Christian women were beaten and publically humiliated by an angry mob over apparently frivolous blasphemy allegations and they and their family are now in hiding for fear of being killed, The Express Tribune has learnt.

“None of our relatives is ready to let us stay with them. They fear the wrath of the extremists, particularly after the assassination of Salmaan Taseer,” a male member of the family said over the phone from an undisclosed location.

The family and a non-governmental organisation that is helping them asked that their identities not be revealed, lest it put them in further danger. The names mentioned here are fictitious.

According to the family, the allegations stem from a dispute between Amina, a Muslim, and her sister-in-law Zahira, a Christian, in an East Lahore locality. The two got into an argument on Tuesday night and though it appeared to have been settled, on Wednesday morning, after her husband Zahid had gone to work, Amina walked out onto the street and started shouting that Zahira had abused the Holy Prophet (pbuh).

A short while later, a group of men led by Muhammad Sameer, a member of a religious organisation keen on raising its sectarian profile, forced their way into the house and started slapping Zahira, said another of her brothers, Sohail. “Other men and women from the neighbourhood started gathering at the house too and they beat up my sister and mother. They were the only people in the house,” he said.

“We tried our best to get her to confess her crime,” Sameer told The Express Tribune. As a member of the religious organisation, he said he could not tolerate any derogatory remarks about the Holy Prophet (pbuh).

Sameer added that he was very proud of his wife’s performance during the mob beating. “She beat Zahira more than anyone else. Her hand is so swollen that she hasn’t been able to make rotis since the day of the incident. I’ve been getting my meals from a restaurant,” he said.

Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed assassin of Salmaan Taseer, is a member of the same group as Sameer. The group also runs a twenty-four hour cable TV channel.

Khadim Hazoor, Sameer’s son-in-law and another participant in the beating, said that the women’s faces were blackened and they were made to wear necklaces of shoes and paraded around the locality on donkeys to humiliate them. He said the women denied blaspheming and repeatedly touched their feet seeking mercy.

He said the people of the locality would not allow Zahid or his family to return to their house, which he lives next door to. He claimed that the fight between Zahira and Amina the night before the incident revolved around the upbringing of Zahid and Amina’s 18-month-old daughter. Amina had wanted to raise her daughter as a Muslim, but Zahira wanted her niece to be raised as a Christian, he said.

Hazoor accused Zahid of “cheating Islam” by pretending to convert from Christianity to Islam so he could marry the Muslim girl. “We will not let them live in this house. He has not only cheated Amina but also Islam,” he said.

Zameer Khan, an NGO worker, helped the family flee the locality after they were attacked. “Apparently there was no blasphemy, just an argument between two women,” he said.

He said after hearing of the incident, he had reached the scene to find the women being attacked. He said he had asked the mob if anyone had heard Zahira utter any blasphemous remarks, to which they all replied in the negative. He said he persuaded them to let the women go while he investigated the matter. He then helped relocate the family temporarily. He said he had also convinced the mob not to involve the police.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2011.

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