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Turmoil in Pakistan as extremists call for lynching of two blasphemy law victims

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Community tension arises against Christians in Pakistan as Muslims call for the blood of two blasphemy law victims. Over the last two weeks the legal sagas of Asia Bibi (46 years)  and Nabeel Masih (16 years)have been putting  the judicial system of Pakistan through its sternest test,  Sadly for these victims and to the consternation of millions of people around the globe who have been watching intently hoping for Pakistan to bring justice to these innocent victims - the law courts have failed.

Last week Asia Bibi a mother of five who has been unjustly incarcerated for seven years had to suffer the ignominy of having her trial being postponed indefinitely. Apparently a judge who should have been on a panel of three presiding over her trial, who had known about her Supreme Court appeal hearing for some time, failed to recognise until the day of trial that Asia's case was closely connected with the murder of Salmaan Taseer.  Justice Iqbal Hameed abstained himself from sitting on the panel claiming a conflict of interest in a dubious act that has invoked widespread condemnation from humanitarians who believe his act to be one of cowardice or collusion.  

Vitriolic protests have been held across the country in which extremist groups are inciting the already conservative Muslim communities in Pakistan to call for the blood of Asia Bibi.

Sunni Muslim groups have coordinated mass demonstrations across Pakistan, chanting slogans and displaying signs calling for the Christian woman Asia Bibi to be hanged. Hundreds of members and supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah gathered last week in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore to declare their hatred for Asia,



“It will be a war if accursed Asia escapes. We are united to guard the honor of Rasool Allah, we are His servants,” Mukhtar, on one of many protesters in Lahore supporting the hanging of the Christian woman told AsiaNews. “Was Pakistan formed to hang the lovers and spare blasphemers. Why is Asia Bibi not hanged even after the death sentence by Lahore High Court and Supreme Court,”he asked, warning “the government will pay if it acts on foreign agenda and betrays us.”

A high ranking Punjab judge has offered to become part of the appeals panel and has intimated he would uphold the death penalty issued by the High Court of Lahore. "I have long studied the case - the Assistant Attorney General Chaudhry Ahmad Zubair Farooq said "...and overwhelming evidence and testimonies have emerged against the defendant".

This week 16 year old Nabeel Masih faced the howling of a mob of in excess of 80 Muslims seeking his death, whilst in Lahore High Court awaiting his sentence for charges of blasphemy.  Nabeel's crime was to post a Facebook image that is said to be derogatory to Muslims on the walls of his friends FB. On Friday a judge announced the young teenager could face the death sentence a harsh penalty that the BPCA was first to suggest when the story first came out.  Ostensibly the alleged  blasphemy crime charged to Nabeel Masih breaches section 295 and 295A of Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Which should hold a maximum sentence of 10 years.

§ 295 Injuring or defiling places of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class Up to 2 years imprisonment or fine, or both
§ 295A Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. 1927[14] Up to 10 years imprisonment, or fine, or both
However in Pakistan law courts are known for their manipulation of laws which are used as a tool discriminate minorities.  The presiding judge in Nabeel's case felt that the image (which allegedly no-one but the accusers and the police have ever seen on Nabeel's Facebook page), constituted a crime against Muhammed.  As such Nabeel now faces a very serious chance of a death sentence at his tender age of 16, simply for inappropriate use of social media. 

Worse still, the mob of 80 that were present during his court case were threatening to kill Nabeel and his family for the slight to their faith. Hollering in a court for the blood of Nabeel they demanded a death sentence and the judge duly acceded to the wishes of the mob. 

§ 295C Use of derogatory remarks, spoken, written, directly or indirectly, etc. defiles the name of Muhammad (S.A.W). 1986 Mandatory Death and fine (Feb. 1990[16])Trial must take place in a Court of Session with a Muslim judge presiding.[17]
After the hearing Nabeel Masih, his family and the defence team of lawyers representing them had to be escorted out of the court surrounded by armed guards.  However, the intense atmosphere in the courts suggests security measures will need to be beefed up at any future trial dates.  Even as the trial ensued the mob was growing in size as those in attendance were calling friends to come and join them.

Nabeel's family are in hiding and may never be safe again in a country where Christians hold pariah status. Communities of Christians up and down the country have been warned that if Nabeel and and Asia are not hanged for their crimes, then Muslims will attack Christian communities to kill as many as they can for retribution.  Extra security teams are being posted at churches and despite the threats church attendances seem to have grown, as Christians seek hope for their situation through God.

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association said:

"I am totally dismayed by the humanity exhibited by the Muslim community in Pakistan towards these two innocent and defenceless Christians.  The hatred Incomprehensible to those in the West is now commonplace in Pakistan. The survival of Christianity in Pakistan is facing an unprecedented threat. We call on Western Nations to use their power of leverage through foreign aid budgets to defend the defenceless."

He added:

"The easy manipulation of existing laws to ensure the toughest possible sentencing for Christian victims is a galling concern. Police failed to link Nabeel Masih to any further cyber crime, so they changed tact and successfully pushed for an additional blasphemy offence against Muhammed. Thus increasing an already over zealous 10 year sentence to one of life imprisonment and death by hanging. This is a tragic example of an attempt to annihilate Christians from Pakistan." 

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