open letter to: Elisabetta II a Buckingham Palace -- mi perdoni mia Signora! io vado a dormire! Buona Notte!
8 ottobre 2014, Gli USA danno il via all'addestramento dei ribelli siriani. A quanto pare, gli USA hanno dato il via alla prima fase del loro piano per lo svolgimento di un'operazione di terra contro i radicali dello "Stato islamico" in Siria e Iraq. Siccome in precedenza Obama ha promesso di non mandare in Iraq le truppe americane, all'operazione potranno partecipare soltanto i combattenti dell'opposizione siriana "moderata", nonché i gruppi e le tribù sunnite. Al Pentagono questo piano è già stato battezzato "Il risveglio sunnita" (Sunni Awakening), per analogia con la campagna irachena del 2005-2007, quando i sunniti e le milizie tribali sono stati ingaggiati contro Al-Qaeda. La stampa americana riferisce che John Allen, generale in congedo del corpo dei Marines al quale è stato affidato il coordinamento delle operazioni contro lo "Stato islamico", è già partito per il Medio Oriente. Nel contempo il Pentagono ha annunciato che i suoi istruttori addestreranno i gruppi "fidati" dei ribelli siriani alla lotta contro l'ISIS. Siccome l'addestramento senza armi non ha senso, l'opposizione siriana riceverà dei nuovi armamenti. È la prima volta che l'addestramento sarà effettuato dal Pentagono. Finora lo faceva la CIA. D'altra parte anche la CIA continuerà i suoi programmi di "addestramento" in Siria, solo che questa volta lo farà in parallelo con i militari. In Russia gli esperti dicono che in Siria Washington sta facendo lo stesso errore che ha già fatto in Iraq. Lo "Stato islamico" è la creatura di "Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia" che gli stessi USA nel passato hanno creato e finanziato, fa ricordare il vice direttore dell'Istituto di studi orientali dell'Accademia delle scienze della Russia, Vladimir Isaev. Non so come gli americani intendono distringuere i ribelli "fidati" da quelli "non fidati". Non dubito però che dopo l'addestramento molti dei "buoni" finiranno nelle file dei "cattivi". In tal modo gli USA, con le proprie mani, stanno addestrando persone che prenderanno il posto di coloro che oggi muoiono sotto le bombe americane. Alla fine di settembre il presidente Obama ha firmato la legge che eroga 500 milioni di dollari per i "moderati" dell'opposizione siriana. Il programma prevede che ogni anno potranno essere addestrati più di 5000 combattenti. La località in cui saranno creati i centri di addestramento non si rivela, ma se consideriamo che la CIA aveva i suoi campi in Giordania, non è difficile supporre che ci potrebbe andare anche il Pentagono per sfruttare il sistema logistico già esistente. Si parla però anche di Arabia Saudita, Qatar e Yemen. L'ISIS può essere sconfitto soltanto sulla base di coordinamento degli sforzi di tutta la comunità internazionale e non attraverso operazioni di dubbia efficienza comandate dagli USA, sottolinea l'esperto del Centro del Medio Oriente dell'Istituto di studi orientali, Irina Fedorova. È un'altra delle operazioni che gli USA iniziano con troppa facilità. Lo stesso abbiamo visto quando hanno creato Al-Qaeda. Anche lo "Stato islamico", creato per lottare contro Bashar Assad in Siria, è nato grazie agli USA. Il senatore John McCain aveva incontrato l'attuale leader dell'ISIS ancora nel 2013 in Siria. Hillary Clinton, quando era ancora Segretario di Stato, ha avuto contatti con alcuni dirigenti di questo gruppo in Turchia. La politica dei doppi standard non porta mai a nulla di buono, come anche la strategia del "caos controllato", il quale, ahimè, è diventato ormai incontrollabile. In un'intervista al quotidiano "USA Today", l'ex capo del Pentagono Leon Panetta ha detto che tutta la politica del presidente Obama in Iraq e Siria è un susseguirsi di errori. Per questo motivo, egli ha rilevato, la guerra contro lo "Stato islamico" durerà altri 30 anni. Secondo Panetta, che ha criticato tutte le decisioni di Obama degli ultimi tre anni, il ritiro delle truppe dall'Iraq nel 2011 ha creato un "vuoto della sicurezza", mentre il numero di estremisti nel paese è fortemente cresciuto. Non ha detto però che l'errore più grave è stata l'invasione dell'Iraq nel 2003, operata dagli USA col falso pretesto delle armi di sterminio irachene.
No contact with kidnapped Syrian priest, parishioners
Published: October 08, 2014 by Barbara G. Baker
'Islamic State' left village in 2013; al Nusra Front took over in 2014
Rev. Hanna Jallouf, a Fransciscan friar, and friends at St. Joseph Convent in Knayeh, a village in northern Syria, in a 2008 photo.Rev. Hanna Jallouf, a Fransciscan friar, and friends at St. Joseph Convent in Knayeh, a village in northern Syria, in a 2008 photo.
Courtesy of Custody of the Holy Land
Three days after a Syrian priest and some 20 of his parishioners were abducted from a village in northern Syria, a superior in his Franciscan order has confirmed that still no contact has been made with their jihadi kidnappers.
On Sunday night, Oct. 5, members of the Al-Nusra Front seized Fr. Hanna Jallouf, the parish priest of Qunaya (Knayeh) village, located in Idlib province just 8 kilometers from the Turkish border, an area where al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups have been fighting the Syrian army for three years.
Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, speaking from the Franciscan Custody of the Land offices in Jerusalem, confirmed to World Watch Monitor that he has received no word whatever on the location or fate of the captured Christians. Those taken hostage reportedly include three women and several young people.
Three Franciscan nuns who run a youth center and dispensary in the village were inside the St. Joseph Convent at the time and escaped capture.
IS militants had taken control of Qunaya village and the surrounding region last year, forcing churches to remove their crosses, banning the ringing of church bells and requiring women to veil their faces. An estimated 700 Catholic families live in the small village and nearby area.
But when the Islamic State militants moved to the east at the end of 2013, Al-Nusra jihadists took over. Reportedly the group, which has seized control of both Christian and Muslim villages in the area, had recently seized Fr. Hanna's passport.
According to Fr. Pierbattista, the Qunaya Christians were being accused falsely of "collaborating" with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. One source in Aleppo told AFP that the convent had been completely looted, and another report alleged the rebels had taken these church relics and documents to use as "evidence" against the Christians, to try them before a Shariah court. But Fr. Pierbattista could not confirm either of these claims.
A Syrian activist contacted after the kidnapping told AFP that Al-Nusra had been trying to take control of some of the Franciscan properties in Qunaya, which had been resisted by Fr. Hanna last week.
St. Joseph Convent, Knayeh village, northern Syria.St. Joseph Convent, Knayeh village, northern Syria.
Courtesy of Custody of the Holy Land
According to AFP's Aleppo source, Al-Nusra rebels were "angry with Father Hanna because he refused to give them some of the olives harvested from trees on the convent's land."
The 62-year-old has lived in Qunaya for the past 12 years, one of 19 Franciscan workers currently serving in the country. A religious order of Catholics who still use the Latin rite, the Franciscans have ministered in Syria for the past eight centuries.
In April, a Dutch Jesuit priest who refused to leave the embattled Syrian city of Homs, Frans van der Lugt, was killed by so-far unidentified assassins in his garden.
Two weeks ago, a defector from IS in Raqaa told the BBC that an Italian Jesuit priest, Father Paolo Dall'Oglio (who went missing in July 2013 after visiting ISIS' headquarters to try to hold talks) is still alive, but apparently a hostage.
Two Bishops from Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, were kidnapped in April 2013: there has been no word about them for some time.
'How can I celebrate my birthday with a homeless, scattered family?'
Published: October 03, 2014 by Illia Djadi
Dr Rebecca Dali is the founder of Centre for Caring, Empowerment and Peace Initiatives.Dr Rebecca Dali is the founder of Centre for Caring, Empowerment and Peace Initiatives.
Courtesy of CCEPI
Nigerian Rebecca Dali's birthday is 1 October – the same date as her country's Independence Day. But this year there was little time for celebration because her home town of Michika is overrun by Boko Haram.
Rebecca is the wife of Rev. Samuel Dali, President of the Church of the Brethren, the church attended by most of the 276 girls abducted by the Islamist group in April 2014, known as Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria, or EYN.
"Last year l celebrated my birthday with family and friends. My husband whispered 'happy birthday my love'. He hugged me, gave me a gift, held my hand and prayed for me. My children hugged me and sang a birthday song.
"Lots of women, children and older people visited me. I met with friends and staff of the Centre for Caring, Empowerment and Peace Initiatives (CCEPI) to celebrate its launch - on my 50th birthday in 2010. I shared with them how l started this NGO in 1989, to help women and girls to become self-reliant. After a time of entertainment, we enjoyed a meal and prayed together.
"But this year, there is no time for celebration. Our joy's turned into sadness because we're homeless. My family are scattered in different places. My husband is in Abuja, some of our children are in Jos and others in Kaduna, while I am working to help displaced people in the North-East. We've registered more than 140,000 Internally Displaced People in Mubi, Hong, Gombi, Gere, Yola South, Yola North and Numan Local Government areas only".
Recent weeks have seen an intensification of Boko Haram attacks in north-eastern Nigeria. About 25 towns and villages are now under Islamist control in the three states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, where the government has declared a 'state of emergency'.
There was no mention of the fate of the Chibok girls, abducted almost six months ago in the government's official speech on the nation's 54th Independence Day.
Some 500 people staged a protest in Abuja to express their anger, accusing President Goodluck Jonathan of ''insensitivity'' and failing his oath of office.
"He swore to protect the lives and security of Nigerians on 29th May, 2011. He held the Bible and the Constitution. Section 14 of that Constitution is very clear, that the security and welfare of the people will be the primary objective of government", said Dino Melaye, one of the organisers of the demonstration.
"But the President has forgotten the welfare of the Chibok girls; he has forgotten the welfare of missing Nigerians. We are not happy; we are calling on him to demonstrate capacity."
Dr Rebecca Dali (Middle) with some mothers of Chibok girls. May 6, 2014Dr Rebecca Dali (Middle) with some mothers of Chibok girls. May 6, 2014
Courtesy of CCEPI
Rebecca muses on the day: "This year l did not have my green cloth around me. I used to wear green attire on my birthday. [Green is the main colour of Nigeria's flag]. I cannot go to Michika; it's been turned into a death zone for now. Maybe our house and our CCEPI office in Michika were looted or burnt down, with all the materials to be distributed to widows, whose husbands were killed by the insurgents. We bought sewing and knitting machines, foodstuffs, etc.
"The memories of the day militants attacked are still fresh in my mind. It was September 7, at around 9 to 10am. People were trapped: some in their churches, some in their homes, and more than 150 were killed. We didn't have the comfort of burying them. Up to now, the bodies of our loved ones are littered on the street. In Michika women and children are not spared. A friend who managed to flee the town this week told me insurgents forced another friend Kwaji to witness the killing of her husband and 18 year old son.
"As in Michika, so elsewhere in Gwoza and Madagali Local Governments: they continue to sow death and destruction.
"In Madagali town, people were killed and some abducted. We have lost Pastor Ezra. One church leader, who was attacked while performing a burial ceremony, told me how he almost died. They shot to death many people including the 13 year old daughter of the deceased.
"He hid, but saw Boko Haram men vandalizing his property. He walked more than 50 miles before reaching a safe place. Unfortunately he's had to leave his wife and children at the top of a nearby mountain.
"In the Gwoza area, they abducted 7 people and yesterday (Tuesday, Sept 30) in Ngoshe, they abducted 18 people and killed 4 others.
The stories of people suffering are everywhere; the same in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States. Lots of people have been killed, and an unknown number of properties destroyed.
EYN, which is essentially based in North-Eastern Nigeria, is the most affected Church. More than 10,000 people have lost their lives, more than a hundred churches have been burnt down.
"But the government doesn't care. Even the money collected to help the victims has not reached the real victims. We need security more than anything. Nigeria should reclaim our motherland for us".
New dataset does the numbers on Boko Haram
Boko Haram's five-year insurgency is "clearly the most lethal conflict that Nigeria has confronted in decades," according to the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, or SAIS. The school has just released the Nigeria Social Violence Dataset, which tallies Nigeria's "incidents of deadly social violence" since 1998. The numbers indicate Boko Haram's militant Salafist campaign, which spans 5 of the dataset's 16 years, is responsible for nearly 40 percent of the killings during the total period.
The dataset does not break down the violence along sectarian lines.
In a Washington Post column, SAIS Ph.D. candidate Nathaniel Allen said the violence in northeast Nigeria has been overshadowed by events the Middle East. Even "Nigeria's elites seem to be detached," he writes, and most urban Nigerians consider Boko Haram to be a localized problem in a remote corner of the country.
"For the moment, Boko Haram is a network with local foundations and goals, but the rising scale of conflict belies the easy dismissals of some observers," Allen says.
SAIS dataset here.
Assyrians on patrol
When World Watch Monitor reported on the renewed fervor for the creation of a Christian-governed province in Iraq's Nineveh Plain, we noted how some Christian refugees from the violence of the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" had formed paramilitary units to help Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Now Mint Press News has posted an up-close look at two Assyrian Iraqis on patrol within deadly distance of IS militants. An accompanying video shows the unit, organized by the Assyrian Patriotic Party, patrolling a town that first was invaded, then abandoned, by IS forces.
"Our message to the Islamic State is to look up to the sky and ask God to forgive you and come back to the right way. If they don't do this, then we will fight against them," Mint Press News quotes one of the men, Waesh Toma, as saying.
Gender equality suffers under faith restrictions
The rights of women and girls declines rapidly, the greater a country's level of religious intolerance, a new study claims.
The study is by the Religious Freedom and Business Association, run by Brian Grim, former Pew Research Centre Religion expert. He analysed data from Pew's Government Restrictions on Religion Index and the UN's Gender Inequality Index.
Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq and India are the highest ranking countries for both gender inequality and religious restriction, according to the report.
Indian Christian man forced to separate from Hindu wife by right-wing activists
Published: October 03, 2014 by Anto Akkara and Jeff Thomas
Incident is latest of 600 attacks in prime minister's first 100 days in office
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Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat state, at a BJP rally in 2009.Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat state, at a BJP rally in 2009.
Flickr / Al Jazeera English / Creative Commons
An Indian couple who married Sept. 26 had their marriage annulled five days later by police under pressure from Hindu nationalists.
The couple, Joseph Pawar and Ayushi Wani, were arrested in Gujarat after complaints that Pawar, a Christian, had lured his Hindu bride into marriage.
The forced dissolution of the marriage quickly drew protets from India's Christian groups, who have attempted to put pressure on Narendra Modi, the new prime minister of India, for what they say is his persistent silence in the face of increased violence towards Christians and other religious minorities.
In a report issued in New Delhi on Sept. 27, a group of Indian religious leaders accused Modi of remaining mute during 600 incidents targeting religious minorities since his landslide election victory in May.
At the same time on the other side of the world, during Modi's five-day visit to the United States in late September, neither he nor his hosts said a word about evidence indicating growing sectarian hostility at the hands of nationalist Hindus, whose political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, swept Modi into national power.
The Sept. 30 meeting between Modi and U.S. President Barack Obama -- the first summit involving the leader of one of the world's oldest democracies, and the leader of the largest -- did not produce any public mention of religious freedom of any sort.
Diplomatic silence on the subject perhaps was to be expected. The U.S. had denied Modi a visa in 2005 when he was chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, where, in 2002, Hindu riots killed more than 1,200 people, mostly Muslims but also Christians. As Modi has led the BJP to control of the national government this year, Hindu violence against minorities, including Christians, has spiked.
Now prime minister of a country that claims one-sixth of the world's population, Modi was not subjected to any official public reminder of the sectarian violence to which he was connected, or the rebuff America had dealt him nearly 10 years ago. The words religion, religious, and Christian did not appear among the nearly 6,900 words that made up the leaders' joint statement, their public individual remarks, the US-India joint strategic vision statement, or Modi's speech three days earlier to the United Nations General Assembly.
Others were not concerned with diplomacy. Outside New York's Madison Square Garden on Sept. 28, protesters made a point of connecting Modi to the Gujarat violence, and accused him of supporting the murder of Christians, Muslims and even Hindus in India. Inside the arena, more than 18,000 people, mostly Indian expats living in America, gave Modi a rock-star reception to a speech he made in Hindi.
On the day of Modi's arrival in the U.S., Sept. 26, a group called the Coalition Against Genocide released a letter, signed by 11 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, that urged Obama to "discuss religious inclusion and the protection of religious minorities in India." Referencing Modi's connection to the 2002 violence, the letter said Modi "can play a constructive role by criticizing extremists and opening a dialogue in the country about violence aimed at religious minorities."
None of the 11 House members released any public statement about the letter or their support of it. One of the 11, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, is content to let the letter speak for itself, his press spokesman said.
The letter recalls Modi's post-election address to India, in which he said "a government has only one religion – India first."
"This statement is promising," the joint letter said. "However, given the reported increase in violence against Christians and Muslims, the reality on the ground in India's communities indicates that this promise must be followed by action."
If the subject of religious freedom was raised during the private sessions between Obama and Modi, neither mentioned it in the subsequent public statements.
"During a private dinner we spent most of our time talking about the economy," Obama said. The closest the two came to publicly referencing religious freedom was a mention in the joint statement about the "shared values, people-to-people ties, and pluralistic traditions" of India and the United States. And, in the strategic partnership vision statement was the acknowledgement that "our strategic partnership rests on our shared mission to provide equal opportunity for our people through democracy and freedom."
"The first 100 days of the new regime have, however, seen the rising pitch of a crescendo of hate speech against Muslims and Christians. Their identity derided, their patriotism scoffed at, their citizenship questioned, their faith mocked."
--Press statement summuarizing report by Indian religious leaders
While the talk in Washington was of shared values and economic opportunity, back home, fears and anguish were growing over Modi's "silence" in the face of increasing verbal and physical attacks on Christians and Muslims alike.
More than 500 people took part in the four-hour protest Sept. 27 in New Delhi, at which a report titled "100 days under the New Regime – the state of Minorities" was released by bishops of different denominations along with Christian, Muslim and secular activists.
"The first 100 days of the new regime have, however, seen the rising pitch of a crescendo of hate speech against Muslims and Christians. Their identity derided, their patriotism scoffed at, their citizenship questioned, their faith mocked," said a press statement about the protest, providing a summary of the 92-page report compiled by Christian and other activists.
"The environment has degenerated into one of coercion, divisiveness, and suspicion. This has percolated to the small towns and villages of rural India, severing bonds forged in a dialogue of life over the centuries," the statement read. "The attacks have assumed alarming proportions."
It said more than 600 incidents targeting religious minorities occurred between May to September, especially in areas that have held, or soon will hold, legislative elections.
"Both democracy and secularism are in grave danger under the government led by Modi," said Sheba Farooqui, of the All India Democratic Women's Association. "The condition of minority communities is dilapidating day by day due to indifference meted out and apathy shown by the government."
A C Michael, one of the protest organizers, told World Watch Monitor that "the common refrain was the silence of Prime Minister Modi."
Almost all the speakers "expressed shock over the silence of the Prime Minister on the increasing violence against minorities," said Michael, a former member of the Minority Commission of Delhi.
"The sad part is that the Prime Minister does not speak either in public or in (his) party against those indulging in hatred," said John Dayal, an outspoken Christian activist and secretary general of the All India Christian Council.
The 92-page report was endorsed by 33 groups, representing different faiths and secular groups.
"If solution to this menace is not meted out now, then in the coming times minorities will even lose their power of speech and expression," said Muslim activist Zafur-ul-Islam. "We have contributed a lot in nation building and we are also citizens of this country, as other communities are."
Said Bishop John Simon of Believers Church: "The Christians have done much admirable work in almost every social sphere, including health and education. Our contribution needs no elaboration. We have to get united in order to fight for our rights."
The protesters rejected Modi's call, made during his Aug. 15 Independence Day message, for a "10-year moratorium on religion-based violence."
"India has no place for hate and needs not a ten-year moratorium, but an end to the communal and targeted violence against religious minorities," the report said.
The report makes several demands:
Zero tolerance for communal and targeted violence
A stop to profiling and attacks on religious freedom
Swift action against those who create religious tension
A directive to police to apply the law equally
A mechanism to defend of minority rights
"The blatant support from central (federal) and local political leaders to antisocial groups has triggered violence in many places," the press statement concerning the report said.
Unfazed by the criticism, the BJP in a brazen step has decided to praise 63 party workers who were jailed after the July 4 street violence in Moradabad in northern Uttar Pradesh state, in which the district magistrate was seriously injured, the Indian Express reported on October 2. The BJP supporters had clashed with police after a meeting called to protest the removal of a loudspeaker from a temple in the town was disallowed.
Of the 600 incidents listed in the report, Muslims were the most frequent target, while Christians accounted for about three dozen. But it was an incident involving Christians that prompted the protest.
Christian leaders had met in New Delhi in late August following widespread reports that 72 Christians had "voluntarily" abandoned their faith, and that the Seventh-Day Adventist church had been "purified" and converted into a Hindu temple in a village about 160 kilometres southeast of New Delhi.
An ecumenical team visiting the village discovered the supposed mass conversion was a sham, and that a dozen pastors had been detained and beaten by police at the urging of a local BJP leader.
"The Christian community, its pastors, congregations and churches, were targets of mob violence and impunity in dozens of cases in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (states)," said the report, put together by several committees comprising of lawyers, activists and others.
(See World Watch Monitor coverageWorld Watch Monitor coverage of village councils Chhattisgarh state passing resolutions to ban Christian practices and the entry of pastors.)
The press statement summarizing the report claimed that anti-minority forces have set dates, including Christmas 2014, to "cleanse" various areas of Muslims and Christians, with the assistance of police. And it said there have been "attempts at religious profiling of Christian academic institutions, and their students" in New Delhi.
Looking beyond India to the U.S., the statement criticized the decision of Southern University, in Louisiana, for its offer of an honorary doctorate to Modi "for his work in inclusive growth and in recognition of his contribution towards social transformation, 'especially for empowering women and minorities in Gujarat.' "
"The facts on the ground," the statement said, "are very different."
On eve of the New Delhi protest, a church was torched at Pakritola Ghutas village in Mandla district of central Madhya Pradesh state. The police dismissed it as the act of "inebriated" hooligans who broke into the church and set on fire religious books, furniture, musical instruments and the altar.
Angered at the forced breakup of the Sept. 26 marriage of Joseph Pawar and Ayushi Wani, the Global Council of Indian Christians attempted to stage an Oct. 1 rally near the couple's hometown of Jorbat, in Madhya Pradesh state. On Sept. 30, government authorities issued an order forbidding the gathering, citing vows by nationalist groups to hold demonstrations of their own until Wani, who had taken refuge with a women's-support group, was returned to her family. Council President Sajan George called the edict "a travesty of justice."
The BJP is the majority party in Madhya Pradesh's state government.
Separately, the Religious Liberty Commission of India petitioned Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan directly, with an Oct. 7 letter that cited the police arrest of Pawar the "most outrageous" of several incidents documented in the letter. Commission National Director Rev. Vijayesh Lal cited the Sept. 27 burning of a church, and a Sept. 12 arrest of seven Christian church workers on what he said were false accusations of attempting to gain converts with money, among other affronts.
"It seems strange that the district administration is succumbing to the pressure of lawless elements," Lal wrote to the chief minister, a member of the BJP. "It is also transgressing on the Constitutional Right of Freedom of Religion, and Freedom of Expression. This will undoubtedly make the lawless elements stronger while coercing those who are peaceable and abide by the law."
Lal asked for the chief minister's "personal intervention to restore the confidence of the minority Christan community."
Amidst political turmoil, continuing blasphemy charges for Pakistani Christians
Published: October 02, 2014
Naja Maish his wife and family with TVS TeamNaja Maish his wife and family with TVS Team
Courtesy of The Voice Society
Christians have continued to be accused of blasphemy against Islam, in three separate recent cases in Pakistan. In one, a group of 35 was briefly accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammed before the charge was quickly changed from one of blasphemy. From evidence, all the cases appear to be either lodged to seek personal revenge, or solely to target Christians because of their faith.
All three cases have emerged in the Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan, which is home to dozens of extremist Islamist organizations. This is where most of the blasphemy cases against Christians have been lodged since the early 1980s, when these controversial laws were introduced by President Zia ul-Haq.
The courts have granted bail to the suspects in all three, which is rare in blasphemy cases, giving rise to the belief that the charges are not well-founded.
In the first case, a Muslim man lodged a criminal case against a Christian for sharing the Old Testament version of the story of Lot, from the book of Genesis.
The incident took place on August 23 in Bahawalpur, about 450 kilometres from Lahore. Sixty-year-old Naja Masih, a resident of Bahawalpur and a retired sweeper, was sitting outside his home with his neighbor Shahid Mehmood, who runs a barber shop in Masih's street.
They were discussing similarities between the Bible and the Qur'an, after which Masih was charged and immediately handed to the police. In his First Information Report (FIR), submitted in the Civil Lines Police Station, neighbour Mehmood stated that Masih told him "God himself took human form (God forbid) and appeared to Lot, and told him to leave his village." Mehmood further alleged that Masih had injured his religious feelings, by saying that when Lot had fled Sodom along with his daughters, his daughters "intoxicated" him and slept with him to continue their father's lineage.
Naja Masih with his wife Nargis BibiNaja Masih with his wife Nargis Bibi
Courtesy of The Voice Society
Masih's wife, Nargis Bibi, told World Watch Monitor that Mehmood's wife came to her after the incident, and told her that the Christians of the colony should be thankful to them that their houses had not been set on fire for committing blasphemy. Nargis said the situation was tense in their area after the incident, so they fled. "For more than a week the police did not tell us Masih's whereabouts," she added. She said when they saw Masih in police custody a week later, he told them that he was still unable to make sense of why he was arrested; he'd only explained what was written in the Bible.
Civil Lines Sub-Inspector Muhammad Ishaq, the investigating officer, told World Watch Monitor that as soon as the discussion between Masih and Mehmood turned into a conflict the local police were informed. They immediately reached the spot and arrested Masih. "Because there was a fear of attack, Masih was kept in another police station for his security," Ishaq said.
When he was told that what Masih shared with Mehmood was exactly according to the Bible, Sub-Inspector Ishaq said that no one had explained this to him before. "If it's proved that Masih's statement is part of his faith, then he will be given relief in investigation," he assured, but said that now the case would be settled in the court.
The Voice Society, an organization working for Christians, represented Masih in court and secured his release on bail, ahead of his trial, on Saturday 27th September.
The questions raised by Masih's case are not new. Pakistan's Assembly of Islamic Clergy, or Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, consists of three political blocs, each named after its representative politicians. In 2011, one, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Sami-ul-Haq (JUI-S), demanded that the Supreme Court ban certain passages of the Bible because, it said, they have blasphemous content. JUI-S's leader Senator Maulana Sami-ul-Haq runs Darul Uloom Haqqania, commonly known as the University of Jihad. The alumni of the university include many senior Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar.
Because Islam believes that prophets are innocent, sinless and perfect, the JUI-S claimed that "several stories have been inserted into (the Bible) charging various prophets with a variety of moral crimes, which undermine the sanctity of the holy figures…such insertions strongly offend the Muslims." Although the JUI-S later withdrew its claim, this is one of the accusations that Christians can still face every day in Pakistan.
A Hindu convert to Christianity accused of blasphemy
The family of Javed Masih with team from The Voice SocietyThe family of Javed Masih with team from The Voice Society
Courtesy of The Voice Society
Another blasphemy case was registered against a convert from Hinduism, also in Bahawalpur, on Aug 29. Javed Masih had converted to Christianity about three years ago and was working as a sweeper in the Government High School of Excellence. Masih was not present in the school when an alleged burning of the Qur'an took place there, but the police still arrested him along with his co-worker, Anand Lal, a Hindu sweeper.
According to the First Investigation Report (FIR), submitted in the Baghdad-ul-Jadeed Police Station by school Principal Muhammad Iqbal, when he (the Principal) reached the school at about 7:20 a.m., he was told by the school attendant Muhammad Qasim that a few Islamic charts and a copy of the Qur'an were burning in a classroom. The Principal alleged that Qasim's son (who studied in that classroom) told his father that when he entered, he saw the Qur'an burning and so informed his father. In the FIR Principal Iqbal further alleged that:
"When local religious and political leaders came to know about the incident they reached the school. Two of them are presented as witnesses: Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam [Assembly of Islamic Clergy] General Secretary Allama Shafiq-ur-Rehman and cleric Muhammad Ishaq Saqi who is a preacher of Majlis-e-Khatm-e-Naboowat [the Convention of the Finality of Prophethood]."
Masih's wife, Malika Bibi, told World Watch Monitor that they were living in the school compound and Masih used to go to the school to clean at around 5 a.m, then come back for breakfast at around 7 a.m. She said that at the time of the incident, Masih had come home, but was arrested when he went back to school at around 8:30 a.m. She said the police and Muslim clerics had gathered by the time he reached the school. "After his arrest we also fled from there in fear of our lives," she said. "Since then, I am living with my three little children at my brother's place," she added.
Malika wife of Javed MasihMalika wife of Javed Masih
Courtesy of The Voice Society
Investigation Officer Sub-Inspector Muhammad Iqbal told World Watch Monitor that Javed Masih and Anand Lal were implicated by the complainant, in a supplementary statement to the FIR. He said that, after investigation, the police suspected Lal of committing the crime because he bore malice against Masih, after the latter had been deployed in the block where he (Lal) had been working. Earlier, Lal had torn up a few attendance registers in the block where Masih was working, so that the school administration would remove him, the policeman said. "When (Lal) saw that nothing had happened, he burned Islamic charts and a copy of the Qur'an in Masih's block, believing that now Masih would be removed from his job for sure."
In spite of the police's confidence in Masih's innocence, he was charged, sent to prison and now faces trial, while Lal has been declared innocent. Talking to World Watch Monitor, the Coordinator of The Voice Society, Aneeqa Maria, said a bail application had been accepted and Masih was released on September 28.
She said in blasphemy cases judges are often reluctant to grant bail, due to public pressure, but in both cases above, judges have showed boldness and decided the cases on merit.
"The chances of Naja's and Javed's acquittal are very high, but still they cannot go back to their localities and continue their normal lives for fear of their life."
Seeking land for Christian graveyard implicates dozens in a blasphemy case
In the third case of blasphemy charges, the Christians of a village (chak 206) in Faisalabad had no place to bury their dead. There are about 400 households of Christians there, while about 500 are of Muslims. As most of the Christians are poor, they could not buy some land to bury their dead. Their old graveyard had been filled up with graves, so they requested a local politician –Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal - to provide them some more space. Iqbal's son told the Christians that they could level an area outside the village for a Christian graveyard.
One of those accused of blasphemy, Rafique Masih, told World Watch Monitor that on August 2 there were about 30 to 40 Christians who went to a nearby deserted place, identified by Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal for the graveyard. "Although Muhammad Iqbal was not there, his son Muhammad Wasif Iqbal took us along to point out the location for the graveyard," Masih said. He said all the Christians worked to level the area. "At about 4 p.m., a few Muslims came and told us that there were graves of Muslims where Christians wanted to make their own graveyard. We apologized and stopped work, after which they left and we also came back," he said.
Masih said the matter was settled, but that in the evening several police officers came and the matter was again taken up in front of a gathering. He said that, in the presence of the police, the matter was once again settled after the Christians apologized, and it was confirmed that there was no intention to hurt any feelings. "At about 3 a.m. when we were sleeping, the police were arresting Christians from their houses in a case they did not know anything about," he added. "Several of us are on pre-arrest bail while a few have been sent to prison after arrest."
In the FIR submitted in the Muridwala Police Station, the complainant Ashiq Hessian has identified 35 people, whom he alleges were armed with sticks, axes and firearm weapons. He states that:
"When we tried to stop them, telling them that these were the graves of our forefathers, the accused told us that Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal had allotted this land for a Christian graveyard … We immediately informed Muslims, then all the respectable people gathered there, while in the meantime these 35, identified above by name - along with 20 unidentified persons, armed with firearms - demolished about 400 to 500 graves."
Muridwala Station House Officer Usman Lashari told World Watch Monitor that the land belonged to the provincial government, and had been allotted for a Muslim graveyard. He said about 40 to 50 Christians had gone to level the area, but it was clear that they had no intention of grabbing the land and injuring the feelings of local Muslims. "Investigation shows the Christians did not know that the land had been allocated for a Muslim graveyard, and has been used for this purpose in the past," he confirmed.
Lashari also said that the accused were initially charged under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) which has a death penalty for insulting the Prophet. "That charge was immediately struck out, and now they are charged under Section 297 (PPC) which punishes for trespassing in a burial place; a punishment of one year."
He also said that eight people who'd been imprisoned after initial arrest are now released on bail, while 24 others, initially on pre-arrest bail, have now been found innocent. "I believe there is previous animosity also at play between Christians and Muslims; otherwise, this matter should have been settled by now."
Pakistan People's Party minority wing leader Napoleon Qayyum said that this spate of blasphemy accusations against Christians had come at a time when the country is passing through political upheaval. He noted that, as political parties have been protesting in the capital, tens of thousands of police have been pulled in from all other cities and deployed in Islamabad.
"As the law and order situation deteriorates, people in general find it easy to implicate Christians in such cases, to settle personal scores and to suppress them."
Qayyum went on to explain that Pakistani Christians, being very poor, are often accused of committing blasphemy by locals in order to settle a score, or as 'scapegoats' for perceived anti-Muslim Western policies, as well as for their religious beliefs. "In most cases, despite lack of any direct or indirect evidence, Christians are suspected of maligning Islam" he concluded.