A Christian pastor and two other Christians have been arrested on trumped up “blasphemy” charges in Pakistan, and they are scheduled for a court appearance on October 16, 2015. Pastor Aftab Masih Gill, Latif Masih, and Shafqat Gill voluntarily surrendered to be arrested in the Gujrat district of Pakistan’s Punjab province in mid-August.
However, they are being denied a police escort for their protection, and fear extra-judicial death threats by extremists when going to the court appearance. They are being charged because of the word translating similar to “apostle” appeared on a poster, and in the misunderstanding they are being charged with blasphemy. According to Ahsan Masih Sandu, a local Christian leader, Aftab Gill printed the pamphlets to mark the anniversary of the death of his father, Fazal Masih. The pamphlet referred to biblical verses that used the word “prophet” to pay tribute to his father for years of service to the local religious minority community.
Local Christian leader Ahsan Masih Sandu stated: “We [Christians] have already apologized to our enraged Muslim brethren for this misunderstanding and asked for forgiveness, but they have rejected our apology and pressed the police to arrest the organizers.” Sandu also noted that three days before the arrests, local officials demolished the walls of St. Savior Church, a 120-year-old church, in order to build a parking lot. “We have lodged an official complaint with the district commissioner against the demolition of walls,” he said.
Their Muslim attorney is seeking their release over what he views as an “exaggeration” leading to the spurious charges.
“Christians accused and arrested for alleged blasphemy are in danger of being killed in an extrajudicial killing. As Fides learns, Protestant Pastor Aftab Gill, Unatan Gill and two other Christians currently detained in the central prison of Punjab, should appear in court on October 16, but the court has refused to provide them an escort. Family members fear that, in the transfer, they can be killed by the radicals.
The four are accused of insulting Islam by publishing, on the occasion of a funeral, some posters in which the word ‘rasool’ (Urdu: Apostle) was used which is an attribute of the Prophet Muhammad (see Fides 20/08/2015). A month ago the court denied the release of the Christians, but granted bail to Muslim printmaker who printed the posters. The NGO CLAAS (Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement) says that ‘the judge was biased because the term ‘rasool’ is found in the Bible in Urdu and Christians had no blasphemous intention.’ Imtiaz Shakir, Muslim lawyer who defends Christians in court, told Fides: ‘The trial is an exaggeration, one is abusing the word rasool, which in Urdu means messenger. The accusation is preposterous, the whole system is biased, local authorities are looking for an opportunity for another extrajudicial killing’. ‘My religion – Shakir continues – does not allow me to endorse such injustice: these innocent people are suffering because of a misunderstanding of Islam. This is a failure of the judicial system and an abuse of power. Not only Christians but all Pakistani citizens who believe in the rule of law and justice should speak out to defend these innocent people.'”