Police rescue Pakistani Christian from ‘mob justice’ over blasphemy

by Asif Aqeel

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Rukhsana and other family members were beaten and had their faces blackened by an angry mob, June 2015 World Watch Monitor

 

A Christian father of four was beaten, had his head shaved, his face blackened, and was dragged through his Pakistan village before he was rescued by police June 30.
Awais Qamar’s wife, Rukhsana, and two other family members also were beaten and had their faces blackened with soot by a mob angered by the fact that the family had been using a salvaged advertising banner as a mat to cover their floor. The banner, containing the emblems of various colleges, also included a short verse from the Qur’an: “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.”

Qamar, 35, who also is known by the name Gharibu, which means “a poor man” in the local language, was boring for a new tube well about two kilometers away from his village Maki 460 in Farooqabad, about 50 miles northwest of Lahore. It was about 9:30 a.m., and a man in the local mosque had announced from its loudspeaker that Qamar had desecrated the Qur’an. Qamar was summoned to the village for “committing blasphemy.”

A crowd already had begun to converge in the village. A Christian neighbor of Qamar, Nazir Masih, tried to intervene.

‘Teach Gharibu a lesson’

“As soon as I had come to know about this issue I rushed to meet the people and assured them that Christians would teach Gharibu a lesson, but they should not take law and order into their own hands,” Masih told World Watch Monitor.

“The mistake was too big but the villagers should forgive it and start living peacefully again, as Gharibu was an absolute illiterate,” Masih said. “But they said that the sin was too grave and was unpardonable and the only remedy for desecrating the Qur’an is death.”

“I even offered them that Gharibu could be banished from the village, but they urged to kill him.”

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One-room house where Gharibu and his family lived World Watch Monitor

Masih said two instigators of the violence — brothers Muhammad Riaz, 23, and Muhammad Niaz, 30 — shaved Qamar’s head and blackened his face, and blackened the faces of his wife, their daughter Farzana, and of Qamar’s sister-in-law, Rehana.

“Men were beating Gharibu while women were beating his wife, Rukhsana, and then the mob made a garland of shoes and put it in Gharibu’s neck and dragged him in the streets while beating him,” Masih said.

Rev. Asif Bashir, pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church next to Qamar’s house, said he called police.

Even before the police arrived, they urged some of influential Muslims from a nearby village to intervene. One of those who stepped in, a man who asked not to be named, told World Watch Monitor that he employed both Qamar’s father, Siraj Masih, and brother, Ashraf.

Beaten up

“I had to intervene after I heard Ashraf’s wife, Rehana, was also being beaten up,” the man said. “Also, a police officer informed me that there was no issue of blasphemy and only illiterate villagers were making something out of nothing. I took Ashraf with me and reached where the crowd was beating and humiliating them. I told them that they immediately stop torturing them or else they should be ready to face consequences as the police were also on their way.”

Additional Superintendent of Police, Muhammad Jawad Tariq, said he was near Maki 460 village when he was alerted to respond to the violence. He arrived with another officer.

“The mob didn’t resist much and handed over these fellows to us,” Tariq told World Watch Monitor. “We just bundled them in police vans and sped from there.”

Qamar, his wife and the other vicitms were evacuated to a safe place, said District Police Officer Sohail Zafar Chattha.

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Facebook post from police officer Sohail Zafar Chattha, June 2015 World Watch Monitor

Chattha, who maintains a popular Facebook profile, posted a message to the social-media site saying that police who got to the scene before him “averted a big human tragedy.”

“My direction to them was categorical: save the couple at any cost even if you have to shoot the perpetrators,” he wrote on his Facebook post. He said police arrested a mullah who had incited the violence. His name has not been released.

The mob, however, still was demanding action against Qamar and his family. “Some of them were even raising slogans to throw out all Christians from the village and set their houses on fire,” Masih said. “Others were saying to socially boycott all the Christians and never hire them for labor.”

Chattha said police refused to file a report against the family. He said almost half of the police force of the district was deployed to bring the situation under control.

“The police will remain deployed in front of the church for some time,” he told World Watch Monitor. “If there will be a need, a permanent checkpost can be set up to keep peaceful environment. However, I have advised for Gharibu and his family not to return to the place as it could be jeopardizing their lives.”

Trouble between Qamar’s family and the two brothers whom Masih said had whipped up the mob stretches back earlier than the June 30 violence.

The brothers, who are barbers, earlier this summer placed a stall outside their shop – and in front of Qamar’s house — and sold ice from it, Masih said. Others would gather at the stall in the evenings and peer into the house and hurl abusive language. Rukhsana complained to the brothers’ mother, to little effect.

Meanwhile, Rukhsana had brought a used roll-up banner from Faisalabad where her parents lived, Masih said. On June 30, a visiting friend told her the banner carried a verse of the Qur’an. Rukhsana offered to sell the banner, and the friend went home to obtain the money. When she came back, she was accompanied by a man who slapped Rukhsana and took the banner, Masih said.

Blasphemy allegations

Chattha said police refused to file a First Information Report against the family partly because the state inspector general had given police orders to investigate blasphemy allegations personally before determining whether to file a report.

“We will still not let the people go off scot free who triggered this tragedy in the first place and those who blackened the victims’ face and beat them,” he told World Watch Monitor.

Rabia Ghani, project manager for the Pattan Development Organization, which works with members of Pakistan’s parliament on human-rights issues, applauded the police’s quick rescue of the victims and refusal to lodge a report against them.

“It’s the need of time to push governments to have standard operating procedures for such cases and SOPs on how police should deal with cases of religious minorities,” Ghani wrote in an email. “The police should identify specific actions and behaviors to not just ensure non-discrimination, but strict action, transparency, and equipped with knowledge of an adequate, sensitive and proper response.”

Source: World Watch Monitor

Community ‘Justice’ Expels Copts from their homes

by Jayson Casper

Forgive Emad Youssef if he and his extended family felt quite confused. The crowd welcoming them back to the village had only a few days earlier demanded they leave.
“They said this is the first time something like this has happened in our village,” he told private satellite channel, OnTV “and that, Inshallah, it won’t happen again.”

Yet it happens frequently in Egypt – at least 23 times in the last four years, according to new research released by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). Whose Customs? – a 78-page report by EIPR – points out that the period from 2011-2014 saw 45 instances in which sectarian strife was settled, in different ways, outside the law through “Customary Reconciliation Sessions” (CRS).

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A community ‘reconciliation’ meeting between Copts and Muslims, Al-Nazriyah village 17 April 2015 WWM

 

In concept, CRS is community-based conflict resolution, long established in Egyptian tradition. If two residents have a dispute, solving it through the judicial system is long and costly. Instead, ‘wise men’ of the village will hear both sides and issue a binding ruling. Religious leaders are often involved.

If the dispute is violent, CRS is a method to calm tensions and prevent escalation. Police are usually present to enforce security.

But in the case of Youssef and his relatives, all Coptic Christians, the CRS took place because police did not do their job in the first place.

”This (the forced ‘relocation’) happened while the police were in the village, and they did nothing to stop them’ – a local Copt, choosing anonymity, stressed.

Emad’s brother Ayman is a migrant worker in Jordan, accused of sharing pictures deemed insulting of Muhammad on Facebook via his cell phone. Ayman claims he is innocent. Nevertheless, on May 27 a mob gathered in his home village back in Egypt, attacking the houses and fields of his family and their Coptic neighbors. The village of Kafr Darwish, about two-thirds Muslim, is located in Beni Suef, 70 miles south of Cairo.

Reports say that some local Muslim neighbors tried to defend the family, but the mayor was not able to control the situation. Officials and village leaders conducted a CRS and issued a verdict placating the mob. In Ayman’s absence his family was punished, resulting in the expulsion of 18 individuals, including Ayman’s mother and his 71-year-old father.

The displaced told of their ordeal as they were “traveling from one town to another and not finding a place to accommodate us”.

In this one instance, five families of 18 members had to contend with living in one room. “They expelled us while we have done nothing, we are struggling to provide for ourselves,” they said before their return.

Media is often inattentive to Upper Egyptian issues, but in this case the outcry was immediate. Popular broadcaster Ibrahim Eissa declared, “How is that we have an enlightened president but a Salafi [ultraconservative Muslim] state? We don’t have the courage to say: These are their homes and their life is here. Whoever stands against them and the law will be judged by the law!”

A day before Eissa said this, the Beni Sweif state governor had tried to intervene, announcing the displaced families would return. This only resulted in further attacks in the village. But the following day control was established. The governor convened a meeting in the village, with high profile political, religious, and security figures – and over 2,000 residents.

According to Mideast Christian News (MCN), the governor announced that the law does not allow the displacement of any Egyptian from their home. He promised to restore the properties that had been damaged.

But Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani (which helped first report the story) is not aware of even one Muslim arrested for the attacks. MCN reported that Christian villagers submitted the names of 20 individuals involved.

“I don’t consider this a happy ending, it is not a healthy situation and the law is not enforced,” Sidhom told WWM.

Fanatics ”may harm Christians,” he said, ”but the greater harm is done to the sovereignty of the state”.

Ishak Ibrahim (right) with Abdul Rahman at the EIPR press conference in Cairo, 10 June 2015 Jayson Casper

 

This incident is unique in that the state intervened to overturn the results of a CRS. But lead author of the EIPR report Ishak Ibrahim stated that the non-prosecution of offenders is common. In the vast majority of cases studied, no arrests were made. In the few that were, the accused were released shortly thereafter. The reconciliation agreements often stipulated the relinquishing of legal procedures.
“If people reject the ruling it can result in more sectarian attacks,” said Ibrahim, “but accepting it helps the aggressors escape the consequences of their actions.

“We put responsibility on the government because it is the one tasked to protect citizens and their rights.”

Article 63 of the Egyptian constitution forbids the forced displacement of any citizen. Article 95 insists all judicial rulings must be personal, not collective. And while Article 185 of the penal code allows for a victim to waive prosecution in certain circumstances, these do not include looting, arson, or intimidation.

But the waiver of prosecution has not applied to Christian aggressors.

Not all incidents begin as sectarian. In 29 per cent of the studied cases, community tension resulted from a romantic relationship between a Muslim and a Christian, and in 16 per cent conflict emerged from land and property disputes.

In each one where the Christian was at fault, legal prosecution continued after CRS-stipulated penalties, often exorbitant. But when the Muslim is at fault, reconciliation and social peace are emphasized. Sometimes there are no penalties whatsoever; other times the church has opted for waiving them to keep the peace.

Bias against Christians is also apparent in disputes with religious origins. Thirty-one percent of cases have to do with the practice of Christian religious ritual, including attempted church construction and repair.

Only one case was resolved in their favor.

‘Relocated’

Even the ‘Martyrs’ Church, established by a presidential decision to honor the 20 Egyptian Copts killed in Libya by the Islamic State (IS), had to be ‘physically relocated’ following protests and a subsequent CRS.

Eight per cent of cases had to do with expressing opinions on religious matters. The majority involved simply “liking” a Facebook page deemed insulting to Islam, and resulted in expulsion of the offender from his village.

WWM previously reported on Gad Younan, a teacher from Minya arrested with some of his students for a video in which they made fun of IS. MCN has recently reported that judicial procedures resulted in his release on bail pending further trial, but that the CRS agreement continues to demand he not return home.

“Customary reconciliation sessions are said to stop sectarian tension, but our analysis shows that they only serve to ignore it,” said Amr Abdel Rahman, head of the civil liberties unit at EIPR.

Abdel Rahman explained that those who conduct CRSs often view their sessions as above and apart from the law. This status is buttressed by the police presence that implicitly underwrites the process.

And in a rare departure from Coptic non-criticism of the government, Bishop Aghathon of Minya accused local authorities of collusion with conservative Muslims in CRS. He told a Coptic satellite channel that, in one incident in his diocese, the typical mob protest was instigated by security.

General Sayyid Nour el-Din, former director of security in Minya, defended the use of CRS. “It does not conflict with the law at all, it has to do with the prevention of bloody conflicts,” he told OnTV. “The security presence is there to protect the sessions, not to come up with their solution.”

Nour el-Din said security has to be especially vigilant as Islamist groups are looking for any excuse to explode the situation. Strong especially in the poorer southern governorates, their presence coincides with the use of CRS following sectarian incidents. EIPR reported 48 per cent of cases are from Upper Egypt, 33 per cent from Minya alone.

The Muslim Brotherhood officially condemned the forced displacement of Copts in Kafr Darwish, while blaming the church for tearing apart national unity through its support of thegovernment.

This latter sentiment was emphasized by a former parliamentarian from al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, an Islamist group implicated in many attacks on Copts in Upper Egypt during the 1990s.

“The church is part of Sisi’s regime,” said Amr Abdel Rahim. “They have to wake up and realize they are playing with Coptic lives and leading them to a holocaust.”

Abdel Rahim’s criticism makes no distinction between Islamist ideology and Muslim identity. He insists that “Muslims” are not against Copts, but if not, who does he think might conduct his so-called holocaust?

‘Roots of the Problem’

EIPR statistics indicated the use of one CRS per month during the interim rule of the military, when, following the fall of Mubarak, a security vacuum existed and Islamist groups felt themselves in the ascendency. During Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-led presidency the rate rose to 1.25 per month.

It declined under interim president Mansour and incumbent president Sisi following the removal of Morsi, but the practice continues all the same. EIPR noted six incidents, outside the scope of its report, in the first half of 2015 alone.

“From Mubarak to today, no regime has dealt with the roots of the problem,” said Ibrahim.

Sidhom tied CRS to an unreformed educational system that does not properly instill the values of citizenship.

Related is a weak state apparatus that submits to the pressure of militant action apart from the law.

But the EIPR report’s main author Ibrahim emphasized he is not against CRS in principle.

“Anything that extinguishes sectarian tension is beneficial, as long as the process of law continues,” he told OnTV.

“The problem is that it is a replacement for law, often compelled upon the weaker party, reflecting the local situation of power.”

But where power is balanced and tension is not high, Christians like Muslims avail themselves readily of a CRS, especially in view of a judicial system saddled with millions of new and pending cases and complaints per year.

“In 90 per cent of the cases, CRS is beneficial,” Fr. Yu’annis Anton of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Minya told WWM. “Relationships are reconciled and everyone takes his rights.”

Anton speaks from a long experience with CRSs, underlining their utility in non-sectarian cases. This is not the case of Kafr Darwish, he says, where a just rule of law ought to take precedence.

EIPR noted that its 45 cases detail only CRS usage following sectarian clashes, not the practice itself.

Perhaps following in the footsteps of Jesus, Emad Youssef chooses to reflect positively.

“This trial was from God, who has used it to increase the love shown to us by Muslim neighbors,” he said.

“They have made reconciliation,” added the 71 year old father. “We have returned home, in goodness and peace.”

Source: World Watch Monitor

Elisabeth Elliot, Influential Author And Missionary, Dies

Elisabeth Elliot, influential Christian missionary and author, died yesterday, 15th June, aged 88. She has been described as one of the most influential Christian women of the 20th century. She authored numerous books but perhaps her most famous were those she penned about the martyrdom of her first husband, Jim Elliot, and the years she and her newborn daughter spent living among the Aucas, the tribe that killed him.

In the video below, Christian Broadcasting Network pays tribute to her life and work.

Life as an Iraqi Christian refugee : One year after ISIS attacks Mosul

One year after Islamic State attacks Mosul World Watch Monitor features Iraq’s displaced Christians who moved to Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region.

One year ago, Mosul fell to militants belonging to a Sunni Muslim movement calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Thousands of Christians and other religious minorities, threatened with execution, fled. These are the stories of two who have found refuge, one in Jordan and the other in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Though they live among other Christians at the moment, the situation in Iraq and Syria is fluid, and when a person speaks publicly, relatives elsewhere can be singled out for retribution. For that reason, World Watch Monitor is withholding their true names. For purposes of this report, they will be called Sarah and Fared.

Sarah

“It was a horrible night,” Sarah said of June 10, 2014. “We left with a very small bag and we went to my sister’s house in Mosul. After five days, my father started to believe that our town wasn’t safe anymore, because there were so many Christians living there.

“Then we decided to go to a monastery in Mosul, because we thought it would be safer for us. While we were there, one of our neighbours called my father and told him that a man from ISIS came to our house and asked about us. He told the man that we were out visiting relatives and we would return soon. ‘No!’ said the man from ISIS, ‘They are not here. They’ve already left their home behind. Tell them if they don’t return we’ll take it.’ So, my parents left the monastery, went back to our house and stayed there for three days.

“After this, my mother started to feel very anxious about the situation and we left home for the monastery again. In the evening of the very day we left, July 16th, one of our neighbours called my father in the monastery and told him that an ISIS car was driving the streets announcing from its loudspeakers to Christians, giving them three options: One: Convert to Islam, so as to be safe in Mosul. Two: Give money to ISIS. Three: Be killed.“

As did so many others, including nearly every last Christian, Sarah left. She and her parents, two sisters and oldest brother headed east, toward the border with the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region, in northeastern Iraq.

“Those were the worst days of my life, when we had to leave the monastery without knowing where we were going,” she said. “We were helped by a family of Kurds and lived in an apartment for a month in a town near Dohuk. But then we had to leave again when the owner said we had less than a day to leave, without giving us any explanation. My family and I left for Jordan on the 12th of November.”

Looking at a map, it seems more obvious to move north to Turkey than southwest across ISIS-controlled Iraq to Jordan. Yet one refugee in the town of Fuheis, Jordan, said Iraqis have heard that UN aid arrives faster in Jordan. The town, 20 kilometres from the capital, Amman, in Jordan’s Northwest, also is well-known for its long-standing Christian-majority population in a country that is 2 percent Christian.

Among Middle Eastern countries, Jordan has a reputation for comparative religious freedom. “Arab Christians are an integral part of our region’s past, present and future,” King Abdullah II told the European Parliament in March. “Jordan is a Muslim country, with a deeply-rooted Christian community. Together, the Jordanian people make up an indivisible society, friends and partners in building our country.”

Fuheis’ 20,000 residents saw a sudden increase between June and August 2014, and again in December.

On arrival in Jordan, Sarah’s family first stayed for three weeks with a relative, who helped them settle down. Now they rent an apartment. They have money to afford one meal per day.

As for many displaced people the world over, the local church provides a connection to the community. The Palestinian pastor of a local Baptist church said meetings attract up to 100 people, including evangelicals, Catholics and Greek Orthodox. He said the church visits 20 to 30 Iraqi refugee families, Christian and Muslim, who need aid.

The UN’s humanitarian aid programs are more obvious in northern Jordan, in Zaatari and Mafraq close to the Syrian border. Still, many Iraqi Christians say they feel “safe” among Fuheis’ largely Christian community.

“Since the beginning of the Iraqi crisis, Jordan has opened its doors to receive displaced Christians,” said Dana Shahin of Caritas Jordan. “In almost all the areas that the Iraqi families were received, neighbors and many local organizations, both Muslim and Christian, came to welcome those families and contacted Caritas Jordan to provide help and assistance.”

Recently, Sarah has started to help in a dental clinic that opened after a visit by a group from Norway and Brazil, which started offering dental care in the Baptist church left it with resources to continue the work. But when asked about her longer-term plans, Sarah was not too optimistic.

“Now we are waiting on the UN to see what happens, but I think no country will receive us,” she said. “I believe the world will force us to return to Iraq, so we will be killed there. I think we have no future as Iraqi Christians.”

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Some of the Iraqi Christians who fled to the Kurdish capital of Erbil eventually found places in small apartments, sheltering them from Iraq’s winter. Photo courtesty Open Doors International

Fared

“Last Friday I thought of Mosul, because then it was June 5, the day the curfews started one year ago,” said Fared, a Christian in his late 20s. “We were not allowed to take our cars into the streets anymore. For five days there was heavy fighting on the other side of the river Tigris. I lived on the Left-bank. On our side it was relatively calm, but of course we were afraid.

ISIS had crippled four of the five bridges crossing the Tigris, to thwart any advance of Iraqi reinforcements. It wasn’t necessary.

“The Iraqi army withdrew,” Fared said, looking as astonished today as he said he was a year ago. “The rumours spread very quickly through phone and social media. Many Muslims in my neighbourhood stayed, but especially Christians wanted to leave the city. Despite the curfew, we packed our car with the most valuable things like papers, some photos and clothing for two months and then left.”

Their destination: Erbil, the rapidly modernizing capital of the oil-rich, and well defended, Kurdistan region of Iraq that lay beyond the reach of ISIS. On the highway, Fared said he drove alongside the Humvees carrying thousands of Iraqi soldiers.

“The way to Erbil normally takes about one hour, but now it took us 12,” he said. “There were four checkpoints, but especially the first one at Kalak took long. For eight hours we waited in lines of about 5 kilometres long. The two-way road had become one way direction and the cars were about 10 or 12 lines wide, six lines on the roads and another six lines on the sides of the road.

“Later, I had contact with my former neighbour. He told me that in 50 minutes after we left, the neighbourhood was taken over by Da’ash,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Today, a year after the Army withdrew from Mosul, Fared said his church plans a prayer meeting. “Not a meeting to despair or to be depressed, but a meeting to also see the goodness that God brought to our lives and to also count our blessings.”

Aid to the Iraqi refugees in Erbil, in the form of food, clothing, training and job creation, continues to come in through churches and partners working with organizations such as Open Doors International, an international ministry that supports Christians who have been threatened because of their faith. Fared said the aid has helped him start over.

“I’m part of a small church and they took care of us very well. I now live in a small apartment in Erbil and I’m happy with that,” he said. “I think I will never return to Mosul ever again. Or maybe one more time. Just to sell the plot of land I have. Then I leave and never come back. There are good opportunities for me and my wife in Erbil, so we are rebuilding our lives here now.”

Source: World Watch Monitor

Middle East: Video from SAT7

Sharing this excellent video with documentary footage and narration from SAT7. Please view and pray for this region.

Use this short video to intercede for the region. Documentary footage shows a region beset by conflict. But Abraham’s prayer of intercession for any who are righteous (Genesis 18) calls us to pray for all in the Middle East who seek to know and serve God today.