Photo: One of the displaced Pakistani Christian families that has now returned (ASSIST News Service)
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Following the release on bail of a 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl who was accused last month of blasphemy against Islam, local Christians are living in “shocking conditions” in fear for their lives.
The girl in question, Rimsha Masih, who is said to be “mentally challenged,” had been accused of burning pages of the Koran and taken into custody. The incident prompted worldwide protests and outcry.
Eventually, witnesses came forward reporting that a Muslim cleric, Mohammed Khalid Chishti, had torn pages from a Koran and planted them in Masih’s bag which contained burned papers. The cleric was arrested this week for attempting to frame the young girl, who is said to be illiterate.
After she was granted bail by the judge, she was rushed outside where a military helicopter lifted her out of the prison yard and into hiding.
Shamim Masih, a Pakistani Christian rights activist and an ANS correspondent, said, “Since the incident occurred, the Christian residents of that vicinity, where the girl lived with her family, had fled to other places because of a huge mob of militants that had formed.
“But once the real story came out, and Rimsha was released, many of them have returned to their homes in a slum area on the edges of Islamabad.
“When I visited the area couple of days back, I was told by one couple that they are ‘living in fear and unsecure circumstances.’ The husband told me, ‘We can’t live peacefully here as our females are not secure.’
“I saw fear and uncertainty on their faces. These families want to know what their ‘fault’ is saying that they are Pakistani citizens and yet are being treated as second-class citizens.”
Mr. Masih also told ANS that the conditions in which they are “living” are “disgraceful” and they they told him that, since they had returned, and because of the tense situation, their children cannot go back to school. He went on to say that many fathers are afraid to go to work as they fear for the safety of the children.
“There are more than 250 families back in that area and average family has five children, which make it that hundreds of the children are out of school. I have not been able to understand about who will be responsible for their loss of education.”
Mr. Masih said that after the release of Rimsha, “I went in search of displaced families, after two days struggle, I reached to those families in the Mehrabadi area.”
Mr. Masih was able to deliver aid to some of the families donated by the British Christian Pakistani Association and talk with a few of those who had now returned.
He said that one of them, a 48-year-old father of five children, said that when the mob initially formed after the false allegations against Rimsha were leveled, he took his family at midnight and went into hiding.
“Even though we are now back, the situation is still not under control,” he said.
Another man, who works in a motor workshop, told Mr. Masih that on that night “we ran for our life and stayed in H-9 tents for few days until the situation was calmer.”
Another man told him: “We are back in the town, but are aware of the mentality of the people. They are feudal-minded people and want to rule over us. Our children cannot go to school since the incident happened.”
Mr. Masih said that not only were families facing serious problems, but he also met a pastor who said he had been severely beaten up by authorities.
He said that according to Pastor Arif Khokher, on Friday, September 7, 2012, an official with a task force “came to the slum and start beating up Christians residents.” He told Mr. Masih that one of the officers called him [the pastor], and as he came out from his tent, where he had been staying, the man started slapping him without any reason.
“He tried to pull him up his van but fortunately, when the people heard the cry of their pastor, they came out of their tents and rescued him from further beating,” said Mr. Masih. “However, they broke the arm of a Mr. Yousaf Masih, as they beat him with sticks.”
Our ANS correspondent said that the officials warned them to leave this area where they were staying as soon as possible, otherwise they would go and find their homes and demolish them.
“This slum is known as Akram Masih Gill Colony, and these Christians were allowed to live there by the former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Galiani in 2009, when they were displaced from the Shehzad town, Islamabad and then they lived on the road side of G-7.
“Since then they are living there in the tents, there is no electricity, no water provision, and no drainage system. Their living conditions are pathetic.”
To contact Shamim Masih, his e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Wooding, 71, who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, is an award-winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife, Norma, to whom he has been married for 49 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and he hosts the weekly “Front Page Radio” show on the KWVE Radio Network in Southern California and which is also carried throughout the United States and around the world.
Publication date: September 20, 2012