Blasphemy accusation draws mob to Pakistan town’s only Christian street

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Pakistani police gather beside the smoke-charred house of an Ahmadi Muslim resident after a blasphemy accusation led an angry mob to set fire to the neighbourhood in Gujranwala, July 2014.

As horrific details emerge of a young Muslim artist being tortured to death for alleged blasphemy, separately a young Christian man has been charged with blaspheming against Islam’s prophet, a crime punishable with death in Pakistan.

Farhan Aziz, 26, from Muslim Town in Gujranwala district, about 100 kilometres from Lahore, was arrested on 2 August after members of a recently formed political party, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (which literally means “Here-I-Am Movement Pakistan”), surrounded the one street in the town where Christians live.

Aziz, who runs a photocopying shop in the town, lives with his uncle, Asif Masih, who told World Watch Monitor that the mob wanted to kill his nephew but that the police intervened, arresting him and taking him to an undisclosed location.

“Most of Christian families had run from the area and, when the protests started, we ensured the safety of the Christians,” local police chief Jawad Answer told World Watch Monitor. “We also negotiated with the protesters and a police contingent is still being stationed there to ensure the safety of the people.”

Aziz’s family have accused his ex-girlfriend’s family of sending blasphemous text messages from a phone registered in his name.

His uncle said the relationship had “turned sour” when the woman became engaged to another man and Aziz demanded she return the money he had lent her over the years.

Local Presbyterian priest Niamat Bhatti, who worked with the police and families to restore calm in the area, confirmed to World Watch Monitor that Aziz had bought a mobile phone for the woman, which was registered in Aziz’s name.

“We are told that text messages were sent by [the woman’s] family and two of her family members were also arrested by the police,” he explained.

The police refused to comment as it is yet to be decided whether they or the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) will lead the investigation.

Police chief Anwar explained that the case has been forwarded to the FIA as it falls under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of 2016.

“But the agency told us that it involved only text messages, so the police could investigate it,” he said. “Now the agency is taking a legal opinion on this and once it is decided then investigation will begin on this case. I assure that the investigation will be done on merit and it will be shared with media in a few days.”

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