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When I wrote a piece on secularism in Pakistan the other day, I mentioned the plight of two Christian brothers in the agriculture-rich city of Faisalabad in Punjab province. The brothers had been accused of being in violation of the blasphemy law, and crowds across Faisalabad threatened to attack and burn the houses of Christians across Waris Pura, a low-income neighborhood that is predominantly, if not wholly, Christian.
I also mentioned that even as the blasphemy law is a rigid, regressive law in Pakistan, that most cases were settled — by violence — long before they even reached the courts. That this would be the case for Sajid and Rashid Emmanuel was not a foregone conclusion but it would not have come as a surprise.
And, sadly that is precisely what happened. The brothers were gunned down while on the court premises likely by a bunch of young trigger-happy, bigoted men with no connection to the case at all — or by someone with a vendetta against the brothers.
Before getting into the blasphemy law and its problems, it's worth looking at what happened when the men were arrested July 2, as well as what happened in the aftermath, when the community was harassed. The harassment continued non-stop for about 15 days. The government did nothing to stop it or to protect the community, despite a number of appeals.
Atif Jamil Pagaan of the Harmony Foundation, which fights for minority rights in Faisalabad, sent out an urgent notice on July 12 asking to help save lives. He said the situation in Faisalabad was tense.
"The situation is still tense in Waris Pura and Muslim youth is roaming in the streets holding weapons and sticks," he wrote. "Christian community is scared as they remember the Gojra incident last year in which nine Christians were killed and burnt alive and more than 120 homes were completely burnt by a Muslim mob who wanted to give punishment to the Christian community in that area for alleged charges of Blasphemy on one Talib Masih."
The Asian Human Rights Commission sent out an urgent appeal on July 14. It said, "The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned that two Christian men are in imminent danger after they were arrested, without a legitimate investigation, for blasphemy. The police officers involved have not followed the penal code, which only allows such charges to be made after an investigation by the superintendent of police. Blasphemy can still be met with the death penalty in Pakistan."
The commission attached sample letters addressed to President Asif Ali Zardari, Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, the chief of police, Punjab, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Federal Minister for Human Rights, the Chief Secretary of the Punjab government, including a number of others.
The commission included the names of the chief inciters of violence:
1. Mr. Muhammad Khuram Shahzad, printer, Faisalabad, Punjab
2. Mr. Sahibzada Abulkhair Muhammad Zubair, Leader of Jamiat Ulema-ePakistan, Faisalabad, Punjab province
3. Mr. Syed Hidayat Huassain Shah, leader of Khatm-e-Nabowat, Faisalabad, Punjab province
4. Mr. Mufti Abdul Shakoor Rizvi, former member of Punjab assembly, Faisalabad, Punjab province
5. Mr. Mushtaq Ansari, Councilor of Union Council Warispura, Faisalabad, Punjab province
Not shockingly, nothing happened.
This brings us back to the point of secularism in Pakistan. No one wants to touch anything to do with Islam because at a political, social or cultural level, it can backfire and bring about the downfall of any politician. So, even those who sympathize are silent for fear that their involvement in a blasphemy case may turn voters against them, or result in an unwanted debacle.
The government has no gumption. None of the politicians do. The military obviously doesn't either. And apparently neither does most of the public. If they were smart and really wanted change, they would use the Quran to their benefit. Nowhere in the Quran is there a license to kill an innocent man. And nowhere in this case has it been proven that either Sajid or Rashid were guilty.
We already know that the blasphemy law is a tool of abuse. Sherry Rehman, former minister of information, has promised to bring it up in the National Assembly. I'm not sure if she will have the balls to attack the blasphemy law, or to focus on the human rights abuses in this particular case.
It's too late for the brothers, not for the community at Waris Pura. They are shaken, and looking for someone, like Sherry Rehman, generally a woman of courage, to try and force a reasonable debate for a change.