An angry Pakistani mob almost killed a 16-year-old Christian boy – who is completely illiterate and also slightly mentally challenged – for allegedly burning the pages of a Koran. He was then apparently forced to confess to the alleged crime, and is now in custody – despite apparent inconsistencies in evidence, and witness testimony of alternative explanations.
The incident involving Asif Masih, took place about 250 kilometres from Lahore in the remote village of Jamkay Cheema, in Gujranwala district, on 12 August. The 16-year-old juvenile has been charged under Section 295B of the blasphemy law, and if found guilty, faces life imprisonment.
Asif Masih was buying a few household goods when Muhammad Nawaz, also known as Majhoo, grabbed him and started calling out to passers-by that Masih had broken the money collection box in the shrine of a Sufi saint, Pir Sandhay Shah.
“As soon as a mob gathered, Majhoo incited them by saying that Asif had burned pages of a Koran, at which people started beating him up”, Waheed Masih, Asif’s uncle, told World Watch Monitor.
Waheed said that while Asif was being beaten up, someone informed the police. “Police from a nearby check-post arrived and put Asif in their van, but people still were trying to beat him up and pull him out of the van. After that, the frenzied mob arrived at the check-post and tried to snatch him from police custody”, he said.
“They were shouting that they wanted to kill him and burn his body. Realising the pressure, the police called Alipur Chatta Police Station to send more policemen. Until they arrived, Asif was still being beaten up and, out of fear, confessed that he had burned the pages”.
But the first information report (FIR), lodged in Alipur Chatta Police Station, was not filed by Muhammad Nawaz (Matchi, a caste name), the man who sits at the shrine, but by an imam of the local mosque.
Arshad Ali states in the FIR that “at about 12.30pm, I was at the Pir Sandhay Shah shrine, along with Nawaz Matchi and Munawar Hassan, to offer prayers, when Asif entered the shrine, picked up the Koran, brought it out, poured kerosene oil on it and set it on fire”.
Ivan Gill, a community leader, rejects the claim. “The shrine is about two kilometres from the village and 12.30 is the time of Zohar prayer. How could the imam not be at his mosque, but instead had gone to a shrine two kilometres away?” he said.
The shrine is near a canal in a desolate place. It is extremely small, so only two or three can enter it at a time. “When these three were there, Asif could not have entered to pick up the Koran. Even if he managed, then why could these three not stop him?” Gill said.
Waheed said that, right after the incident, they were told by several people that burned pages of the Koran had been found about two weeks before outside the shrine. “Majhoo took the pages to several people, who later informed us that he was told to bury those pages, as no-one knew who burned them”, he said.
Asif Masih’s father, Stephan, is a bonded labourer to a local landlord. Almost all local Christians serve as labourers. After Asif’s arrest, they went on strike, reported Gill. “The landlords are against the [Muslim] clergy connection, itself against the Christians, because it hurts [the landlords’] work. So they openly oppose the clergy for wrongly accusing an innocent and chances are that they will give testimony in the court in Asif’s favour”, he said.
Source: World Watch Monitor, The Voice Society
- Intercede for Asif, ask the Lord to protect him while he is in custody. Pray the Lord will strengthen and comfort him and his family.
- Pray the facts of the case will come to light and that the authorities will judge the case without prejudice. Pray for Asif’s release.
- Pray this incident may be used by the Lord to show that the blasphemy laws are open to misuse and bring about change.