Pakistan blasphemy case evokes fear

2012-09-01 12:15

Gojra - For Rafia Margaret, the case of a young Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy rekindled horrifying memories of the day a furious mob smashed through her front door and torched her house.

On 1 August 2009 Margaret, then aged 28, had just finished breakfast at home in the Punjab town of Gojra when she heard the announcements over the mosque loudspeakers urging Muslims to attack the Christian quarter.

Minutes later an angry crowd massed outside her modest one-storey house in the Korian area of the town baying for revenge after rumours spread that Christians had desecrated a Qur'an.

As the pack swelled still further and violence erupted, she ran to her roof to judge the seriousness of the situation while her mother and ailing father sought refuge in a Muslim neighbour's house.

The sight of the tall, elegant girl on the roof enraged the mob still further and they began attacking her door.

"I was terrified, so frightened I couldn't think. I thought I was going to lose everything. I don't know how I did it, but I managed to climb over to the Muslim neighbour's house where my parents were hiding," she said.

"Just as I got there, they entered our home and set it on fire. My father had had heart surgery a few days earlier and when he went back and saw his house burned down, he died," she told AFP, weeping.

The Muslim mobs razed a total of 77 houses in Gojra, which lies 50km from the industrial hub of Faisalabad and had never before seen tensions between its 495 000 Muslims and 35 000 Christians.

Seven members of a family were killed in the violence.

Scared of Muslims

The terror of that day came flooding back to Margaret two weeks ago when angry crowds massed in a poor Islamabad suburb to demand punishment for Rimsha, a young Christian girl accused of burning papers containing verses from the Qur'an.

Rimsha, aged 14 and mentally subnormal according to a medical report, was arrested on blasphemy charges on 16 August and has been held in prison ever since.

"When I heard a Christian girl had burnt the Qur'an in Islamabad, I felt unsafe in my home. I thought they might come to attack us again," said Margaret.

"Whenever something happens between Muslims and Christians across the country, I'm frightened that somebody might attack my house and our colony to take revenge," she said.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan, where 97% of the 180 million population are Muslims. Even unproven allegations of insulting Islam or desecrating the Qur'an can prompt anger and even violence.

Last month a 2 000-strong mob stormed a police station in central Pakistan to seize a mentally disturbed man accused of burning the Qur'an and beat him to death before burning his body.

And last year two leading politicians were assassinated after raising their voices against the blasphemy legislation, which includes the death penalty for insulting the prophet Mohammad.

In Korian, the focal point of the violence in 2009, newly built red-brick houses with freshly painted walls and street lights have turned the village into a model town.

But Shamaun Masih's children, who witnessed the rampage in 2009, are still traumatised.


"They always start weeping whenever they see something unusual. They still remember that violence. When they heard about Rimsha's case, they reacted as if it happened here... and they were scared of a fresh attack," he said.

Three years on from the Gojra carnage, Margaret's house has been rebuilt along with 75 others.

Compensation of $5 200 was paid to the families of the dead and $1 057  to those who lost their homes, but the people responsible for the bloody rampage went free.

The main witness of the case, Almas Hameed, who lost seven relatives and reported the case to police, fled the country with the rest of the family.

His house was the only one of those torched in the violence that has not been rebuilt, and notices summoning him to court as a witness remain pasted to his front door.

Christians are among Pakistan's most marginalised minorities, with many impoverished and trapped in dirty, menial jobs.

The new houses built for Christians in Korian have created further jealousy among Muslims in the area.

"They mock us now, saying we have got new houses but one day they will also be destroyed," said Khaliq Barkat, the priest of the local church.

As Rimsha goes into her third week in prison and her family hide for fear of violent reprisals, Margaret doubts Pakistan's Christians and Muslims will ever live in true harmony.

"I don't think it will ever come to an end. There is lack of wisdom and knowledge among our people. We need to learn to tolerate each other," she said, wiping away tears.

  • Zenwie2010 - 2012-09-01 13:48

    Can anybody tell me if South Africa has broken all sporting ties with Pakistan? Or what happened to the ANC policy of "No normal sport in an abnormal society"?... or something like that.

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-09-01 13:54

      Sporting bans are not unilateral, they are done at UN level!

      Zenwie2010 - 2012-09-01 14:03

      Agreed, Fidel, so please enlighten me further... Has the government pressed members of the UN then for a sporting ban against Pakistan?

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-09-01 14:22

      You are asking me a questions you already know the answer to, a self serving practice that enables some abstract commentary that has no relation to the facts at hand.

      Zenwie2010 - 2012-09-01 14:29

      No no, I honestly was interested as to what happened to the ANC's policy about sport as stated in my first comment... has they dropped it, or are they still standing by it? I hope that is plain enough. But I think I'll be off to the garage again, the work I am busy with there will certainly be more enjoyable.

  • - 2012-09-01 14:23

    Good percentage of crimes committed against humankind in all of the recorded history had their roots from religion. The reality is no religion will ever be more supreme than the constitution,in this regard the pakistani constitutional law must be enforced in such a way that no religious group has to be elevated above the other. We all know that the vast majority of people residing in pakistan are affiliated to the islamic religion but that does not make Qur'an the book of law. Yes islam out number all the existing religions in pakistan but then no religious group has the legal right 2 commit violent attacks against the other irrespective of its statistical dominance.

  • storm.trooper.125 - 2012-09-01 18:37

    and muslims say the quran talks about TOLERANCE??? MMMMM

      zaatheist - 2012-09-02 05:43

      All the Abrahamic religions are intolerant of competition. Religion poisons everything and stupid beliefs that their is a magic man in the sky who grants wishes should be relegated to Bronze Age mythology.

  • zaatheist - 2012-09-02 05:44

    Religion of Peace! PAH!

      Charms - 2012-09-03 08:20

      More like religion of Evil!

  • kenneth.kgosi - 2012-09-02 08:33

    We wont backdown for we will b persucuted 'killed ,burned

  • customdesign - 2012-09-02 15:55

    bloody savages

  • james.peterson.14289210 - 2012-09-09 13:56

    fidel you troll. u are one stupid asshat!!! wow I wonder where your parents brothewr and sister to produce such a classy ape as you?

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