Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pakistani Imam Charged in Christian Girl's Case Wins Bail

Cleric accused of producing false evidence against Rimsha Masih, charged with "blasphemy"

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A Muslim cleric charged with fabricating evidence to make it appear that a Christian girl desecrated the Koran - and incurring charges of desecrating the Koran himself - has been granted bail.

Rimsha Masih mug shot
According to a story published in the Morning Star News, while Christians accused of blaspheming Islam in Pakistan routinely spend years languishing in jails, Islamabad Session Judge Raja Jawwad Abbas on Oct. 11 granted bail to Khalid Jadoon Chishti, leader of a mosque in the Meherabadi suburb of Islamabad. The bail came less than six weeks after his arrest.

The Morning Star News said he was granted bail for 200,000 rupees (US$2,065) after witnesses on Oct. 1 retracted statements that he added burnt pages of the Koran to a bag of ashes carried by Rimsha Masih, the Christian girl originally charged with desecrating the Koran.

The Morning Star News reported that Rimsha's lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said the backtracking of the witnesses would not harm chances of acquittal for Rimsha, who is about 14 but mentally younger than that, according to a recent medical report.

She was originally charged as an adult with desecrating the Koran, punishable by life in prison, but her case has been transferred to a juvenile court.

"Our case is secure," Chaudhry told the Morning Star News. "Rimsha has been declared medically unfit by a government board, and even the police investigation has given her a clean chit. We are nearing complete victory."

The Morning Star News said Jadoon Chishti was arrested on Sept. 1 after Hafiz Mohammad Zubair, a leader at his mosque, testified against him before a magistrate. On Sept. 23, Sub-Inspector Munir Jaffrideclared Rimsha innocent and instead charged Jadoon Chishti with desecrating the Koran.
The Morning Star News said a report submitted by Jaffri stated that Jadoon Chishti had ripped two pages from the Koran and mixed them into half-burnt pages of an Arabic-language, prayer-learning book called the "Noorani Qaida."

The report also stated that Zubair and two other witnesses had claimed that they had seen Jadoon Chishti mixing pages of the Koran into evidence to strengthen a case against Rimsha, and that there was no evidence or any eyewitness who claimed to have seen the girl burning the Islamic texts.

According to the Morning Star News, Zubair stated that he was sitting in meditation in the mosque in front of Rimsha's house when he saw Malik Hammad, a neighbor of the girl and the complainant in the case, bring the burnt pages of the Koran to Jadoon Chishti. He then included them in the evidence against the girl
Zubair said he had tried to stop Jadoon Chishti, and insisted that only the original materials taken as evidence against Rimsha be brought to police.

The Morning Star News said the two other witnesses, Khurram Shahzad and Hafiz Mohammad Owais, had also stated to Jaffri that Hammad had brought to the mosque a plastic bag filled with ashes and burnt papers and handed it to them. Shahzad was offering prayers while Owais was in meditative seclusion. However, they said Hammad later took the bag from them and handed it to Jadoon Chishti, and that he later tore some pages from the Koran and put them into it.

They reportedly said they objected to the what was going on, but that Jadoon Chishti replied, "This will strengthen a case. Now is a good time to get rid of the Christians of this area."

Later they brought the matter in the attention of Zubair, who unsuccessfully objected, according to Jaffri's report.

The Morning Star News said Jadoon Chishti's defense has benefitted from the vigorous efforts of a large group of lawyers who were actively involved in defending Mumtaz Qadri. He is the self-confessed assassin of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who voiced support for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five unjustly convicted of blaspheming Islam.

The Morning Star News said Jadoon Chishti was actively involved in conspiring against Christians of Meherabadi, besides once forcibly stopping them from playing musical instruments during worship, sources said.

According to the Morning Star News, the three witnesses who recanted said they were tortured into making the statements incriminating Jadoon Chishti.

Pakistan is nearly 96 percent Muslim, according to Operation World, and religiously charged court cases commonly involve clamoring crowds of Muslims and other pressures coming to bear on lawyers and judges. Christians make up 2.45 percent of the population.

The Morning Star News said the additional district and sessions court of Islamabad granted bail to Rimsha on Sept. 7. The next day she was airlifted from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi to an unspecified location within Islamabad under the protective custody of police.

The girl's arrest under Pakistan's widely condemned blasphemy laws had triggered an exodus of several hundred Christians from her poor neighborhood on the edge of the federal capital, Islamabad.

The Morning Star News said Chaudhry, the main lawyer for Rimsha, said his team was prepared to ask the judge to drop all charges against the girl.

"God willing, the case against Rimsha will be dropped at the court hearing on Oct. 17," the Morning Star News reported he said confidently.

The Morning Star News reported that Chaudhry said Rimsha and her family were safe at a secret location.

"People accused of blasphemy are seldom able to settle in the same area even after being acquitted of the charge or having served the sentence - this family will have to be relocated," he said, adding that Rimsha's father, Mizrek Masih, did not wish to go abroad.

Most of the other Christian residents of the area have returned, while others have relocated to Islamabad and its twin city of Rawalpindi, Chaudhry said.

Weekend attacks rock northern Nigeria

Nigeria (MNN) ― A roadside blast and two separate gun attacks rocked Nigeria's Maiduguri Sunday.
(Story photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs USA)

Todd Nettleton is a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs USA. He describes one of the attacks outside the Church of Christ in Nigeria. "[It] seems to be a husband, and a wife, and their child who were shot as they were leaving their church in Maiduguri, Nigeria." 

The same day, the Nigerian army confirmed an early morning assault on a mosque that killed over 20 people. One attack seemed to be more military, the other more personal in nature. Nettleton says, "At this point, Boko Haram has not publicly taken credit for this. But it looks like what they've done in the past, so the assumption is that Boko Haram was behind it."

The city in Nigeria's restive northeast is a bastion for Boko Haram. The terrorist group has ties to al Qaeda and is known for their open declaration of war on Christians, among others. They want to create an Islamic state in the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria. These Islamists have also vowed to kill many of Nigeria's traditional Muslim leaders, many of whom they accuse of betraying Islam by submitting to the authority of a secular government.

The attack on the family brought its own question: was it personal? "Is there some connection to this particular family that they were being targeted, rather than indiscriminately targeting Christians as they were leaving church? Both of those are possibilities with Boko Haram." Nettleton says answering that question is up to the authorities.

Boko Haram is known for two kinds of attacks: "There are attacks just indiscriminately just seeking to create chaos, seeking to create a high body count. There are other attacks that target specific people that they don't like, or people who have advocated philosophies that they don't like."

Boko Haram is blamed for killing more than 1,400 people in Nigeria since 2010. Maiduguri is considered the group's base. The group may be succeeding in accomplishing one aim in their campaign to eradicate Christians, says Nettleton. "I think the first goal is to create fear and to make the Christians fearful."

Pray that believers will not be overcome with fear, but that they will sense God's presence and peace. "Scriptures tell us that when one part of the body of Christ is hurting, we're all supposed to connect with that. We're all supposed to feel that pain. So if you think about a husband and wife and a child who were shot and killed as they left church, their family is hurting, their church family is hurting, and we're a part of that family."

So, continue to pray. It's the first thing believers are asking for, says Nettleton. "Pray for our Christian brothers and sisters there, that they won't succumb to that fear, that they won't be overwhelmed by a sense of fear and a sense of hopelessness." At the same time, there's the realization that "when there is chaos, that can be a time when people are open to the Gospel, and it can be a time when people ask questions about eternity and about life after death."

Please lift up Nigerian Christians in your prayers for God's protection and consolation. Remember the families of the believers who have lost their lives as a result of these attacks. Pray that the government will take steps to protect Christians from further violence.

VOM assists hundreds of Nigerian pastors and also provides food, clothing, and medical aid to Nigerian Christians who are attacked by Muslim extremists. There's more. Check our Featured Links Section for details.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Seven Iranian Christians Detained Following Raid on Prayer Meeting

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

IRAN (ANS) -- Seven Christians from the Church of Iran denomination have been imprisoned following a raid by members of the security services on a house in the city of Shiraz in Fars Province.

According to a news release from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Mohammad (Vahid) Roghangir, Suroush Saraie, Roxana Forughi, Eskandar Rezaie, Bijan Haghighi, Mehdi Ameruni and Shahin Lahooti are currently being held in Plaque 100, the Intelligence Ministry's notorious detention center. They were detained after security forces raided a house where a prayer meeting was underway.

According to sources close to CSW, older people attending the prayer meeting were threatened, but not taken into custody. CSW said the detentions are part of a marked upsurge in a campaign of harassment of Christians of all denominations, with reports of a significant increase in arrests during recent weeks.

CSW said in other developments, Mohabat News Agency reported on Wednesday that five Christian converts detained in Adel-Abad prison eight months ago following a raid on a house church in Shiraz have been told they will face trial on Oct. 15.

Since their arrests, CSW said the five have reportedly been confined in cells housing dangerous criminals and are charged with "creating illegal groups," "participating in a house church service," "propagation against the Islamic regime," and "defaming Islamic holy figures through Christian evangelizing."

Most recently, seven Christians jailed in Rasht six years ago have received suspended five year sentences for "action against the national security."

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a news release, "CSW is deeply concerned at news of yet another increase in the harassment of Iranian Christians. We particularly deplore the nature of the charges that are currently being leveled against Christians and other religious minorities."

He added, "There appears to be an increasing tendency by the Iranian authorities to characterize legitimate religious activities as crimes against the state. In reality, people are being harassed merely on account of their faith. The ongoing harassment and imprisonment of Christians, Baha'is and other religious minorities contravenes international covenants to which Iran is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of religion."

Thomas continued, "By arresting Christians who have peaceably gathered to pray or worship, Iran is violating their right to manifest their religious belief. We urge the Iranian government to end the harassment of religious minorities within its borders, to respect their right to freedom of religion, and to release all who have been held on account of their faith immediately and unconditionally."

Christian Solidarity Worldwide works for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

For further information, visit www.csw.org.uk.