ISTANBUL, Pakistan A Christian doctor in Pakistan jailed since May 5 on charges of "blasphemy" was acquitted in early November, while another Christian and his adult daughter remained incarcerated after more than a month on charges of desecrating the Quran.
Dr. Robin Sardar of Pakistan's Punjab province was released Nov. 4 after his accuser said the claim that he had blasphemed Islam's prophet Muhammad was the result of a "misunderstanding."
"The complainant said in the court that he has, through a misunderstanding, done all these things," said Ezra Shujaab of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, which represented Sardar.
After a thorough investigation, the court found the accusation to be baseless and freed Sardar, Shujaab said. Angry villagers and local Muslim clerics had threatened to kill Sardar if he was acquitted, and he has gone into hiding, as did his family after his incarceration six months ago. A mob bearing sticks and kerosene and chanting death threats had surrounded the family's house at that time.
In May Dr. Sardar was taken to Punjab's Gujranwala Central Jail after a Muslim vendor filed a blasphemy complaint with police, prompting the attacks on his house. Sardar and the vendor had reportedly clashed over whether the merchant could set up shop in front of the doctor's clinic.
The vendor, Muhammad Rafique, had claimed that Sardar had insulted Islam's prophet during a visit between the two men. In his written statement, Rafique had called for the death penalty for Sardar and threatened that local Muslims would riot if police did not arrest him.
Under article 295-C of the Pakistani Penal Code, blasphemy against Muhammad merits death.
As happened to Sardar, violent Muslim mobs also attacked the home of Gulsher Masih after his daughter was accused of desecrating the Quran on Oct. 9 in the village of Tehsil Chak Jhumra.
Both he and his daughter, 25-year-old Sandal Gulsher, have been detained in Faisalabad since Oct. 10, and the rest of the family has gone into hiding.
A mob numbering in the hundreds gathered in October at the house of Masih armed with sticks, stones and bottles of kerosene after accusations that he had encouraged his daughter to tear pages from the Quran were broadcast over loudspeakers from a mosque.
"A mob came and they stoned their house, and they put the kerosene oil on the whole house to put it on fire," said Yousef Benjamin of the National Commission for Justice and Peace. "However, just before that the police came in."
Initially the whole family was taken into protective custody by police from the nearby Faisalabad station.
Under pressure from the mob, police on Oct. 10 charged Masih's daughterand Masih himself, for defending herwith violating section 295-B of the Pakistani Penal Code, which prescribes life imprisonment for those convicted of desecrating the Quran.
Quaiser Felix, a journalist for Asia News, said more than 100 Muslims were pressuring police, saying "We want Gulsher and his daughter to be hanged."
Masih and his daughter remain in custody and await a court hearing. They will plead innocent and deny all charges, said Shujaab.
"They did nothing," he said.
Displace from community
The rest of the family is in hiding, unable to return home due to fears of reprisal.
"It is very common in Pakistan that when a Christian person is caught or booked under blasphemy laws, then even if the court releases him or her they have to migrate from the area," Benjamin said. "It is dangerous; they cannot come back to the community openly."
Both Sardar and Gulsher's families now face the prospect of never returning to their hometowns, Shujaab said.
"Sardar, though he was acquitted, he cannot live in the home where he was residing," he said. "They have to live like refugees."
Although false blasphemy charges are leveled at Muslims as well as Christians in Pakistan, religious differences are often a motivating factor for the accusations."Muslims become challenged by these people, those who are somewhat established Christians," Shujaab said. "(Out of) jealousy they want to throw these people out of the villages. They have involved them so that they should not live there in that village."