Three Christian boys from Narowal, a city in the northeast of the Punjab province of Pakistan, were accused of blasphemy after allegedly burning pages of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, on Christmas Eve.
According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, the boys lit a bonfire for Christmas celebrations. “The village, Kotli Muhammad Sadeeq, is a majority Muslim village with 40 Christian families. Immediately there were accusations that the boys were intentionally burning religious material, a charge they vehemently deny.“
Representative Foley notes that there is a troubling history of unsubstantiated Quran burning accusations against Christians in Pakistan. “In February 1997, a mob of more than 30,000 Muslims burnt the village and church in Shanti Nagar, District Khanewal based on a false accusation of Christians burning Qurans there. In November 2005, more than 1,500 Muslims burnt three churches in Sanglahill District, on a similar charge.”
“In this Christmas Eve incident in Narowal, a mob of over 300 people gathered outside the church, chanting slogans to hand over the people who allegedly burned the pages. Police arrived and mistakenly arrested a 50–year old Christian man, Ilyas Masih, a poor laborer and father of five children. The police in the police station beat him. Due to this, he shared the names of the three Christian boys who originated the bonfire.”
Representative Foley says that 22–year old, Azeem Masih, one of the three boys, was taken into police custody, where she reports he was beaten by the police. “The other two boys managed to escape after learning of the threat,” says Representative Foley. “But announcements were made in the local mosques to burn the houses of Christians and the church. Fortunately, once the other two boys were handed over to the police, the situation calmed considerably. Now, the three boys have all been released on bail.”
Representative Foley says that early intervention from Christian attorneys in Pakistan enabled the charges to be negotiated down from major to minor offenses and likely prevented further violence against the local Christians. “Ezra Law Associates, our partner in Pakistan, worked quickly to ease the tensions and get the police report to be as neutral and fair as possible. Because of this, the boys won’t face the harshest charges under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws. That is crucial, since once Christians are charged with the major blasphemy offense, it’s extremely difficult to get the charges reduced or dismissed, or to get a verdict of not guilty in the courts.”
The mother of Azeem Asih, the 22-year old Pakistani Christian who was one of three boys accused of burning pages from the Quran on Christmas Eve. She is shown with fellow local Christians and attorneys who are aiding the family as Asih faces blasphemy charges.
Members of the Presbyterian Church in Kotli Muhammad Sadeeq, Narowal in Punjab province, Pakistan, standing in front of the church with Christian attorneys. Three boys from the church stand accused of burning pages from the Quran on Christmas Eve.
Representative Foley says that the boys, who belong to the local Presbyterian church, still face several serious difficulties. “The families of the boys are now jobless as they were working at a brick kiln run by Muslims and have now been fired. Azeem is still recovering physically from the police beating, and he is experiencing constant mental anxiety. Severe threats have been made against their lives.”
Representative Foley says Voice of the Martyrs Korea is partnering with Ezra Law Associates to help the families and ensure that the boys receive proper representation throughout the legal process. “We give thanks to the Lord that Ezra Law Associates has been able to represent and care for the boys from the very beginning of this matter. Though the boys still face extremely serious challenges ahead, the early involvement of Christian attorneys has helped to make the outlook brighter than that faced by Asia Bibi and other Pakistani Christians charged with blasphemy on the basis of false witness and discrimination against Christians.”
Representative Foley says that its Families of Martyrs and Prisoner Fund is used to help Christians who choose to stay, or who have no choice but to stay, in the setting of persecution. “Often when Korean Christians and NGOs hear about persecuted Christians, their first thought is to help them escape to somewhere safe. But in a case like these boys from Narowal, if Christians flee or are relocated, those who remain—in this case, the other 40 Christian families in the village—often face greater persecution, since it makes attackers more bold. The witness to the gospel is silenced. Supporting their legal defense enables Christians to stand firm, make their communities safer for other believers in the future, and even make a positive witness for the gospel.”
Representative Foley said that donations to VOMK’s Families of Martyrs/Families of Prisoners (FOM/FOP) fund this month will be used to support the continued defense of the three boys and care for their families. Funds raised above and beyond these needs will be used in the legal defense of other Pakistani Christians. Donations can be made at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:
Please include the name “FOM/FOP” on the donation.