Police deployed to protect Chak 44 Christians

LAHORE: Mandi Bahauddin police have deployed a team at Chak 44 to ensure protection of life and property of Christian families of the village following an attempt by a charged mob to burn their houses last Friday, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The mob had gathered after Friday prayers at a mosque and planned to burn the houses of Christian families, claiming that the community had failed to hand over a youth, identified as Imran Masih, suspected of blasphemy. Masih’s colleagues at a rural health centre (RHC) in Bosaal, five kilometres away from Chak 44, had accused him of watching a blasphemous video on his cell phone some three weeks ago.
On Friday, police were called to the scene by one Fayyaz Ashraf who said he was present at the mosque when the mob was planning the attack. Before calling the 15 police helpline, Ashraf said he had tried to pacify the mob but was beaten up and forced out of the mosque. Ashraf was later taken into protective custody.
ASI Muhammad Nawaz, in charge of the nearby post, told The Tribune that after a thorough investigation into the matter he had come to the conclusion that the charges were false. He said that during interviews with Masih’s colleagues, no one had claimed to have seen any blasphemous video in his cell phone. “Each of them tried to put the onus of providing evidence [of allegations against Masih] on someone else,” he said. One of them said that Masih was illiterate and doubted that he could open videos on his smart phone, ASI Nawaz said.
Masih, a sanitary worker at the RHC, and his family left the village and went into hiding the day he was accused of blasphemy.
Meanwhile, a mosque committee announced a Rs200,000 bounty on Masih’s head and a cash award of Rs100,000 for anyone who facilitated his arrest, some residents of the area told The Tribune.
In a telephonic conversation with The Tribune, Muhammad Saleem Bhatti, the committee head, said that he would do anything to bring a blasphemer to justice. He said the committee would track down the youngster at all costs.
Earlier, Bhatti, elected vice chairman in the Hast Wala union council on a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz ticket last year, said that he had been told about the incident by one Iftikhar Jhakkar, Masih’s supervisor at the RHC. He said he had called Masih’s father and given him three days to produce his son before the committee. Instead, he said, Masih’s family had left the village. “This showed that they were guilty,” he added.
Jhakkar, a monitoring and evaluation assistant at the RHC, told The Tribune that he had been at the RHC when some of Masih’s colleagues accused him of watching a blasphemous video on his cell phone. Asked if he had verified the accusations, he said he had not checked Masih’s cell phone.
He said he had urged his colleagues to not take the matter lightly and to ensure that Masih was punished if he had committed blasphemy. Jhakkar said that later that day Masih had been beaten up and his cell phone smashed by some of the staff members.
Aftab Gill, a rights activist who recently visited the area, told The Tribune that at least half of the Christians residents of the village had left their houses.
Those remaining there were living in fear, he said. Only a handful of guests had showed up at a wedding on Saturday, he added.


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