By BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Xavier P. William reporting from Pakistan with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center
ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON (BosNewsLife)– Rights groups and church leaders in Pakistan feared Thursday, July 12, more killings of Christians and others for “insulting Islam” after a Pakistani mob burned a man to death for alleged blasphemy.
A 2,000-strong Pakistani mob reportedly snatched Ghulam Abbas from the police station on the outskirts of Pakistan’s Bahawalpur city where he was held on charges of publicly burning a copy of the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims.
The mentally unstable man was beaten and dragged to the spot where allegedly he desecrated the Koran, police said. Soon after the mob poured petrol on him and set him on fire, according to witnesses.
People reportedly looked as Abbas, who was in his early 40s, screamed for help.
In a statement, police station chief Ghulam Mohiuddin said he had been unable to prevent the July 3 incident. He said the crowd “ransacked the police station” and also set fire to several motorcycles and vehicles parked in the police station.
He isn’t alone. Julie Aftab was just 16 years old when she was attacked by two strangers because of her faith in Christ and “insulting Islam”, but in remarks published Thursday, July 12, she said she has started a new life in the United States.
She also stressed that she has forgiven the men who permanently disfigured her.
“They think they did a bad thing to me, but they brought me closer to God,” she added in an interview with the Houston Chronicle newspaper, which was published Thursday, July 12.
Aftab, who was born and raised in Pakistan, was just two weeks into a job she took to help support her family in 2002 when a man walked into the office and engaged her in an argument about a silver cross around her neck.
After asking repeatedly if she was a Christian, the man accused her of “insulting Islam” and later returned with an accomplice and a bottle of battery acid, she recalled.
“He opened the door and I was sitting at my work desk, and he threw acid from far away,” she said in an earlier interview. “One man came from the other side and he pulled my hair back, and they were trying to pour (it) in my throat, and I swallowed some of it.”
Her family also became targets of persecution and her house was burned down, Aftab told the Chronicle, adding that someone later tried to shoot her but that the bullet missed her face.
With the help of a nondenominational bishop, Aftab was able to get out of Pakistan and come to a hospital in Houston in 2004, where doctors worked to repair the damage she’d suffered by performing surgeries on their own time.
She was taken in by Houston couple Lee and Gloria Ervin, who taught her English and helped her recover from the trauma she had been through. The young woman, who wanted to be a doctor, says she now hopes to one day be a pastor and create a safe house for children in Pakistan. “Before I wanted to save bodies, but now I want to save the soul,” she reportedly told American media. She is expected to take her American citizenship test July 17.
Back in Pakistan, however, rights activists said last week’s attack shows that not everyone survives attacks and they expressed concerns for the lives of Christians held behind bars on blasphemy charges in this heavily Islamic Asian nation.
They also recalled that former governor of Punjab province Punjab Salman Taseer was assassinated last year by his own body guard for defending Asia Bibi, an imprisoned Christian woman who faces the death penalty on charges of blasphemy. She also fears for her life after this incident, Christians said.
“”Religion should be kept separate from the state affairs, burning a man alive is a inhuman act. The police failed to take action against those responsible,” said the advocacy groups Masihi Foundation Pakistan and Life for All Pakistan in a statement to BosNewsLife.
“The law was abused by the mob, there is no justification for this barbaric act. The authorities must act and take action against the lawlessness.”
The bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Rufin Anthony, said his church has strongly condemned “the attack on the police station and the loss of a human life.” He added however tat it “is time for some changes in the [blasphemy] legislation” to “protect innocent lives and ensure the safety of the people accused and under trial.”
Last year, gunmen also shot and killed Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, who publicly challenged the country’s controversial blasphemy laws and demanded more rights for minority Christians in the mainly Islamic nation. “How much more blood do we have to endure for the authorities realize that it is time to act,?’ the bishop wondered.
“We don’t want [previous anti-Christian violence] like [in the towns and areas of] Shanti Nagar, Kasoor, Sialkot, and Gojra to be repeated. We urge them to take this as an eye opener and rescue the suffering.”