By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KARACHI, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A 16-year-old Christian boy and his parents and sister were hiding in Pakistan Thursday, October 11, after police charged him with blasphemy against Islam’s prophet Mohammed through text messages, while an angry crowd burned their home.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with BosNewsLife, Ryan Stanton, said he had been framed by “Muslim friends” he knew from his middle class neighborhood in the city of Karachi.
“We were traveling by car to see a cricket match when one of the Muslims asked me: ‘can I use your phone?’. I don’t know what happened after that,” a visibly shaken Ryan told BosNewsLife.
“It seems they send text messages from my phone about abusing the prophet late Monday,” the Pakistani Christian explained. “I did not send the SMS, it’s untrue if people say otherwise.”
He briefly paused. “The next day I got all kind of phone calls from angry people. I got horrible messages, including from people saying: ‘We will behead you’.”
The situation soon turned more serious when a violent crowd encouraged by Muslim clerics went to his Karachi home, he said. The crowd was reportedly shouting: “Handover Ryan or we will burn you alive”.
Ryan said he was lucky to be away with his paralyzed father, who received physiotherapy in a nearby clinic. Christian friends eventually helped the family escape, just moments before crowds began looting and burning their family home.
“They looted, stealing everything from furniture to jewelry, and set the house on fire,” a Christian friend involved in the rescue operation confirmed to BosNewsLife, speaking on condition of anonymity.
They even took away, and apparently killed. the parrot of Ryan’s sister Savannah Brian, who is 14. She appeared in a state of shock, unable to talk, and was crying.
Ryan linked the attack to his refusal to abandon his faith in Christ. “Some four months ago they tried to force me to convert to Islam. I refused, but they said I had to convert as I am the only Muslim in the area,” he recalled.
BORN (AGAIN) CHRISTIAN
However he told them: “I was born a Christian and I will die as a Christian. I am proud to be a Christian.”
Ryan, who can no longer study commerce at his high school, is scared. “They turned my life and that of my family into a hell,” he said, speaking behind closed curtains from a secret location.
In a statement, police said they had tried to appease the protesters assuring them they would register the case. Soon after they officially charged Ryan under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy legislation with making “derogatory remarks” towards “the holy prophet”, a charge that carries the death penalty.
He also faces charges for violating Anti-Terrorism legislation and the country’s Telegraph Act, police added.
Ryan’s father, Brian Patrus, said he is concerned that anyone can either kill his son on the street, or that he will be hanged in prison. He is also worried about his wife, Rubbina Brian, who after twenty years lost her job at the state-run Sui Southern Gas Company because of the blasphemy case.
Her colleagues were allegedly among those burning the home after receiving the blasphemous messages on their cell phones.
Brian Patrus, who only two years ago became paralyzed after decades of working, found it difficult to speak about his family’s future.
“My whole family, my children and my wife are facing a huge problem. Mentally and physically we are going through a horrible situation,” he stressed.
“I am afraid they will find us,” the father added, referring to an ongoing police hunt to discover the family’s whereabouts. “They are looking for us everywhere. Even other family members have been threatened. The extremists and police work together. We are all so very burdened. We need the world to safe us,” he said.
“We lost everything we worked for and fear for our lives.”
The Christian family isn’t alone in facing death threats and persecution under blasphemy laws that critics say have been misused to harass non-Muslims in this Islamic nation.
Rimsha Masih, 14, and her family are also hiding after the mentally challenged Christian girl was detained in August for blaspheming Islam before being released on bail of $10,600.
On Thursday, October 11, the Muslim cleric who accused her, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, was released after posting $2,000 bail, his attorney Wajid Ali Gilani told reporters. Chishti was detained last month for allegedly “tampering with evidence” to charge Rimsha with burning pages of the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims.
At least 15 people are known to be on death row over blasphemy allegations and at least 52 people have been killed while awaiting trial on similar charges, according to rights activists.
Among the most violent attacks was bloodshed in 2009, when 40 houses and a church were set ablaze by a mob of 1,000 Muslims in the town of Gojra, in Punjab province and at least seven Christians were burnt to death. The attacks were triggered by reports of the desecration of the Koran, Christians said.