Sun, Sep 02, 2012 - Page 4 News List

IN FOCUS: Christian girl’s case evokes fear in Pakistani village

AFP, GOJRA, Pakistan

A Christian woman and her child walk past a religious banner in their village of Gojra, Pakistan, on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

For Rafia Margaret, the case of a young Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy rekindled horrifying memories of the day a furious mob smashed through her front door and torched her house.

On Aug. 1, 2009, Margaret, then aged 28, had just finished breakfast at home in the Punjab town of Gojra when she heard the announcements over the mosque loudspeakers urging Muslims to attack the Christian quarter.

Minutes later an angry crowd massed outside her modest one-storey house in the Korian area of the town baying for revenge after rumors spread that Christians had desecrated a Koran.

As the pack swelled still further and violence erupted, she ran to her roof to judge the seriousness of the situation while her mother and ailing father sought refuge in a Muslim neighbor’s house.

The sight of the tall, elegant girl on the roof enraged the mob still further and they began attacking her door.

“I was terrified, so frightened I couldn’t think. I thought I was going to lose everything. I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to climb over to the Muslim neighbor’s house where my parents were hiding,” she said.

“Just as I got there, they entered our home and set it on fire. My father had had heart surgery a few days earlier and when he went back and saw his house burned down, he died,” she said, weeping.

The Muslim mobs razed a total of 77 houses in Gojra, which lies 50km from the industrial hub of Faisalabad and had never before seen tensions between its 495,000 Muslims and 35,000 Christians.

Seven members of a family were killed in the violence.

The terror of that day came flooding back to Margaret two weeks ago when angry crowds massed in a poor Islamabad suburb to demand punishment for Rimsha, a young Christian girl accused of burning papers containing verses from the Koran.

Rimsha, aged 14 and mentally subnormal according to a medical report, was arrested on blasphemy charges on Aug. 16 and has been held in prison ever since.

“When I heard a Christian girl had burnt the Koran in Islamabad, I felt unsafe in my home. I thought they might come to attack us again,” Margaret said.

“Whenever something happens between Muslims and Christians across the country, I’m frightened that somebody might attack my house and our colony to take revenge,” she said.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the 180 million population are Muslims. Even unproven allegations of insulting Islam or desecrating the Koran can prompt anger and even violence.

Last month a 2,000-strong mob stormed a police station in central Pakistan to seize a mentally disturbed man accused of burning the Koran and beat him to death before burning his body.

And last year two leading politicians were assassinated after raising their voices against the blasphemy legislation, which includes the death penalty for insulting the prophet Mohammed.

In Korian, the focal point of the violence in 2009, newly built red-brick houses with freshly painted walls and street lights have turned the village into a model town.

However, Shamaun Masih’s children, who witnessed the rampage in 2009, are still traumatized.

“They always start weeping whenever they see something unusual. They still remember that violence. When they heard about Rimsha’s case, they reacted as if it happened here ... and they were scared of a fresh attack,” he said.

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