`Blasphemy' boy's family flees rage of mullahs

`He doesn't know what's happening, he never went to school, he is just a simple child'

FROM TIM McGIRK

in Gujranwalla, Pakistan

The parents of Salamat Masih, the 14-year-old who faced the death penalty in Pakistan for blasphemy, sat with other Christian families huddled inside a muddy courtyard heaped with straw. They have yet to see their son, even though he was spared the noose when a court acquitted him on Thursday of writing graffiti insulting the Prophet.

Pakistani police warned the Masihs that it was too dangerous for them to collect their son from prison in Lahore because mobs of Islamic extremists had vowed to kill the boy and, his uncle Rehmat Masih, 44, who was also acquitted.

"I'm a poor labourer. How can I protect my son? We are helpless," said Alladitaa Masih, whose brick house is bare except for a television set, a few blankets and pictures of Jesus Christ. "Salamat must go away - leave the country. It is better, even if we never see him again."

Salamat will never return to his village of Rata Dhotan.

Neither can any of the 30 Christian families, all poor labourers, who were chased out of the village after the blasphemy accusations were made. They were forced to flee to nearby Francisabad, one of the few villages in Punjab where Christians outnumber Muslims.

"We can never go back," Salamat's father said bitterly. "A few days after Salamat was accused, around 100 Muslims came with torches and tried to burn our house down. They said that if we wanted to save Salamat and the others, we all had to convert to Islam. We would rather die."

Just a few miles away from this poor Christian settlement at the end of a dirt lane, thousands of Islamic fundamentalists had blocked traffic on the main Lahore-Islamabad road, shouting "Kill whoever protects or defends the blasphemers", "Benazir Bhutto-bitch" and "The judges must also hang".

In Lahore, police fired tear gas to disperse several thousand, stone- throwing Muslims who were protesting against the acquittal.

One prominent Muslim politician and preacher, Maulana Samiul Haq, from the Jamat-Ulema-Islamic party, said by freeing the Christians, the court "had invited the anger of Allah down on the 120 million Muslims of this country".

"We're safe now because they don't know we're here," said Salamat's mother. But their sanctuary may not last long. Salamat's father sold his four cows to pay for his son's legal expenses and now he must go to the town of Gujranwalla in search of part-time jobs that will earn him a few rupees. He fears that if he is identified as Salamat's father, his life may be in danger from the fundamentalist who are strong in Gujranwalla. Last year, a doctor was lynched by a mob there on the false suspicion that he had burned a Koran.

In the charged atmosphere of hatred, a Lahore prison cell may be the safest place for the boy and his uncle over the next few days, while Church and human rights groups make arrangements for their protection. They should have been freed when they were acquitted on Thursday. But their lawyer, Hina Jinani, said there were "delays in documentation".

Human rights activists said that these delays were a way of keeping the two Christians safe until their passports are ready and they can be spirited off to a foreign country. Several European countries, including Britain and Germany, are thought to have offered them asylum. Earlier, Germany granted sanctuary to a persecuted Pakistani Christian. The two are expected to be released today or tomorrow.

The complexities of passports and international politics seem several centuries away from the muddy courtyard where Alladitaa Masih and his friends shared a hookah pipe.

One of the Masihs' well-wishers was a man with a bristling moustache, dyed the colour of carrot. He was the father of a third accused blasphemer, Manzoor Masih. While Manzoor was in Lahore last April, attending a court hearing with Salamat, they were machine-gunned by Islamic fanatics and Manzoor was killed. "I'm sure the judges would have found my son innocent, too." the grieving father said. "We Christians should all leave Pakistan. Can you get us all visas?"

Salamat's mother, Sardara, 48, last saw her son two weeks ago, when the parents travelled 30 miles to Lahore.

"He was crying very much in prison. `Mama, you know I'm not guilty,' he told me." She added: "Salamat doesn't understand what's happening to him. He never went to school. He's a simple, quiet child."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established managed services IT...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

Recruitment Genius: Plant Fitter - Construction Industry

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This well established construction equipment d...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003