`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'


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."

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam