A bishop determined to bring peace after the latest violence against Christians in Pakistan has led calls for justice in the case of two brothers gunned down outside a crowded courthouse while being guarded by police.
Allegations that the two Christians – Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and his 30-year-old brother Sajid – were guilty of a gross insult to the Prophet Mohammed were dismissed by Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad who linked the claims to extremists bent on stirring up violence and anti-Christian hatred.
The two men were shot dead on July 19th in Faisalabad sparking a wave of violence and tension across the Punjabi city and beyond.
Police used tear gas to disperse angry crowds in the brothers’ home of Waris Pura, Faisalabad, where Christians fled for their lives as both Protestant and Catholic churches came under attack from youths throwing stones.
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Bishop Coutts underlined that justice must be brought for the grieving families of the two brothers who died in “clear defiance of the law”.
The two men were shot dead as three police officers led them across the crowded precincts of a courthouse, where they were under investigation for having insulted Islam – a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment according to the country’s controversial Blasphemy Laws.
Speaking from Faisalabad, Bishop Coutts told ACN: “We are demanding justice – the arrest of the killer. The men were killed in public with a lot of people present as witnesses as well as three police officers in attendance.”
He added: “It should not be difficult to apprehend the person who killed them. We have got to keep putting pressure in the search for justice. The authorities would be quite happy to close the whole thing and let the matter drop.”
The bishop said progress had already been made with the suspension of a police officer guarding the two men at the court, the promise of a judicial inquiry into their deaths and a possible government compensation package for people whose homes and livelihoods had been damaged in the Waris Pura violence.
Bishop Coutts went on to implicate an increasingly active militant movement for having stirred up anti-Christian hatred by linking extremists to an allegation that the Emmanuel brothers had written a pamphlet denigrating the Prophet Mohammed and praising Christianity.
The document included contact details for the brothers.
Underlining the brothers’ innocence, the bishop said: “It would have been suicide for them to do such a thing as write a document of that kind. The document was produced to get them into trouble.” Clarifying earlier reports, the bishop explained that police were investigating the allegation but no charge had been brought.
Results are pending on laboratory tests on the pamphlet’s handwriting.
Underlining the significance of recent militant activity culminating in attacks on a sacred Muslim shrine in Lahore, he said: “There are fanatics who want to create chaos and try to disrupt things. They could be behind what we have seen in recent days.”
The bishop said he was redoubling efforts to restore relations between Muslims and Christians, which were already under strain following last year’s violence in the Punjab city of Gojra where eight Christians were killed.
“We have seen a fracturing of relations between Muslims and Christians. People are very edgy. They are on pins and needles. The problem is that this fanaticism we are seeing represents the views and actions of a minority and this silences the voice of the majority.”
He explained how, alongside senior politicians and leading Muslims, he was working to restore relations.
The bishop described an important breakthrough when at prayers on July 23rd, imams in Faisalabad calmed the people by speaking up in favor of tolerance and human dignity.