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Pakistani Christians chant ‘Jesus is great’ at funeral of man who died after mob attack

Members of the Christian community chant slogans and hold placards during a protest in Karachi, Pakistan, Aug. 17, 2023, to condemn attacks on churches and houses in Jaranwala town in the Faisalabad district. A Muslim crowd vandalized churches and torched homes Aug. 16 after two Christians were accused of blasphemy. Anti-Christian violence in Sargodha May 25, 2024, was reminiscent of the Jaranwala attacks when a Muslim mob severely beat a Christian man, Nazir Masih, 72, who died June 3 in a Rawalpindi hospital. (OSV News photo/Akhtar Soomro, Reuters)

By Aftab Alexander Mughal

LONDON (OSV News) — After being severely beaten by a Muslim mob May 25 in Sargodha, about 150 miles south of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, a Christian man died on June 3 in a Rawalpindi hospital. Nazir Masih was 72.

June 3 videos from Sargodha showed Christians carrying Masih’s coffin through the street. They shouted “Praise to Jesus” and “Jesus is great.” The casket was draped in black cloth and bore a small crucifix, ABC News reported.

The Christian man died despite twice undergoing surgery and was buried in the city of Sargodha, in eastern Punjab province, amid tight security, said district police officer Assad Ijaz Malhi, according to ABC News.

Irfan Gill, Masih’s nephew, confirmed to OSV News that police were present at the funeral ceremony for security reasons. The Christian man’s funeral was a joint ceremony led by Catholic and Protestant leaders.

He added that police have registered cases against 500 people for attacking Masih’s home.

Masih’s Muslim neighbors said they saw burnt pages of the Quran outside the house and accused Masih’s son of being behind it. As rumors spread, people gathered outside Masih’s house in the morning hours.

About 2,000 people gathered in the street and started calling for Masih’s death, local human rights lawyers said. They attacked his house and his home-based shoe factory, looted, damaged and torched it. Later, they caught Masih and severely beat him.

Some local Muslims tried to intervene but failed to stop the angry crowd. They informed the police who quickly arrived on the scene. Police faced strong resistance when they tried to rescue Masih and his family members. The mob attacked policemen, leaving 11 of them injured, some of them seriously. Police managed to rescue 10 Christians and take them to a safe location to save their lives, OSV News sources said.

Many Christian families of the area also left their homes in haste due to fear of retaliation, Sanawar Balam, a local Christian lawyer told OSV News.

Despite the mob attacking the ambulance, the seriously injured Masih was rescued and taken to a local hospital. Due to his serious condition, he was later shifted to the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi. Until his death, he was in a coma. Doctors tried to save his life but despite two operations, he did not survive. According to the posthumous report, most of his bones were fractured.

Brian Gill, a Pakistani Catholic journalist, told OSV News that blasphemy was just an excuse. “Actually, they wanted to loot Christians’ houses.”

Christians and Muslims organized a peaceful rally in Rawalpindi June 4, demanding justice and protection for Christians. The rally was attended by Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, retired Bishop Samuel Azariah of the Church of Pakistan, Catholic and Protestant church leaders, senators and many prominent Muslims.

After the rally, Christian Sen. Khalil Tahir Sindhu told OSV News that Christians demand that a murder case should be registered against the attackers and that those who made false blasphemy allegations should be punished. He added that the government should take concrete steps to curtail “constant mob attacks on Christians.”

Blasphemy is a contentious issue in the country. Since the blasphemy laws were introduced in Pakistan by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s, blasphemy allegations have been repeatedly used against Christians, a tiny minority community.

For decades, many Christian neighborhoods have been attacked, churches were burned down, and houses were destroyed.

The recent violence brought back memories of one of the worst attacks on Pakistani Christians in 2023, when thousands of people set ablaze churches and homes of Christians in Jaranwala, also in Punjab.

Naveed Walter, president of Human Rights Focus Pakistan, told OSV News that Christians strongly “demand for the repeal of blasphemy laws, which have created an uncertain situation against Christians in their own homeland.”

Aftab Alexander Mughal writes for OSV News from London.

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