By Xavier P. William, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
FAISALABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Two Christian evangelists who were shot dead by suspected Islamic militants were quickly buried around sunrise Tuesday, July 20, in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad after a night of sectarian clashes, officials told BosNewsLife.
Police “forcefully took the dead bodies” of Pastor Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and his 30-year-old brother Sajid Masih Emmanuel just hours after they were assassinated by five masked gun men Monday, July 19, at a court building in Faisalabad in Punjab province, said Khalid Gill, a Christian legislator in the Punjab Assembly, who attended the funeral.
“They” [the police] got them buried around 6am local time”, added Gill, who is also the president of the Christian Lawyers’ Foundation, in an interview with BosNewsLife.
Several other Christian leaders, including Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, and the men’s family, were also present at the funeral.
Rizwan Paul, president of advocacy group Life for All (LFA), told BosNewsLife that police arranged the fast funeral in Faisalabad “to avoid huge processions.” Security forces imposed a curfew Monday, July 19, when after the killings gunfire broke out in a predominantly
Christian neighborhood of Faisalabad between Muslim and Christian gunmen.
Gunfire could be heard till early Tuesday, July 20 in Daud Nagar area and police said at least eight people were detained. Shots seemed to have been fired from rooftops, people in the area told BosNewsLife.
“The police did this funeral early morning so that few people were able to attend. They explained that it was an attempt to calm the situation and bring back law and order,” added Paul, who has been trying to calm the situation overnight.
The handcuffed Emmanuel brothers of mission group United Ministries Pakistan, were killed Monday, July 19, as they were led to a court room to stand trial on charges of blasphemy against Islam, witnesses said.
Trial observers described the charges as false and linked them to the brother’s activities, that included evangelism.
Police detained the men July 2 after complaints from local residents, including a market salesman, Muhammad Khuram Shezad.
He and other Muslims accused them of writing a pamphlet with blasphemous remarks about the Prophet Muhammad. The charges were based on hand-written and photo-copied pamphlets with remarks about the prophet Muhammad that the Muslims consider offensive.
Following the arrests of the evangelists, anti-Christian protests broke out and residents said an angry crowd burned tires and shouted slogans against Christians on July 12. On July 16, some mosques provoked Muslims to protest at a rally and also to “burn the houses
of Christians,” Christians said.
Muslim leaders could not be reached for comment.
However Gill and Paul said the men were innocent, and handwriting experts reportedly notified police that signatures on papers denigrating Muhammad did not match those of the accused
Gill suggested to BosNewsLife that the men have been pressured to admit wrongdoing. “When I saw the dead bodies I saw cuts and other signs of police torture including marks on their faces.”
Police had no comment on these allegations, but Punjab’s inspector general reportedly suspended two senior officials for failing to provide security for the slain brothers.
LFA’s Paul said his organization has called for nationwide protests against the killings and the police decision “not to allow a proper funeral for the deceased.” A first protest was expected Tuesday, July 20, in the city of Rawalpindi near the nation’s capital Islamabad. Another demonstration in Lahore was canceled due to heavy rain, Paul said.
It comes amid growing pressure on minority Christians, according to rights activists. Several Christians have been detained in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy, but critics claim the legislation has been misused to settle personal disputes, for instance over land or money.
Under blasphemy legislation of predominantly Muslim Pakistan, a man can potentially face execution if his insult to Islam amounts to apostasy, or turning away from Islam, while a woman generally faces life imprisonment. (With editing by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).