Pakistani Christian brothers in Jaranwala “blasphemy” case were framed

12 March 2024

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Lift up in prayer Pakistani Christian brothers Umar and Umair Saleem who were acquitted on 29 February of “blasphemy” charges after it emerged in court that they had been framed by two Muslim men with a grudge against them.

Tahir Bashir, a lawyer with the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which provides legal aid to Christians, with support from Barnabas Aid, informed the Anti-Terrorism Court in Faisalabad that a police investigation had exonerated both Umar (known as Rocky) and Umair (known as Raja).

Police confirmed to the court that two Muslim men plotted to implicate the brothers because of a “personal enmity” against them. The Muslim men have been arrested and are being held in jail.

Umar and Umair Saleem with their lawyer Tahir Bashir, centre

The judge, Justice Mohammad Hussain, gave orders for the Saleem brothers’ acquittal and they were set free.

The Muslim men’s unfounded allegations that the Saleem brothers had desecrated pages of the Quran stirred up a Muslim mob to rampage through the Christian area of Jaranwala city on 16 August 2023, burning at least 24 churches and several dozen smaller chapels and attacking the homes of more than 100 believers.

The Saleem brothers were arrested on the day of the riots and detained in prison.

After the acquittal CLAAS hosted thanksgiving prayers for the successful deliverance of justice.

Brothers pleased to be free

“They [the brothers] are free, they are with their family,” Mr Bashir said later. “They were very happy to be released.”

The brothers were charged under all three of Pakistan’s notorious “blasphemy” laws, including Section 295-C, which carries a mandatory death penalty. They were also accused under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act of stirring up sectarian hatred.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court is also hearing a case relating to the Jaranwala riots. At its opening hearing on 13 February, the court said that Punjab police knew the people involved in the violence but were afraid to name them.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Qazi Faez Isa, who headed the bench, said he was ashamed that out of 304 suspects arrested following the riots, only 18 challans (charge sheets) had been submitted to the courts in six months.

Give thanks for the acquittal and release from prison of Umar and Umair, and for the work of lawyer Tahir Bashir. Pray that the brothers and Mr Bashir will face no further threats of violence against them from zealous Muslims. Ask that no other Christian will face unfounded “blasphemy” allegations. Pray that the two Muslims accused will realise the harm their actions have caused.

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