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Christians Flee Their Homes in Pakistani Capital


ISLAMABAD — Afraid for their lives, Christians have fled their homes in the Islamabad neighborhood where a young girl has been accused by Muslim neighbors of blasphemy.

Shaqila Bibi, a Christian, is packing up. She’s afraid Muslims in her neighborhood will attack her if she stays.

“We are frightened," said Bibi. "They can harm us any time, set us on fire, and the landlord has asked us to leave so that we are not harmed.”

David Masih says families fled the area after an angry mob gathered outside the house of 14-year-old Rimsha Masih - accused by a neighbor of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Quran. Under Pakistan's blasphemy law, such action is a crime punishable by death or life in prison.

While Pakistan's president has pledged an investigation into the young girl's case, many Christians are not taking chances.

Masih - who is not related to Rimsha Mashi - says landlords have given them until September 1 to leave.

Christians accused of blasphemy have been attacked and burned to death before.

“We are very worried," said Masih. "We want the government to protect us. Where are poor people like us supposed to go? If the deadline passes, they will harm us.”

Human rights activist Farzana Bari says not enough is being done against a growing religious intolerance fueled by poverty and outside influences, and an overly broad blasphemy law.

“I think the government has no will to stand against those religious groups and also, generally, the law enforcement institutions and structures are very weak," said Bari.

Mohammad Ali says the landlords and village elders have come to their own conclusions.

“Whether they are frightened or not, this is God’s last book. We all should respect that. And everybody has decided that they should leave," said Ali.

For these minority Christians, now rebuilding their lives on a government-granted plot in central Islamabad, it was a decision they had feared.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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