By Jawad Mazhar, Worthy News Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
SARGODHA, PAKISTAN (Worthy News)-- Christians in several volatile areas of Pakistan feared more violence Monday, November 30, amid reports that Christians are hiding after attacks by angry Muslims in which at least one person died.
Tensions remained high in Pakistan's largest province Punjab where details emerged that a Christian security guard of a factory was allegedly shot dead by his Muslim colleague following a dispute over his Christian faith.
Irfan Masih, 20, was killed in the packaging manufacturing plant in the Green Town area of provincial capital Lahore where, at the end of his 12-hour shift, he woke up guard Ishfaq Niazi from his sleep to replace him, a factory official told Worthy News and its partner agency BosNewsLife.
Niazi, 31, allegedly shot the Christian in the early morning hours of October 5. "When he touched the Muslim guard, Niazi got furious and said: "how dare you Christian untouchable to touch my foot?" He pulled his gun and shot multiple times at Irfan Masih, who died on the spot," a factory spokesperson said.
"We caught the Muslim guard...and handed him over to the Green Town Police along with the murder weapon," added the official, who apparently did not want to be named due to security concerns.
DISPUTE OVER CHRIST
Sources with close knowledge about the situation linked the shooting to a recent dispute between the two guards over religion. The Muslim man was allegedly furious that Masih had told him the grave of Jesus Christ is empty and that He is still alive.
Other Christian workers have also complained about attacks. Last month a brick kiln owner allegedly beat his Christian employee and his wife and forced them to eat rice with human feces while detaining the couple in Village 27 SB, 50 kilometers (31 miles) south east of Sargodha city.
Rehmat Masih, 39, said the incident happened while he and his wife, Katharine Rehmat, 30, were abducted and taken to what he called a "torture cell" in the plant after he had asked for his salary.
"My Muslim employer started kicking me and ordered [other attackers] to chain me and and teach me a lesson by beating me with bamboo clubs. They kept me and my wife in a torture cell for three days," the frail Masih explained.
"On the night of October 23, a day before our release, they became totally insane and forced us to eat a plate of rice with topping of human feces. They threatened to kill our five sons and daughter if we did not eat and finish that plate..." He said he was released after a family member paid some 30,000 Pakistan Rupees, about $360, as a ransom.
NO ISOLATED INCIDENTS
Representatives of the Christian community in Punjab province suggested these attacks are no isolated incidents at a time when Muslim militants and their supporters have reportedly stepped up attacks against Pakistan's Christian minority.
Christians on the outskirts of the city of Punjab said they fear they will be killed by angry Muslims after a militant in the village of 79 Northern Branch opened fire with an AK-47 rifle, this month.
The man allegedly burst into the home of Christian worker Gullfaam Masih, tearing of the clothes of his wife and threatening his children. Masih said he was working at a nearby factory when the incident occurred.
Soon after the November 2 attack, the militant reportedly returned and was seen shooting at the house. Bullets were apparently hitting walls, bed sheets, cupboards, doors and windows. Masih's wife and children survived by hiding behind a steel box, police officials and family members said.
The family was warned of "shattering consequences" if they do not recant their faith in Christ, according to police documents.
RECEIVING MILITANT THREATS
Ferhan Mazher, who leads advocacy group 'Rays Of Development Organization' (ROD) told Worthy News that the attack on Masih's house underscore several incidents and threats involving militants in the area.
He said militants also threatened to enforce Muslim law including forcing women to be "covered from head to toe."
Elsewhere on Sunday, November 29, a young Christian man remained in hiding from Taliban militants who he said want to kill him for "blasphemy" because he defended his Christian faith.
Jehanzaib Asher, 22, said the incident happened in February when he was working in a barbershop his family jointly owns with his cousin in Wana, South Waziristan – a Taliban stronghold in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan’s northwest .
Islamic militants allegedly showed up to try to convert him to Islam. He told Christian media he was beaten when he defended his faith by citing verses from the Bible. A leg and ribs were apparently broken and his left hand remains non-functional, he said. "One can bear the death of one’s father or mother, but can we keep listening to insults of our religion?" Asher was quoted as saying.
After Taliban militants posted a 'wanted' picture of him for alleged blasphemy against prophet Muhammad, he disguised himself as a Muslim with a long beard and reportedly left the Wana area.
In a bid to ease religious tensions, Mazher said ROD wants to "conduct street theaters to create interfaith peace and harmony in the most restive, conservative and rural areas."
But spreading that message is difficult, suggested Christian evangelist Farrukh Sharron Bhatti in an interview. He said his family had been attacked and threatened by Muslim militants in the hill town of Murree, but local police allegedly refused to protect them "or to provide justice."
"I used to preach the Gospel publicly on roads and markets owned by Muslim traders and helped in planting many churches at adjoining areas of Murree and [the city of] Rawalpindi," he explained.
But he said evangelism had become nearly impossible after militants attacked his home on a September night. Bhatti said he had also received "threatening" phone calls and text messages on his mobile phone.
His family added they fear his life is in danger. Police said they visited his home several times, but Bhatti complained that security forces have not detained any suspect in the case.
Christians comprise less than five percent of the country's over 176 million population and rights investigators have warned of more religious tensions in the country as the Taliban and Al-Qaida groups are trying to expand their reach from neighboring Afghanistan to Pakistan. (With editing and reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).