FAISALABAD, Pakistan (BP)—Two Pakistani brothers accused of “blaspheming” Islam’s prophet Muhammad were gunned down by suspected Islamic extremists July 19 in Faisalabad, the country’s third-largest city.

The brothers, Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel, both Christians, were arrested July 10 for allegedly distributing a pamphlet with “disrespectful material” about Muhammad, according to a BBC report, July 20.

Rashid Emmanuel was the leader of United Ministries Pakistan; its Web site was not operative on July 21. One source on the Internet described United Ministries Pakistan as encompassing several churches, a school and orphanage, a women’s program and other initiatives.

Emmanuel, on a Web profile page, had stated, “We are a group of believers, committed and dedicated to preaching the Word of God and have been helping the poor and downtrodden people of this area for the past five years.”

According to a UPI report, the ministry was located in the Waris Pura slum, encompassing about 100,000 people in the Faisalabad metro area of 5.4 million people.

Emmanuel’s brother, Sajid, was described in news reports as a graduate student and one of the ministry’s leaders.

There are conflicting reports whether the brothers were gunned down prior to or after a hearing on the blasphemy charge, and whether they were killed inside the courtroom or outside the courthouse. A police official also was critically injured in gunfire leveled by as many as five gunmen, all of whom escaped.

According to the Compass Direct News Service, the gunmen shot the Emmanuels five days after handwriting experts notified police that signatures on materials denigrating Muhammad did not match those of the brothers.

As recounted by Compass, “Expected to be exonerated soon, the two leaders of United Ministries Pakistan were being led in handcuffs back to jail under police custody when they were shot at 2:17 p.m., Christians present said.” The UPI reported, meanwhile, that the brothers were killed prior to their hearing on the blasphemy charges.

Compass reported that Sajid Emmanuel died at the scene of a gunshot to his heart; Rashid Enmmanuel, who was shot in the chest, died later.

The brothers’ murders sparked clashes involving ethnic Christians in the Waris Pura slum, police and Muslims, the UPI reported.

After the Emmanuels were arrested on July 10, several hundred demonstrators marched to the Waris Pura slum voicing demands that the brothers be executed, the BBC reported.

Concerning the blasphemy charges, the BBC quoted Atif Jameel, a spokesman for the Pakistan Minorities Democratic Foundation, as stating: “No one in his right mind would issue a derogatory pamphlet against the Prophet and put his name and address on it.”

Jameel added: “This appears to be a conspiracy against peace and religious harmony in Faisalabad.”
According to the BBC, no one has been executed under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, although “about 10 accused have been murdered before the completion of their trial, according to a BBC Urdu correspondent in Lahore. Dozens more are living in exile to avoid punishment under the legislation.”

According to Compass Direct, “The last known Christian to die as a result of a false blasphemy charge was Robert Danish on Sept. 15, 2009. The 22-year-old Christian was allegedly tortured to death while in custody in Sialkot on a charge of blaspheming the Quran. Local authorities claimed he committed suicide.”

Compass reported that the charge against Danish “led to calls from mosque loudspeakers to punish Christians, prompting an Islamic mob to attack a church building in Jathikai village (Danish’s hometown) on Sept. 11 and the beating of several of the 30 families forced to flee their homes.”

On July 5, Compass also noted, a Christian husband and wife and son-in-law fled their home in the Lahore area after being accused of blaspheming the Quran. A mob of some 2,000 Muslims tried to burn their house, according to Compass, citing local Christian sources.

Rashid Emmanuel was 32; conflicting reports listed Sajid Emmanuel’s age as 24, 26 or 30.

Human rights and minority organizations in Pakistan have called for seven days of mourning for the Emmanuel brothers, UPI reported.

Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.