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By midafternoon a group of about 150 Christians had gathered in the park a few hundred meters (yards) from the clearing where the church once stood. Many had nothing to eat until an aid group delivered some rice.

“We are helpless. What can we do? We are just sitting here,” said Naseem Javed, who was holding her 3-year-old son in her arms. “They don’t even want us to have a place to pray.”

Residents from nearby houses gathered in the clearing where the makeshift church stood. One of them, Babar Minhas, said according to city regulations the land was supposed to be an open space of trees and grass and was not to be used as a settlement.

In a sign of their clear animosity toward the Christian group, he questioned whether any of them were even from the Islamabad neighborhood where the blasphemy case originated.

Once someone is labeled as a blasphemer, even if they are never convicted, they can face vigilante justice by outraged Pakistanis. In July, thousands of people dragged a Pakistani man accused of desecrating the Koran from a police station, beat him to death and set his body alight.

The potential public backlash has also deterred many from speaking out in favor of changing or repealing the blasphemy law. Last year two prominent politicians who criticized the law were murdered, one by his own bodyguard, who then attracted adoring mobs.


Associated Press writers Zarar Khan and Asif Shahzad contributed to this report.