Christians in Pakistan say they are shocked by the killing of two young Christians, who were shot dead on court premises when they were taken there by police to face a charge of blasphemy against Islam.

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Roman Catholic Church in Pakistan named the two men as Rashid Emmanuel, a pastor, and his brother, Sajid Emmanuel.

They were leaving the court in Faisalabad accompanied by a police officer on July 19, when unidentified gunmen opened fire, killing the two Christians and injuring the police officer.

The brothers had been detained in early July on a charge of blasphemy after handwritten pamphlets allegedly denigrating Islam were distributed in Faisalabad with the names and telephone numbers of the two pastors.

“We do not know what to do. We are helpless,” Victor Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Pakistan, which groups four Protestant churches, told ENInews on July 21 from his office in Lahore.

Church groups say Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, which provides for a mandatory death sentence or life imprisonment even for unintentional blasphemy offences, is often misused against Christians and others to settle property and personal disputes.

The Catholic justice and peace commission has said that although more than 1,035 people have been charged under the blasphemy law since 1987, not a single accused has been found guilty by higher courts on appeal.

However, the commission stated, at least 35 people, Christians and Muslims, charged with blasphemy have been killed during court proceedings.

In a July 19 statement, the justice and peace commission demanded the immediate abolition of the blasphemy law. It was joined in that demand by the World Council of Churces on July 22.

A group called Minorities Concern of Pakistan quoted Christian leader Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s federal minister for minority affairs, as saying that the slain Christians had been falsely accused of blasphemy by people with a grudge against them.

Although the brothers were Protestants, Catholic Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad led a memorial Mass for the two men at Faisalabad cathedral, amid street battles between Christians and Muslims.

Christians account for about two percent of Pakistan's 177 million people, while 97 percent are Muslim.