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According to The Pew Research Center, nearly 75 percent of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions. But what is Christian persecution?
The United States-based group considers persecution of Christians any denying protection of religious freedom, preventing someone from converting to Christianity because of legal or social threats, physically attacking or killing because of the victim’s faith, forcing one to leave a job or home under threat of violence because of the victim’s faith, or imprisonment, interrogation or torture for refusing to deny one’s faith.
“Overwhelmingly, the main engine driving persecution of Christians in 36 of the top 50 countries is Islamic extremism, with the most violent region being the states of the African Sahel belt where a fifth of the world’s Christians meet one-seventh of the world’s Muslims in perilous proximity,” the Open Doors report stated.
(Morning Star News) – Police and a banned Islamic extremist group in Lahore, Pakistan are searching for a young Christian accused of blasphemy – with the extremist group calling for his death – after he sought to correct misconceptions about Christianity in a Muslim book, sources said.
Sources close to Adnan Masih, 26, said he believes that if he turns himself in, he will be killed by either the Islamic extremist Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) or the Pakistani judicial system, which makes blasphemy against Islam’s prophet punishable by death. They said Masih denies having written anything against Islam or its prophet, Muhammad, when he scribbled in a Muslim book he found in a glassworks shop where his brother works.
His brother, Irfan Masih, was busy elsewhere that day, Oct. 7, and asked him to fill in for him at the shop. Masih, who has a master’s in English and trained as a pastor at a United Pentecostal seminary, became bored and began going through books in a desk drawer, where he noticed one entitled, “I Asked the Bible Why Korans Were Burnt [in Urdu, ‘Mein ney Bible sey poocha Quran kyun jaley’],” sources said.
A source close to Masih said the evangelist and tutor noticed several false statements about the Bible and about Jesus, which he highlighted with a marker and corrected by answering with verses from the Bible. The next day Masih found a case had been registered against him for blasphemy under the Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 295, parts A, B and C – for allegedly outraging religious feelings, defiling the Koran and defaming Muhammad respectively.
The book belonged to a Muslim worker at the shop, Abid Mehmood, who upon seeing the notations went to police and also notified the JuD, a banned Islamic militant organization related to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has been designated as a global terrorist group operating in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.
The United States has announced a $10 million bounty on JuD chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, but he is supported by Pakistan’s powerful Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence and moves about freely in the country.
Masih, married and a father of two young girls, went into hiding after learning that JuD had issued a fatwa calling for his head. A source said he had no idea that “pointing out false references in a book would land him in such big trouble.”
Hafiz Abdul Malik of the JuD told Morning Star News that the group would not tolerate one word against their prophet.
“The police better arrest the blasphemer and hand him over to us on Saturday [Oct. 19],” Malik said last week.
“We will not be responsible for any law-and-order situation in the city if the police fails to keep its assurance. How dare someone use derogatory language against our beloved prophet …
Don’t they know that the Koran orders us to slit the throat of whoever is disrespectful to Allah’s beloved prophet?”
Since last week, JuD extremists have continued to gather at the Township Police Station and the superintendent’s office every evening to clamor for Masih’s arrest.
Mehmood, of Lahore’s Shadbagh area, told Morning Star News that he noticed Masih reading his book when he entered the shop.
“I did not ask Adnan why he was reading my book and started working,” Mehmood said. “The next day [Oct. 8], when I opened the book for reading, I noticed that on several pages Adnan Masih had written abuses and derogatory remarks against our holy prophet with a lead pencil.”
The complainant in the case said that he immediately took the evidence to the Township Police Station and demanded the arrest of Masih. Police detained the shop owner, Mushtaq Masih, who is a Christian.
“The police have taken my employer, Mushtaq Masih, into custody for investigation, but I have told them that he is not at fault,” Mehmood said. “The investigating officer and the station house officer have assured me that Mushtaq Masih is only being detained until they are able to trace and arrest Adnan Masih or his brother Irfan Masih, both of whom are in hiding since the registration of the case.”
Asked why he and the police were seeking Irfan Masih’s arrest when he was not present in the shop when the alleged blasphemy took place, Mehmood said detaining him would pressure his brother to surrender to police.
“Irfan has never been disrespectful to Islam, but he is the brother of a blasphemer and must suffer for his action,” he said.
Mehmood, who registered a First Information Report (No. 675/13) with Township Police against Masih on Oct. 8, said that as part of JuD he joined a large number from the group that besieged the Township Police Station on Oct. 17 to protest the non-arrest of Masih.
“SHO [Station House Officer] Rana Akmal has assured us that he would arrest the blasphemer by Saturday [Oct. 19],” he said last week. “We had planned a protest rally after Friday prayer, but now we will wait until Saturday.”
Deputy Superintendent of Police Asad Muzaffar told Morning Star News that officers were trying to keep tensions under control, and that “Adnan Masih’s arrest is important to prevent violence on other Christians.”
“Right now, it’s not a matter of whether Adnan Masih is guilty or not,” Muzaffar said. “He has been charged under all three sections of the blasphemy law, which is a very serious offense. He must surrender to us so that we can investigate the charges against him.”
Muzaffar said that he had asked local Christian leaders to bring Masih before them to prevent rioting.
“Islamist groups have already started pressuring us, warning of massive protests in the city,” he said. “So far, we have been unable to arrest the accused as he and his family have gone into hiding, but finding them is not impossible.”
Asked why police were keeping Mushtaq Masih in illegal custody when he hasn’t been accused of committing any wrongdoing, Muzaffar said the shop owner was detained for questioning.
“The complainant has not accused his employer of blasphemy,” he said. “He’s our ‘guest’ until we have the main accused in our custody.”
Attorney Shoaib Salim, who practices law in the Lahore High Court, told Morning Star News that police were committing an illegal act by keeping an innocent man in custody.
“The law does not allow detaining a person who is not required in any investigation or case,” Salim said. “The FIR just states that Mushtaq Masih is the owner of the shop. He wasn’t even present there when the alleged incident took place, and neither has the complainant sought his interrogation. The police must release him immediately, or the family should approach the High Court for relief.”
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are frequently used against religious minorities, with frivolous accusations used to settle personal vendettas. In the minds of some, the statutes also grant license to take more drastic action; on Sept. 14, a Muslim in Karachi, Muhammad Asif, accused a 58-year-old Christian, Boota Masih, of blasphemy as he slit his business rival’s throat, killing him, according to relatives (see Morning Star News, Sept. 19).
The Council for Islamic Ideology, Pakistan’s premier body of Islamic scholars, recently expressed willingness to amend the country’s controversial blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse, but a majority opposed the proposals, saying existing laws were sufficient to deal with misuse.
Allama Tahir Ashrafi, a member of the council, told Morning Star News that he had lobbied hard for amending the laws to stop their misuse.
“I had proposed fixing the same punishment for the person who falsely accuses of blasphemy as the accused,” he said, but Council Chairman Maulana Sherani opposed the proposal. “Maulana Sherani said the Pakistan Penal Code already has sections which deal with sentences for those who misuse any law.”
While many in Pakistan believe that the blasphemy laws are contrary to basic human rights and are widely misused against Christians and Muslims alike, very few have publicly demanded repealing them.
Statute 295-A forbids outraging religious feelings, 295-B forbids defiling the Koran and 295-C forbids defaming Muhammad, but parts A and B require that intent be shown in order to obtain a conviction. Defiling the Koran is punishable by life in prison (25 years in Pakistan), and defaming Muhammad is punishable by death with or without a fine.
Christians make up just 2.45 percent of Pakistan’s population, which is nearly 96 percent Muslim, according to Operation World. Religiously charged court cases commonly involve clamoring crowds of Muslims and other pressures coming to bear on lawyers and judges. On July 13, a court in Toba Tek Singh District, Punjab Province sentenced 29-year-old Sajjad Masih to life in prison after Islamist mobs clamored for a conviction for defaming Muhammad, in spite of the complainant retracting the accusation and admitting police pressured him into making it, according to Masih’s attorney (see Morning Star News, July 15).
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been used to falsely accuse other Christians. Karma Patras, a 56-year-old pastor released on bail in February after his accuser said he was mistaken in filing the complaint (see Morning Star News, Feb. 25), was exonerated in June.
Asia Noreen (also known as Asia Bibi), a Christian mother of five, has been sentenced to death after being incarcerated on false charges of blasphemy since November 2010.
Blasphemy charges against Rimsha Masih, a girl whose mental age was determined to be less than 14 years old, were dismissed on Nov. 20, 2012 after a judge ruled that they were baseless (see Morning Star News, Nov. 20, 2012). She has since been relocated to Canada.