A young Christian man who had converted to Islam in order to marry a Muslim girl was jailed last week in Pakistan, charged with blasphemy after he tried to return to his Christian faith.It was the first blasphemy case reported against a Christian since Pakistan Chief Executive Gen. Pervez Musharraf announced a judicial curb two weeks ago against "misuse" of the country's severe laws against religious blasphemy.According to brief news reports appearing May 4 in the Daily Jang, Khabrain, and Dawn newspapers, Kingri Masih of Sherabad was charged under Pakistan Penal Code Section 295-C. The law carries a mandatory death sentence for defiling the name of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam.Police at Sherabad's Ghulam Mohammed Abad police station registered a First Information Report (FIR) against Masih based on a complaint filed by Rana Mohammed Shahid, the media reports said. Both the defendant and his accuser are residents of Sherabad, near the Punjabi city of Faisalabad.According to the Urdu-language Daily Jang, Masih was charged with "blaspheming the Prophet [Mohammed] and his honor and speaking against Islam."Masih was described by his accuser as a Christian who had converted to Islam and married a Muslim girl, but then reversed his decision and adopted Christianity again. There are no legal statutes in Pakistani law that prohibit citizens from changing their religion, although under Islamic family law, a Muslim woman is only permitted to marry a Muslim man."The police have arrested the accused and sent him to prison," reported the "Daily Jang." Christians accused of blasphemy in Pakistan rarely are granted bail, although all have eventually been acquitted after years in prison.Newspapers said the allegations against Masih were first filed with the local deputy commissioner, who then authorized the police to register a formal FIR on the case. Under new legal procedures instituted just two weeks ago, deputy commissioners are now required to carry out an initial investigation and "thorough scrutiny" of any blasphemy accusations before allowing police to register a case.Speaking from Islamabad May 8, Federal Minister for Minorities Derick Cyprian told Compass that he had already requested exact details on the alleged Sherabad case, after reading about it in the newspapers over the weekend.In ordering the administrative change on April 21, Gen. Musharraf declared that his government was determined to restrict "misuse" of the blasphemy law. For the past 16 years, police have had wide-ranging authority to register such cases simply on the basis of a person's complaint against the accused.However, noted an April 23 editorial in "The News," "The presence of the [blasphemy] law on the statute book has not been questioned. The source of the problem therefore has been left intact." Although long a part of Pakistan's legal code, the original statutes were made draconian under the late President Zia ul-Haq in 1986. The amendments blurred the definition of blasphemy and made the death penalty mandatory.Extremist Muslim clerics in Pakistan have sharply criticized Gen. Musharraf's revision, announced as part of the government's new policy framework on human rights. Declaring that "anyone who dared to make any amendment in the blasphemy law" would be cursed by Allah, some religious party leaders openly vowed to gather "on one platform" to bring down Musharraf's military regime.Representatives of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) told Compass that they would be sending a joint fact-finding team to Sherabad to investigate Masih's case during the next two or three days.Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct.

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See last week's related ChristianityToday.com article, "Churches Welcome Pakistan Promise to Ease Restrictions on Minority Faiths | October coup turns out to be beneficial to Christians as blasphemy laws are overhauled" (May 4, 2000).