Ayub Masih, a Pakistani Christian with a full black beard, disheveled hair, and dingy blue prison clothes, wept as he embraced his Christian visitor at the Central Jail in Multan in August.

A judge sentenced Masih in 1998 to death by hanging for violating Pakistan's blasphemy law, which bans defamatory comments about Islam or its founder.

Muhammad Akram, a young Muslim in the Punjabi village of Arifwala, accused Masih, his neighbor, of blasphemy for urging Akram to read Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses. Many Muslims consider the book blasphemous.

All legal efforts to overturn Masih's conviction have failed. Masih filed a last-chance appeal to the Pakistan Supreme Court on August 22.

"The blasphemy case against me is false, baseless, and concocted," Masih told International Christian Concern (ICC), an interdenominational American organization that helps persecuted Christians worldwide. "I am tortured and forced by Muslim inmates to convert to Islam, but I refuse to obey them. The behavior of the jail authorities and Muslim inmates is inhumane. I am not getting proper food and [am] living in a small cell."

Amnesty International (AI) calls Masih a prisoner of conscience and says the blasphemy law should be abolished. "The blasphemy laws of Pakistan are a handy tool to silence debate and dissent," ai says. "They are also used to detain people when the real motivation includes land issues or professional rivalry."

Steve Snyder, president of ICC, told Christianity Today, "Pakistan's blasphemy laws are used as a sword by Muslims who wish to settle grudges against Christians."

World Evangelical Fellowship's Religious Liberty Commission is calling for prayer and for political leaders to exert their influence on Masih's behalf. ...

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