Pakistan frees Christian prisoner as country mourns attacks
After more than five and a half years in prison for allegedly blaspheming Muhammad, Pakistani Christian Ayub Masih was freed yesterday by the country's Supreme Court. "Ayub Masih is not found guilty of committing blasphemy and allegations against Ayub are baseless and false," the court said. The charges—which essentially said he referred favorably to Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses—were part of a plot by his accusers to steal his land, the court agreed.
Christian and human rights organizations praised the ruling, but called for an end to the controversial blasphemy law.
"We congratulate the Pakistani judiciary for seeing justice finally done," said Stuart Windsor, national director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, in a press release. "We hope this latest decision will set a precedent for all future blasphemy cases and bring a ray of hope to all those still imprisoned under this legislation."
Amnesty International issued a similar call, and also asked that "the authorities to take urgent measures to ensure his safety upon release." Christian Solidarity Worldwide explains why:
Throughout the hearings, Islamic extremists packed the courtroom and threatened to kill Ayub, his lawyers and the judge if he was not convicted and hanged. At least five prisoners charged with blasphemy have been killed and at least another three have been shot at by extremists. A trial judge was also killed in 1997 after acquitting two Christians accused of blasphemy.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide estimates that as of 2001, at least 40 Muslims, 23 Ahmadis, ten Christians, and two Hindus were charged under the blasphemy law. Expect more soon from Compass Direct, International Christian Concern, and other groups that focus on religious persecution.
Masih's release makes less a farce out of the Pakistani government's attempts to protect the nation's Christians in the wake of attacks on a Christian school and hospital chapel. Yesterday was a 'Black Day' of mourning and protest for Pakistani Christians, and thousands marched in the country's major cities. The Karachi-based newspaper Dawn reports that 200 hospital staff and relatives packed the small chapel at the Christian Hospital in Taxila, amid broken glass and splinters, to mourn those who died there last week.
"Let us give thanks for the gift of life for all those who were not hurt in Friday's terrorist attack," said pastor Alla Ahrasi, who led the service. "Let us also pray for the three terrorists and that they may repent and feel sorry for this act."
Pakistani Christians are surely also praying that the terrorists will also be apprehended, and the Pakistani government seems to be doing its part. Police arrested a dozen members of militant Muslim groups, saying they were associates of those who attacked the Murree Christian School, and were involved in the attacks on the Christian Hospital and the Protestant International Church in Islamabad. Police said all 12 were trained in Afghanistan, and that they had six rocket-launchers, 490 detonators, and 20 kg (44 pounds) of explosives with them.
Dawn reports that the group is "being financed by someone in Karachi," and they've been paid 600,000 rupees ($10,500) to buy weapons and attack targets.
"Many government officials and Christian's worship places were on their hit list," Punjab Police Chief Malik Asaf Hayat said. The Christian Hospital was targeted, he said, because its funds largely come from the West (one of its supporters is the Presbyterian Church USA).
On Wednesday, Pakistan's Independence Day, President Pervez Musharraf told the country that all the attackers directly involved in last week's attacks on Christians were either killed or arrested.
Persecution (and potential persecution):
- Pakistan's Council of Islamic Ideology slams attack on Christians (The Frontier Post, Pakistan)
- Religious persecution unchecked in Uzbekistan | U.S. sends aid to terror war ally despite abuses (Chicago Tribune)
- The case for Islamic law | It's not only extremists who admire Islamic law. In Indonesia, a surprising number of moderate Muslims, worried about a collapse of moral values, would like to see a bigger role for Shari'ah (Far Eastern Economic Review)
- Also: A Malaysian duel over Islam (Far Eastern Economic Review)
- Also: Indonesia grapples with Islamic law | Lawmakers may have dropped plans, but Muslims still want Shari'ah (Associated Press)
Christianity and Islam:
- Muslims have kept watch over doors of Christianity's holiest shrine for centuries | Christian sects squabbling over stewardship of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre have never trusted one another with the key (Associated Press)
- The merchants of bigotry | Americans should start paying more attention to the zealots in their midst, who are sowing seeds of hatred (Editorial, The Hartford [Conn.] Courant)
Christians, Jews, and Israel:
- No Catholic mission to Jews | Tom Oden says he agrees with Catholic statement (UPI)
- Earlier: Jews Are Already Saved, Say U.S. Catholic Bishops (Weblog, Aug. 14, 2002)
- Jews, Christians rally for Israel | More than 1,000 demonstrators marched through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem (Associated Press)
- Monks in Bethlehem fall victim to the 'peace' fence | In a grove of olive trees, under the burning sun just outside Bethlehem, for centuries Armenian monks have come to pray. From the olive trees, the monks make oil for their lamps in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of the crucifixion of Christ in Jerusalem. But not this year. (The London Independent)
- Christians aren't the enemy | I have not yet found any evidence that Christian conservatives threaten American Jews, but I have found plenty of evidence that they support Jews both in Israel and elsewhere. (Yechiel Eckstein, The Wall Street Journal)
- Water stolen from church | During the past two months, an undisclosed church noticed a rise in its water bill from $100 to $800 a month but couldn't find a leak in its plumbing, Sgt. Norman Horton said. Then, this past weekend, a church member caught someone from a Roxboro well-drilling company filling a water tank with the church's water supply (The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.)
- St. Pat's shock-jock inter-lewd | Virginia couple was arrested yesterday for public lewdness after allegedly having sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral as part of a radio stunt that outraged parishioners and church officials (New York Post)
- Town shocked as minister is charged with killing wife | It was a scene everyone in this small East Texas community had hoped would never happen (Houston Chronicle)
Politics and law:
- Australia's Prime Minister has faith in the God squad | Religion is playing a stronger role in politics as family values push economic issues to the edge (The Sydney Morning Herald)
- Bush vs. women | The president isn't as courageous as conservative Christians when it comes to protecting vulnerable women overseas (The New York Times)
- Federal appeals panel won't reinstate lawsuit against movie, video game makers | 'We find that it is simply too far a leap from shooting characters on a video screen … to shooting people in a classroom,' judges rule in Kentucky case. (Associated Press)
- Ruling protects church in priest suit | Decision by SJC in Episcopal case (The Boston Globe)
- Arizona court rejects appeal of Andersen/Baptist settlement | The Arizona Court of Appeals has cleared the way for a lower court to proceed next month with final approval of the $217 million settlement of cases against Arthur Andersen in connection with its audits of the failed Baptist Foundation of Arizona (The Wall Street Journal, subscription required)
Church and state:
- Indiana Ten Commandments case won't be reopened | Federal judge says he might have entertained proposal from Elkhart group if it had acted earlier, but city officials had already decided to move monument (Associated Press)
- School vouchers get no support | The five leading candidates for Hawaii's governor all oppose the use of vouchers to let parents use government money to help pay to send their children to private schools (The Honolulu Advertiser)
- At ground zero, churches do the heavy lifting - of spirits | Damaged but sturdy, they've counseled, fed, buoyed heroic efforts (The Dallas Morning News)
- A solid rock of ages | Church members celebrate 225th anniversary by dressing up, having fun (Winston-Salem [N.C.] Journal)
- Judgment day | First Church of Costco doesn't have a prayer. (Editorial, The Wall Street Journal, subscription required)
- Nietzsche and The Prayer of Jabez | Both criticize Christian self-denial and boldly promote self-interest and a "will to power" (Brian Britt, Sightings)
- Pullman lays down moral challenge for writers | Literature risks becoming petty and worthless, warns Whitbread book prize winner (The Guardian, London)
- Priest survey: Gay cliques exist | Some Catholic clergy call seminary 'subculture' divisive (The Washington Post)
- The Milingo affair | The explanations given by the Catholic leadership in Zambia about the condition of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo appear to be credible (Editorial, The Post of Zambia)
- First of millions arrive to see Pope in Poland | Some 4.5 million faithful will swell the population of Poland's medieval capital by five times during the visit, the Pope's ninth to his homeland (Associated Press)
- Also: Poles prepare for Pope's return (BBC)
Other stories of interest:
- Gays reaffirmed at Big Brothers, Sisters | Conservatives call for boycott, but mentor group unconcerned (San Francisco Chronicle)
- Alaskan totem carver looks to Christian, native teachings | Early missionaries believed carvings were idols, but now they are guided by the Bible (Voice of America)
- Religion News in Brief | News on Rowan Williams' stance on homosexuality, the new dean of the Harvard Divinity School, church bingo, and other items (Associated Press)
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