Even as violence against Christians has increased in response to U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, signs of improvement in Pakistan's dismal human-rights record have begun to appear. But the murder of a Christian by an ordinary Muslim—not a member of terrorist organizations in the country—underscores the climate of fear for Pakistani believers.

The victim, Samuel Masih, was charged with blasphemy after he was accused of littering the side of a mosque (which he'd denied). In May Masih was transferred from Lahore Central Jail to a hospital to be treated for tuberculosis. A policeman guarding his room struck him several times in the head with a hammer. Masih went into a coma and died four days later.

Compass Direct reported that policeman Faryad Ali told investigators it was "his religious duty, as a Muslim, to kill the Christian man."

Blasphemy, defined as criticizing Muhammad by word, deed, or imputation, is a capital offense in Pakistan. In July Pakistan's parliament began considering reform of the blasphemy law after years of criticism. Under the law, the testimony of a single Muslim can result in a death sentence for a Christian.

No fewer than 10 Christians are awaiting trial for blasphemy charges, and about 80 have been so charged since 1986, according to Asia News. While Muslims often use the law to settle personal grudges against religious minorities—or murder them while they wait years for trial—authorities have also charged 289 Muslims with blasphemy since 1986; 59 of those are still awaiting court dates.

The reform efforts began even as President Pervez Musharraf faced intense pressure from Islamic radicals. His antiterrorism measures won Pakistan status as a non-NATO ally of the United States ...

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