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 in July—enabling it to receive greater U.S. foreign aid for military equipment, but further infuriating the hard-core Muslims within his political base.

Indeed, Musharraf had already agreed to extend Islam's influence in Pakistan in exchange for the crucial support of an alliance of six anti-West, pro-Shari'ah (Islamic law) parties. Elizabeth Kendal of the World Evangelical Alliance's Religious Liberty Commission notes that "Musharraf's dependence upon [the alliance] severely limits his ability to deal with Islamist extremism and terrorism."

Terrorist organizations that Musharraf has banned have reorganized under new names, and nonaffiliated extremists continue to threaten Pakistani Christians. Such Muslims raped three Christian girls in separate incidents in 2003. And last May, extremists at a Muslim madrassa (school) seized Javed Anjum, a young Christian man who had stopped there to get a drink of water. They tortured him at the school for five days when he refused to convert to Islam. He died in a Faisalabad hospital a few days later.

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Suggested Action

The parliament's review of the blasphemy law is an answer to years of prayer. Pray that it is repealed or significantly revised to conform to U.N. standards for religious and other rights.

Likewise, the release on bail in June of Anwar Masih, a 30-year-old Christian jailed in Lahore since last December, marks one of the few times a victim of trumped-up blasphemy charges hasn't been held indefinitely under inhumane conditions while awaiting trial. Such legislative and judicial advances provide Westerners an opportunity to affirm progress when writing Pakistani officials.

It is also important to convey concern not just for Christians, but for all religious minorities, as well as advocate human rights for Muslims. Diffusing the perception of evangelicals as just another narrow special interest group helps to disarm anti-West, anti-Christian bias.

Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi
Embassy of Pakistan
3517 International Ct. NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Fax: 202.686.1534

Gen. Pervez Musharraf
President, Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Chief Executive's Secretariat
Islamabad, Pakistan

Pray for the families of Christians killed by Muslim extremists, and for strength and protection for the Pakistani church.

—Jeff M. Sellers

Related Elsewhere:

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, World Net Daily, and Compass Direct have articles about Samuel Masih's murder.

Akbar S. Ahmed, an Islamic scholar, wrote a piece for The Washington Post about a letter he received from a Muslim sentenced to death for blasphemy.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom lists Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern.

Freedom House has more information about religious freedom in Pakistan.

Other recent Christianity Today articles on Christians in Pakistan include:

The Secret Shelter | A sliver of hope for Christian women who suffer beatings, rape, and forced conversions to Islam. (June 01, 2004)
Pakistani Christian Student Dies from Torture | Muslim seminary implicated in forcible conversion attempt. (May 12, 2004)
Pakistan Court Acquits Christian of Blasphemy | Arrested in 1998, Aslam Masih is released from prison because of a lack of evidence. (July 23, 2003)
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Three Killed in Christmas Attack on Church | Two men in burqas throw a bomb into a small church during worship. (Jan. 13, 2003)
Karachi Police Defy Pakistan High Court | Christian massacre survivor released from custody, detained, and then released again. (Oct. 24, 2002)
So Far, So Near | A graduate of Murree Christian School in Pakistan, the site of a deadly assault by Islamic terrorists in August, reflects on his growing-up years, on what has changed in the interim, and on the beleaguered Christian community in Pakistan. (Sept. 09, 2002)

Previous Bearing the Cross articles include:

Iran—July 2004

Vietnam—April 2004

China—January 2004

North Korea—July 2003

Indonesia—April 2003

Nigeria—Feb. 2003

Egypt—Dec. 2002

Cuba—Oct. 2002

Turkmenistan—Aug. 2002

India—June 2002

Saudi Arabia—April 2002

Iran—March 2002

Vietnam—January 2002

Pakistan—Nov 2001

Laos—Oct, 2001

North Korea—Aug. 2001

Sudan—June 2001

Indonesia—April 2001

China—March 2001

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