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Pakistan's Longest Held Christian Prisoner Rushed To Hospital After Release

Monday, November 27, 2006 | Tag Cloud

By BosNewsLife News Center

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife) -- Ranjha Masih, who was Pakistan's longest held Christian prisoner of conscience, underwent surgery Saturday, November 25, after he was rushed to a private hospital to receive treatment for diabetes-- one of many ailments of which he suffers following years of torture and abuse, friends said.

News of his worsening medical condition came just two weeks after the Lahore High Court acquitted the 58-year-old Masih of blasphemy charges, ending eight years and seven months of imprisonment.

"Due to the atrocious conditions in the jail and repeated beatings Ranjha suffered, he is in very poor physical health," the independent Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) told BosNewsLife.

"He suffers from hemorrhoids, severe knee joint pains because of rheumatoid arthritis, insomnia, and diabetes. In jail he was denied proper medical attention, as a result many of his ailments have grown progressively worse, "said CLAAS, which played a crucial role in obtaining his release. His wife and a CLAAS member were at the hospital, BosNewsLife learned.

GROWING TENSIONS

It comes amid growing tensions surrounding the case as apparently angry Muslims planned protests against Masih's acquittal after media reports that he was only released by the Inspector of General Prisons in Punjab province as a goodwill gesture on last week's arrival of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Masih, who is married with six children, was detained in 1998 for allegedly damaging a sign containing versus from the Quran, seen as a holy book by Muslims. The incident happened during a demonstration surrounding the funeral for Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad John Joseph, who committed suicide to protest the execution of a Christian man on blasphemy charges.

Shorly after his burial, local Christians demonstrated against the government. Stones were thrown, and one of them hit a shop sign that featured a verse from the Koran. Police arrested Masih and charged him with blasphemy. Masih denied any wrongdoing.

After being held for five years without bail, a Faisalabad court sentenced Ranjha Masih in 2003 to life imprisonment amid reported protests by local Muslims who demanded that he be hanged. CLAAS lawyers immediately appealed the ruling, leading to his eventual acquittal Friday, November 10.

RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION

In a letter, obtained by BosNewsLife, Masih confirmed reports he suffered religious persecution and torture during his years in jail. "I was imprisoned for eight years and seven months and during my imprisonment I was beaten everyday; they blind-folded me, tied my hands behind my back, tied my feet and then beat me with clubs, sticks, kicking, and slapping me," he wrote.

"They treated me worse than animals. When I was first brought to the prison, the jail administrator announced that no one was allowed to talk to me. On many occasions they locked me in a cell all day. I had to bribe the guards to let me out of my cell for one or two hours [a day]. They often gave me very tough work to do, throughout all this it was His grace and love that helped me remain steadfast," he added.

Masih said he had been asked to mention names of other Christians "so that they could arrest and implicate them," in blasphemy. He said security forces also took him to a "remote area and told me to run away." He refused, saying "they would kill me, and tell the world that I was killed in a police encounter."

He also recalled that at one point was beaten "almost senseless trying to get me to name a fellow believer. They kept asking me to speak up but I remained silent." Masih said that while they were beating him he started to a Christian hymn. "When they demanded to know what I was saying I replied, “You were beating me to make me speak. Now I’m speaking and you have problem with that.”

ISLAM PRESSURE

Masih said he was pressured to covert to Islam, but refused to give up his faith in Jesus Christ, who, he said "has really done a great miracle in my life." He said police, administration, and other prisoners "constantly pressured" him to me to convert to Islam.

"They told me that I could get out of prison just by reciting the kalma, the formula spoken to testify the Muslim faith. Many people from different parts of the country got in touch with me and invited me into the fold of Islam, promising to get me out of prison but I flatly refused them all."

He added that, "One day, an officer brought the Koran and asked me to take it and recite the kalma," saying that "by doing" he could avoid further imprisonment. "I told him that if being released from prison meant forsaking Jesus Christ, then I did not want to be released."

He said that during "this trying time, hundreds of cards and letters poured in from around the world strengthening my faith and encouraging me to fight back and resist evil. I am thankful to Jesus for all the encouragement and love."

He said that during the past eight years his wife and children "have suffered greatly, but they have shown immense courage, patience, and forbearance." Masih stressed he is "thankful to Jesus for my wonderful family. One day my grand-daughter visited me in jail; she comforted me with the gentle reminder that Jesus would get me out at His appointed time." This month. (With BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos, reports from Pakistan and BosNewsLife Research).

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