Pakistan -- August 20, 2003 (Barnabas Fund) -- A High Court has upheld the decision of a lower court to sentence two Pakistani Christians to life imprisonment for allegedly burning a Qur’an.
On 7 August Amjad Masih and Asif Masih, who are unrelated, had their life sentences endorsed by the Lahore High Court. They had been prosecuted under Pakistan’s infamous ‘Blasphemy Law’ for supposedly desecrating the Qur’an.
In February 1999 Amjad, 45, and Asif, 40, were arrested in Jhang, 160 miles northwest of Lahore on charges of vagrancy. Whilst in prison they allegedly set fire to a copy of the Qur’an, but they claim that the police framed the evidence because they refused to pay a bribe. The men now plan to appeal to the Supreme Court, but their families are receiving threats from extremists just for trying to pursue the case.
Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code is often known as the ‘Blasphemy Law’. Section 295-B states that any person defiling or damaging a copy of the Qur’an can be sentenced to life imprisonment and Section 295-C states any person defaming the Islamic prophet Muhammad should be put to death. Because virtually no evidence is needed to bring an accusation other than the word of a Muslim witness the laws have often been misused to target Christians and other non-Muslim minorities in order to settle personal grudges or rivalries.
No one has yet been executed under the laws; however, once an accusation is made, the victim is forever guilty in the eyes of Islamic extremists. Four Christians accused of blasphemy have been assassinated by extremists since 1992, others have escaped attacks. In 1997 a judge was also killed for acquitting Christians charged with blasphemy. Sometimes the families of the accused have to leave their village or town and move in secret to a new area. Most Christians who have been accused and acquitted have had to leave Pakistan and come to the West after their release.