By Worthy News Asia Service
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (Worthy News)-- A Christian man continued serving a life sentence Pakistan's Punjab province Tuesday, February 23, on what international rights activists said are "false allegations" of blasphemy.
A Pakistani court in the city of Faisalabad sentenced Imran Masih, 26, to life imprisonment and fined him 100,000 Pakistani Rupees (about $1200) on January 11, after his Muslim neighbor accused him of burning the Koran, seen a holy book by Muslims.
Masih has denied the charges saying he came across Arabic literature while cleaning his shop.
He said that before trashing it, he asked his Muslim neighbor whether the book was Islamic literature. After being assured that it was not an Islamic book, Masih apparently burned the book.
His neighbor however showed the half-burned book to passersby and accused Masih of desecrating the Koran, Christians said. Soon after, local mosques apparently incited Muslims to attack Masih by announcing that he had desecrated the Koran.
At the time of arrest in July, a mob of 400 Muslims gathered outside Masih’s home and apparently overpowered police and attacked him.
"The family of Masih immediately fled from Faisalabad because the Muslim protesters wanted to kill them," said International Christian Concern (ICC) an advocacy group closely monitoring the case.
Family members have reportedly said that the neighbor "falsely accused Masih of desecrating the Koran because he wanted to rent the shop that Masih rented to run his business."
Church groups say Christians in Pakistan have repeatedly been attacked by Muslim mobs over blasphemy allegations.
Pakistan Penal Code punishes with life imprisonment those who "offend" the Koran and with the sentencing to death those who insult the Prophet Muhammad.
Some 1,000 people are believed to have been indicted, while Christians have reportedly also suffered attacks and dozens of extra-judicial killings in the predominantly Muslim nation.
ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa and South Asia, Jonathan Racho, told BosNewsLife that his group has urged Pakistani officials to release Imran Masih "and ensure the safety of his family."
Rights groups have demanded that Pakistan revise its blasphemy legislation saying it "continues to be abused" by Muslims "to settle personal grudges against Christians” in this predominantly Islamic nation. (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).