By Worthy News Asia Service reporting from Pakistan
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (Worthy News)-- Police in Pakistan's province of Punjab have launched an investigation into reports that Muslim extremists killed a Christian for refusing to convert to Christianity. It comes at a time when Christians in the region are also prosecuted for alleged blasphemy against Islam.
Rasheed Masih, 36, was allegedly murdered on March 9 by six Muslims with at least one axe in Punjab's Khanewal district. Local Christians said the suspects are rival merchants who objected to Masih's potato business and his devotion to Christianity.
The Muslims allegedly killed Masih after luring him to their farmhouse on March 9, leaving him on a roadside near Kothi Nand Singh village, the next day. In a statement, the regional Mian Channu Parish of the Church of Pakistan described Rasheed Masih as a "devoted Christian", adding that both Masih and his brother Asi had refused the Muslims’ pressure to convert to Islam.
The reported murder came shortly before another Christian man, Arshed Masih, was burned Friday, March 19, in the city of Rawalpindi by Muslim hardliners for refusing to convert to Islam, hospital and law enforcement officials said.
Masih died of his injuries early Tuesday, March 23, at the age of 38, leaving behind a wife and three small children, his family told Worthy News and its partner agency BosNewsLife.
Elsewhere, Christians in Punjab province are also prosecuted on controversial blasphemy charges.
Among those detained by police is Rubina Bibi who could face "life imprisonment" and even the death penalty for allegedly “blaspheming” the prophet of Islam, said Khalid Gill, an official of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) advocacy group.
Local police in the town of Alipur, where she has been held, denied allegations by Christian rights investigators that Bibi had been arrested and tortured.
Her whereabouts were not immediately known Thursday March 25. Gill told reporters that the Christian woman had been detained following a domestic quarrel with her accuser, Sabir Munir Qadri, who he identified as a "radical Muslim."
Qadri could not immediately be reached for comment.
Human rights groups say blasphemy laws have often misused in personal disputes.
Since February a Christian man, Qamar David, received life imprisonment for blasphemy, while a Christian couple, Ruqqiya Bibi and Munir Masih was sentenced to 25 years in jail on charges of "defiling the Koran" after touching the book with unwashed hands, said the Center for Legal Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).
Both cases are open for appeal. (With Worthy News' Jawad Mazhar in Pakistan).