By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
ISLAMABAD (Worthy News) – Imran Ghafur Masih, the Pakistani Christian who spent some 11 years in a Pakistani jail for “blasphemy” against Islam, has arrived with family members in Thailand, a pastor involved in the rescue operation told Worthy News.
“By the grace of God Ghafur, a single man, arrived with his older brother and his wife and their three children in Bangkok Airport safely,” confirmed Pakistani Pastor Asif Arthur of the U.S.-based Candlelight Christian Fellowship Church.
Worthy News was made aware of the operation weeks ago but agreed not to publish details till the family would arrive for security reasons.
Arthur told Worthy News that “another family will try to fly from Pakistan after a few weeks.”
While in Thailand Masih, who was one of the longest jailed Christians, faces an uncertain future. Thai authorities have been cracking down on thousands of Christian refugees, often from Pakistan and Myanmar, with many being locked up as cattle in overcrowded prisons, according to footage seen by Worthy News.
Those staying behind in overcrowded filthy accommodations are in several cases waiting for years before the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR takes up their case, Worthy News learned.
The UNHCR claims it doesn’t have enough staff, though Christians have also complained of discrimination. “We have to stay inside, even going to church is difficult,” evangelist Maria Gill told Worthy News.
SUFFERING IN THAILAND
Gill, said she and her family have suffered for years in Thailand. “We even face risks when we go outside to go to church. My husband was mistreated while in detention. We have been appealing to fellow believers in the world to help us and pray for us.”
She noticed that Christian families, many with small children, face poverty every day. “They don’t allow us to work.”
Thailand has come under international pressure to adequately protect asylum seekers after leaked footage of mass detentions, including of women and even children.
Additionally, at least some have suffered or even died, including babies, due to a lack of health care, Christians say.
Yet Arthur made clear that despite facing an uphill battle for freedom in Thailand, Masih, had to leave as he faced death threats by radical Muslims in Pakistan, a strict Islamic nation with controversial blasphemy laws.
Arthur told Worthy News that Pakistani police detained the 40-year-old Masih in July 2009 after he was falsely accused of intentionally burning pages of the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims.
While cleaning his brother’s retail shop, Masih reportedly removed the trash he had collected, intending to burn some of it.
However, as he burned the trash, pages of an Islamic book flew into the fire, according to Christians familiar with the case.
His neighbor, Haji Liaqat, saw the burned pages and alerted other Muslims in the area prompting a riot, Pastor Arthur confirmed.
“Following the accusation, a mob attacked Masih and his family and set fire to their home. He was then arrested and tried for ‘intending to outrage religious feelings and ‘desecrating the Koran.’ That is a blasphemy charge that carries a potential death sentence in Pakistan.”
On January 11, 2010, the Sessions Court of Faisalabad sentenced him to life in prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees ($557) under Sections 295-A and 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
His case was appealed to the Lahore High Court but postponed nearly 70 times over the next 10 years, his lawyer said.
Masih was charged under the same blasphemy law that sparked international outrage after Christian woman Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy.
Under pressure, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Bibi, and she was eventually able to receive asylum in Canada in May 2019 after eight years on death row.
“Since that time, he was rescued, including by my friend Nadeem Anthony, an advocate, and [Christian activist] Samuel Inayat,” recalled Arthur.
“Being a pastor myself, I believe we are all part of one body in Jesus Christ and need to stand with our persecuted brethren,” Masih added.
While his church managed to finance, the family would need more financial support and especially prayers, he said.
“They urgently need to find a country willing to extend asylum where they can rebuild their lives as a refugee, and they can breathe freely with any fears, stress, and depression.”
If you are interested in articles produced by Worthy News, please check out our FREE sydication service available to churches or online Christian ministries. To find out more, visit Worthy Plugins.