Pakistani Christians charged under blasphemy laws

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Less than two weeks after a court in Pakistan acquitted an imprisoned Christian who was serving a life sentence under the nation’s blasphemy laws, organizations focused on religious persecution reported at least four other Christians were arrested for blasphemy.

CLAAS-UK—the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement—said three Christians in the village of Kotli Muhammad Sadique were charged with blasphemy for allegedly burning pages from the Quran. Azeel Mehmood was jailed, while Abbas Gulshan and Irfan Saleem were released on bail, CLAAS-UK reported.

Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK said his organization’s Pakistan-based team personally interviewed the families of the three men and were convinced of their innocence. They believed the men were implicated because of personal grievances.

“It is very sad that blasphemy continues to be used as an easy tool to settle personal scores and grudges against Christians and other religious minorities,” Saeed said. “Unfortunately, Pakistani society has become more intolerant than ever before.”

International Christian Concern reported Raja Warris, a Christian pastor in the Charar area of Lahore, was charged with blasphemy after posting comments on social media critical of Islam.

A mob gathered outside Warris’ home the day after Christmas and threatened to behead him and set fire to Christians’ homes unless the police arrested him, Morning Star News reported. Local sources told International Christian Concern hundreds of Christians fled Charar.

Warris was taken into custody and charged the next day with blasphemy. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison for committing “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.”

“We here at International Christian Concern remain concerned by the situation in Charar,” said William Stark, the organization’s regional manager. “We call on Pakistani authorities to continue to protect the homes of Charar’s Christians. Even though Pastor Warris has been officially charged with violating the blasphemy laws, there is still the potential for mob violence against the Christians of Charar. No one should be forced to flee their home because of a social media post.

“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must not be misused to justify mob violence. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities.”

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International Christian Concern reports 24 Christians currently are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan.

On Dec. 15, the Lahore High Court acquitted Imran Ghafur Masih after he spent more than a decade in prison for violating blasphemy laws by allegedly burning the Quran.

Both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate passed resolutions in December calling for the repeal of blasphemy and apostasy laws around the world. The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty was part of a coalition of more than six dozen organizations calling for an international ban on blasphemy laws.

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