A pair of young Christians in Pakistan have been charged with violating that nation’s blasphemy law—an offense that carries a mandatory death penalty if the accused is found guilty.
Human rights organizations that focus on the persecution of Christians have reported Haroon Ayub Masih and Salamat Mansha Masih were accused of making derogatory remarks against Islam and the Quran while distributing Christian literature and preaching in Lahore.
The United Kingdom-based Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement reported Haroon Ahmad registered the complaint against the two young Christians.
He claimed the two young men approached him and his friends in Lahore’s Model Town Park, handed him a copy of the “Water of Life” evangelistic booklet and began preaching. According to the complaint Ahmad filed, the two Christians told him the prophet Muhammad had strayed from true religion and only the Bible—not the Quran—is true.
However, attorney Aneeqa Maria, who is representing Haroon Ahmad Masih, offered a different account, as reported by Morning Star News. He said the two young Christians were studying the Bible together in the park when a group of Muslims approached them and told them to stop.
When Haroon Masih told the group it was not a crime to read the Bible in a public place, the Muslims began questioning them about their faith, Maria told Morning Star News. When asked if any reading material was available to help understand the Bible, Haroon Masih offered a copy of the “Water of Life” booklet, he said.
Haroon Masih returned home, but Masha Masih remained in the park. A few minutes later, Maria said, the Muslim youth returned and attacked Harron Masih. They then summoned the park’s security officers, saying the two Christians had used derogatory terms for the Quran and the prophet Muhammad.
Someone summoned individuals from the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, an extreme Islamist political party, who pressured the police to file blasphemy charges against the two Christians, Maria added.
‘Intolerance and violence’
The exact circumstances in this case notwithstanding, everyone has the right to preach and propagate their religion under Pakistani law, said Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK.
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However, Saeed said, Pakistani society “has been torn apart by intolerance and violence,” which he called “a far cry” from the nation’s highest ideals.
“Religious minorities are increasingly the targets of bigotry, which is often instigated by extremist forces, Islamic political parties and their leadership,” Saeed said.
Currently, 24 Christians are in Pakistani prisons due to blasphemy charges, International Christian Concern reported.
“We here at International Christian Concern are concerned for the safety of the Haroon Ayub Masih and Salamat Mansha Masih. We are also concerned for the safety of the broader community these men represent,” said William Stark, regional manager for International Christian Concern.
“In many cases, the mere accusation of blasphemy against a Christian is enough to spark mob violence in Pakistan. This violence is often not limited to those accused. There are many examples in which a blasphemy accusation has exploded into violence against an entire Christian community,” Stark said.
“We call for a complete and fair investigation into the accusation against Haroon and Salamat. Too often, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are misused to justify mob violence or settle personal vendettas. Too often, these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities.”
Last December, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed resolutions calling for the repeal of blasphemy and apostasy laws around the world. The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty was part of a broad-based coalition that has called for an international ban on blasphemy laws.
Both the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the U.S. Department of State have designated Pakistan among their Countries of Particular Concern, a designation reserved for egregious offenders of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.