On 11 March 2019, Stephen Masih’s house was torched when a mob came to attack him and his family. When the police intervened, they didn’t arrest the violent neighbours who’d launched the attack. Instead, they arrested Stephen – accusing him of blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad.
In Pakistan, less than two per cent of the population are Christian. The country’s notorious anti-blasphemy laws are often used to target Christians and other religious minorities. False accusations are often made to ‘settle a score’ after an unrelated dispute; in this instance, Masih and his family had recently quarrelled with their Muslim neighbours.
Conviction under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws theoretically can carry a death penalty, though so far nobody has been executed under this law. Instead, those convicted face long prison sentences and ‘mob justice’.
“It is deeply alarming that a mere disagreement between neighbours could lead to the judicial harassment of an individual, based on his religious or other beliefs,” UN experts said in October 2021, calling for Stephen Masih’s release – and for the repealing of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws.
Thanks to ongoing advocacy and prayers, Stephen Masih was released on bail by the Lahore High Court on 31 May 2022.
“This court decision is a victory for truth and justice as Stephen was in prison for a crime he never committed”, his lawyer told Fides. “There was a false testimony. Following his release on bail, we will continue our efforts to have him declared innocent and finally acquitted,” he said.
The dangers facing Stephen Masih haven’t ended with his release on bail, however. There are concerns about his safety, and many Christians who have been arrested under blasphemy laws find that they are at risk from vigilantes and mobs.
“Once a person is accused of blasphemy in Pakistan, his life is always at risk and in danger,” a priest serving the archdiocese of Karachi says. Christians who were previously acquitted of blasphemy have been forced to leave the country after their safety could not be guaranteed.
Pakistan is number eight on the Open Doors World Watch List. Anti-blasphemy legislation is just one of many ways in which Christians are persecuted and targeted. Across Pakistani society, Christians are considered second-class citizens and are discriminated against in every aspect of public and private life. Believers who have converted from Islam are the most vulnerable to persecution.
For Stephen Masih to be acquitted of these charges, and for protection and peace for Stephen and his family
For the beleaguered church in Pakistan to have opportunities to share the light of Christ.
That Pakistani authorities would repeal their anti-blasphemy laws and ensure the safety of religious minorities in the nation
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