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Press Release — May 29, 2002

Pakistan: Christians Await Outcome of Death Sentence Under Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law

(Washington, DC – May 29, 2002) It has been one year since the Lahore High Court confirmed the death sentence that had been handed down against jailed Christian Ayub Masih. It was final – he would be executed by hanging. His crime – blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed.

The 35 year old Christian, Ayub Masih, a mason by trade, was arrested on October 14, 1996. Ayub is the second eldest among 11 children. Ayub’s family has also suffered anguish as a result of the blasphemy accusations. For the past five and a half years since Ayub’s arrest, the lives of his entire family have been disrupted. They live under a constant fear for their lives and continue to receive numerous threats from Muslim radicals. Ayub’s mother, Bishera Bibi, last year expressed her frustrations to a representative of the Washington, DC based human rights organization International Christian Concern (ICC): “Our lives are always in danger and many times we had given up hope that we would ever have our son back. We are unable to get justice in the courts.” Discouraged and frustrated, Bishera spoke through her tears saying, “He is suffering for a crime that he has never committed.”

Today, Ayub Masih and his family are still holding out hope that his death sentence will be overturned by Pakistan’s Supreme Court. More than a dozen cases have been filed against Christians as a result of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, Penal Code 295-B & C. However, no Christian has yet been executed under the law. Concerning Ayub’s case, the court could pass down a favorable ruling any day, providing a judge doesn’t succumb to intimidation from the radical Muslims, which often has been the case. In 1997, a judge was murdered after acquitting two Christians charged under the blasphemy laws.

Ayub’s attorney, Abid Hasan Minto, is appealing the death sentence based on a legal technicality that requires the local authorities to prove the reliability of a witnesses before charges can be filed. Minto is confident that this approach will result in Ayub’s acquittal.

From his prison cell, Ayub continues to hold on to his faith in God. In an earlier visit with Ayub at his prison cell, he told an ICC representative: “I am tortured and forced by Muslim inmates to convert to Islam, but I refuse to obey them. The behavior of the jail authorities and Muslim inmates is inhumane.”

Ayub has been tortured several times while in Jail by Muslim inmates and the jail authorities. The food and conditions in the jail have been poor. Many times during the winter months he was denied a blanket or heater. As a result, he is suffering from poor health. On numerous occasions he suffered torture in an attempt to force him to convert to Islam, but despite the abuse he has refused to give in.

Although President Musharraf promised he would eliminate the blasphemy laws after he seized power in a 1999 coup, he has failed to take any action in abolishing the laws.

Another blasphemy case that ICC is following is that of accused Christian Aslam Masih (unrelated to Ayub Masih). Aslam was arrested in 1998 and charged in Faisalabad for having “defiled a copy of the Koran.” He has already been sentenced to two life sentences. This sentence was handed down earlier this month during the time that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its third annual global report. The report charged Pakistan of committing “grave violations of religious freedom.”

ICC is urging concerned Christians to send a fax to the Attorney General of Pakistan to protest the blasphemy law and to urge the Pakistani government to acquit Ayub Masih and Aslam Masih. Send a fax to: Attorney General Aziz A. Munshi at 011-92-51-9215852.