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ICC Note: These men have just been given a chance to live outside of jail but they are still imprisoned by fear. Many Muslim extremists want to cause them harm therefore they must be very careful where they go and what they say.

Christians Charged With Desecrating Qur’an Live In Fear

6/21/2006 Pakistan (UCAN) — Although two Christian men charged with blasphemy were acquitted recently, family members and human rights activists are worried about possible reprisals from Muslim extremists.

Asif Masih and Amjad Masih returned to their homes in Jhang district, 400 kilometers south of Islamabad , on May 29, exactly three weeks after the Supreme Court issued their release orders. The former sanitation workers had spent eight years behind bars.

Masih is not a family name but a term used to refer to a Christian male. Amjad is Catholic, while Asif belongs to the Salvation Army.

In 1999 both men were charged with desecrating the Qur’an while serving a jail sentence for vagrancy. The men said police falsely accused them of burning the Qur’an after the two refused to pay bribe money. The men were convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to life imprisonment, equivalent to 25 years in prison.

The men appealed to the Lahore High Court, which upheld the verdict on May 23, 2003. They then appealed to the Supreme Court in August 2003, which acquitted them one-and-a-half years later, without any hearing.

Blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority Pakistan make an insult to the Qur’an a non-bailable offense punishable by up to life imprisonment, while the death penalty is mandatory for anyone convicted of insulting Prophet Muhammad.

Kausar, Amjad’s wife said “I am very happy. It has been a very tough period for my family, but I am afraid the real tough time starts now, as the extremists can attack Amjad or somebody else from the family.”

The two men and their families may also face chronic poverty, since obtaining employment will be difficult.

Families of the accused have had to leave their village or town and relocate secretly to another place. Most Christians who have been convicted and later acquitted by a higher court have had to leave Pakistan after their release.

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