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Christian Cleared of Blasphemy Charges Fired from Job, Facing Death Threats

2/22/08 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – Anwar Masih, 35, a Christian resident of Shahdara, a town next to Lahore, was fired from his job in November 2007 and continues to receive death threats from religious fanatics even though the Lahore High Court declared him innocent of blasphemy charges in December 2004.

Masih reportedly asked his formerly Christian neighbor, Chaudhary Naseer, why he had grown a beard (a symbol of radical Islam) and converted to Islam in August 2003. They exchanged hard words, and some time later Naseer alleged that Masih made insulting remarks against Muhammad and other saints of Islam. As a result, police arrested Masih and took him to jail in November 2003.

In an interview, Masih told ICC that he was charged under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code for making derogatory remarks against the prophet Muhammad on November 29, 2003. Section 295-B (Defiling, etc., of Holy Quran) was added to the Pakistan Penal Code in the 1980s by General Zia ul Haq, who was then the military dictator of Pakistan. The law assigns the penalty of life imprisonment for anyone convicted of blasphemy.

The Lahore High Court acquitted Masih from the blasphemy charges on December 24, 2004. However, Masih still faces discrimination for his Christian faith and receives death threats for simply being charged with insulting the prophet Muhammad. His life is still in danger. Sadly, this is too often the case for anyone accused of blasphemy in Pakistan, regardless of whether they are exonerated of such charges.

Masih said that soon after his release from jail, he took shelter in Lahore with a Christian NGO and went underground due to the fear of being murdered by Muslim fanatics.

Masih burst into tears when he told ICC that he was unlikely to be able to stay with his children for much longer. Masih said that he restarted his career as a technician in a local factory in August 2005. However, he was fired from that job in November 2007 when the factory administration found out about the charges he had faced. He said the factory administration was threatened with deadly consequences by unknown persons for employing a “blasphemer,” who demanded that they fire him immediately.

Anwar Masih still lives in hiding and moves from one village to another because he fears for his life.

With tears in his eyes, he said, “I want peace of mind, to live with my family without any fear and educate my children, but religious extremists do not allow me…I do not have happiness in my life.”

Masih told ICC that he is ready to go anywhere and work at any job to earn something for his family. He is even willing to do sanitation work since he has been jobless for more than three months. Masih has four daughters in school and one son. His children also face discrimination and are at risk of being sent out of school because Masih cannot afford their tuition. Masih declared that blasphemy laws were unjust and demanded their repeal.

According to data collected by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, 892 individuals were charged under the blasphemy laws from 1986 to December 2007.