The Lahore High Court has acquitted Imran Ghafur Masih, a Christian sentenced to life in prison under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. According to Imran’s family, they have moved into hiding following the acquittal due to potential threats from extremists.
On 15 December, the Lahore High Court acquitted Imran after he spent more than 10 years in prison. The development came as a shock to Imran’s family. “It is a day of resurrection for us,” said Naveed Masih, Imran’s brother. “God has heard our cry and we are very thankful to him. It’s a Christmas gift for us.”
On 1 July 2009, Imran was cleaning his family’s bookshop in Hajweri town, located in Faisalabad. He was about to burn some garbage he collected, which included some old books and papers, when he came across a textbook with Arabic writing. Concerned that the book contained religious writings, Imran consulted Hajji Liaquat Ali, his Muslim neighbour.
Ali told Imran to burn the book, so Imran threw it into the fire and walked away. When the book was partially burned, Ali returned and pulled it out of the fire. Ali used this partially burned book to falsely accuse Imran of burning a Koran. According to Imran’s family, Ali wanted the storefront leased to the family’s bookshop to expand his building materials business located next door.
News of the incident soon spread to local mosques, which made announcements over their PA systems. A mob of approximately 400 enraged Muslims gathered at Imran’s home. The mob beat Imran, along with his brother, Naveed, and father, Ghafur, before dousing the Christians with paraffin in an attempt to burn them alive.
Local police intervened, arrested Imran, and took him to the police station. A mob of 1,000 reportedly gathered outside of the police station and demanded Imran be handed to them. The mob chanted, “Hang him who disgraces the Holy Koran… Christians are dogs. Imran is a dog.” Police soon registered a blasphemy case against Imran and copies of the charges were distributed to the mob.
On 11 January 2010, the Sessions Court of Faisalabad sentenced Imran to life in prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees under Sections 295-A and 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Imran’s case was appealed to the Lahore High Court but was postponed nearly 70 times over the course of the next 10 years. According to Imran’s lawyer, the appeal passed through the offices of at least 10 justices.
“We went through a very painful time during Imran’s imprisonment,” Naveed said. “Imran lost his parents and was not allowed to attend the funerals. We lost our business and jobs which has affected our children’s education and future. We have not seen any happiness during these years.”
In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are common and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Currently, 24 Christians are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan.
Source: International Christian Concern
- Praise God for this wonderful answer to prayer. May it give cause for celebration for Christians all over Pakistan.
- Pray that Imran and his family will be shielded from those who still wish to harm them. Ask the Lord to bless Imran as he adjusts to life outside of prison and makes plans for the future.
- Pray the Lord will use this case to draw further attention to deficiencies in the justice system and the potential for blasphemy laws to be open to abuse.
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On 13 October, Arzoo Raja was abducted from her family home. She was forced to convert to Islam and marry her kidnapper, even though she was only 13 years old. On 5 November, a court ordered that her age be determined and in the interim, she be moved to a shelter.
In the latest developments, a court nullified her marriage, determining that she was too young to marry. When asked if she wanted to return to her home or to the shelter, she replied neither. The court then ordered that she be returned to the shelter for her protection and education.
Her captor, Syed Ali Azhar, has been charged with the sexual assault of a minor. The marriage officiant, two witnesses, and two lawyers have all been charged for their part in solemnising a child marriage. The courts also ruled that Arzoo is to stay in the state-run shelter until the age of 18, since she does not wish to return home.
The family’s lawyer believes that the young girl is reluctant to return home due to the “consistent brainwashing” she received from her kidnapper and some other community activists. Human rights workers are concerned that without her parent’s moral support, pressure will continue from the family of her kidnapper and other militant Islamic activists. A video has been released, demonstrating the devastating impact the situation is having on Arzoo’s parents.
The video can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPQulXSYlU4.
Sources: Morning Star News, Daily Pakistan, British Pakistani Christians, Herald Malaysia
- Praise God for the court’s judgements in this case. Pray that justice will be pursued on behalf of the many other young victims of forced abduction and marriage.
- Ask the Lord to administer much-needed spiritual and emotional healing to Arzoo and her family. Pray her relationships with her parents may be restored.
- Pray also for Arzoo’s physical healing, as she has recently tested positive for COVID-19.
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On 21 September, police in the self-declared autonomous region of Somaliland detained a Christian couple. They were described as “apostates and evangelists spreading Christianity.”
The couple, who are the parents of three children, appeared in court several times after their detainment. In the wake of pressure from European governmental representatives, the regional court ordered on 1 November that they be released and deported from the area. The couple is now living in a different region of Somalia.
Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991, although it remains internationally recognised as part of Somalia. The constitution of the region specifies ‘freedom of belief’ but this area is being governed by strict Islamic law, barring the propagation of any religion other than Islam and prohibiting Muslims from converting to another religion.
Sources: Middle East Concern, Barnabas Fund
- Praise God that this couple have been released without charge and reunited with their children. Ask Him to supply the provisions they need after being forced to resettle in another area.
- Pray that this family will be truly safe and free to practise their faith without opposition.
- May their most recent trial serve to strengthen and deepen their commitment to God, giving them the boldness to share His love with their new neighbours.
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There are reports from Eritrea that the government has released 27 Christian prisoners of faith, and hopes are rising that more could follow.
A trusted contact of Release International (Voice of the Martyrs, UK) says the government has just set free 27 prisoners, most of whom have been behind bars for more than ten years. They have yet to be named. There are believed to be 19 men and eight women, who were jailed at Mai Serwa prison, close to the capital Asmara. They were released, 8 September , and on 3 September.
There are indications that other Christian prisoners at the jail have been informed they could soon be set free.
This follows the release of 22 Methodist prisoners in July from another prison, mainly women and children.
Prisoners of faith
There are believed to be around 500 Christian prisoners of faith in Eritrea, many imprisoned indefinitely under appalling conditions.
In August, Eritrea announced it was releasing some Pentecostal Christians, among others, in a move to prevent the spread of coronavirus in its overcrowded jails. The 27 just released are believed to be the first to be allowed to leave.
According to the Eritrean media, Adi Abeto prison, designed to hold 800, had 2,500 inmates, and 500 prisoners were forced to share only 20 toilets at Mai Serwa maximum-security prison.
‘We are encouraged by the news of this release of Christian prisoners,’ says Paul Robinson, the Chief Executive of Release International, a British-based charity which supports persecuted Christians. ‘And we hope others will follow.
‘Our prayers are that this may signal a change of heart in a regime which outlawed many churches in 2002 and has been persecuting and imprisoning Christians ever since. The time has come to let these people go.
‘As for the 27 Christians who have been set free from jail, they are still not free to leave Eritrea. Some have been behind bars for so long that they have become completely institutionalised. They will need help and support.’
A Release contact described his reaction to the news as bittersweet: ‘All those wasted years! They have been kept like wild animals in a cage.’
Eritrea, which is ruled by a military dictatorship, has been described as the North Korea of Africa. Some 12 per cent of the population have fled the country, according to UNHCR. Tens of thousands have risked death from drowning to escape to Italy.
Eritrea keeps a tight control over religion. In 2002, Eritrea outlawed every religion except Sunni Islam, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholicism and the Lutheran Church.
The authorities shut down many Evangelical and Pentecostal churches and have kept the patriarch of the Orthodox Church under house arrest since January 2007.
Enemies of the state
Registered churches come under tight government control. And Christians who worship in unregistered churches are regarded as enemies of the state.
Estimates of the number of Christian prisoners of faith in the country range from 3,000 down to 300. Release contacts put the figure at close to 500. Many Christian prisoners have been detained for decades.
Some Christian prisoners are kept in shipping containers, where they are exposed to the searing desert heat by day and cold by night. Some are beaten and tortured to try to force them to renounce their faith.
Most Christian prisoners are believed to be Pentecostal or Evangelical. Many have been held for more than a decade. The prison authorities ban praying aloud, singing, preaching or reading religious books.
Eritrea’s constitution declares: ‘No person may be discriminated against on account of… religion.’ But a UN human rights commission noted attacks on Protestants and Pentecostals were ‘part of a diligently planned policy of the government’.
‘Full religious freedom’
Release International has repeatedly called on Eritrea to free its Christian prisoners and permit full religious freedom. In 2006, Release International and others submitted a petition to this effect signed by more than 110,000 people.
Says Paul Robinson: ‘Release is once again calling on Eritrea to set free every Christian prisoner and permit freedom of faith once again in their country.’
Through its international network of missions, Release International is active in some 25 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.
Due to poverty and lack of education, Christians in Pakistan often borrow money from brick kiln owners. They are then required to work, making bricks, to repay the loan. The size of the loan tends to be small, but the terms are designed to keep it growing indefinitely. The family, including children as young as five, are forced to work at the brick kiln to pay the debt.
VOM’s partner ministry Mercy Home is committed to helping these families and has secured the release of nine families from four brick kilns in the past year.
Mercy Home paid out each family’s total debt, securing their release. On release, each family was supported with rent and living expenses, job training and education.
One of the now free men, Manzoor was sold into slavery by a friend. A welder by trade, Manzoor fell ill, needed money for surgery and borrowed it from a friend – his friend then took him to a brick kiln owner and received the full amount. Manzoor, along with his family, were forced to work in an effort to pay off the debt until Mercy Home secured their release. Manzoor is now working as a farmer hoping to eventually return to his trade.
Source: VOM Contacts, The Voice of the Martyrs USA
- Pray for the families forced into slavery and for Mercy Home as they work towards freeing many others caught in the same difficulty.
- Ask the Lord to grow His church in Pakistan in number and in faithfulness. Pray for a spirit of unity and love.
- Though the Christians in Pakistan are frequently poor and downtrodden; pray the believers will find their identity in Christ and be bold in their witness for Him.
Post your prayer in the comments below.