By Joseph DeCaro, BosNewsLife International Correspondent
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Christian accused of blasphemy against Islam has died in a Pakistan prison after he was allegedly denied medical care, BosNewsLife learned Tuesday, September 20.
Rights investigators said an autopsy indicated that Aslam Masih died September 9 from Dengue virus because prison officials refused to allow treatment.
There was no immediate comment from Pakistani authorities.
Masih was detained early last year after two members of an Islamic missionary group "falsely" accused him of blasphemy, Christians said.
He was initially released "on lack of evidence" but later re-arrested amid reported pressure from local Muslims.
"I condemn the prison authorities for not providing medical treatment to Aslam Masih and urge Punjab's government to constitute [an] inquiry committee to investigate [the] death of Aslam Masih," said Nazir Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), which represents minority Christians.
The PCC official stressed the death of Aslam Masih in jail also "raises questions of safety and security for the life of Asia Bibi", a Christian mother sentenced to death for "blasphemy". She is in jail awaiting her appeal to be heard by the Lahore High Court, Bhatti explained.
In Pakistan, several Christians accused of blasphemy have either been killed while in detention or in court, according to rights groups and local Christians.
Pakistani officials reported that Qamar David died of a heart attack On March 15 this year, but his lawyer claimed he was murdered.
On September 20, 2009, Falish Masih was found dead inside his prison cell with severe wounds over his body. Pakistani police claimed Falish committed suicide.
Additionally, on July 19 last year, suspected Muslim militants shot and killed Rashid and Sajjid Emmanuel, who were charged with blasphemy, while waiting outside a court house in Faisalabad.
PCC officials said they would pressure the government and local authorities to detain those responsible for Masih's killing including those "wearing police medals" who, it claimed, are "responsible for stopping the breaths of Aslam Masih."
Pakistan is under international pressure to annul, or at least change, controversial blasphemy legislation that church officials say is misused to prosecute Christians at a time of rising extremism in the mainly Islamic nation.
Two senior officials were assassinated this year for opposing the blasphemy laws, that impose long prison sentences or the death penalty for insulting Islam.
In March, Pakistan's only known Christian government minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, died in the capital Islamabad after his car was riddled with bullets from shots fired by suspected Islamic militants, with ties to al Qaeda and Taliban groups. Earlier, in January, the influential governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was shot and killed by one of his bodyguards in Islamabad.(With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).