US-based International Christian Concern, with Website, told BosNewsLife that 35-year-old Anwar Masih from the town of Shahdara, near Lahore, was dismissed from his job as a technician at a local factory in November last year "and continues to receive death threats from religious fanatics even though the Lahore High Court declared him innocent of blasphemy charges in December 2004."

The troubles began in 2003 when Masih reportedly asked his formerly Christian neighbor, Chaudhary Naseer, why he had converted to Islam and grown a beard, seen as symbol of radical Islam. Naseer apparently alleged that Masih made insulting remarks against Muhammad and other saints of Islam. Police detained Masih and took him to jail in November
2003, ICC said. 

Masih was quoted as saying 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. That section 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, and potentially execution, 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 eath threats for simply being charged with insulting the prophet Muhammad," ICC said. "His life is still in danger."

Masih reportedly took shelter in nearby Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, with a Christian non governmental organization, and went underground for fear of being murdered by Muslim militants. He is no exception.  Some 892 individuals were charged under the blasphemy laws from 1986 to December 2007, according to the independent National Commission for Justice and Peace.

ICC investigators alleged that Masih burst into tears when said 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, ICC 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," he was quoted as saying.

Masih told ICC that he is ready to go anywhere and work at any job to earn something for his family, including doing sanitation work. Masih has four daughters in school and one son. His children allegedly face discrimination and are at risk of being sent out of school because Masih cannot afford their tuition. Masih reportedly said that "blasphemy laws were unjust" and demanded their repeal.

Christian politicians have expressed hope that this week’s election victory of opposition parties in Pakistan may speed up changes in the controversial legislation. Government officials have in the past promised changes, but so far nothing was done, rights groups say.

Christians comprise less than three percent of Pakistan’s predominantly Muslim population of roughly 165 million people, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).


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