Christian appeals blasphemy conviction in Pakistan

(Image courtesy Wikipedia)

(Image courtesy Wikipedia)

Pakistan (MNN) — A Pakistani Christian appealed his blasphemy conviction yesterday to the Lahore High Court. His defense team believes the charges were trumped up to speed the eviction of minority Christians from their land. Gospel For Asia founder and international director KP Yohannan says this isn’t unusual. “They know that at any time, they can be accused of something and can be arrested or punished; lots of people who believe in Christ do face this on a regular basis: ostracization. This is definitely on the rise.”

(Photo courtesy ChristiansinPakistan.com)

(Photo courtesy ChristiansinPakistan.com)

Sawan Masih was convicted last week on blasphemy charges. His case initially sparked a Muslim rampage and the destruction of Christian property.

Justice has been slow in coming. Pakistan has extremely strict laws against defaming Islam, including the death penalty for insulting the Prophet Mohammed, and rights campaigners say they [laws] are often used to settle personal disputes in a country where 97% of the population is Muslim.

According to the Voice of the Martyrs Canada, courtrooms packed with militants have often pressured judges into returning a guilty verdict or continuing trials indefinitely. Christians are regularly barred from jobs or face troubles from their employers and co-workers. Christian merchants are often harassed.

Because of this, identifying as a Christian comes with consequences. Yohannan explains, “Being a Christian is a choice that they make in many places, knowing that they are going to lose everything they have. This is particularly true and very visible in Pakistan.”

A recent report from a U.S. government advisory panel said Pakistan used blasphemy laws more than any other country in the world, listing 14 people on death row and 19 others serving life sentences for insulting Islam. However, Pakistan has yet to carry out an execution for blasphemy.

(Photo courtesy ChristiansinPakistan.com)

(Photo courtesy ChristiansinPakistan.com)

Another high-profile blasphemy case is that of Asia Bibi, whose appeal before the High Court was delayed twice in the last two weeks. The two stories have become the face of religious freedom arguments  about Pakistan in the global community.

However, these stories have only gained minimal traction. Why? It’s a question of not understanding the agony. Yohannan says a lot of people feel this way: “Lord, I read information about this country, or about Muslim communities, but I don’t feel anything. There’s no pain.” He urges people to pray, “Please help me to feel the pain You feel.”

Yohannan says sharing the burden with a spiritual family means you want to comfort, too. GFA has a long-standing presence in parts of the country. “During the persecution in Pakistan or the church bombing or the earth quake–all these times, Gospel For Asia was able to extend great amount of resources to bring hope and relief for the people of God, and through them, to others.”

GFA’s focus: “How can we not only bring help for the physical needs and suffering, but also the real hope and healing [that] comes through knowing the living God, and experiencing God’s love that is also carried out hand-to-hand.”

One last thing, Yohannan says: the stories of Masih and Bibi highlight the intensity of being a follower of Christ in Pakistan. But the sobering reality is that “not even 5% of the story of suffering is actually talked about.”