Tuesday, March 3, 2020

RLPB 539. Pakistan: Blasphemy and Murder

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 539 | 4 March 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

PAKISTAN: BLASPHEMY AND MURDER
- the battle for Pakistan continues.
by Elizabeth Kendal

'Free at Last'.
Asia Bibi with Anne-Isabelle Tollet
On Wednesday 31 October 2018 the Supreme Court of Pakistan made history when it acquitted Christian woman Asia Bibi of blasphemy. By that time Asia - a married mother of five - had already spent more than nine years on death row in appalling conditions. Currently in Canada, Asia and her family will soon take up residence in France, where Asia will join her long-time advocate, biographer and now friend, journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet, in the ongoing campaign to liberate all those unjustly imprisoned in Pakistan who have been accused maliciously of blasphemy. The battle for justice in Pakistan is far from over! However, after decades of struggle, it just might have moved to the next level. Consequently, it is imperative that momentum be maintained.

On 8 April 2020, six years after being sentenced to death for blasphemy by the Lahore High Court, Shafqat Emmanuel Masih and his wife, Shagufta Kausar, of Gojra, Punjab, will have their appeal heard by the Lahore Court of Appeal. The Christian couple, who have four children, were imprisoned for blasphemy in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2014. They stand accused of sending English language blasphemous texts to an Islamic cleric. Shafqat - who is paralysed from the waist down - was tortured during interrogations yet only 'confessed' after authorities threatened to torture his wife. Under extreme pressure from Islamists, the court deemed the couple guilty, despite both being illiterate. Their health has deteriorated markedly whilst in prison [RLPB 512 (24 July 2019)].

Shafqat and Shagufta.
Sentenced to death.
According to Catholic media, the couple's appeal will be presented by Catholic lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu. A former politician and long-time minorities' advocate, Sandu has defended more than 40 cases of Christians falsely and maliciously accused of blasphemy, including that of Asia Bibi who for a time occupied a prison cell adjoining Shagufta's. According to Sandhu, there are currently 25 Christians in prison for blasphemy in Pakistan, six of whom are sentenced to death. Sandhu is confident that Shafqat and Shagufta will be acquitted as 'there is no clear evidence against the two of them'. Actually, the October 2018 Supreme Court decision to acquit Asia Bibi has fueled hope that a pivotal victory may have been won and a precedent set. It is important to note, however, that the Supreme Court ruling to acquit Asia Bibi was not made freely in the absence of international pressure. As the EU’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief (2016-2019), Mr Jan Figel repeatedly warned Pakistan that its GSP Plus Trade Agreement with the EU – which brings in billions of dollars of trade income – would be at risk should Asia Bibi be denied justice. Consequently, it is imperative that pressure be maintained!

Meanwhile, the source of the problem remains! Pakistan has undergone immense Saudi-sponsored radicalisation since 1979, the fruit of which is extreme intolerance which expresses itself in violent persecution of all religious minorities. Today it is common for Pakistan's madrassa-educated fundamentalist Sunni Muslims to view their Christian neighbours as kafir (infidels), dhimmis (subjugated infidels) and najis (unclean). Asia Bibi's problems all started when she fetched water for her co-workers, who then refused to drink water 'polluted' by an unclean infidel. On 28 February Christian farm labourer Saleem Masih (22) died in Lahore's General Hospital from injuries sustained during a savage beating and torture session instigated by the Muslim proprietor. On 25 February, after Saleem finished his tasks, he rinsed himself off in the proprietor's tube well. [A tube well (image) taps into underground water which is then used to irrigate crops and water livestock; children play in it, men cool off in it ... but apparently Christians, being najis, can only pollute it.]

Saleem Masih,
hospitalised on 25 Feb.
He died three days later.
photo: MSN courtesy
Pakistan Center for Law and Justice
Saleem's father, Ghafoor Masih - a member of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian (ARP) Church USA - arrived at the property to find his son unconscious and police watching on 'like spectators'. Ghafoor told Morning Star News that the four Muslim perpetrators insisted the beating was justified because the 'filthy Christian' had 'polluted' the well. Interestingly, after Saleem's death was reported in Pakistani news media, social media lit up with Pakistanis using the hashtag #JusticeForSaleemMasih to speak out against the incident and protest the abuse of Pakistan's religious minorities. The battle for Pakistan will be long, arduous and costly! Consequently, it is imperative that prayer be maintained.


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene to secure justice and liberty for Shafqat Emmanuel Masih and his wife Shagufta; may the Lord bless, guide and protect their lawyers - in particular, Khalil Tahir Sandhu - and prepare the court bench to issue a right judgement.

* comfort the family of murdered Christian Saleem Masih (22); may justice be secured and all suffering redeemed; may all the family's needs be supplied.

* sustain, bless and continue to grow Pakistani's vulnerable and persecuted Christian Church that she may be a blessing to that nation (Genesis 12:3).

* have mercy on Pakistan (Jonah 4:11)! May the Spirit of God awaken Pakistanis to the shame and disgrace of injustice and intolerance and embolden them to pursue justice, equity, peace and dignity. May the sovereign Lord raise up lawyers, writers, teachers, politicians and other community leaders and activists who will lead Pakistan to a better path. We pray especially for Prime Minister Imran Khan, who desires reform and has imprisoned dozens of radical Islamist leaders and agitators; may the Lord grant him courage, determination and success in the face of overwhelming opposition.

'…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream' (Amos 5:24 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------
'BLASPHEMY' AND MURDER IN PAKISTAN

Twenty-five Christians are in prison for blasphemy, six with death sentences. They include Shafqat and his wife, Shagufta. On 8 April the Christian couple will have their appeal heard by the Lahore Court of Appeal. Sentenced to death in 2014, the court found them guilty of sending blasphemous texts to an Islamic cleric, even though their 'confession' was extracted under torture and both are illiterate. Catholic lawyer, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, will present the appeal. On 28 February Christian farm labourer, Saleem Masih (22), died in Lahore's General Hospital after being beaten and tortured by Muslims who accused the 'filthy Christian' of 'polluting' a well. Outraged Pakistanis have been using the hashtag #JusticeForSaleemMasih to speak out against the incident and protest the abuse of Pakistan's religious minorities. Please pray.

------------------------------------------------------------

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com