.- The United States should press the government of Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy laws and to release a jailed Christian citizen facing blasphemy charges and death threats, says the Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom. Yousaf Masih, a 60-year-old Pakistani Christian, was arrested June 28 on the grounds that he desecrated the Koran. Under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, the offense carries a mandatory life sentence. In similar cases, those acquitted of blasphemy have gone into hiding after being threatened with murder by religious extremists. One judge who handed down an acquittal for blasphemy was murdered.
"The U.S. government considers Pakistan an ally in the war on terror but these blasphemy laws are a form of state-sponsored terror against its own people," said the center’s director, Nina Shea, in a July 13 press release.
"The U.S. should immediately reconsider its plans to sell F-16s to Pakistan until these laws are repealed and those accused of blasphemy are released from prison,” she added.
The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), a human rights group based in Pakistan, is assisting Masih in his defense. It reports that Masih faces immediate danger from other inmates who have beaten him and threatened to kill him.
Local Islamic organizations have held protest marches to demand the death penalty for Masih, prompting some local Christians to flee.
Masih told the APMA that in the course of his work as a janitor he was asked to burn discarded documents of which he had no knowledge and which he could not read because he is illiterate. Masih says he is being falsely blamed.
The initial charges were brought against Masih by his Muslim neighbors. If the case goes to court, Masih's testimony, under Pakistan's sharia law, could be given half the weight of his neighbors' because he is not Muslim.
"Pakistan's blasphemy laws violate due process and have been persistently used to persecute religious minorities, particularly Christians and Ahmadis, and to press personal grievances," said Shea. "These discriminatory laws should be abolished."
Some 80 Christians are now imprisoned for blasphemy in Pakistan, and 650 people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have been falsely accused and arrested under the blasphemy laws since 1988.
The Center for Religious Freedom has recently published book, Radical Islam's Rules, which examines Pakistan's use of sharia law.