Pakistan (MNN) — The principle “innocent until proven guilty” is not practiced in Pakistan when it comes to their blasphemy laws. In fact, according to a recent report by Amnesty International, these laws are used to punish Christians in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws
When a Christian is accused of blasphemy, evidence doesn’t matter. They can be arrested and be unjustly imprisoned for years as their trials continue to get pushed off.
The most famous example of this is Asia Bibi, who has been waiting for years to face a fair trial in court. The most recent appeals hearing, scheduled last year, was canceled when the judge refused to show.
FMI’s Bruce Allen says even if Asia Bibi is released, she will have to flee the country or face certain death. Her story accompanies many others.
“There are hundreds of Pakistanis imprisoned falsely under blasphemy laws. In even more recent days, there was a Pakistani Christian who at the end of December, right before New Year’s, was arrested because people said they found ripped up pages of the Koran in front of his home, and his name was on those pages.”
Allen says the police ignored the fact that things didn’t quite match up. Why would a Christian spend what little money they had on the Koran, and why would they commit a crime punishable by death, and put their name all over it?
The man’s family was also arrested. Police said it was for their own protection, which Allen says isn’t totally a bogus claim. Many times when it is known that someone was arrested for blasphemy, their family becomes a target too. As Allen puts it, angry mobs don’t wait for the gears of justice to turn.
The motivation behind these accusations isn’t always about religion. Sometimes they occur because they are a convenient way to get back at somebody you have a grudge on.
Allen says, “It’s often that there’s some sort of personal vendetta between a Muslim and a Christian or the families or something, and the Muslim is going to use this blasphemy accusation to intimidate the Christian or the Christian family.”
The Amnesty report also explains how anyone connected with so-called blasphemers also face danger — including those who represent them in court, and also those fighting for religious freedom rights in general.
Last week marked the sixth anniversary of the murder of Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab. He was an outspoken advocate for the repeal of the blasphemy laws. His son, Allen points out, is carrying on that advocacy, but outspoken Muslim leaders have called for trouble for him as well.
Protesters attempted to march against the observation of the anniversary in the city of Lahore. Over 100 people were arrested.
These types of protests along with threats often throw a wrench into truth and justice. The court systems bend to the will of the people, and authorities often neglect to take action when an innocent life is in danger.
“It really is a volatile issue, a very sensitive topic — 97 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people are Muslim. And many of them, regardless of what the laws would say in a call for evidence in a trial or something — they don’t care about that. They just want to defend Islam at all costs,” Allen says.
On the outside, looking in
Nonbelievers might look at the situation in Pakistan and wonder, “Why follow a religion that could get you killed?”
It is the answer to this question that has grown the Church in Pakistan. Christianity offers people a relationship with hope — with the one, true Hope, Jesus Christ.
Allen says even for Muslims, “It’s still an oppressive culture, and people look for hope. If you’re not a follower of Jesus Christ, and you come into contact with people who are authentically, dynamically following Jesus Christ — ‘Wow, what gives you a purpose, what gives you the power to thrive?’”
He says, people really pay attention to that drive.
Over the last year, FMI saw the most growth occur in Pakistan. In this country they saw more people coming to Christ, and more people being baptized than any of their other ministries. The believers know they are risking it all to associate with Jesus.
“And yet, people are willing to lay down their lives for that,” Allen says.
FMI and you
FMI is another ministry that recognizes the value of supporting the local ministry rather than starting their own.
Allen explains, “We are partnering with the indigenous church planters and evangelists — the believers who are essentially boots on the ground. They know the language, they eat the food, they have the relationships and the communities.”
Because of poverty and lack of resources, the persecuted Church can’t just leave Pakistan. And, what FMI is finding, they don’t want to. They love their country and they love their neighbors and they want to see the light of the Gospel grow.
Right now, FMI is working with over 30 church planters and evangelists who are developing their own ministry teams. For example, last year one man and his team were able to conduct 45 different VBS outreaches and saw 1,000 people, young and old, come to Jesus.
“We’re looking forward to this year seeing exponential growth in terms of people coming to faith in Christ because it will be more than just the one church planter in a community or one evangelist; it will be many people who are learning how to do evangelism and impacting their communities.”
Pray for FMI as they continue this outreach and support of believers in Pakistan. Ask God to bless their recent development of a ministry tool. Pray for their continued encouragement in the face of adversity.
If you’d like to support FMI, or to learn more about their ministry, click here.