Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
This morning, as Christians in America venture to work or wherever life will lead them at the start of the week, a fellow believer in Pakistan awaits a death sentence he received for allegedly declaring the primacy of Christ.
According to Church in Chains, an Ireland-based organization that advocates for Christians facing persecution, authorities in Lahore, Pakistan, intend to execute Ashfaq Masih by hanging Monday. His crime – blaspheming against Islam by reportedly stating that Jesus Christ was the only true prophet.
Masih had been in prison since 2017 and had not been granted a trial until July 4. On that day, a judge rather quickly condemned Masih to death.
“The sudden judgment stunned me and I didn’t know what to do,” Mehmood Masih, Ashfaq’s brother, told Church in Chains. “I hardly gathered myself and came out of the courtroom and started crying as it was the end of the world for me. I rushed home and informed my family. My wife and children also started crying. As the news spread my relatives started visiting to console us, but it was not easy for me as Ashfaq is my only brother and I love him very much.”
It isn’t clear if Ashfaq actually said the words he’s accused of saying. In fact, he argued as much in his plea of innocence to the court. Ashfaq, who by trade was a motorcycle mechanic, said the entire matter was spawned from the jealousy of a Muslim who owned a nearby rival shop.
“My shop was running well, and I was very happy,” Ashfaq said. “Muhammad Naveed is also a motorbike mechanic and had made a shop in front of me. He was jealous because my business was running better. Muhammad Naveed had already fought with me on 5 June 2017 and threatened me with dire consequences.”
Those consequences were enacted when Naveed sent a second Muslim man, Muhammad Irfan, to Ashfaq’s shop for a wheel balancing.
“I balanced the wheel and demanded [payment] as settled between us,” Ashfaq said. “Muhammad Irfan refused to give me money and said, ‘I am a follower of Peer Fakhir [the name of a Muslim teacher] and don’t ask for money from me’. I told him that I am a believer in Jesus Christ and I don’t believe in Peer Fakhir and please give me my [payment].”
Ashfaq accuses Naveen of having sent Irfan as a means of accusing him of blasphemy, words prosecutors said were so egregious they could not be written or said aloud.
In the United States, we are primed to expect that a total absence of evidence will lead to a case, particularly one involving the death penalty, being thrown out. Sadly, in Pakistani blasphemy cases no such burden exists for prosecutors.
In Pakistan, accusers and prosecutors can be charged for repeating the statements they claim have been made. Thus, judges are allowed to take the complainant at his word that the accused said something, whatever that might be, that classifies as blasphemous.
“I am of definite view that prosecution has successfully proved its case against accused Ashfaq Masih regarding uttering of blasphemous words on fateful day with express intention,” the judge wrote, “beyond shadow of any doubt by producing cogent, confidence-inspiring evidence and [defenses].”
Nefarious people, particularly those with an anti-Christian bent, have taken full advantage of a system custom-made for abuse.
Nasir Saeed, the director of an evangelical organization based in both the United Kingdom and Pakistan, told Church in Chains that the outcome was predictable.
“I don’t remember any case where the lower court decided to grant bail or freed anyone accused of the blasphemy law,” Saeed said. “The judges are aware that such cases are made to punish and settle personal grudges with the opponents, especially against the Christians.”
Saeed later added, “Ashfaq’s case was very clear – the shop owner wanted him out and Naveed was a business rival who implicated him in a false blasphemy case. He is innocent and has already spent five years in prison for a crime he never committed.”
The ray of hope for Ashfaq is that Saeed’s organization is submitting an appeal to a higher court, which might yet spare Ashfaq’s life.
“World leaders and international [organizations] have already expressed their concern over the ongoing misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan,” Saeed said. “I believe the British government and other participants will take this matter seriously and express their concern to the Pakistani government.”
If history, and particularly the Bible, tells us anything it’s that only God through Christ can be fully trusted to act on behalf of His children. Perhaps on a Monday, Christians in America can unite in prayer for a brother in Christ who desperately needs intercession.