Two Christian evangelists in Pakistan have been accused of committing blasphemy, and might face execution for it, a report reveals.
According to International Christian Concern (ICC), Haroon Ayub Masih and Salamat Mansha Masih were preaching in Lahore's Model Town Park on Feb. 13 when they met a Muslim, Haroon Ahmad, and his friends. The evangelists gave Ahmad a Christian book, "Water of Life", and discussed about the prophets and Jesus Christ. But the discussion turned into an argument and Ahmad accused the evangelists of making derogatory statements against the Islamic religion.
The authorities charged the evangelists with blasphemy under Sections 295-A, 295-B, and 295-C of Pakistan's Penal Code. The report said that the Christians might face execution since conviction of Section 295-C results in death penalty.
False allegations of blasphemy are reportedly rampant in Pakistan which are usually motivated by hate of religion or personal vendettas. These accusations could even spark vigilante murders, mob lynching or mass protests.
The cases of blasphemy allegations have risen since the country added Section 295-B and 295-C to its blasphemy law in 1987. In 20 years after the law's amendment, there are already 1,534 individuals who were accused of blasphemy. 54% of that number (829 cases) were committed against religious minorities.
24 Christians are currently imprisoned in the country for blasphemy charges.
William Stark, Regional Manager of ICC, has raised his concern over the evangelists being charged.
"We here at International Christian Concern are concerned for the safety of the Haroon Ayub Masih and Salamat Mansha Masih. We are also concerned for the safety of the broader community these men represent. In many cases, the mere accusation of blasphemy against a Christian is enough to spark mob violence in Pakistan. This violence is often not limited to those accused. There are many examples in which a blasphemy accusation has exploded into violence against an entire Christian community."
"We call for a complete and fair investigation into the accusation against Haroon and Salamat. Too often Pakistan's blasphemy laws are misused to justify mob violence or settle personal vendettas. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities," Stark said.
Open Doors USA says that Pakistan ranks as the fifth country in the world where believers are most challenged for their Christian belief. They are faced with extreme persecution in all areas. Christians are regarded as second class citizens but converts from Muslim backgrounds are the most persecuted. They are given lowly occupations. Middle class Christians are also considered inferior by their Muslim counterparts and are often subjected to severe discrimination at work.
The Associated Press revealed that about 1,000 girls in the country are forcibly converted to Islam annually. These underage women are usually setup into forced marriages with much older men. Relative to this, Pakistan has been declared by the U.S. State Department as "a country of particular concern" for violating freedom of religion, but the Pakistani government denied the accusation.