Pakistani preacher Adnan Masih says jail is safer than the streets of Lahore, Pakistan, and that’s why he asked to be put behind bars.
Masih surrendered to police and asked to be held in jail voluntarily after being the target of threats from the outlawed terrorist group Jamaad ud Dawa.
Members of the group are reported to have filed a blasphemy charge against the 25-year-old teacher and preacher. They allege that Masih blasphemed Muhammad by writing in a book that was on sale in his brother’s store.
Angry mobs surrounding the courthouse forced the cancellation of Masih’s most recently scheduled court appearance.
International Christian Concern Asia specialist William Stark says he’s not so sure that jail is safer for the street preacher.
“Whether he is safer in police custody or in hiding is debatable. In hiding, Adnan could be discovered by extremists and murdered. In police custody, he will be held in jail away from the extremists in Pakistan’s society, but will be exposed to the extremists that are in the prison system,” Stark said.
He said sometimes it’s more dangerous in prison.
“I have heard several stories of how Christians accused of blasphemy in Pakistan have been killed while in prison, sometimes at the hands of fellow prisoners and other times supposedly at the hands of their guards,” Stark said.
But Stark added that Masih had another reason for turning himself over to police custody. Police were holding his brother, the Christian shop owner who sold the book that prompted the trouble, and another relative.
“He likely felt pressured because of these arrests as well as being safer in police custody,” Stark said.
A source in Pakistan who cannot be named for security reasons confirmed Masih was charged with blasphemy and turned himself in to the police.
“We are well aware of this case; we even tried to save him once when the case was registered against him,” the source said. “An associate and I were eager to rescue him and we even made plans for him, But his one uncle handed him over to a nongovernmental organization who later made him surrender to the police.”
In Pakistan, a conviction for blasphemy can lead to sentences of life in prison or even death. Sometimes mobs carry out the penalty even without a trial and conviction.
Even if it would be acquitted, he may not be safe, the source confirmed.
“The victim of the blasphemy law is neither safe after freedom from the court nor in the jail during trial of the case as well as even in the police custody,” he said. “I think it’s sad because even though the NGO knew Masih could be compromised in jail, they still recommended he turn himself in.”
The Pakistani source said Masih’s sister reached out to him and his group for help.
“A few days back , one of Adnan’s sisters contacted us for help. We are looking for the best opportunity to help, but it’s possible that the situation has become more severe for Masih,” the Pakistani source said.
The problem, he said, is getting worse.
“In one month, three blasphemy cases were registered against Christians and it is surprising that one banned Islamic group Jamaat ud dawa is backing up the cases,” he said. “We have observed that the level of persecution is increasing day-by-day, and the Christians are suffering under such unfavorable conditions.”
Stark confirmed the assessment of the Pakistani source. Masih’s case is the rule rather than the exception.
“Adnan Masih’s case is, unfortunately, pretty typical when it comes to Christians accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. When I try to describe what it is like for a Christian to be accused of blasphemy in Pakistan, I tell people it is like Pakistan’s ‘scarlet letter’ for Christians,” Stark said.
“Once a Christian has been accused of blasphemy, the individual is labeled a blasphemer the rest of his or her life and faces all sorts of hostility and persecution from Pakistan’s majority Sunni Muslim society,” Stark said.
Stark said it’s not just the preachers who are victims of the Muslim mobs. In a majority of the cases, the family is also forced into hiding.
“Like Adnan, most Christians accused of blasphemy in Pakistan must go into hiding or else risk physical harm from radicals or hardliners. Unfortunately, this hostility towards Christian blasphemers is also felt by close family members,” Stark said. “Whole families are forced to live in the shadow of the blasphemy accusation and can be discriminated against or in some intense cases, experience outright hostility.
“This is sometimes seen on the communal level. Joseph Colony is an excellent example. A Christian man from Joseph Colony was accused of blasphemy and the entire Christian neighborhood was punished for it,” Stark said. “Over 200 Christian homes were looted and burned because of the blasphemy accusation charged against a single Christian man from that neighborhood.”
WND reported earlier on the March fire that destroyed over 200 Christian-owned houses in Joseph Colony, an enclave in Lahore.
The rioting followed the arrest and detention of Joseph Colony resident Sawan Masih. Masih allegedly got into a heated religious discussion in a restaurant, and a Muslim threatened to accuse him of blasphemy under Pakistan’s notorious law.
Former PLO and Muslim Brotherhood operative Walid Shoebat leads a human rights group that works to rescue those accused of blasphemy.