Shahbaz Kaka, before his arrest
The charges were made up, the evidence fabricated, the arrest without notice and the sentence was life in prison. But now after serving six years of that term, a Pakistani man is being released, according to Voice of the Martyrs, a U.S.-based Christian group helping members of the persecuted Christian church worldwide.
Shahbaz Kaka currently is being treated with medical care for a month following his recent release from his jail cell, according to a statement issued by Justice Ejah Ahmad Chaudry of the High Court in Lahore.
He then will be free to return home, officials said.
According to Voice of the Martyrs, Shahbaz was arrested in June 2001 after using the restroom at a mosque.
“Qari Rafique, the head of the mosque, asked him why he was using the toilet that was adjacent to the mosque. He quizzed Shahbaz on whether he was a Christian because he was wearing a cross around his neck,” a Pakistani information source told VOM.
Rafique subsequently made a series of false accusations against Shahbaz, including statements to authorities that he “disgraced” the Quran by tearing pages out, cutting them into pieces and trampling them under his feet, the source reported.
His arrest followed immediately, and he later was charged, tried, convicted and sentence to life in prison for his “crime,” according to VOM.
For the first 18 months of his term, his mother was not even told where her son was, or that he had been accused and arrested. She eventually learned that he still was alive from VOM workers, who started addressing his situation in 2003 when they discovered the injustice delivered in his case.
While they worked on the legal procedures, they also helped his family, encouraging them during a time of extreme hardship and grief, VOM reported.
Shahbaz Kaka in chains
“We rejoice with Shahbaz Kaka and his family at his release,” said Todd Nettleton, the director of media development for VOM. “Yet we wonder about the injustice of his arrest and the six years he spent in prison. We are concerned for other Christians who still face persecution in Pakistan, and encourage the Pakistani government to provide true religious freedom in their country.”
According to VOM records, Christians have faced severe opposition from militant Islamic groups since Pakistan was formed in 1947 as the Muslim section in the partition of British India.
Christians routinely are barred from jobs and Christian merchants are harassed, and since the war in Afghanistan started, problems have intensified since Pakistani Christians are seen as being a part of an attack on Islam, VOM reported.
Sharia law, Islamic religious law, was adopted in 1998, and that further limited the rights of Pakistani Christians.
While Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan assures every citizen the right to profess, practice and propagate their religion, Christian organizations working within Pakistan report reality is quite different.
Muslim extremists use blasphemy laws to attack churches and kill Christians across the nation, and in one incident in 2005, an estimated 3,000 militant Islamists attacked Christians and destroyed Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian churches. In 2006, churches and Christian schools were targeted for destruction in Pakistan because of the publication of cartoons of Islam in Denmark.
“Unfortunately very little evidence is needed to make a charge under the blasphemy laws and it is very difficult for non-Muslims to successfully contest the accusations,” said one analyst. “Even the judicial system struggles to counter such acts with blasphemy cases attracting scores of agitators disrupting court proceedings, shouting slogans and demanding the death penalty.”
That law reads: “Whoever by words, either spoken, or written, or by visual representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly, or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death.”
The nation’s Christian community of 2 million is relatively small in the overall population, making up only about three percent of the people.
VOM is a non-profit, interdenominational ministry working worldwide to help Christians who are persecuted for their faith, and to educate the world about that persecution. Its headquarters are in Bartlesville, Okla., and it has 30 affiliated international offices.
It was launched by the late Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, who started smuggling Russian Gospels into Russia in 1947, just months before Richard was abducted and imprisoned in Romania where he was tortured for his refusal to recant Christianity.
He eventually was released in 1964 and the next year he testified about the persecution of Christians before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, stripping to the waist to show the deep torture wound scars on his body.
The group that later was renamed The Voice of the Martyrs was organized in 1967, when his book, “Tortured for Christ,” was released.