Features

Give me death, but also liberty

International | The suicide of a church leader in Pakistan five years ago is leading to other casualties in the battle to end Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws.

Issue: "Troops hunt for weapons," June 14, 2003

The suicide of a church leader in Pakistan five years ago is leading to other casualties in the battle to end Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws.

A judge gave a life sentence and a $900 fine to Rajha Masih, one of hundreds of mourners who took to the streets after Faisalabad Catholic Bishop John Joseph shot himself on the courthouse steps in 1998 to protest the blasphemy laws.

Mr. Masih, who has spent the last five years in jail, was arrested in response to a complaint by a leading Muslim, the son of Faisalabad's former mayor, who charged Mr. Masih with throwing stones at Koranic verses on a shop sign during a funeral procession for John Joseph.

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Islamic religious leaders packed the courtroom for Mr. Masih's sentencing, according to witnesses who say they believe the clerics intimidated the judge into giving a harsh verdict.

At a meeting in Faisalabad central jail, Mr. Masih told counsel Shabhaz Bhatti, "I will be happy if the sacrifice of my life could contribute in the abolishment of this black law of blasphemy, although I am falsely involved and being punished for a crime that I did not commit." Mr. Bhatti said he would appeal the case to Lahore High Court.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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