(Photo: Reuters/Mohsin Raza)
A Protestant Christian pastor and two laymen have been accused and charged with blasphemy in Lahore, Pakistan, allegedly for writing derogatory remarks about Islam.
"The complaint was filed by the Muslim Abid Mehmood accusing the three of having written and pronounced derogatory remarks about Islam talking about the text 'Why have we become Muslims,' written by Maulana Ameer Hamza one of the most important leaders of the Pakistani extremist organization 'Jamaat -ud- Dawah,'" Fides News Agency wrote in a report on Thursday.
The pastor, identified as Adnan Masih by Catholic World News, has been charged along with Irfan Masih, his brother, and Mushtaq Masih, the owner of the bookstore in which the alleged blasphemy took place.
The incident has made Christians in the area "concerned and frightened," according to reports, and they are in fear of retaliation by Islamist militants. "All Pakistan Christian League" leader Nawaz Salamat added that he is "very concerned about the safety of our members, in the different provinces," noting that a number of APCL members were beaten a few months ago in attacks by extremists.
"The leaders of the APCL continue to receive threatening phone calls dictating the closure of all the organization's activities. Otherwise, they will be burned alive with their families," Salamat added.
Pakistan is listed as number 14 on Open Doors USA's watch list of countries where Christians suffer persecution, with problems of Islamic extremism, dictatorial paranoia and organized corruption.
Earlier this year, a Pakistani Christian from the province of Punjab was fined $2,000 and given life imprisonment for sending blasphemous text messages to a Muslim cleric, allegedly seeking revenge from his ex-fiancée.
Pakistan's blasphemy law, embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, is often misused for personal revenge and carries no provision to punish a false accuser – it is also frequently used by Islamist extremists to target religious minorities, including Christians, Shi'as, Ahmadiyyas and Hindus.
In May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commented on the release of the 2012 International Religious Freedom report, compiled by the State Department, which noted that there has been an alarming rise of blasphemy laws worldwide.
"Another troubling trend is the increasing use of laws governing blasphemy and apostasy," Kerry said. "These laws are frequently used to repress dissent, to harass political opponents and to settle personal vendettas. Laws such as these violate fundamental freedoms of expression and religion, and we believe they ought to be repealed."