Adventist Today reported July 14 (with an update on July 17) that a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Pakistan has been given a life sentence under that nation's controversial "blasphemy" laws for text messages that he allegedly sent. New details have emerged in a story released yesterday by the Adventist denomination's official news service, Adventist News Network (ANN).
Sajjad Masih, age 29, has been in prison since he was arrested in December 2011 and says that he was forced to confess to sending the text messages "under duress," ANN reports. Affidavits from Masih's coworkers confirm that he was at work at the time prosecutors claimed he sent the text messages from his former fiancee's cell phone in the United Kingdom.
"Masih was framed by Donald Bhatti, who in May 2011 forcibly married Masih's then fiancee, coercing her parents with promises of work visas. Bhatti had dated the young woman before moving to the U.K., and is said to have still been jealous of her relationship with Masih. After the ceremony, Bhatti immediately returned to the U.K., taking his new wife with him. Masih and his former fiancee, however, maintained a close friendship, frequently calling each other."
The phone from which the text messages originated was found to be registered in the name of Bhatti's wife and she told Masih that Bhatti had purchased a SIM using her ID card and arranged for an accomplice to send the messages, hoping to end the relationship. Masih's defense attorney, Javed Sahotra, who is also a member of the Adventist Church, is cited as the source of this information in the ANN bulletin.
A committee on the defense of members persecuted for religious reasons has been formed at the denomination's General Conference to deal with cases of this type. "Members of religious minorities in Pakistan live with the constant threat of being accused of 'blasphemy.' They know that if they are accused, they cannot count on a serious investigation," Dr. John Graz, GC director of public affairs and religious liberty, told ANN. "What is happening to Sajjad Masih is another tragic example of the abuse of blasphemy laws in some parts of Pakistan."
The laws are notoriously used to take revenge on Christians and other religious minorities, Michael Ditta, the president of the Adventist Church in Pakistan, told ANN. "We as a minority faith are concerned about the misuse of this law and growing intolerance toward Christians in the country." The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom cited Pakistan earlier in 2013 for "systematic, ongoing and egregious" suppression of minority religious rights.
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