Evangelist in Pakistan arrested over trumped-up blasphemy claims

A Christian man who has been evangelizing in Pakistan for 15 years was arrested after a local Muslim filed false blasphemy charges against him.

(REUTERS / Akhtar Soomro)Protesters demand the release of Asia Bibi at a Karachi rally, November 25, 2010.

Babu Shahbaz, 41, has been actively evangelizing and holding prayer meetings in his home for more than a decade, and many Muslims approach him for healing prayers. Because of this, some of Muslim Peer Baba Pola Gujjar's followers have started coming to the Christian evangelist for prayers, the Pakistan Christian Post details.

Shahbaz's growing popularity did not sit well with Gujjar and other local Musllims. Aside from that, Muslim shopkeeper Haji Nadeem wants the store of the Christian man's brother, George Masih, to be shut down.

On Dec. 30, Nadeem filed a blasphemy complaint against Shahbaz, saying he and his companions found 100 torn pages of the Quran bearing Shahbaz's name on the street while they were on their way to the mosque. However, the Christian evangelist is illiterate and is unable to write.

Still, Shahbaz was arrested and detained at the Nishtar Police Station with his wife and daughter. He was later transferred to another station in Lahore, while his wife and daughter were provided accommodation by the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement , aka CLAAS. .

In light of Shahbaz's situation, British Pakistani Christian Association chairman Wilson Chowdhry released a statement saying the case proves how little the Pakistani government achieved in its efforts to improve minorities' rights, Christian Today relays.

"This latest blasphemy case highlights the little progress made by the Government of Pakistan towards improving the rights of minorities under their protection... Britain and the US have both maintained Pakistan as their largest foreign aid recipient for over a decade," Chowdhry said. "The influence this provides them should be used as a lever to bring hope to minorities, instead it seems only to prolong the horror that Christians and other minorities face."

In addition, CLAAS-UK director Nasir Saeed said Pakistan's blasphemy law continues to be misused against Christians and religious minorities. Like Chowdhry, he also slammed the absence of reform to the law. Should the government still fail to change the blasphemy law, Saeed said it will still be used against minorities in settling personal, property, and family issues.

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