For once in the ongoing battle against religious persecution in the international arena we have two fabulous pieces of news in two days.
(Photo by Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
Today the release has been announced of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani who has been in prison in Iran since October 2009 after questioning of the Muslim monopoly of the religious instruction for children of Iran, which he felt was unconstitutional. He has had a death sentence hanging over him since 2010.
Rimsha Masih, the young girl with Downs Syndrome who was detained on blasphemy charges in Pakistan, was yesterday granted bail by the court after more than three weeks behind bars following charges that she desecrated the Qu’ran.
Both of these cases have received huge amounts of international attention with national governments, human rights groups and Christians condemning their treatment and applying significant pressure on the Iranian and Pakistani governments to have them released.
Yesterday Andrew Stephenson MP, who chairs the UK Parliament’s cross-party group on Pakistan, in an interview on Premier Radio explained the Foreign Office’s response to Rimsha Masih’s case. He believes campaigning and pressure from governments, NGOs and churches has brought her release. He also thanks churches and Christians for all they are doing to bring about a change in Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
So we have plenty to be thankful for; for the releases, for our own Government’s work, much of it behind the scenes, to see justice done and for those Christian organisations who have been continually campaigning for their freedom and bringing their cases to international attention. Huge amounts of prayer has been offered up for Pastor Nadarkhani and Rimsha Masih. Most of all we should be thanking God for answered prayers and for protection of Yousef and Rimsha.
There is still prayer needed for Rimsha who is now on bail. The case against her has no foundation, but she still needs to be found innocent by the court. Please pray too for their safety along with that of their families and communities against revenge attacks or any further allegations.
These cases are a wonderful reminder that when we unite together with God behind us, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s (CSW’s) press release on Pastor Nadarkhani’s release:
CSW has been informed that Yousef Nadarkhani, the Church of Iran pastor sentenced to death for apostasy, has been released and is at home with his family.
According to reliable sources, during court proceedings that took place today, Pastor Nadarkhani was acquitted of apostasy, but found guilty of evangelizing Muslims. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment for the latter charge, but released because he had already served this time.
Pastor Nadarkhani was arrested in his home city of Rasht in 2009 soon after questioning the Muslim monopoly of religious instruction for children, which he felt was unconstitutional. He was sentenced to death for apostasy in 2010, a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2011. Although the Iranian penal code did not specify death for apostasy, a constitutional loophole allowed judges to refer to Shari’a law and authoritative fatwas to justify such a sentence. Today the pastor had been expected to face new charges for unspecified crimes, but was instead released.
CSW’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW is delighted to learn of Pastor Nadarkhani’s release after a long incarceration. We commend the Iranian judiciary for this step, which is a triumph for justice and the rule of law. While we rejoice at this wonderful news, we do not forget hundreds of others who are harassed or unjustly detained on account of their faith, and CSW is committed to continue campaigning until all of Iran’s religious minorities are able to enjoy religious freedom as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party.”
Open Doors press release on Rimsha Masih’s release on bail:
The case against 14-year-old Rimsha Masih, accused of burning pages of the Quran, has ‘completely collapsed’ according to her lawyer. This follows the testimony of mosque leaders who told police they had seen Imam Chishti planting pages of a Quran among burnt papers in a bag belonging to the girl.
Imam Chishti has now been imprisoned and charged under the same section of Pakistan’s blasphemy law as Rimsha, which calls for life imprisonment for any person found guilty of wilful desecration of the Quran. Chishti is on remand until 16 September.
Meanwhile Rimsha has been released into the protective custody of her family on bail security of approximately £7,000. There is as yet no date for her next court hearing.
Xavier William, a Christian activist in Rawalpindi, told the BBC: “I am extremely concerned about Rimsha’s safety. Whenever she gets released, she and her family won’t be able to go back to their village. There are 600 Christian families who fled from the area when Rimsha was accused. They are frightened to go back, especially after learning that the burnt pages were planted by the cleric himself.”
Dr Paul Bhatti, Minister for National Harmony, has asked the Interior Ministry and the police to provide him with a complete list of those now housed in various parts of the capital. Bhatti said, “…it’s becoming quite clear that a land mafia has set its sights on the area, and wanted to evict the Christians to clear their way.”
However, Bhatti also told Open Doors that Rimsha’s case had opened opportunities to discuss the misuse of the blasphemy laws with Islamic clerics. “I have been talking with various Muslim religious leaders over the past few days to consider how to deal with such cases effectively,” he said.
Rimsha’s lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudry, said: “The case has prompted every one of us to ponder how innocent people are made to suffer by their enemies. The widespread condemnation of Jadoon’s [Imam Chishti’s] action shows that there is still hope for things to improve in Pakistan.”