By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife) -- One of Pakistanâ€™s longest held Christian prisoners faced another uphill battle Saturday, October 7 as he "feels forgotten by the Church," amid alleged pressure by fellow inmates to covert to Islam and health problems, friends and investigators told BosNewsLife.
Ranjha Masih has been detained since his arrest in the city of Faisalabad in May 1998 on blasphemy charges for allegedly knocking down a shop sign containing an Islamic verse during a protest coinciding with the suicide death of Bishop John Joseph.
The bishop committed suicide to protest the execution of a Christian man on blasphemy charges. In the highly charged atmosphere, Masih, who has denied any wrongdoing, was detained and held without bail for five years while awaiting trail, fellow Christians and investigators said.
After an extended trial, Masih was sentenced to life in prison and fined 50,000 rupees ($825). An appeal for Masih was filed immediately, but he is still in prison awaiting justice, fellow Christians and human rights groups say.
"This is a very discouraging time for Ranjha Masih. He often feels forgotten by the Church, and other prisoners, as well as guards, pressure him to convert to Islam," religious rights group Jubilee Campaign USA told BosNewsLife. "His health continues deteriorating in part because jail authorities deny him the medical attention he desperately needs," the group added.
"Tragically, he is not just a victim of Pakistanâ€™s Blasphemy laws; he is also a victim of Pakistanâ€™s unjust judicial system. For five years he was held without bail, and since his trial he has spent three years awaiting a review of his appeal," Jubilee Campaign USA said.
"The judicial system in Pakistan is so slow sometimes a person dies before getting justice," complained Wasim Muntizar, a coordinator of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which has been seeking the manâ€™s release from prison.
In a letter obtained by BosNewsLife, Muntizar said that during his meeting with the jailed Christian on September 19, "Ranjha told me of the agony he suffers daily. He shared that he had almost no support from the Christians (church)."
However, "many Muslims had contacted him and told him that if he converted to Islam, then they could get him out of jail," Muntizar said. The Christian apparently refused. â€œHe said that it was His grace that was helping him to go through all this physical and mental torment.â€
Ranjha is currently suffering "greatly from hemorrhoids, severe knee joint pains because of rheumatoid arthritis, insomnia, and diabetes," said Muntizar and Jubilee USA investigators.
"For Ranjha, getting a medical checkup and medicine is almost impossible. In many cases, he has to bribe the police just to get medicine. He said that his situation was so depressing and dismal that he could not spend even one more day in the prison and asked to be freed as soon as possible," Muntizar said.
CLAAS and Jubilee Campaign USA said they had urged supporters to pray â€œRanjha Masih's fast and safe acquittal and that all his mental and physical ailments be healed by His blood,â€ a reference to Jesus Christ. Both groups also have urged Christians around the world to write to Pakistani Embassies in their countries.
Ranjha Masih is married with six children and several grandchildren.
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