Catholic and Protestant churches in Pakistan unite to demand justice for Christians accused of blasphemy

Catholic and Protestant churches in Pakistan have formed an alliance and started a movement to demand justice for Christians routinely accused of blasphemy, the independent Asian Catholic news service reported.

The move comes after Sajid Masih, 26, reportedly jumped from the fourth floor of the Punjab headquarters of the Federal Investigation Agency in a suicide attempt on February 23, fracturing both legs.

Protesters hold up placards while demanding the release of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, at a rally in Lahore on November 21, 2010.Reuters

According to The Catholic Universe, Sajid was arrested along with his cousin, Patras Masih, 18, for allegedly posting an insulting photo of the burial place of the prophet Muhammad on a Facebook account.

In a subsequent protest, more than 200 Christians gathered on March 2 in front of the Punjab Assembly in Lahore, including representatives from Caritas Pakistan, the Catholic Church's charitable agency, and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. The protesters shouted, 'Justice for Sajid, Justice for Patras'.

Sajid reportedly claims that he was being punished for an act allegedly committed by his cousin, and that security authorities had ordered the two men to engage in a homosexual act while attempting to force confessions from them both.

Critics say that police duress in such cases is common in Pakistan.

The protest came after Pope Francis last month met Asia Bibi's husband and daughter. The Pakistani woman has been on death row for nine years facing spurious charges of blasphemy.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International say the country's blasphemy law is increasingly exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.

The law does not define blasphemy and evidence might not be reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offence. There are no penalties for false accusations.