Nadeem James Masih is on the run after allegedly sending the poem to his Muslim friend

Pakistani police say they are searching for a Christian man facing blasphemy charges after a Muslim friend accused him of insulting Islam with a poem.

Local police official Mohammad Asim said on Tuesday that the accused, Nadeem James Masih, 35, is on the run.

Masih is alleged to have sent his friend the controversial poem on WhatsApp. The incident occurred in the town of Sara-e-Alamghir in Punjab province. Asim said police are also guarding a local church to avoid any violence.

Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam can be sentenced to death. However, the laws are often misused to settle personal scores and target minorities. It is believed the argument against Masih stems from the fact that he married a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. The pastor who baptised Masih’s wife has fled the village.

To increase the pressure on Masih to hand himself in, the authorities arrested his sister and his sister-in-law, Najma. Najma was arrested with her 18 month old daughter who will be detained with Najma for the duration of her incarceration.

In 2015, Muslims beat to death a Christian couple and burned their bodies in a brick kiln for allegedly desecrating the Koran.