4/4/2013 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) - International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a Christian on death row was acquitted by the High Court in Lahore on Wednesday after being imprisoned for more than seven years for blaspheming Islam in Pakistan. The acquittal came months after an ICC advocacy tour on Capitol Hill prompting congressmen and the State Department to closely monitor the Christian's unjust treatment while also urging that he be given an impartial trial.
Younis Masih, a father of four, was arrested on September 10, 2005 for making derogatory remarks about the Muslim prophet Muhammad in the Chunngi Amar Sadu area of Lahore. Masih denied the allegations, claiming he did nothing more than ask a group of Muslims who were holding a religious service in a nearby house to turn their music down late one evening. The next day, the Muslim cleric leading the service accused Masih of blasphemy. On May 30, 2007, Masih was sentenced to death by the Sessions Court in Lahore under Section 295-C of Pakistan's Penal Code, which states, "Whoever... defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life."
On April 3, after spending more than seven years behind bars, High Court Justices Khwaja Imtiaz Ahmed and Khalid Mahmood Khan overturned Masih's verdict despite immense pressure from extremists. In Masih's final hearing held on February 27, a group of Muslims, known as Anjuman Tahaffuz Khatme Nabuwat (the Association for the Protection of the Prophethood), gathered outside the courthouse demanding that the blasphemy law be upheld and that Masih be executed. According to Naeem Shakir, Masih's attorney, the association attempted to use intimidation tactics to persuade the court to reach a verdict based on religious, rather than legal, grounds. The justices postponed their decision at the February hearing, likely due to pressure by the radical Islamist group, but finally announced Masih's acquittal on Wednesday. The decision came months after ICC brought attention to Masih's plight to U.S. officials who conveyed the concerns to the Pakistani government.
"God has seen the suffering of Younis Masih in the prison. He has look upon the sorrows of Masih's wife and children and heard our continue prayers," Joseph Francis, Director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement (CLAAS) in Lahore, Pakistan, told ICC. "After seven years in prison and immense suffering for him and his family, the truth has finally been established."
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "ICC has worked tirelessly behind the scenes advocating for Younis Masih's release and safety while also assisting his family through this time of immense suffering. We could not be more thrilled by the news of Masih's acquittal and we commend the High Court judges for opposing extremist pressure and ruling justly. The fact remains, however, that Masih, an innocent man, languished in prison for years while his family suffered from impoverished living conditions all because he was falsely condemned under Pakistan's ominous blasphemy laws. As long as blasphemy laws exist, the country will continue to be plagued by abuse in the name of religion and Christians and other religious minorities will continue to suffer. There are several other Christians that still remain in Pakistani prisons on charges of insulting Islam, including Asia Bibi, who was given the death sentence in 2010 for allegedly criticizing Muhammad. This battle is far from over and will not be won until blasphemy laws are repealed by the Pakistani government. No one should fear being imprisoned or executed by their government simply because they are a member of a minority religious community."