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Press Release — August 15, 2002

Blasphemy Prisoner Acquitted After Six Years in Prison

(Pakistan)

(Washington DC – August 15, 2002) The Pakistani Supreme Court today acquitted Christian prisoner Ayub Masih of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and ordered his release. Ayub was initially arrested on October 14, 1996 after neighbors accused him of uttering derogatory statements against the Prophet of Islam and telling them to read The Satanic Verses, a book considered highly offensive by Muslims. He was later sentenced to death by the Session Court Sahiwal under section 295/c of the Pakistani penal code. This decision was upheld by the Lahore High Court in July of 2001.

Human rights leaders from around the world have been calling for Ayub Masih’s release for the past six years. It has been evident since the initial FIR was registered that the case had little to do with blasphemy and much to do with a land dispute in Ayub’s village. The three judges presiding over Ayub’s Supreme Court hearing today noted that Mr. Sharif Muhammad Akram, the complaintant, had used the blasphemy charge in order to acquire property that had belonged to Ayub Masih’s family, and therefore felt the case had been fabricated for personal gain. They also noted other breaches in the law of due process.

Ayub Masih’s acquittal holds out a shadow of hope to the seven or more other Christians currently being held under the country’s draconian blasphemy laws. At least two of them have already been sentenced to death. Blasphemy cases can drag on for years before a sentence is ever handed down. Appealing the case can take even longer, leading to years of unjust imprisonment. Blasphemy prisoners are often beaten by other inmates, and may be denied a blanket, food or medicine. Earlier this year a Muslim accused of blasphemy was killed inside a prison in Lahore.

Ayub Masih survived two attempts on his life since the blasphemy case against him was registered. His safety remains an issue of utmost priority, as Islamic extremists not satisfied with the Court’s ruling may try to extract vigilante justice. The President of the Washington, DC-based human rights group, International Christian Concern, said “We thank God that Ayub Masih has been acquitted, but we are also concerned for his security. The Pakistani authorities must take every possible measure to ensure the safety of Ayub Masih. Moreover, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must be abolished once and for all.”

International Christian Concern, a Washington, DC based human rights organization, advocates and aids Christians undergoing persecution worldwide. More information is available at www.www.persecution.org or by calling the ICC office at (301) 989-1708.