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Younas Masih: victim of Blasphemy Act?

This article shows how Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws are used to settle grudges and how the accused are guilty until proven innocent. The victims are not only Christians, they include Mulims.

LAHORE , Nov 11: It happened on September 9 in Amar Sadhu, Factory Area, on Ferozepur Road. After making the headlines for a couple of days, the case was not to be heard of again. As it turned out, it was treated as just another case of blasphemy that must remain shrouded in mystery. No NGO or rights organization showed interest in the plight of an impoverished Christian family with no connections, no political backers, just common citizens at the mercy of a system gone wrong.
The police carried out no formal or informal investigation to determine the authenticity of the charge brought against the accused Younas Masih. A case was registered, under pressure and hurriedly, under Section 295(C) of the penal code, which, with the burden of proof of innocence resting on the accused, is punishable by no less than a death penalty.
In the eyes of the police, so claims Parveen, the wife of the accused, he stands guilty as charged. Rather, Younas Masih’s guilt has been taken as proved even before the beginning of his trial.
Well into her seventh month of pregnancy, Younas’ emaciated wife has not heard from her husband for the last two months now. Worse still, there is no news either from his lawyer or anybody else that she turned to for help to confirm whether her husband was dead or alive. Perhaps too far fetched of an imagination of a wife in distress, Parveen could not be blamed for her borderline paranoia.
She is not part of the intellectual elite that knows the exact connotations of an accusation of blasphemy against someone. The Section 295(C), under which her husband is being held, has made her far more fretful than the constant billowing of her three children demanding to be fed at least once a day since her husband’s arrest.
“I’m not making enough money to feed them more often than that. After Younas was taken away, I moved to Kasur to be with my family which cannot afford to keep the four of us. I’m surviving by making patterns on pottery which really doesn’t give us much to eat,” confides Parveen.
A token of Parveen’s problems was much too evident in her two-year-old son’s desperate attempts to catch his mother’s attention: all through the interview the little one kept on tugging his mother’s chaddar and crying to be fed. “Roti dey na mainoo (give me food),” whined Parveen’s son in Punjabi. Parveen got up and took the child to the other room and asked her barely five-year-old daughter to keep vigil.
Relating the incident leading to Younas Masih’s arrest, Parveen looked disoriented, as if trying to make sense of it all. Younas Masih and his family lived in a two-room house in Amar Sadhu, Factory Area on Ferozepur Road. He made his living on a daily basis by painting people’s homes.
As narrated by Parveen, on September 9, 2005, a huge gathering of people living in Amar Sadhu was listening to qawalis organized by one Baba Chhabba. Playing of qawalis on Thursdays was a regular event in the neighbourhood. “Baba Chhabba is a very well known person in Amar Sadhu. He has a huge following of big names coming to him to get their problems solved. You can say he’s like a pir,” said Parveen, looking a trifle frightened at the mention of the man’s name.
She further revealed that Younis and Chhabba’s family had an old rivalry between them. It became common knowledge when Baba Chhabba allegedly kidnapped Younis Masih’s younger sister 15 years ago to get even.
September 9 turned out to be yet another ‘victory’ for Baba Chhabba when Younis Masih unwittingly got up in the middle of the qawali to ask Baba Chhabba if he knew who the Punjatan Pak (the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) immediate family) were. “Baba Chabba and some of his followers became angry. Younas and his cousin Faisal also lost temper, but neither said anything against the holy family,” related Parveen. That night Younas went home not realizing that his following nights will be spent in a lock-up.
The next evening when Younas went to a local billiard place, he was confronted by Baba Chhabba’s hostile men, who accused him of committing blasphemy the previous night against the Holy Prophet and his family. The brawl turned violent and ended in Younas being beaten up by them. Somebody rushed to his house to inform Parveen that her husband was being beaten. She quickly came to the billiard place and found Younas bleeding.
“I took him straight to the Factory Area Police Station in Amar Sadhu and asked the policeman to register an FIR against Chhabba and his men. It was around six in the evening. The policeman didn’t take us seriously and refused to register an FIR against the accused. An hour later, while Younas and I were still there, Chhabba’s men led by Hafiz Abdul Aziz came to the police station and told the policemen that Younas had been beaten up because he had blasphemed,” Parveen narrated.
Within the next hour or so, an FIR was lodged against Younas Masih by Hafiz Abdul Aziz, who is Baba Chhabba’s friend.
“Tell me, if Younas was guilty would he have gone to the police station with me?” asks Parveen.
The SHO of the Factory Area Police Station has verified the details of Parveen Masih’s story. Younis is being kept at the Kot Lakhpat prison where he is not allowed to meet anyone. “I have not seen him in two months now. I don’t know what will happen,” Parveen looked despondent, and rightfully so.
Statistics provided by the National Commission for Peace and Justice, a local non-governmental organization, show that among the 280 blasphemy cases registered from 1987 to August 2004, at least 151 or 54 per cent were constituted by Muslims against fellow Muslims, 59 cases were registered against Ahmadis, 65 per cent against Christians and five against Hindus.
In a majority of blasphemy cases under-trial constituted during 2004, both the accused and complainants were Muslims. In 2004, 14 cases registered under the controversial Blasphemy Act were against Muslims, seven against Ahmadis and two against Christians. — SHEHAR BANO KHAN