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Teenage Pakistani Christian Jailed for Blasphemy

Yet another case of blasphemy law abuse, says Christian politician.

by Peter Lamprecht

ISTANBUL, September 22 (Compass Direct News) – A Pakistani Christian jailed last week on suspicion of ripping book pages containing Quranic verses appealed to Punjabi police through his lawyer yesterday (September 21) for his case to be cancelled for lack of evidence.

Lawyer Khalil Tahir Sindhu asked Faisalabad city police to throw out the case against his client, Shahid Masih. According to Sindhu, the sole evidence against the young Christian was the testimony of a Muslim man previously accused of the same crime.

Masih, 17, is implicated for breaking article 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code, one of the country’s notorious blasphemy laws that criminalizes desecration of the Quran.

If convicted, Masih will serve a life sentence.

The young man allegedly tore pages from a tafseer, a book explaining Quranic verses, while stealing several books from a medical clinic in the Madina Town district of Faisalabad last week.

The charges are based on the testimony of Muhammad Ghaffar, who claimed he had carried out the crime with Masih.

Ghaffar was detained after Dr. Mohammad Arshed Masood arrived at his Madina Town clinic on September 10 to find several books missing and pages ripped from his tafseer, lawyer Sindhu said.

The doctor lodged a complaint with police against Ghaffar, 19, who he suspected of committing the robbery. According to Sindhu, Ghaffar told police that he and Masih had ripped pages from the tafseer when the two broke into the clinic planning to steal and then resell books.

Both suspects are being held in Faisalabad ’s District Jail while police conclude their investigation.

Lawyer Sindhu, who agreed to take Masih’s case pro bono, was unsure what motivation Ghaffar would have for implicating Masih. “The two of them live in the same locality and apparently they exchanged harsh words some 15 days ago,” Sindhu said after talking with Masih.

According to the lawyer, charges against Masih will not stand in court because Pakistani law does not allow the testimony of a person accused of a crime to be used as evidence for, or against, another person.

“Ghaffar was already accused, so his testimony is not valid in the eyes of the law,” Sindhu told Compass.

Though Masih’s parents admitted that their son has had problems with drugs in the past, they do not believe he is guilty of blasphemy.

Christian politician intercedes

The family has employed the help of a Christian representative in the Punjab Provincial Assembly to secure Masih’s release.

“I submitted an appeal to Pervaiz Elahi [Chief Minister of Punjab ] yesterday, saying that the case is totally false and requesting that the police reinvestigate it,” provincial assembly member Joel Amir Sahotra told Compass yesterday.

Sahotra said that Elahi had already ordered Faisalabad ’s Additional Inspector General, Talat Mahmood, to review the case.

For Sahotra there was no doubt that Masih is one of many people falsely accused each year under Pakistan ’s blasphemy laws.

“In the last four years I have been personally involved in eight false cases of blasphemy against Christians,” Sahotra commented.

Charges of blasphemy, whether real or invented, often draw the attention of fanatic Muslim groups, who are quick to take justice into their own hands when they believe a suspect has been unfairly acquitted.

Masih’s parents and 12 siblings were so afraid of negative attention from such groups that they at first refused to visit Masih in prison, lawyer Sindhu said.

Their fears appear to have been well founded.

More than 200 Islamist fanatics attended Masih and Ghaffar’s first hearing before Judicial Magistrate Ghullam Fareed Qurashi in Faisalabad on September 14, Sindhu said.

Extra-judicial killings of blasphemy prisoners in Pakistan are not uncommon.

At least 23 people involved in blasphemy cases have been murdered in Pakistan since the controversial laws were instituted in the 1980s, according to the National Commission for Justice and Peace. Although Christians constitute less than 2 percent of the country’s population, a quarter of the victims were Christian.