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Christian Jailed On Blasphemy Charges Receives Support From His Family

ICC Note:

In an update on the case of Shahid Masih, police have finally allowed him to meet his family after keeping him in prison for over two weeks.

by Qaiser Felix

AsiaNews (09/28/06) – For the first time since his arrest on blasphemy charges, Shahid Masih, a 17-year-old Christian, has met his family in Faisalabad District Prison. His Catholic lawyer, Khalil Tahir, has called on the presiding magistrates to order a more thorough investigation into the case because the accusations against the teenager are in his view baseless.

Shahid’s mother and elder sister met him in district jail for the first time since he was taken into custody. Police arrested Mr Masih and a Muslim friend, Muhammad Ghaffar, on September 11, for allegedly ripping some pages from a tafsir, Qur’anic exegesis or commentary which explains the verses of the Qur’an.

The two were booked on charges of violating Section 295 B of Pakistan’s Penal Code, better known as the blasphemy law, which entails life in prison for anyone who desecrates the Qur’an. The charges were filed by Arshad Masood, a doctor from a clinic located near the young Christian’s home.

According to Dr Masood, the two boys acted at the night when he was not around and ripped up the book he had in his clinic.

Others have suggested that what the doctor really wanted to do was to punish the two boys, who are drug addicts, for allegedly stealing drugs from his clinic.

Alice Munawar, Shahid’s mother, told AsiaNews that during her meeting with her son, which lasted only ten minutes, he said little; he just kept weeping. “He did ask about all of us, especially his elderly father,” she noted.

“I, too, was full of sorrow and couldn’t say much. But it was good to see him alive, standing in front of me albeit behind bars”.

Elizabeth Munawar, 45, Shahid’s older sister, said that the family “is scared of what Muslims extremists might do. We all remember the burning of the Christian village of Shanti Nagar in 1997 and the incident in Sangla Hill last November. But somehow we worked up our courage and went to the prison early in the morning and were able to see him after lunch for just ten minutes when the police took him away.”

The family is not sitting idle either. It is taking all the legal steps it can. Yesterday its lawyer, Khalil Tahir, who has taken on the case free of charge, appeared before the Faisalabad District Court. For the attorney, an expert in blasphemy cases, the investigation left a lot to be desired and should be carried out by a higher authority.

Judge Najam ul-Hassan Bukhari referred the case to the Standing Board, which includes senior police officers.

“I am optimistic,” Tahir said, “because there is no evidence against the boy.”

Ejaz Ghauri, chairman of the Human Development Net Pakistan, has called on Christians around the world to pray for Shahid Masih, his family and defence attorney.