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Christian Accused of Blasphemy Dies in Pakistan Jail

By Sheraz Khurram Khan

Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service in Pakistan

ANS (10/17/06) – A Christian man who was sentenced to seven years in prison by a lower court in February 2005 for profaning the Quran, the Muslim holy book, was found dead in a prison cell in the Central Jail in Bahawlnagar, Pakistan, on September 30, ANS has learnt.

Bashir, 40, a janitor, was accused of desecrating Quran in occult practices.

Trouble for Masih started when he purchased a copy of Quran from a vendor in 2004, said a Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP) release sent to ANS via email.

The news of possession of Quran by Masih infuriated the Muslim residents of Chak (village) No. 109/F Chishtian District Bahawalnagar. The enraged Muslim mob intercepted Masih and publicly thrashed him for keeping Quran.

After passage of a week, some Muslim clerics of the village ransacked Masih’s home in their bid to track down Quran but they could not find it.

The residents’ botched attempt to recover Quran from Bashir’s residence made them sent some local Muslim women to Masih’s home, who feigned that they had come to see him to get rid of their problems through his expertise in performing magic.

The women reported to the other village residents that they had witnessed Masih performing magic on his clients by laying them on a woven cart with Quran tangled on the terminal ropes of the cart.

Led by local Muslim clerics hundreds of Muslim residents of the village went to Masih’s place and recovered Quran. They allegedly subjected Masih to abject torture.

A senior cleric Hafiz Manzoor Rehmat moved application against Bashir and police registered the case on August 03, 2004, offence under section 295-B at police station Chishtian district, Bahawal Nagar.

“……….I went to Bashir’s house…… and saw that Bashir Masih had tangled the Holy Quran between the ending ropes of woven cart (Charpayee) and laying on the cart by putting his feet on the Holy Quran. We took Holy Quran into our possession. Bashir Masih has committed offence by desecrating Holy Quran. Legal action against Bashir Masih may kindly be taken”, alleged the complainant in the FIR he lodged with the Police. Fearing trouble in the unfolding precarious scenario Bashir’s family fled to Sahiwal.

After Civil Judge, Muhammad Ashraf Bhatti, sentenced Masih to 7 year term in jail he was sent to Central Jail Bhawal Nagar. Masih was found dead in the jail on September 30, 2006.

The jail authorities claim that Masih had died of a heart attack. However a Pakistan Urdu Daily Khabrian has disputed jail authorities’ version, alleging that Masih died due to their negligence.

“We were badly shocked when we saw Bashir’s dead body. The dead body was in worst condition. …… there was an injury on the right side of his head and the dead body was giving off smell”, SLMP who launched probe into the incident quoted Khizar Hayat and James, the brother and nephew of the deceased respectively as saying.

Talking to this correspondent on phone SLMP’s Chief Coordinator, Sohail Johnson said that after taking into consideration various factors including head injury and the suspicion of Masih’s brother Khizer that Masih had died earlier than September 30 SLMP suspects that Bashir Masih was murdered in the jail by Muslim prisoners.

Some 8 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered either in the custody of police or on jail premises in Pakistan , claimed SLMP in its release.