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Christian charged with blasphemy freed after four months

ICC Note:
News of another falsely accused Christian’s release is encouraging, but his case reveals still how far Pakistani society has to go before embracing Christians as equals.

by Qaiser Felix
AsiaNews (1/18/07) – Faisalabad District Court has ordered the release on bail of Shahid Masih, 17, a Christian man arrested four months ago on blasphemy charges. Before the release, the judge set bail at 100,000 rupees as surety.

Masih was arrested on September 11, 2006, for allegedly tearing pages from a tafseer, a book explaining Quranic verses. He was charged under section 295B of Pakistan’s Penal Code, better known as the blasphemy laws, which provides for life imprisonment for anyone who desecrates the Koran.

The law is a bit more lenient when it comes to “offending the Islamic world”, but it is regularly used to settle private disputes and affects both Muslims and Christians.

The charges were filed by Arshad Masood, a doctor from a clinic located near the young Christian’s home. According to Dr Masood, the boy, acting at the night when no one could see, entered the clinic and ripped up the book.

“The judge agreed that the evidence was weak and that the plaintiff had accused the boy for personal reasons. Thank God that someone innocent got bail and can sleep tonight at home after spending more than four months in isolation,” Khalil Tahir, Masih’s defence attorney, told AsiaNews.

“I am very happy with the court decision. Our prayers were answered and we are thankful to God as well as to Khalil Tahir, who is fighting for us in the court free of charge,” Munawar Masih, Shahid’s father, said. “The problem is his mother, who is badly sick”, he added. “She actually got sick because of the charges and she has not yet recovered.”

Munawar complained however that people from some NGOs “came to us, took our photos and promised to help us financially to cope with this situation but didn’t do any thing.”