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‘God heard my prayers,’ says Pakistani Christian accused of blasphemy

By Sheraz Khurram Khan, Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service in Pakistan
ANS (1/24/07) — A Young Pakistani Christian man who was accused of blasphemy in September of last year and was given post-arrest bail on January 17, 2007, has attributed his release as an answer to his prayers while he was in jail.

17-year-old Shahid Masih, while talking to ANS at his home on Monday, January 22, said it was a “hard time” for him when he was accused of blaspheming the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

“When the police were taking me to the police station I kept declaring my innocence but they didn’t listened me,” he said.

Shahid Masih’s defense counsel Khalil Tahir Sandhu, who was also present at Masih’s house at the time of the interview, termed Masih’s booking as “good for his safety.”

Explaining why Masih’s arrest went in his favour after he had been accused of Quran sacrilege, Khalil maintained that if he had not been arrested, the situation could have “spiraled out of control” and Masih might have landed into a more pernicious situation “since the enraged crowd comprising hundreds of Muslims outside Masih’s house were chanting hate slogans demanding his arrest.”

Shahid Masih said since the time of his arrest he had been extremely concerned about his household.

“The looming fear of any possible harm coming to my family kept me tense while I was in the jail,” said the impoverished Christian youth.

The Christian youth was charged with profaning Quran, Muslim holy book by the complainant Dr. Arshad Masood who lives in Masih’s neighborhood.

Masih appeared to be in a grip of fear at the time of interview and was not feeling comfortable.

In reply to a question, Shahid Masih, who has got 12 siblings, told this correspondent he would work in a small factory where cartons were made. He said he would bring home some Rs 4000 (Approx US dollar 66.6) every month.

“My household now does not let me work since life is not same for me”, he said, implying to the possibility of hard-line Muslims attacking him.

Masih’s arrest had meant that he could not contribute to his family budget. Shahid’s mother, Alice and father, Munawar Masih, who were also present at the time of the interview, said that their son’s arrest made life more difficult for them on the socio-economic front.

Shahid told ANS during his detention, the jail officials asked him to do labor such as digging and cleaning.

Khalil Tahir Sandhu, Shahid’s Defense Counsel and the Executive Director of ADAL Trust (Action against Discriminatory Laws) slammed jail authorities expecting any accused to do labor unless and until his guilt was proved.

“When I first read the Police Information Report against Shahid Masih, I had got to know that it was a concocted case where a Muslim man Muhammad Ghaffar, also an accused in the same case, had charged Masih with Quran sacrilege,” he said.

When asked to elaborate, the leading Christian lawyer told ANS that the blasphemy case against Masih was invented because it was in contravention of the Law of Evidence Act, articles 38, 39, 40, 41 and 42.

According to the said law, he said the evidence of one accused could not be used either in favour or against the other accused.

Editor’s Note: ADAL Trust, in an email written to our correspondent, claimed that in the history of Pakistan, Shahid Masih was the first person in accused of blasphemy to have been released on bail but, in fact, a few other people accused of blasphemy have also bailed out by the lower courts. They included Naseem Bibi from the district of Kasur who was also bailed out in April 2006.