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03/25/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On September 28, 2018, Yaqoob Bashir, a 25-year-old mentally disabled Christian, was sentenced to life in prison by the Session Court of Mirpurkhas, Pakistan. What crime did Yaqoob commit to earn such a hefty penalty? Committing blas­phemy against Islam. A crime Yaqoob allegedly committed more than three years ago on June 4, 2015.

Yaqoob, then 22, was accused of burn­ing pages of a booklet carrying Quranic verses. He was accused by Talib Hussain, a local Muslim cleric who knew Yaqoob and his mental disability.

Prior to the accusation, Yaqoob was declared mentally disabled and received treatment at a mental health facility in the nearby city of Hyderabad. When Hussain learned of Yaqoob’s condition, he claimed that Yaqoob was merely in need of healing from “unholy spirits” through Islamic healing.

After two months of “treatment” in his healing center, Hussain sent Yaqoob home with a booklet on Islamic teachings. Yaqoob accidentally damaged the booklet, which soon led to the blasphemy accusation.

When news of the accusation spread, a mob led by local Muslim clerics broke into Yaqoob’s family’s home, beat Yaqoob, and took to the streets protesting against Christians. When police arrived, they arrested Yaqoob. At the police station, the blasphemy accusa­tion was officially registered against Yaqoob based on a complaint filed by Hussain.

The next day, Yaqoob appeared before a court in Mirpurkhas and was remanded to police custody pending further investigation. This led to more than three years of investigations, court filings, and hearings that have left both Yaqoob and his family exhausted.

Kasuar Bibi, Yaqoob’s mother, told ICC, “My son is innocent. He does not know the sensitivity of religious feelings or sacredness of the holy books. He did not burn the pages of the Islamic literature inten­tionally. It was just an accident due to the ash from his cigarette. He is mentally unstable and therefore should be forgiven.”

Despite Yaqoob’s mental disability, which was later confirmed by a panel of medical professionals, local authorities continued to pursue the blasphemy case against Yaqoob.

Approximately 96 court hearings were held as a part of Yaqoob’s trial during his three years and three months in prison. During this period, Yaqoob faced many difficulties, including attacks by fellow inmates. In June 2018, he was brutally beaten by fellow inmates for praying in their shared cell, and sustained multiple injuries.

“Yaqoob was set to have a hearing in court on June 23 and, before appearing, the young Christian wanted to pray,” Ranjha Masih, a local human rights defender, told ICC. “However, the prisoners with him did not allow him to pray in front of them. When Yaqoob continued, four of them got annoyed and beat him very badly. He sustained injuries to his face, eyes, chin, and head.”

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming tomorrow.

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