High Court in Pakistan Grants Bail to Christian Convicted of Blasphemy

Pakistan’s Youngest Blasphemy Convict Granted Freedom After Four Years in Prison

03/02/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a Pakistani court has granted bail to a Christian convicted of committing blasphemy in 2018. While the case is not resolved, it is a positive development for one of the youngest people convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan’s history.

On Monday, March 1, the Lahore High Court granted bail to Nabeel Masih. Speaking to the media, Masih’s lawyer, Naseeb Anjum, said he would try to complete the paperwork necessary to secure Masih’s freedom.

“I will continue this legal fight for his acquittal,” Anjum added in his statement to the media.

On September 18, 2016, Akhtar Ali accused Masih, then age 16, of committing blasphemy over a Facebook post that “defamed and disrespected” the Kaaba in Mecca. According to Ali, he and some other friends were looking at Facebook when they discovered a picture on Masih’s timeline that depicted the Kaaba with a pig on top of it.

Ali filed a blasphemy accusation against Masih at the Phoolnagar Police Station and police vans deployed to Masih’s home in Dina Nath village. There police arrested Masih and charged him with committing blasphemy under Sections 295 and 295-A of Pakistan’s Penal Code.

Police claim they removed the allegedly blasphemous image from Facebook to prevent further violence. Yet, the removal of the post has made it difficult to determine if Masih is innocent or not. It is still unknown whether Masih posted the photo himself or was just tagged in the photo.

In 2018, Masih was convicted of committing blasphemy and sentenced to 10 years in prison. At the time, Masih was 18 and the youngest person convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan’s history.

In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.

Since Pakistan added Section 295-B and 295-C to the country’s blasphemy laws in 1987, the number of blasphemy accusations have skyrocketed. Between 1987 and 2017, 1,534 individuals in Pakistan have been accused of blasphemy. Out of that 1,534, 829 accusations (54%), were against religious minorities. With Christians only making up 1.6% of Pakistan’s total population, the 238 accusations (15.5%) made against Christians is disproportionate.

ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are happy to see this positive development in Nabeel’s case. We hope that he will soon be released from prison and allowed to return to his family. We also hope that the Lahore High Court will also fully acquit Nabeel so his innocence can be proven beyond doubt. We are also concerned for Nabeel’s safety. Extremists in Pakistan often target individuals accused of blasphemy. Since 1990, more than 60 people have been extra-judicially murdered after being accused of blasphemy. When released, Pakistani authorities must take steps to secure Nabeel and his family. Pakistani authorities must also take steps to combat the false blasphemy accusations that have ruined so many lives.”

 

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