Tuesday, 17 June 2003

Lahore (Fides Service) – Christians in Pakistan are rejoicing with Aslam Masih, a Protestant charged with blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, and detained in prison for four years. On June 4 the Supreme Court of Lahore acquitted him for lack of evidence. Aslam Masih had been retained in Faisalabad jail since 1998 and during that time he was often beaten and tortured.
Aslam Masih, resident in Faisalabad in central Pakistant had been condemned to life imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 Rupees, on 7 May 2002. The Faisalabad court issued the sentence on the basis of article 295 of the Penal Code for alleged acts “insulting the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad” committed in 1998. Aslam Masih was reported by a local Mullah a member of the Ahlay Hadee militant Islamic group.
According to Human Rights groups in Pakistan the case of Aslam Masih was faked and registered with the Court without a previous enquiry. The man was maltreated by a group of militants before being taken to the police station. During the Supreme Court trial the prosecution tried to demonstrate the man’s guilt, but many witnesses proved the contrary and eye witnesses confirmed that during the first trial the judge who issued the sentence was under pressure by militant Muslim groups, gathered outside the court calling for the condemnation of the man.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide CSW in Britain, which from the outset sought to assist Aslam Masih, is satisfied with the Supreme Court’s decision. “We are happy for the liberation of an innocent man – said Stuart Windsor, head of CSW – but we recall that there are still many men and women in prison in Pakistan for the same false charges. The case of Aslam Masih is exemplary to demonstrate that the blasphemy law is manipulated by militant Islamists to persecute Christians or anyone else not in agreement with them. The Pakistan government should take immediate steps to prevent these abuse and protect religious and ethnic minorities”.
Article 295/c of Pakistan’s Code of Penal law, know as the blasphemy law, condemns anyone who, in word or writing, acts, or visible representations with direct or indirect insinuations, insult the holy name of the Prophet”. The punishment can be life imprisonment.
The Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Justice and Peace says the law is often used to strike adversaries in personal disputes. The Commission says that since 1987 at least 148 Muslims, 208 Ahmads, 75 Christians and 8 Hindus have been falsely accused of blasphemy.
One of the most clamorous cases was that of Ranjha Masih in 2003, a Christian woman from Faisalabad condemned to life imprisonment and a 50,000 Rupee fine. In June 2002, Augustine Masih of Faisalabad was condemned to death for crimes of desecration, considered serious. In April 2001 Parvez Masih, head of a Christian school in Daksa was accused of blasphemy and put in prison after being accused by the head of a local Muslim school, who was unable to obtain as many pupils as the Christian school. PA (Fides Service 17/6/2003 EM lines 44 Words: 538)