ASIA/PAKISTAN - Info: victims of blasphemy law

Thursday, 30 September 2004

Lahore (Fides Service) - There is a long gallery of victims who have suffered in recent years after being falsely accused of blasphemy. The law is often abused to punish an adversary or enemy, for political or economic reasons. Although it affects mainly members of religious minorities, Christians, Ahmads and Hindus also Muslims have been unjustly convicted. And some of those unjustly accused have been murdered.
The blasphemy law, article 295c Pakistan Penal Code punishes with prison, up to life imprisonment, anyone who insults the sacred name of the Prophet in word, deed or writing.
A clamorous case was that of Samuel Masih a Catholic arrested for blasphemy and imprisoned in August 2003. On 28 May 2004 the man died of injuries after being beaten in prison by Muslim extremist prison guards.
In June 2003 Aslam Masih, a protestant in prison for four and a half years for blasphemy, was at last acquitted by the Lahore High Court on the grounds of no evidence. In prison in Faisalabad since 1998 he had been regularly beaten and tortured.
In April 2003 Ms Ranjha Masih of Faisalabad was given life imprisonment and a 50,000 Rupee fine. In the same month Saleem and Rasheed Masih, brothers, arrested for blasphemy and found guilty in May 2000, were acquitted and released by the High Court of Lahore.
In June 2002 Augustine Masih of Faisalabad was condemned to death for serious desecration. In April 2001 Parvez Masih, headmaster of a Christian school in Daska, accused of blasphemy by the headmaster of a nearby Muslim school who had less pupils.
The question was brought to the attention of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations in Geneva by Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace, NGOs registered with the UN. They made a joint request for the abolition of the blasphemy law in Pakistan and protection of life, property and dignity of religious minorities.
Pakistan has a population of 155 million 97% Muslims mostly Sunni, 20% Shiite, 2.5% Christians including 1.2 million Catholics
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 30/9/2004 lines 31 words 343)