ASIA/PAKISTAN - Mentally disabled Christian accused of blasphemy released on bail

Monday, 6 June 2022 blasphemy   religious minorities  

Karachi (Agenzia Fides) - "The granting of bail to Stephen Mashi, a mentally unstable person accused of blasphemy, is a positive measure: a mentally unstable person cannot be accused of anything, because he does not have full knowledge of what he is doing. The case has already been pending for three years, I would like it to be definitely considered closed. I am sorry to say that the misuse of the blasphemy law continues to do harm and people use the law for personal grudges and revenge. This is what happened in the case of Stephen Masih, 40, accused of blasphemy for a quarrel with his family and neighbors": Father Mario Rodrigues, priest of the Archdiocese of Karachi, told Fides. Fr. Mario Rodrigues further states: "We welcome the Court's decision to grant bail, but at the same time we are concerned about the man's safety. Once a person is accused of blasphemy in Pakistan, his life is always at risk and in danger". The president of the NGO "Voice for Justice", Joseph Jansen, who followed the case, tells Fides: "The police broke into Stephen's home and arrested him without investigation, and even beat up his mother leaving her with a fractured leg and arm. Without verifying the authenticity of the accusation, a mob attacked and tortured innocent people. This case is a clear example of abuse of the blasphemy law for personal revenge". Joseph Jansen stresses: "We demand that all those who incite or commit acts of violence in the name of religion on the basis of accusations of blasphemy, as well as those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy, be brought to justice and duly punished". Attorney Abdul Hameed Rana said: "This court decision is a victory for truth and justice, as Stephen was in prison for a crime he never committed. There was a false testimony. Following his release on bail, we will continue our efforts to have him declared innocent and finally acquitted". Stephen Masih, a Christian with a mental disability, was arrested on March 11, 2019 when an angry mob attacked his home and beat him and his family. The police rescued Stephen from the angry mob and charged him under Article 295 C of the Pakistani Penal Code, on charges of having desecrated the name of the Prophet Muhammad, which provides for the death penalty or life imprisonment. According to family members, Stephen Masih, who suffers from "bipolar affective disorder", quarreled with his mother, sister, brother-in-law and neighbors and used abusive language that was not at all related to any religious subject or figure at all. He used abusive words against a neighboring Muslim woman whose husband, the Muslim cleric Hafiz Muhammad Mudassar, taught Stephen a lesson, accused him of blasphemy and spread rumors that Stephen had said blasphemous words about the Prophet Muhammad. Following the hearing on June 3, 2019, Stephen was charged with blasphemy and sent to prison. In March 2020, a year later, a medical examination commission was convened to examine his mental health. After several sessions, observations and evaluations, the Punjab Institute of Mental Health concluded on July 30, 2021 that Stephen Masih suffers from "bipolar affective disorder" and declared him "unfit to stand trial" for mental health problems. The court acknowledged this and has granted bail. (AG/PA) (Agenzia Fides, 6/6/2022)