Pakistani Christians charged with blasphemy released on bail

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Pakistan’s Supreme Court has granted bail to three Christians accused of blasphemy.

Among the defendants are Raja Warris, a lay leader of the Anglican Church of Pakistan, who was arrested on January 5, 2021 and charged under Sections 295-A and 298-A of the Pakistan Penal Code for a Facebook post on January 22. December 2020.

Section 298-A carries a prison sentence of up to three years for disparaging remarks about a “holy personage”. Under Section 295-A, people can be imprisoned for up to 10 years for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to arouse religious feelings”.

Patris Masih was 18 when he was charged with blasphemy in 2018 after allegedly posting a photo insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.

The accusation provoked violent protests from religious leaders and forced hundreds of Christian families to flee Shahdara Town, Lahore.

Judge Ejaz Ul Ahsan said the photo was “not blasphemous” and therefore it was unjustified to register a case under Section 295-C of the Pakistani Penal Code, a section of law which makes the desecration of the name of the Prophet Muhammad punishable by death. .

The judge further concluded that the photo was not uploaded to Facebook by Masih’s cellphone but by someone else.

As Masih has already spent the past four years behind bars, Judge Ul Ahsan determined that it was not necessary for him to remain in prison until the case was concluded.

His lawyer, Sittar Sahil, said he was “grateful” to the judge for releasing Masih on bail after reviewing the evidence against his client.

“It depends on how you file a case. When you have all the evidence, the court will surely deliver justice,” Sahil said.

In a separate case, Christian health worker Salamat Mansha Masih was released on bail on Monday.

According to Kross Konnection, this is the first time bail has been granted to a person charged with blasphemy under all three sections of Pakistan’s Penal Code.

Mansha Masih, 27, was arrested in Model Town Park, Lahore on February 13, 2021 after he and another Christian were heard reading the Bible.

They were accused by local students of ridiculing Islam and the Prophet Muhammad as they preached about Christianity. They also alleged that they had been given an Urdu language book containing blasphemous text.

Mansha Masih’s lawyer, Abdul Hameed Khan Rana, told the court that it was a Christian book and not blasphemous, and that the first information report filed with the police wrongly identified his client as a preacher.

Kross Konnection reports that during the proceedings, the judge said Pakistan “should avoid further polarization of society which is already fractured and divided in the name of religion.”

The granting of bail in all three cases was welcomed by Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK, which provides legal assistance to persecuted Christians in Pakistan.

“Most of the time, lower courts avoid granting bail or deciding blasphemy cases, which means that these cases take much longer and victims of blasphemy laws often have to endure many years. jail,” he said.

“We commend the Supreme Court for reviewing the cases in detail and seeing fit to release the defendant.”

He called for reform of blasphemy laws to prevent further abuse.

“Sadly Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to be misused and as we celebrate the release on bail of three Christian men, it is important to note that this happened just a day before a worker Hindu health worker, Ashok Kumar, is arrested for false blasphemy after he allegedly desecrated the Quran, so we can see that as long as these laws are in place, more religious minorities will be victimized and suffer unnecessarily,” he said. declared.

He added: “Blasphemy continues to be a very sensitive issue in Pakistan, where the Muslim majority often takes the law into their own hands. We saw it last December when a Sri Lankan factory manager was beaten to death and set on fire by a mob. in Pakistan following allegations of blasphemy.

“As we welcome the granting of bail for three Christian victims this week, the Pakistani government must take steps to repeal or reform blasphemy laws sufficiently to end the suffering of religious minorities who live in constant fear. of a false accusation.”

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