Date:  October 26, 2021

United Nations human rights experts called on 21 October for the urgent release of Stephen Masih, a mentally disabled Pakistani Christian arrested more than two years ago for alleged “blasphemy” in Punjab province.

The team’s four members insisted that all charges against Mr Masih should be dropped, noting that reviews of his mental health and fitness to stand trial have been “repeatedly delayed”.

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Stephen Masih suffered brain damage as a child as a result of typhoid fever

They said they were “seriously concerned by the persecution and ongoing detention of Mr Masih on blasphemy grounds, and by his treatment at the hands of the judicial and prison authorities who are aware of his psychosocial disability and health condition”.

The UN team went on to urge Pakistan to comply with its international human rights obligations and repeal its “blasphemy” laws and take measures to combat “the advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination and violence”.

A Barnabas contact confirmed that Mr Masih, who suffered brain damage as a result of typhoid fever at the age of ten, was attacked in jail by Muslim prisoners because of his faith and now occupies a cell on his own for his own security.

Mr Masih was 38 and living at home with his sister and bedridden elderly mother in Sialkot District when he became involved in a quarrel with a neighbour in March 2019. It led to him being beaten by a crowd of Muslim men and accused under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code of making derogatory remarks against Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, which carries a mandatory death penalty. His family deny the claims.

Pakistan’s notorious “blasphemy” laws are often used to make false accusations in order to settle personal grudges. Christians are especially vulnerable, as simply stating their beliefs can be construed as “blasphemy” and the lower courts usually favour the testimony of Muslims, in accordance with sharia (Islamic law).