Date: August 24, 2022
Justice expresses concern over abuses of law.
By Our Pakistan Correspondent
Salamat Mansha Masih (center) sees his mother and former attorney (right) on arrival at jail in Lahore on April 23, 2021. (Morning Star News)
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A two-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Tuesday (Aug. 23) granted bail to a Christian in a blasphemy case, with one of the justices expressing concern over blatant misuse of the law, the attorney of the accused said.
Attorney Rana Abdul Hameed said this was the first time a blasphemy suspect charged under all three sections of the statutes – 295-A, 295-B and 295-C – had been given bail during trial.
It was only the second time the Supreme Court of Pakistan granted bail in a blasphemy case. On Jan. 6 it granted bail to Nadeem Samson, a Christian accused of posting blasphemous content on Facebook in 2017. Samson’s trial had continued beyond two years, entitling him to bail, whereas in Masih’s case the bail was granted on merits of the argument.
The first blasphemy case bail in a sessions court was granted on Sept. 23, 2021, to two Christian nurses charged under 295-B with “defiling the Koran.”
With Justice Qazi Fael Isa expressing regret that accusations of blasphemy are so easily and commonly leveled, he and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah granted the release of Salamat Mansha Masih on a bond of 50,000 rupees (US$230) and ordered that their ruling be shared with all trial and high courts so that innocent persons are not wrongfully charged under such a serious offense as blasphemy, Hameed said.
Isa added that the state must ensure protection of suspects in blasphemy cases until cases are resolved, the attorney said.
Masih, 27, was arrested on Feb. 13, 2021, from Lahore’s Model Town Park after Muslims overheard him and another Christian, Haroon Ayub Masih, reading the Bible in a park and accused them of ridiculing Islam and its prophet, Hameed said. He added that Haroon Masih has gone into hiding since obtaining pre-arrest bail.
Salamat Masih, a sanitation worker, was in police custody for two months and three days before appearing before a judge on April 16, Hameed said. Masih’s previous lawyer, Aneeqa Maria, previously told Morning Star News that police mentally and physically tortured Masih to force a confession.
“A sessions judge had dismissed Salamat’s bail application last year while the Lahore High Court had also denied him bail in June this year,” Hameed said. “I moved his bail in the Supreme Court last week.”
Four college students had accused Masih of committing blasphemy while preaching Christianity and also giving them a book in Urdu that allegedly contained sacrilegious matter, he said.
The attorney said he told the court that the book, “Zindagi Ka Paani” or “Water of Life,” was based on the Gospel of John and did not contain any sacrilegious matter against any religion – a fact also conceded by the concerned Lahore senior police officer from the prosecution side.
Hameed said the prosecution failed to furnish convincing evidence of blasphemy. He also argued that the First Information Report was registered against Masih after a delay of eight hours, and that his arrest was brought on record after two months of illegal custody.
“The judges questioned the prosecution that the incident took place in a park but no one, including the security guards, were made a witness to it,” Hameed added. “Justice Isa also regretted the tendency of levelling accusations, and said every other person gets up and starts accusing people of committing blasphemy.”
He quoted Isa as saying, “This is not a petty crime, but its penalty is a life sentence.”
Section 295-C specifies disrespect of Muhammad, prophet of Islam, and is punishable by death; 295-B relates to defiling of the Koran and is punishable by imprisonment for life and fine, and 295-A covers deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine.
When Isa asked the plaintiff’s counsel why Pakistan was created, the attorney replied that according to Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), founder of Pakistan, the country was founded as a laboratory of Islam.
“When did Quaid-e-Azam say this?” Isa asked. “Generals already attribute a lot of things to him [Jinnah], lawyers should not do it.”
Hameed said Isa also noted that he had never heard of a Christian filing a blasphemy case against a Muslim.
Blasphemy accusations in Pakistan often provoke mob violence and lynching of suspects, while penalties are light for those who make such false accusations.
Church leaders and rights activists say that subordinate courts capitulate to Islamist pressure, resulting in convictions in almost all blasphemy cases.
A number of people have been sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy. In January, a Rawalpindi court sentenced a Muslim woman to death after finding her guilty of insulting Islam’s prophet in text messages she sent to a friend. The woman, Aneeqa Ateeq, was arrested in May 2020 after a man told police that she sent him blasphemous caricatures via WhatsApp.
In December 2021, a mob descended on a sports equipment factory in Sialkot, lynching Sri Lankan Priyantha Kumara and burning his body publicly over allegations of blasphemy. The incident drew nationwide condemnation, and authorities arrested dozens of people over involvement in Kumara’s killing, but there has been no legislation to stop such fake allegations.
Pakistan ranked eighth on Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country had the second-highest number of Christians killed for their faith, behind Nigeria, with 620 slain during the reporting period from Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021. Pakistan had the fourth-highest number of churches attacked or closed, with 183, and overall.