Date: October 24, 2023
Police show undue haste in filing case, attorney says.
By Our Pakistan Correspondent
Shaukat Masih and wife Kiran Shaukat with their children. (Morning Star News)
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A court in Lahore, Pakistan on Wednesday (Oct. 18) granted bail to a Christian couple arrested last month on blasphemy charges, a rare occurrence in a country where falsely accused suspects spend years in jail awaiting verdicts.
Zahid Nazeer, attorney for Shaukat Masih and his wife Kiran Shaukat, said Additional Sessions Judge Lahore Mian Shahid Javed granted his petition for bail on Oct. 18, enabling their release from jail on Saturday (Oct. 21).
“We have been away from our children for over a month, and each day we spent in prison was spent thinking what would become of them if we couldn’t get out,” Masih, who supports his family by doing odd jobs, told Morning Star News.
Nazeer said he told the court that the impoverished couple was innocent as they were not present at the site at the time of the alleged incident.
“Moreover, Section 295-B clearly states that there has to be clear intent in committing the said crime, whereas in this case there was no evidence that showed that the couple had committed the alleged act deliberately or willfully,” Nazeer told Morning Star News.
The couple were arrested and charged under Section 295-B of the blasphemy statutes after a local Muslim accused them of throwing torn pages of the Koran from the roof of their house on Sept. 8. Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code carries a mandatory life sentence for desecrating the Koran.
The complainant, Muhammad Taimur, claimed that he saw the pages flying towards the ground while he was at a nearby shop. He went to the house and confronted Kiran Shaukat, who said that her children might have done it, according to the First Information Report (FIR). He then searched the house and found a pink school bag behind a water tank on the roof, which contained more torn pages.
Nazeer said the torn pages were not from the Koran but from a Grade 9 Islamic Studies book in a bag containing scrap paper meant to be sold to a scrap vendor.
“The couple has three minor children, two of whom are suffering from mental and physical disabilities, and they also can’t be held accountable for desecration of the holy pages,” Nazeer told Morning Star News. “None of the three children have ever been to school, so it’s absurd to even claim that they tore off the pages intentionally.”
The lawyer said there were other indications that police showed undue haste in registering the FIR against the couple.
“The police did not recover the alleged evidence itself, rather it was handed to them by the complainant. Therefore, there’s a high chance of tampering with the evidence,” he said.
Nazeer added that the judge granted bail to the couple on a bail bond of 100,000 Pakistani rupees (US$360) each. The judge also observed that the case required further inquiry, he said.
Beaten in their Home
At the office of local humanitarian organization HARDS Pakistan, the couple said they couldn’t thank God enough for their release from jail and reunion with their children.
Masih said he was working at a car service station when the alleged incident took place, and that he was surprised to see a crowd gathered outside his house when he returned home that day.
“As soon as I entered the building, some men started beating me up, calling me a blasphemer,” Masih told Morning Star News. “They also beat my wife, paying no attention to our pleas that we had no idea about the alleged crime.”
Someone then called the police, who took them and their children into custody, he said.
“They even arrested a Muslim couple who were our guests,” he said.
The couple’s employer is a kind Muslim man in Britain who pays them to take care of his property where the couple’s family was occupying one of its rooms, he said.
“We have been living there for over a year, but now we will not be going back to that area,” Masih said. “We don’t feel safe.”
His wife echoed similar concerns for her family’s security as she narrated how the complainant and other Muslims had forced their entry into the house and manhandled her.
“I was working in the house of my employer’s sister who lives in the same street when this incident happened,” Kiran Shaukat said. “The group of men forced me to open the gate of our house and stormed inside while pushing me away and hurling abuses.”
She said she had no idea about the presence of the koranic verses in the plastic bag.
“The bag was given to me by my employer’s sister to sell to some scrap vendor,” she said. “I honestly didn’t know it contained material that could put us in such great risk.”
She expressed gratitude for HARDS Pakistan Chief Executive Sohail Habel taking good care of their three children, ages 13, 9 and 7, while she and her husband were incarcerated.
In a similar case, a local court in Arifwala in May released on bail a Christian woman charged with blasphemy after she was accused of burning papers containing koranic verses. Musarrat Bibi worked at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in 66-EB village, Arifwala tehsil of Pakpattan District. On April 15, she and a Muslim gardener were told to clean the school’s storeroom that was filled with paper and other scrapped items.
The duo reportedly gathered the wasted paper and other scraps in a corner of the school and set them on fire. Some students later noticed that the burnt items also contained koranic pages and protested against the alleged desecration.
Her attorney said school staff members, including principal Nasreen Saeed, were aware that Musarrat Bibi and a gardener identified as Sarmad had not burned koranic pages intentionally. Police, however, arrested the two people and charged them with blasphemy.
Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.