2 more Christians accused of blasphemy receive bail

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LAHORE, PakistanAug. 30, 2022 (Morning Star News) — Two Christians charged with blasphemy, including one who spent four years in prison, have been granted bail by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, sources say.

Following the release on bail early last week of another Christian accused of blasphemy, a bench of two Supreme Court judges on Wednesday (24 August) granted Patras Masih and Raja Waris bail as lawyers renewed their appeals to end the misuse of Pakistani. controversial blasphemy laws.

“Issuing bail is not a solution to this threat,” Minorities Alliance Pakistan Chairman Akmal Bhatti told Morning Star News. “We have repeatedly called for legislation against false accusers, but the government has ignored our demands. Blasphemy laws are being used as a weapon to target minorities and settle personal enmities, and it is time for the government to end this trend.

Judge Ijaz Ul Ahsan and Judge Mazahar Ali Naqvi granted bail to the two Christians charged in separate cases. While the hearing and decision came on Wednesday (August 24), the bail order for Masih, 22, who has been jailed since February 2018, was issued on Saturday (August 27).

Lawyer Aneeqa Maria of the Voice Society, said the bench decided to release Masih given the “particular aspects and facts of the case”.

“The court accepted the arguments of our lawyers that the accusation of Article 295-C was badly framed against Patras Masih,” Maria said. “The judges also noted that cases of alleged blasphemy under Section 295-C [insulting Muhammad] could only be registered on the recommendation of a Muttahida Ulema board [of eminent Islamic scholars]which did not happen in Masih’s case.

The bench said the Federal Investigation Agency or the police could not determine on their own whether the alleged offense fell under Section 295-C, she said.

The court’s Aug. 27 bail order noted that the FIR against Masih was filed after an unreasonable 34-day delay without a plausible explanation. The bench also cited the delay in completing the trial and found that the defendant was not solely responsible.

Saying that the trial court must first provide a definitive finding on the nature of the allegedly blasphemous image posted in a Facebook group, the order said: “Keeping the petitioner behind bars indefinitely would not be in the interests of justice since he has already spent four years in prison. Considering all of the facts and circumstances, the request falls under Article 479(2) of the CrPC requiring further investigation. »

Masih was 18 when he was accused in February 2018 of sharing a photo posted on Facebook deemed insulting to Muhammad, sparking violent protests by Islamist parties and forcing hundreds of Christian families to flee their homes in the Shahdara Town district in Lahore.

Lawyer Sittar Sahil, who represented Masih along with lawyer Saif Ul Malook, said he told the court that the blasphemy allegation against Masih did not merit a case under Section 295-C, which mandates death for disrespecting the Prophet of Islam.

“Masih is accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, while the photo he allegedly posted on a Facebook group does not contain anything that could be considered sacrilege towards the Prophet,” Sahil told Morning Star News. “Section 295-C is purely specific to disrespecting the Prophet Muhammad through spoken or written words or images. Masih is accused of posting a blasphemous image of the Roza-e-Rasool [prophet’s grave]which does not come under article 295-C. »

He added that the prosecution failed to establish that the photo was uploaded to the Facebook group from Masih’s cellphone.

“The SC has granted bail to Masih because the case requires further investigation,” Sahil said.

Waris was released on bail

Lawyer Malook told the bench that the whole process against his client, Waris, a lay leader of the Anglican Church of Pakistan, was illegal.

“I asked the court to find out whether the trial court had requested written authorization from the federal or provincial governments under article 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) before opening the trial of the accused “Malook told Morning Star News.

Section 196 of the CrPC states that “No court shall take cognizance of any offense punishable under Chapter VI or IXA of the Pakistan Penal Code (except Section 127), or punishable under article 108-A, or article 153-A, or article 294-A, or article 295-A or article 505 of the same code, except on complaint made by order or under the authority of the central government or the provincial government concerned, or of an official authorized for this purpose by one of the two Governments.”

Waris was arrested on January 5, 2021, and charged under Sections 295-A and 298-A of the Blasphemy Laws following a December 22, 2020 Facebook post. Section 298-A provides for up to three years of prison for misdemeanor remarks about a “holy personage”, while Section 295-A provides for up to 10 years in prison for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to arouse religious feelings”.

Malook said that according to the third provision of section 497(1) of the CrPC, any person charged with a non-death penalty offense whose trial has not been concluded within one year of his arrest has the right to be released on bail.

“The bench accepted my arguments and ordered the release of Raja Waris on bail,” he said.

The bails were granted after Supreme Court Justice Qazi Fael Isa and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah on Tuesday (August 23) granted bail for Salamat Mansha Masih, also charged with blasphemy.

“Stop the Abuse”

Church of Pakistan President Azad Marshall welcomed the sureties but said the state must end the misuse of statutes.

“These three bails have once again shown how badly the blasphemy laws are being misused in Pakistan,” Marshall told Morning Star News. “Police have made it a standard to disregard prescribed procedures when formulating charges, and even trial courts are disregarding the facts of cases due to pressure from religious groups.”

Marshall said bail or acquittals cannot compensate for the suffering of innocent people accused of blasphemy.

“Our people languish in prison for years until the courts realize the miscarriage of justice and release them,” he said. “These inhumane acts must stop now and the state must act to deter false accusations.”

Although Pakistan has never executed anyone convicted under the law, vigilantes frequently entrap and sometimes kill those accused of blasphemy.

The Lahore-based Center for Social Justice noted that at least 1,949 people have been charged under blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2021. From 2021 to July 14, another 18 cases have been reported. Defendants from 1987 to 2021 comprised 47.62% Muslims, followed by 32.99% Ahmadis, 14.42% Christians and 2.15% Hindus, while 2.82% religion no has not been confirmed.

Pakistan ranked eighth on Open Doors’ 2022 global watchlist of the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian. The country had the second highest number of Christians killed for their faith, behind Nigeria, with 620 killed during the reporting period October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021. Pakistan had the fourth highest number of churches attacked or closed, with 183, and overall.

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Article originally published by Morning Star News. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy of ©Morning Star News, used with permission.

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