04/11/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Accused of blasphemy, Arif Masih is safe, as 90 per cent of Muslims believes he is innocent

The 40-year-old Christian is in police custody at an undisclosed location. He is being investigated but his name does not appear in the charges laid against person or persons unknown. For Justice and Peace coordinator, he is the victim of a personal vendetta, and most Muslims are on his side. His accuser is a Muslim man who just lost a court case against him.
Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – Arif Masih, the 40-year-old Christian arrested a few days ago on alleged blasphemy, “is in safe custody” at an undisclosed location, said Shahid Anwar, coordinator for the National Commission on Justice and Peace of the Pakistan Catholic Church in Faisalabad. He has closely followed the affair along with diocesan director Fr Nisar Barkat. He said that “90 per cent of the Muslim community” does not believe that he is guilty, but rather the victim of a personal vendetta over land.

On 5 April, Arif Masih, a 40-year-old Christian from Chak Jhumra village (Faisalabad Diocese), was arrested by police on blasphemy charges. He allegedly ripped some pages of the Qur‘an, and sent threatening letters to local Muslims telling them to convert to Christianity.

First Information Report N. 133/2011 was registered at the Sahiyanwala police after Shahid Yousaf, one of Arif Masih’s Muslim neighbours, filed a complaint in accordance with Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code. The two men had been previously involved in a legal dispute.

However, the charges are against “person or persons unknown”, and Arif Masih’s is not officially listed as a defendant.

For Arif’s brother, Ejaz Masih, he is the victim of a scheme concocted by Shahid Yousaf and his two brothers, Zahid and Rashid Yousaf, who put pressure on police.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Shahid Anwar, Shahid Anwar, coordinator for the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Pakistan Catholic Church in Faisalabad, said that he was cautiously optimistic because the complaint is very general, based on Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which is generally known as the blasphemy law, whilst Arif’s “name is not mentioned as that of the offender.”

“We know that Arif is in safe hands and that he is totally innocent,” the Christian activist said. “However we would like to know what really happened.”

At present, the 40-year-old Christian man “is in safe custody” with the police at an undisclosed location.

The local branch of the NCJP remains “close to Arif and his family,” and is waiting to see “the outcome of the investigation before providing legal assistance.”

“We are certain that he did not defile the Qur‘an and that he did not send any threatening letters. His name does not appear in the blasphemy complaint, which contains just a vague statement. He is not named as a defendant”.

“There are suspicions. He was detained waiting for further investigations but his name does not appear on the charges, which are against person or persons unknown.”

The activists said, “90 per cent of local Muslims believe that he is innocent,” the victim of a dispute over the ownership of some land. “The Muslim party lost a case, and is now trying to get back at the other party.”

In fact, Arif’s family recently won a court case over the ownership of a piece of land. His accuser belongs to the Muslim family that lost the case. He appears to be trying to take revenge by using the blasphemy law, which is often used to settle personal scores or legal disputes.

According to data collected by the Catholic Church’s NCJP, at least 964 people have been indicted for desecrating the Qur‘an or defiling the name of the prophet Muhammad between 1986 and this year, including 479 Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindus and 10 from other religions. Since its inception, the law has been used as a pretext for attacks, personal vendettas and extra-judicial murders, 33 in all by individuals or enraged mobs.

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