12/28/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN

After blasphemy charges against him are dropped, Christian prays for other believers in prison

by Shafique Khokhar
Rehmat Masih was arrested on 19 June 2010. He had come to the defence of Christians in a quarrel with a Muslim over land. On 18 November 2011, a court dismissed his case for lack of evidence.
Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – “Christians must continue to pray because other people are in prison for their faith,” Rehmat Masih, 74, from Jhumra, in Faisalabad (Punjab), told AsiaNews. Arrested in June 2010 on blasphemy charges, he was released on 28 November of this year, after 18 months in prison, for lack of evidence.

It all began on 19 May 2010 when a quarrel broke between local Christians and a Muslim leader, Tahir Hameed, who wanted to take away some plots of land that belonged to the local Christian community.

A month later to the day, Tahir Hameed’s brother Sajid, who was not present when the dispute broke out, filed a complaint against Rehmat Masih based on Muslim witnesses claiming that the Christian man had insulted the prophet Muhammad.

After months of investigation, a Faisalabad court dismissed the witnesses’ depositions. It ruled that their statements were filed too late and that they were full of contradictions. It also found that that no police officer visited the place where the alleged incident took place to collect evidence against the accused.

“We appreciate the court’s ruling that found Rehmat Masih innocent,” said Fr Nisar Barkat, diocesan director of the National Commission of Justice and Peace (NCJP). In his view, Muslims too often use the blasphemy law against minorities in matters unrelated to religion.

Introduced in 1986 under the dictatorial rule of General Zia ul-Haq, the blasphemy law has been followed by an exponential growth in complaints about the “desecration of the Qur‘an” and the “defamation of the prophet Muhammad”.

By comparison, between 1927 and 1986, only seven cases of blasphemy were filed. Since 1986, more than 4,000 people have been accused, a number that keeps rising.

Between 1988 and 2005, Pakistani authorities have taken 647 people to court on blasphemy charges.

All in all, thousands of Christians, Muslims, Ahmadis and members of other religions have been accused without a shred of evidence, including Asia Bibi who was sentenced to death and is waiting for her appeal to be heard.
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