11/12/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Christian doctor accused of anti-Islam blasphemy freed (but in hiding)

by Qaiser Felix
In another case Pakistan’s blasphemy law is used in a personal vendetta. A Muslim employee sacked by his Christian employer turns against him with the result that the alleged offender spends five months in prison. However, during that time he received “courage and hope” from reading the Bible. Shahbaz Bhatti, minister of Minorities, is hopeful that this might lead to the release of more people unjustly accused of blasphemy.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – A Christian man acquitted on blasphemy charges was recently released but is in hiding for fear of retaliation from Muslim extremists. In Hafizabin Additional Session Judge Sardar Ahmad Makan on 4 November ruled in favour of Dr Robin Sardar, 55, after he had already spent five months in Gujranwala Central Jail. Had he been found guilty he could have received a life sentence or the death penalty.

Speaking to AsiaNews on the phone Sardar said: “Jesus has saved me and I thank God that I am still alive and in good health. Unfortunately, I have to live in hiding, changing places from time to time.”

The father of six said he was grateful to all the organisations and people who prayed and helped him during his trial.

“I was not tortured in prison. I spent my time in silence, reading the Bible, praying God,” Sardar said. “The Bible was my only strength in that time. Jesus said: ‘Don’t be afraid when people persecute you for My name.’ These words gave courage and hope.”

Robin Sardar was arrested in Hafizabad on 5 May after a Muslim man accused him of breaking the infamous blasphemy law which criminalises anyone who insults the Qur’an or the prophet Muhammad.

Once the accusation was made public Muslims extremist groups demanded that the accused be hanged. Eventually Dr Sandar’s family was forced into hiding for fear of retaliation.

The doctor’s accuser, Muhammad Bashir, was an employee in his clinic and had been fired for stirring animosity among other employees and spending much of his time talking about religion. A second witness against the doctor, Muhammad Rafic, who never met him, gave false testimony out of friendship for Bashir.

When the incident first occurred radical Muslims launched a campaign against Dr Sardar, inciting people against him through loudspeakers and speeches in mosques, demanding that he and his family be hanged, surrounding their home and threatening to torch it if he did not surrender to police. Fortunately he was saved by police, which intervened before he could be lynched, and was taken into prison.

As a free man Dr Sardar thanked Shahbaz Bhatti, minister of Minorities and chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), for the financial and legal aid he provided all through this period.

From Islamabad, Minister Batti told AsiaNews that Sardar’s release “is good news for all minorities and especially for Christians.”

The Catholic minister is optimistic that Dr Sandar’s acquittal might lead to the release of other people accused of blasphemy.

Since the law was introduced in 1986, 25 people have been killed because of it, not as a result of any legally mandated execution order but at the hands of religious extremists, sometimes even when the alleged offender was in police custody.

According to some sources, 892 people are presently charged with blasphemy.

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