11/21/2011, 00.00
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Faisalabad: accused of blasphemy, woman freed thanks to help from Christians and Muslims

by Shafique S. Khokhar
Catholic priest expresses gratitude to Muslim community for conducting “an in-depth investigation” before condemning the Christian woman. He hopes that “a culture of peace and religious harmony” will always prevail. The accused in the case after was charged under the black law over a legal dispute.
Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – Christians are grateful to the Muslim community for conducting an “in-depth investigation” before they would condemn someone for blasphemy, a crime punishable with death or life in prison in Pakistan. Thus, they have prevented an “untoward incident over a sensitive issue,” said Fr Naveed Arif, a priest at the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Faisalabad. Speaking to AsiaNews, he could not hide his satisfaction over the outcome of the case, which he describes as “an example in inter-confessional harmony” with Islam.

The case involved a Christian woman, Agnes Bibi, who was accused of defaming the name of the prophet Muhammad. Arrested for blasphemy, she had the original accusation dismissed and the case against her reduced to a lower charge. This allowed her to apply and get bail. “I hope a culture of peace and religious harmony prevails whenever controversies arise in Pakistan,” the priest said, “because Christianity teaches us peace and harmony and is against intolerance and violence.”

Agnes Bibi (pictured), 50, is from Abin-e-Mariam Colony, Faisalabad. In order to undermine the position of Christians in a property dispute with Muslims, she was accused of blasphemy. On 16 February 2011, a complaint was failed against her and she was taken into custody three days later following an interrogation by a magistrate.

An in-depth investigation began on 5 March. After months of work and a number of depositions, the original charge was changed from blasphemy to that of “Promoting enmity between different groups” under Article 153-A of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Agnes Bibi told AsiaNews that in prison she prayed for her release, and that she was happy the judge granted her bail.

Her husband, Bashir Masih, 52, said that he had to take out a loan to pay for the bail imposed by the judge. “My wife is very sick and I have to raise money for her medical treatment,” he added.
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