12/09/2017, 12.12
PAKISTAN
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Lahore, pastor accused of blasphemy released. He is innocent

by Kamran Chaudhry

The Rev. Jadoon Masih had been in prison for a year. A group of Muslims accused him of having torn pages from the Koran. The judge: "The evidence is not valid". Lawyer: "He can celebrate Christmas with his family".

Lahore (AsiaNews) - The Lahore High Court has released a Protestant pastor on bail, detained for almost a year on charges of blasphemy. A copy of the verdict was sent to AsiaNews, in which the judges write that the Rev. Jadoon Masih is "innocent". His lawyer Nadeem Anthony reports with joy: "I thank the High Court for giving justice to this innocent Christian".

On 6 December, Pastor Masih was able to embrace his family. He was arrested on December 30, 2016 in the village of Kamahan [a suburb of Lahore, ed.], after a group of local Muslims found 150 pages of the Koran torn in the street. According to the accusers, the name of his colleague Pastor Babu Shahbaz was printed on 100 pages.

Locked up in Lahore's Jail Camp (the local prison), the Rev. Masih was accused of insulting the prophet under section 295-B of Pakistan's penal code, a non-bailable offence carrying life imprisonment. Judge Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan's verdict reads: "The accused allegedly made an extrajudicial confession … in police custody, therefore, same is not admissible in evidence. Polygraphic test is a weak type of evidence and the same cannot be relied upon blindly.”Justice Khan added, "No page of the Sipara (chapter) allegedly recovered from the possession of the petitioner was found to be torn. Mere recovery of a blue marker from the possession of the petitioner is by itself not sufficient to refuse bail to the petitioner because a blue marker is available in almost every second house of big cities of this country."

Having ascertained the innocence of the Christian, the judge granted him the return home, upon payment of 200,000 rupees (over 1600 euros). Attorney Nadeem Anthony claims that "minor courts are influenced by group pressure. I made no promises to the victim's family, I only asked that their requests be heard. Similar cases require difficult work because of religious sensitivity on the issue. Often victims can not return to lead a normal life in their environment, because society ostracizes them ". For example, he continues, "Jadoon Masih's house has remained closed. Throughout the time of imprisonment, his wife and children lived with relatives. Now the family has been transferred to a secret location, but at least they will have the consolation of being able to celebrate Christmas together ".

In Pakistan, the blasphemy law consists of articles of the Penal Code that punish the vilification of Islam with life imprisonment or the death penalty. Introduced by President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, it has been in force since 1986. Even the sole suspicion of outrage at the Koran can provoke the violent reaction of the Koran's defenders. According to the Human Rights Commission, at least 59 people have been summarily killed since its introduction.

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