26 May 2017
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  • » 01/30/2013, 00.00

    PAKISTAN

    Punjab: Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy acquitted on appeal

    Jibran Khan

    After Rimsha Masih, the community celebrates the release of Barkat Masih, after 18 months in prison. He had been indicted on false charges, for having fulfilled his job. The joy of human rights activists and associations: another "important precedent". Pakistani priest: it is time to review the laws and prevent abuse.

    Islamabad (AsiaNews) - After the young girl Rimsha Masih, the Pakistani Christian community can celebrate the acquittal on appeal of a man sentenced to death - without evidence and on the basis of trumped-up charges - for blasphemy. The verdict may give new vigor and hope the other victims of the "black law", including the 46-year old mother of five, Asia Bibi, still waiting for the appeal hearing to begin. Many, in fact, are calling for a "revision" of the law, which is often used to settle personal disputes and conflicts and which caused the brutal murders of Catholic Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in 2011.

    Barkat Masih, 56 (pictured), was born to a Hindu family but converted to Christianity.  A native of the city of Bahawalpur in Punjab province, he was involved (although innocent) in a case of blasphemy on October 1, 2011, and was sentence in the first instance to the death penalty.

    Local sources said that the man, a security guard by profession, git caught up in a workers dispute, who wanted to illegally occupy a portion of land. He prevented them from entering an office, where property documents were stored. At his refusal, two Muslim workers - Muhammad Saleem and Muhammad Shoaib - insulted and threatened him, and promised to "make him pay."

    They reported him to police, who carried arrested him on charges of having insulted the Prophet Muhammad, a crime that can lead to the death penalty under Article 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code. However, after spending 18 months in prison on 28 January, Judge Javed Ahmed of Bahawalpur High Court upheld the appeal and acquitted the accused because the crime does not exist.

    Human rights activists and Christian leaders are satisfied with the judgment, a positive signal for many similar cases in the future. The NGO World Vision In Progress, which supported the man's defense, is happy with the verdict and speaks of "the beginning of a change." Haroon Barkat Masih, president of the Masihi Foundation, points out that the blasphemy laws are exploited to "target the marginalized communities" and that charges "are tantamount to a death sentence." For this reason he hopes that the case is an important "precedent" and that "necessary changes" be made to the law. Finally, Fr. Nawaz George, a priest of the Diocese of Lahore, committed to defending the rights of Christians, expresses his "delight" at the release of an "innocent person" who kept "firm in his faith." "We hope that this fact - he concludes - may bring new hope to people who are in prison, waiting for justice to be done."

     

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    See also

    24/08/2012 PAKISTAN
    Pakistani Muslims: Disabled 11 yr-old Christian should be punished
    Muslim leader: no one can desecrate the Koran. And the faithful in the mosque call for the application of the "black law". Appeal of Bishop of Islamabad for unity among Christians "around the child." APMA lawyer speaks of "delicate matter" but is optimistic to have "good news soon." Families forced to flee denounce their abandonment by government.

    17/04/2009 PAKISTAN
    Lahore High Court clears two Christians of blasphemy charges
    James and Buta Masih had been imprisoned since 2006 on charges of burning a copy of the Qur'an in the street. The court has declared the charges unfounded, and has ordered their release. A Catholic priest calls for the repeal of the law on blasphemy, which he calls "killer."

    18/09/2007 PAKISTAN
    ”Blasphemous” Christian freed after a year: he was innocent.
    Shahid Masih, 18, was imprisoned in September 2006 accused of having blasphemed Islam. His presumed accomplice, a Muslim released on caution nine months ago, also absolved. The Christian’s mother died from heartbreak following his arrest.

    04/04/2007 PAKISTAN
    Accused of blasphemy, an 11 year old boy risks the death penalty
    Toba Tek Singh police open an investigation into blasphemy claims against five local Christians, including 11 year old Daniel. Local activists and priests say the case has been fabricated to target innocent people who have nothing. Christian families barricade themselves in their homes, fear could affect Holy Week celebrations

    05/11/2014 PAKISTAN - ISLAM
    Bishop of Islamabad: Couple burned alive, barbaric act shrouded by a guilty silence
    Shahzad Masih, 28, and his wife, Shama, 25, had four children and the woman was pregnant. Accusation made by Shahzad’s employer; at least 400 people attacked, shot and burned the bodies of the young couple. Christian activists: yet another abuse of the blasphemy laws.



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