Faisalabad, young Christian sentenced to life imprisonment for blasphemy
by Fareed Khan
Imran Masih, a 26 year-old businessman, indicted for burning pages of the Koran. Before his arrest he had been tortured by a gang of Muslims. Catholic activists: artfully fabricated accusations, we will seek to "save his life". Calls for reforms and constitutional bans on religious parties, the example of Bangladesh.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - A court in Faisalabad sentenced to life imprisonment Imran Masih, a young Christian, for having insulted and desecrated the Koran. Additional session judge, Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan, handed down the sentence under Article 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code - better known as the blasphemy law - because the 26 year old apparently burnt verses from the Koran and a book in Arabic "on purpose", to "stir up religious hatred and offend the feelings of Muslims." Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church, promises to “battle to save his life. "

On July 1, 2009 Masih, a shopkeeper by profession, was brutally tortured by a group of Muslims, then arrested by police on charges – perfectly fabricated- that he had burned pages of the Koran. On 11 January, the judge sentenced him to prison for life, which he will serve in the federal prison in Faisalabad where he is currently confined. The court also imposed an additional penalty of 10 years' imprisonment and payment of 100 thousand rupees (just over 800 euro), under section 295-A of the Penal Code.  

Peter Jacob, executive secretary of NCJP, while not openly criticizing the ruling, speaks of " not a good verdict " and "lack of freedom" of the judiciary. The Catholic activist announces appeal to the High Court and promises that "we will do our best to save his life", because all these cases of blasphemy "are perfectly fabricated."  

The Catholic Commission also calls for "serious constitutional and legal reforms" to root out extremism and the abuse of religion in the politics of Pakistan. "Religion - reads a NCJP document - is the main pretext in the hands of Religio-political parties, who played a major role in bringing the country to this edge."  

Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha and Peter Jacob, President and Executive Secretary of NCJP, stress that " Pakistan should draw a lesson from Bangladesh”, referring to the recent verdict of Bangladesh court that barred religion in politics "The affairs of state and the politics - highlight the Catholic leaders - should be treated independently, not covered by the cloak of religion" because they end up isolating the minority and denied their rights.

The blasphemy law was introduced in 1986 by Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq and has become an instrument of discrimination and violence. The norm is contained in Section 295, paragraph B and C of Pakistan Penal Code and punishes with life imprisonment  those who offendsthe Koran and with the sentencing to death those who insult the Prophet Muhammad. Based on NCJP data there are nearly 1000 indictees. It also provides a pretext for attacks, personal vendettas or extra-judicial killings: 33 in all, made by individuals or angry crowds.