06/07/2022, 13.01
PAKISTAN
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Christian accused of blasphemy released on bail in Lahore

by Shafique Khokhar

Stephen Masih was arrested more than three years ago after an argument with a neighbour. This forced family to move to a safe place. “I hope bail will allow us to provide him with care and assistance,” his brother said.

 

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Reaction was positive to the decision last Saturday by a Lahore court to grant bail to Stephen Masih, a Christian man arrested more than three years ago on alleged blasphemy charges.

The police had raided Stephen's home in March 2019 after he had an altercation with a neighbour who had snuck into the Christian's terrace to retrieve pigeons and after a heated argument accused him of blasphemy.

In fact, as Joseph Jansen, president of Voice of Justice, a non-profit organisation, points out, "this is a clear example of how blasphemy allegations originate from personal disputes rather than real cases.”

Shortly after the affair, a mob of fanatics set fire to Masih's house, forcing the family to move to a safer place.

“It is unfortunate that the neighbour made the accusations to punish Stephen for the language used during the altercation,” said Francis, brother of the accused. “I hope bail will allow us to provide him with care and assistance as Stephen has been of unsound mind since birth.”

Human rights activist Ashiknaz Khokhar said that the Punjab Institute of Medicine certified that Stephen suffers from bipolar affective disorder and cannot stand trial.

Yet, people accused of blasphemy in Pakistan often spend years in prison before they are granted bail.

For Farooq Bashir, a lawyer representing the Masih family, it was “lamentable that none of the neighbours had the courage to make a statement before the court about his [ Stephen's] mental condition” due to threats associated with the blasphemy charge.

This shows once again how “fake evidence and witnesses are produced in court to settle personal scores, misusing the laws relating to the desecration of religion.”

Still, defence attorney Abdul Hameed Rana noted that obtaining bail in this case is a great achievement:

"Stephen has been facing imprisonment for over three years for an alleged offence he has never committed. The case against him has holes,” the lawyer said. “For our part, we will continue to fight in court to have him acquitted because he is innocent.”

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