Thursday, November 16, 2006

Pakistani Christian in blasphemy trial acquitted after 8 years in jail

Ecumenical News International
Daily News Service
16 November 2006

Pakistan Christian in blasphemy trial acquitted after 8 years in jail
By Anto Akkara

New Delhi, 16 November (ENI)--A 60-year-old Roman Catholic
Pakistani, Ranjha Masih, has been acquitted after being held in
for eight and a half years in isolation at a prison awaiting
trial on fabricated blasphemy charges.

"We are really happy. This is a victory for Christians and those
who believe in human rights," Joseph Francis, director of the
Christian action group that pleaded Masih’s appeal, told
Ecumenical News International on 16 November from his office in

Francis, director of the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and
Settlement (CLAAS), said that the Lahore high court acquitted
Masih on 13 November of blasphemy charges. If found guilty these
carry a mandatory death sentence in Pakistan.

Masih had been arrested on the day of the funeral of Catholic
Bishop John Joseph of Faislabad who had shot himself in May 1998
to protest a death sentence that had been meted earlier out to
another member of his church on false blasphemy charges.

The legal aid centre said that during the mourning procession for
Bishop Joseph, who sacrificed his life to highlight abuses of the
blasphemy law, distressed Christian youth stoned vehicles and

Following this, a shop signboard with verses inscribed from the
Quran fell down. A group of Muslim youths then grabbed Masih from
the crowd and accused him of knocking down the signboard. Since
then, Masih had been detained, awaiting trial.

"Ranjha [Masih] is the 20th Christian we [CLAAS] have got
acquitted by the court [after being charged with blasphemy],"
Francis told ENI.

However, the Catholic activist pointed out that 10 Christians
have also been murdered during blasphemy trials since the law was
enacted in 1988. "Many of those acquitted (of blasphemy) do not
feel safe here and have migrated," said Francis explaining adding
that 10 of the Christians acquitted of blasphemy have migrated,
seven to the United States and three to Germany.

A study conducted by the Justice and Peace Commission of the
Catholic church in 2005 had pointed that of the 647 blasphemy
cases reported in the Pakistani media since 1988, 90 cases were
against Christians who account for less than three per cent of
Pakistan's 165 million, most of whom are Muslims. [378 words]

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1 comment:

assiniboine said...

About time. Good sign though. Now let's see what they do about poor Professor Mohammad Younas Sheikh, who still languishes on Rawalpindi Central Jail's death row many years later -- having been interrogated by his students as to his views on the subject and ingenuously, and incredibly foolishly responding -- admitted that in his view, prior to his reception at age 40 of the Qu'ran and the insights of Islam as the true religion, the Prophet Muhammed was not a Muslim (huh? does it not go without saying?) -- was presumably not, indeed, even circumcised.

Defaming the Prophet is the offence: the terrifying thing for Christians (and Hindus and Parsis) -- there are still a few of them in Pakistan -- is that axiomatically it is impliedly to defame the Prophet to recite the Nicene or the Apostles Creed, or the corresponding articles of faith of Hindus and Parsis, is it not?

(I am sure I have recounted this story before: forgive me. It is one of the things that really should go into a book some day, I guess.)

Perhaps I was excessively cautious when my host in a rural Sindhi village in Pakistan, a mullah, indeed, interrogated me as to what, precisely, was the Christian version of the Shahada: "There is no god but God and Muhammed is the prophet of God." I thought that here I was navigating dangerous shoals and I forbore to recite the Creed, though I certainly could have done, and instead I recited Christ's summary of the law ("Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two laws hang all the law and the prophets.") This went over well, though it is obviously not a Creed.

(The upshot was that the very nice old guy -- another mullah in the same village was a thoroughly nasty old party and hectored me rather terrifyingly about the perfidy of infidels, till I elbowed my farmer companion and said, "Get me out of here!" -- figured that I was ripe for conversion, which I ain't.

I had some awkward moments, but it had already become more than clear that I was not very fluent in English ("What is your designation?" "My what?" "Your designation: I am a mullah; my son Mukhtiar is a farmer; our friend Israr is a teacher; what is your designation?" "Oh...I am a lawyer." "A what?" "Well, you know...we go to court, we argue cases..." "Oh! It is so clear that you are not a native English speaker. In English that is an advocate!") And on that basis I managed to escape further awkward moments -- particularly when he had his sons and nephews hie me off to the barber to get circumcised. ("I'm sorry, WHY are we here? I don't need a haircut...")