Christian Accused of ‘Blasphemy’ in Pakistan Granted Rare Bail

by | Aug 5, 2011 | Charisma Archive

bibleandprisonbarscroppedIn a rare move in Pakistan, a
lower court in Punjab Province on Tuesday released on bail a
young Christian man accused of blaspheming Islam.

The
Magisterial Court of Chichawatni, Sahiwal district, granted bail to
Babar Masih, who suffers from a psychiatric disorder that causes him to
shout in fits of rage for as long as an hour without knowing what he is
doing or saying. In the face of Islamic extremist threats, generally
lower courts in Pakistan do not dare grant bail or acquit a Christian
accused of blasphemy, leaving such decisions for higher court judges who
enjoy greater security measures.

 The complainant in the
case, Zeeshan Arshad, states in the First Information Report (FIR) that
Masih was “addressing the stars and calling names of Muslim sages and
holy personages” when he made the alleged remarks blaspheming Islam. The
FIR itself states that Masih never intended to hurt Arshad’s religious
feelings, and that no sane person would draw the ire of area residents
by talking in this way.

On the day he made the alleged
remarks (May 2), however, a large Muslim mob gathered that refused to
hear that Masih was suffering any mental disorder. They demanded he be
turned over to them so that they could kill him publicly. Chichawatni
City Police intervened and took Masih into custody.

 At the hearing on Tuesday, the courtroom was packed with bearded, hard-line Muslims
and a tense calm prevailed, said Niaz Aamer, an attorney for the Center
for Law and Justice-Pakistan (CLJ-P), which is representing Masih.
Aamer said that the judge asked him to read the FIR, but the attorney
requested that the judge read it himself, silently, due to the sensitive
nature of the case. After arguments, the judge awarded bail.

 Masih could not be released until the next day, however, because court
orders arrived late to the police station. Sensing danger at the main
entrance of the jail yesterday, staff members released him from a more
inconspicuous “family gate.”

 During his time in jail, Masih
was attacked, Aamer said. On May 26, as Masih was brought to court in a
police van, an officer asked in a loud voice, “Where is the blasphemy
accused?” As soon as Masih was identified, a bearded man among the
accused in the van repeatedly hit Masih’s face and head with his
handcuffs before police intervened. The assailant was never brought to
justice, Aamer said, though since that time Masih has been brought to
court hearings in a separate van.

 The judge granted bail
even though a medical examiner declined to confirm Masih’s mental
condition. Though Masih’s outbursts were witnessed several times while
in jail, the Sahiwal Central Jail superintendent’s medical examination
report states, “He is a young man of average health. He gives history of
some psychiatric illness before coming to jail. Inside jail he is
vitally stable and well-oriented. However, to know the exact situation
regarding his mental condition, he may be examined by the District
Standing Medical Board at DHQ Hospital Sahiwal.”

 Masih’s
family provided doctor’s prescriptions and medicine wrappers he used,
but a police report presented in court on May 17 did not mention Masih’s
medical treatment.

 His brother, Amjad Masih, previously
told Compass that he had learned from witnesses that the accused was
walking by the Canal Mosque looking upward and calling out names as the
mosque leader was coming out and allegedly heard him using abusive
language about Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Amjad Masih arrived home
to find a large number of Muslim clerics gathered outside who told him
Babar Masih had used insulting language about Muhammad, which can be
punishable by death in Pakistan. 

Immediately after Masih was
arrested, all three Christian families living in the area fled,
including those of Masih’s brothers, James Masih, and Amjad Masih. Since
fleeing, James Masih’s son, Robin James, has had to drop his engineering
studies; his daughter Sana James was unable to finish college exams,
Aamer said. James Masih is still looking for work, and his other two
daughters, eighth-grade students Shanza James and Sahira James, have
also been forced to abandon their studies.

 Amjad Masih was
allowed to return to his residence after long negotiations with area
clerics and a promise that he would never legally support his brother or
else he would face similar charges, Aamer said.  

 “After
Masih’s release, Amjad Masih did not go home to meet with him or any of
his family members, because it will be a danger for them,” Aamer said.
“Amjad cannot stay in the area if ever seen with Babar Masih.”

 The CLJ-P, an affiliate of European Center for Law and Justice, plans
to file an application under Section 540-A of Pakistan’s Criminal
Procedure Code to exempt Masih from court appearances on grounds that it
would be too dangerous, Aamer said.

 “Babar Masih, who is
mentally ill, was accused of blasphemy on May 2, 2011 and is released on
bail within three months, while there are hundreds languishing in jails
for years on blasphemy charges,” Aamer said.

 Christians make up only 2.45 percent of Pakistan’s population, which is more than 95 percent Muslim, according to Operation World.

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