A young Christian in Pakistan who was imprisoned for blasphemy charges has been released on bail with his sentence suspended until the court makes a ruling on his appeal.
Nabeel Masih has achieved « partial legal victory » after the Lahore High Court released him on bail for allegedly violating Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. According to Christian Headlines, the 20-year old is the youngest person to be charged with blasphemy when he was arrested in 2016 at the age of 16.
Masih’s Muslim friend accused him of blasphemy, claiming that the then 16 year-old was « sharing » and « liking » a « blasphemous photo » of Kaaba, the holiest site of Islam in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In 2018, he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Now released on bail, the young Christian in Pakistan is free to wait for a ruling on his appeal, as his sentence is suspended. Masih has to wait to find out if the Lahore High Court will uphold the trial court’s verdict, which will force him to go back to prison to complete the 10-year sentence. Masih’s attorney, Naseeb Anjum revealed that the conviction against his young client was made by the Kasur District’s trial court despite having no witnesses against him.
According to Anjum, the case was registered a full two days after the alleged blasphemous photo appeared, a fact that the Kasur District’s trial court ignored. The attorney revealed that there was a delay in registration of the case, proving that the young Christian in Pakistan was « accused only after deliberation and consultation. »
In addition, the Pakistan police also removed the image from Facebook after the First Information Report for the case was registered, thereby complicating the process of determining Masih’s guilt or innocence.
Calling it a « partial legal victory, » Anjum said that the Lahore High Court finally admitted arguments for the post-conviction bail of the Christian in Pakistan jailed for blasphemy. The attorney vowed to « continue this legal fight for his acquittal. »
British Asian Christian Association trustee Juliet Chowdhry expressed her joy that the young Christian in Pakistan jailed for blasphemy is now free. An Aljazeera report stated that Chowdry hopes Masih would be « compensated for his false conviction to help him restore his life, and that the organisation would pursue this for him. »
The report also revealed how blasphemy has « long been a contentious issue in Pakistan » and how it has been « used to intimidate religious minorities and to settle personal scores. » In February, Amnesty International called for the release of a Christian couple in Pakistan who were accused of sending « blasphemous text messages. »
Unlike the young Christian in Pakistan jailed for blasphemy, however, Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel have been on death row since their conviction in April 2014 in Toba Tek Singh. The Christian couple’s appeal was launched in 2015, but kept facing delays, most recently due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for South Asia Samira Hamidi condemned Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws that have often victimized Christians in the country and called on the government to « urgently repeal its blasphemy laws that have been flagrantly abused and caused an immeasurable amount of harm. »
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