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BAIL FOR “BLASPHEMY”: Man granted bail after 3 years in prison for “blaspheming” during neighborhood pigeon argument

BAIL FOR “BLASPHEMY”: Man granted bail after 3 years in prison for “blaspheming” during neighborhood pigeon argument

  • Stephen Masih was accused of blasphemy after an argument with neighbours over a PIGEON
  • Human rights advocates denounce poor treatment of Masih, who suffers from bipolar disorder)

ISLAMABAD (06 JUNE 2022) – A Pakistani court has granted bail to Stephen Masih, a Christian who has already spent three years in jail after a Muslim neighbour accused him of committing blasphemy in March 2019. The accusations followed an argument between Masih, his family members and some neighbours on 11 March 2019 regarding a pigeon.

After a reported exchange took place about whether a neighbour was trespassing on Masih’s terrace to collect his pigeon, Masih was accused of having “blasphemed” during the altercation. He was subjected to mob violence, and then arrested and charged with blasphemy under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

“No one should be persecuted because of their faith. This case is yet another horrible example of how people suffer under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. We welcome the court’s decision to grant bail to Stephen Masih. We urge the court to also clear Masih of all charges. The many delays to the hearing of Masih’s appeal have already caused him and his family enough suffering,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy, Asia for ADF International.

Masih’s family claim that he did not commit blasphemy during the exchange with the neighbour. Human rights groups have called the allegations “baseless”.

“Given how easily it is to file cases on the charges of blasphemy, such laws have a chilling effect on the practice and propagation of one’s faith. this is violative of international law This case provides one very real example of the persecution that many Christians face,” continued Arora.

The Process Becoming the Punishment

Before Masih was arrested, he had lived with his older sister and their mother, who is bedridden due to a serious illness. After his arrest, his family was forced to move out of fear for their lives after a violent mob burned down their house.

In August 2021, a court rejected his previous application for release on bail, even though the Punjab Institute of Mental Health determined that he suffers from bipolar disorder and is therefore unfit to even stand trial.

The court rejected the petition on 5 August 2021 saying his life was “seriously threatened” in public and that the risk of flight could not be ruled out. It decided to postpone the trial until Mr. Masih “regained his mental health”. The courts concluded saying: “If the accused is a lunatic or mentally unfit person incapacitated to stand trial; surely, he cannot engage any counsel to make application for bail.”

Due to the pandemic his hearings have been postponed several times.

The treatment of Masih was widely denounced and several human rights organisations made a joint appeal to the UN Special Representative on the rights of peoples with disabilities calling for Masih’s release.

In October 2021, a group of UN human rights experts urgently appealed to Pakistan to release Masih, stating: ““It is deeply alarming that a mere disagreement between neighbours could lead to the judicial harassment of an individual, based on his religious or other beliefs, and by the use of anti-blasphemy laws which may carry the death penalty.”

Religious minorities suffer under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

Pakistan’s “blasphemy” laws include sections 295-A, B, and C of the Pakistan Penal Code. However, only the charge of “desecration of the name” of Muhammad (295-C) is punishable by death. So far, no one has been executed under this law, but Christians and members of other religious minorities have been sentenced to death, and violence against those accused of blasphemy is common.

Asia Bibi served nine years in prison following her blasphemy conviction. She was acquitted by the Supreme Court in October 2018. However, she subsequently faced death threats and had to flee to Canada. Many others have been killed by vigilante mobs after being accused of blasphemy, even if they were acquitted.

International pressure helps blasphemy defendants

Internationally, many organizations have called for Masih’s release. These include ADF International, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), International Christian Concern, the Jubilee Campaign and the Barnabas Fund. International pressure has proven effective in securing the release of prisoners in similar situations.

Shagufta and Shafqat, a Pakistani Christian couple, served seven years on death row on a false blasphemy charge. A lower court had sentenced Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel to death for blasphemy in 2014. On April 29, 2021, the European Parliament passed a resolution “calling on the Pakistani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar and to quash their death sentence.” Shortly thereafter, they finally received their court date. The Lahore High Court overturned the death sentence against the Catholic couple on June 3, 2021. After news of their acquittal broke, the parents of four faced death threats. With the support of ADF International, the couple and their children were able to reach safety in Europe in August 202

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