Khuram Masih, 23 was charged with desecrating the Quran under Pakistan’s controversial “blasphemy” laws after he had an argument over rent with his Muslim landlord. According to his attorney, a trial date is now scheduled for Jan. 7, with a bail hearing set for Jan 3.
His attorney reported that police in Shahdara Town, near Lahore, arrested Masih on Dec. 5 and charged him under Section 295-B after his landlord, Zulfiqar Ali, accused him of burning pages of the Quran in order to prepare tea. Section 295-B makes willful desecration of the Quran or use of an extract in a derogatory manner punishable with life imprisonment. “The case is yet another example of how the blasphemy laws are misused to settle personal issues,” Community Development Initiative (CDI) Executive Director Asif Aqeel said.
Masih told his attorneys he was falsely accused because of an argument he had with Ali earlier in the day over the rent of the house in which he and his wife, Bano, a convert from Hinduism, have been living along with five other families. “The charges are completely fabricated,” Masih told attorneys. Another of Ali’s tenants, a neighbor of Masih, told the landlord that he had seen Masih and his wife burning the pages of the Quran to make tea and spread the word to other area Muslims, according to the First Information Report (FIR). Soon a crowd of Muslims gathered near Masih’s house and started shouting slogans against the Christians, and Muslim leaders made announcements from several mosques calling for severe punishment of the Christian couple.
Masih, a low-income laborer, appeared in court on Dec. 24, but the judge did not show up. A trial date is now scheduled for Jan. 7, with a bail hearing set for Jan 3. According to Compass, Masih was visibly shaken by the charges against him and wept as he sought protection for his wife, who is now living with Masih’s relatives. Christian rights activist Khalid Shahzad told Compass that soon after news of the alleged desecration began spreading, he and other Christian leaders started efforts to defuse religious tensions threatening the lives and property of between 15,000 and 16,000 Christians living in the Shahdara area.
“Panic among Christians spread after announcements were made from mosques, and several people left their houses anticipating violence,” he said. “Thank God the situation normalized in a couple of days, although we have strictly forbidden our boys from standing in groups outside their homes or in streets and from reacting on unconfirmed reports.”
Shahzad said police were hasty in registering the case. “They did not follow the procedure while booking Masih, as no police officer below the level of superintendent of police can investigate blasphemy charges,” he said. However, the officer in charge of the investigation said that police had seized the allegedly burned pages from the “scene of the crime” and that police had proven that Masih had intentionally burned them.
Under Pakistan’s internationally condemned blasphemy laws, conviction under Section 295-C for derogatory comments about Muhammad is punishable by death, though life imprisonment is also possible. Section 295-A prohibits injuring or defiling places of worship and “acts intended to outrage religious feelings.” It is punishable by life imprisonment, which in Pakistan is 25 years.
Father, as the date for Khuram Masih’s trial approaches, we ask that You would raise up powerful advocates to plead his case both from within Pakistan and from the international community. Embolden this young believer to stand firm in his faith and to extend the love of Christ to his Muslim accusers. Protect Masih’s wife and local believers from the retaliation of area Muslims. We stand in the gap for Masih and for all Pakistani believers to ask that You would grant them favor In the eyes of the government officials. As we enter the New Year, we pray that You would bring freedom to worship You without fear to believers throughout Pakistan. Amen.