Life Sentences for “Blasphemy” in Pakistan Overturned
A Pakistani court acquitted a Christian couple of “blasphemy” charges last week, overturning their life sentences, their lawyer said. According to Compass Direct News the justice of the Lahore High Court accepted the couple’s appeal because prosecutors failed to prove allegations that 32-year-old Munir Masih and his wife Ruqayya defiled the Quran or insulted Muhammad on December 8, 2008.
The allegations by Muhammad Nawaz came under sections 295-B and 295-C respectively of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which are routinely employed to exact revenge on Christians over personal disputes. In this case, the Christian couple’s children had fought with the family of Muhammad Yousaf, who then directed his driver, Nawaz, to file the blasphemy charges.
The couple’s lawyer said that the First Information Report (FIR) indicated Nawaz initially accused Ruqayya Masih of using the Quran for exorcism purposes. He accused her of touching the Quran without ablution (ritual purification) and said that her husband was equally culpable since he remained a silent spectator. The complainant also claimed that the couple insulted Muhammad.
A trial court had exonerated them from charges of blasphemy against Muhammad in 2010, but sentenced them to life imprisonment (25 years in Pakistan) for allegedly defiling the Quran. “During the trial, not a single witness spoke against the couple regarding the allegations of blasphemy,” said their lawyer. “Therefore, Judge Muhammad Ajmal Hussain acquitted the couple on March 2, 2010 of 295-C [blasphemy] but awarded them life imprisonment under Section 295-B [defiling the Quran].” The couple then filed an appeal in the Lahore High Court pleading not guilty.
Shakir, the couples attorney, said that Mustafabad police had named eight witnesses in the FIR, of whom three were named as eyewitnesses, while the others were classified as recovery witnesses, those supposedly present when police recovered the Quran from the couple’s house. “Of the five ‘recovery witnesses,’ two completely denied being at the alleged crime scene,” Shakir said. “One told the court that he had reached the place after the police had made the recovery, while the other said that he had testified under duress, making the case quite clear.”
The couple’s attorney said that Ruqayya Masih had admitted keeping the Quran in her house. “She told me that the Quran was given to her by a Muslim neighbor named Muhammad Faisal, and she had kept it safely with her, although she did not say why,” he said, adding that police had informed the court that they had found the Quran wrapped in a piece of cloth and placed in a cupboard.
Upon finding no evidence for charges against Christian couple, the Lahore High Court had released Munir Masih on bail because the charges against him were weak. “Witnesses had claimed that Munir was sitting outside his home when Ruqayya was allegedly defiling the Quran,” he said, adding that the Christian woman has been languishing in Sahiwal Jail and was not to be freed until May 21. The couple has four daughters and two sons.
Thank You, Father, for the release of Munir Masih and pray now for the release of Ruqayya Masih that she might return to her family. We pray for them as they are reunited that their faith might be strengthened. Protect them from further harm and from bitterness or hopelessness. We also lift up other Christians in the village that they might be protected from injustice. We pray that the family might be a strong witness to Christ. In the name of Jesus our protector, Amen.