Pakistan has not yet executed anyone for blasphemy, but dozens are imprisoned on blasphemy charges, which many right activists and lawyers said are levelled to settle personal disputes.
Pressure is growing on Pakistan to amend its blasphemy laws, but fundamentalist Muslims have rallied against any such effort.
According to the CDN report — Muslim inmates at a prison in northwest Punjab Province on Oct. 29 stoned a Christian wrongly convicted of “blasphemy” nearly to death, according to his father.
Imran Masih, a 19-year-old member of the Protestant Church of Pakistan, is still recovering in District Hospital Hazro, where he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit the day of the assault.
“Imran Masih was brought to the hospital in a very serious condition,” Dr. Sultan Malik told Compass. “He had lost a lot of blood. He was shifted to the ICU and is still under treatment.”
Masih, a resident of Hazro near Attock, is expected to be released from the hospital next week.
He was working at a barbershop in July 2009 when the owner, Nadeem Haider, accused him of stealing 5,000 rupees (US$60). Haider, who had been pressuring Masih to convert to Islam, had the Christian arrested, according to investigators.
Station House Officer Junaid Mirza of Hazro told prison investigators and Compass that Haider paid police to torture Masih.
“Inspector Jamal Khan [of Madina Town police station in Hazro] arrested Masih from his house, and Haider had paid Khan to severely torture Masih,” Mirza told Compass. “When Masih was presented at the session court, his father Basharat Masih appealed to the court, saying that his son was illegally detained and tortured.”
Justice Risalat Khawaja of Attock Session Court ordered a medical report, Mirza said.
“Haider and Khan then conspired together,” Mirza said, “and before the medical report could be presented, Khan turned a simple case of robbery into blasphemy, saying that Imran Masih had spoken against the holy prophet Muhammad(PBUH).”
Khawaja on Aug. 3 sentenced Masih to 10 years of prison under Pakistan’s blasphemy statues, widely condemned internationally for their use against oppressed minorities to settle grudges. The maximum punishment for a genuine case of speaking ill of prophet Muhammad[PBUH] would be death or life imprisonment.
“My son was threatened that if he talked to anyone, his family would be killed,” Masih’s father told News Asia channel. “I am a poor man, I cannot afford a lawyer to appeal at the High Court. I have been writing to higher authorities appealing to them to release my son.”
Zubair Malik, investigation officer on the prison inquiry commission looking into the assault on Masih, said that on Oct. 29 Masih was sitting outside his barrack after Friday prayers when a group of inmates pounced on him, yelling that he was a blasphemer and must be killed.
With rocks from fields within the prison premises, they tried to stone him to death as prison guards looked on, Malik said, stopping the assault only after Masih was nearly dead.
Police took him to District Hospital Hazro.
Haider last month told Basharat Masih that he would ensure that his son did not get out of prison alive, the elder Masih said, and therefore he suspects that Haider and Khan arranged the stoning. Basharat Masih said Khan and Haider have contacts in prison that could have orchestrated the assault.
Khan and Haider were not available for comment.
In another news story Munir Masih, a Christian accused and sentenced to 25 years in prison for blasphemy, was freed on bail.
His is another case of blatant abuse of the blasphemy law:
Munir had been sentenced “for touching the Koran with dirty hands”.
The man has always protested his innocence, explaining that the unfounded allegations were made by a neighbor after a dispute between their children. Munir, a worker who lives in the district of Kasur in Punjab, is married to Riqqiya Bibi and father of six children. Riqqiya Bibi, also sentenced to 25 years for the same charge, still remains in prison, but lawyers are hoping that, after the release of her husband, she will receive the same same justice. The High Court will rule for her next week.
The case of Munir Masih and Riqqiya Bibi once again confirmed the trend that many of the unfair verdicts imposed in the first instance for blasphemy, based on false accusations.
The fact is that of the nearly 1,000 people charged under these laws since 1986, none have been executed, with the sentence most often being overturned on appeal. However, 32 of the people charged with blasphemy have been murdered. Further, the years have provided ample evidence that the charge of blasphemy is often used to settle personal or business scores and grab property by causing the persecuted community to flee from its lands. It has been used to spark sectarian and ethnic unrest.
Part of the problem lies in the mishandling of blasphemy cases by the lower courts. This is attributed partly to the fact that they often face intense pressure at the hands of hardliners against the acquittal of persons accused of blasphemy. Therefore, the suggestion that such cases be dealt with by the high courts, acting as trial courts, merits attention.