ASIA/PAKISTAN - Christian declared innocent after blasphemy accusations

Friday, 16 February 2024 religious minorities   human rights   blasphemy  

Faisalabad (Agenzia Fides) - Social and religious tensions in the Faisalabad region of Pakistan's Punjab province have calmed after Christian Younis Masih, accused of blasphemy, was declared innocent, acquitted of the charge and released from custody by the police. Masih was arrested in recent days on blasphemy charges after a woman, Susan Fatima, accused him of breaking into her home, attacking her and insulting the Koran. Fatima's family converted to Islam about a year and a half ago. After the charge was received and the complaint was registered, Masih voluntarily went to the police to clarify the incident. Local Christians joined Masih in protesting his innocence and spoke of "fabricated accusations." After being questioned by investigators, the turning point came: Susan Fatima was also arrested to further investigate the incident. This development is interesting in that it highlights the need for a thorough investigation to determine responsibility and truth in cases involving alleged blasphemy allegations. In Faisalabad, according to lawyer Aneeqa Maria Anthony, who represented the defendant on behalf of Masih's family, the positive handling of this incident "has created trust in the Christian community, especially with regard to the authorities' support for justice and the protection of the people Rights of all people, regardless of their religious beliefs." "Masih's case is a reminder of the importance of fair and impartial trials and the risk of false accusations," states the non-governmental organization "Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement" (CLAAS). According to Jaranwala resident Pastor Shakoor Alam, the incident could be a land dispute and the filing of the blasphemy charge could have been a ploy and exploitation of the existing law. "The police therefore have a duty to find out the truth by stopping abusive blasphemy laws in personal disputes," he said. According to Nasir Saeed, Director of CLAAS, the Younis Masih case highlights the abuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Saeed praised the police for their insight in investigating the matter, which led to the release of Masih and the arrest of Fatima, who falsely accused Masih. "However, this is not an isolated case. Such cases, if left uninvestigated, can have tragic consequences: some innocent people can spend many years in prison or even be killed. Local Christians attribute the "collective attack" carried out in Jaranwala, Faisalabad region, in August last year to a similar dynamic: the accusation of alleged blasphemy against two Christians who deny all allegations".
The new government of Pakistan, to be formed after the recent elections, said Saeed, "will have the duty to implement legal reforms to prevent further injustice and protect the rights of all citizens." According to the Pakistan Penal Code, the offense of blasphemy is punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment in three articles (295-a, 295-b, 295-c, collectively referred to as the "Blasphemy Law"), which specifically criminalize insults to Islam. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 16/2/2024)