Pakistanis' life terms for 'blasphemy' dropped

Baptist Press
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Posted: May 23, 2012 4:52 PM
Pakistanis' life terms for 'blasphemy' dropped
LAHORE, Pakistan (BP) -- A court has acquitted a Christian couple of blasphemy charges, overturning their life sentences.

The couple's lawyer, Chaudhry Naeem Shakir, told Compass Direct News that Justice Mazhar Ali Akbar Naqvi of the Lahore High Court accepted the couple's appeal May 17 because prosecutors failed to prove allegations that 32-year-old Munir Masih and his wife Ruqayya defiled the Quran or insulted Muhammad on Dec. 8, 2008.

The allegations by Muhammad Nawaz in Pakistan's Punjab province came under Sections 295-B and 295-C, respectively, of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which are routinely used to seek revenge on Christians over personal disputes. In this case, the Christian couple's children had fought with the family of Muhammad Yousaf, who directed his driver, Nawaz, to file the blasphemy charges.

Shakir said the First Information Report (FIR) indicated Nawaz initially accused Ruqayya Masih of using the Quran for exorcism. He accused her of touching the Quran without ablution 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. The couple then filed an appeal in the Lahore High Court.

"During the trial, not a single witness spoke against the couple regarding the allegations of blasphemy," Shakir said. Judge Muhammad Ajmal Hussain acquitted the couple under Section 295-C in March 2010 but gave them life imprisonment under Section 295-B, the lawyer reported.

During the course of hearings, Shakir asserted that Yousaf, along with his brother Muhammad Ilyas, implicated the Masihs through their driver Nawaz, who filed the FIR against the Christian couple. Shakir told the court that the motive involved a fight between the children of the Christian couple and Yousaf's family.

When the prosecutor argued that no one could touch the Quran without ablution, or ritual purification, Shakir said, "Justice Naqvi told the prosecutor that no one bothers to do that before reading the Quran or the Bible in libraries around the world."

Shakir said 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," Shakir said, adding that the Christian woman has been languishing in jail and was not be scheduled for release until May 21. The couple has four daughters and two sons.

Shakir said local police had listed 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...."

The couple's attorney said 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," Shakir 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.

Reported by Compass Direct News,www.compassdirect.org, a news service based in Santa Ana, Calif., focusing on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. Used by permission.

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