John Newton and Marta Petrosillo
Campaigners calling for the release of a Pakistani Christian on death row for blasphemy have made renewed pleas for his conviction to be quashed. Sobia Masih – wife of condemned man Sawan Masih – told Aid to the Church in Need that her husband was unjustly sentenced to death in March 2014, after Muslim man Shahid Imran claimed that he had insulted the Prophet Mohammed.
Mrs. Masih said: “I don’t know why they have accused my husband. I just know that the man who brought charges against him was a friend of his with whom he had quarreled. Sawan is innocent!”
Father Emmanuel Yousaf, National Director of Pakistan’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace told ACN: “The charges against Sawan are being exploited.”
The blasphemy accusation against Mr Masih in 2013 led to riots in Joseph Colony, Lahore.
Father Yousaf said: “On 9th March, after Friday prayers, a mob of 3,000 Muslims burnt down the entire district, destroying almost 300 houses and two churches”.
He added: “The true motivation behind this is an attempt to drive Christians out of this city district. It has become very popular because it lies very close to the steel factories.”
Despite Mr Masih’s legal team highlighting a number of inconsistencies in the case against their client – including statements by two witnesses who were not present at the time of the alleged blasphemy – they are still waiting for his appeal to be heard.
His attorney Tahir Bashir said: “The hearings are constantly being postponed. The last hearing was scheduled for 28th January, but the judge did not appear. A new court date has now been set for 27th February.”
Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Executive Director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, told ACN that the commission had documented a further 25 cases of Christians facing criminal proceedings.
In these cases charges were brought under section 295 of the Pakistani Penal Code.
Section 295 B mandates a life sentence for anyone who desecrates the Qur’an, while insulting the Muslim Prophet Mohammed is punishable by death under Section 295 C.
Mr Chaudhry said: “The anti-blasphemy law is a powerful tool that fundamentalists can wield to the detriment of minorities and is often misused as a means for personal revenge.
“And when charges are brought against Christians, the entire community suffers the consequences.”