Young Christian arrested for blasphemy


Sep 19, 2006

by Qaiser Felix

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – A straightforward case of theft in Pakistan has turned into the umpteenth case of blasphemy against a young Christian. Shahid Masih, 17, is currently in custody in Faisalabad. He has not received any visits, even from his family, and he is terrified of possible reprisals by Islamic fundamentalists.

The boy was arrested along with Muhammad Ghaffar, a Muslim friend, for allegedly tearing pages from a tafseer, a book explaining the Quranic verses. Both have been charged under section 295B of Pakistan’s Penal Code, better known as the blasphemy laws, which stipulate life imprisonment for those who desecrate the Koran.

But the case seems to be just another abuse of the law, the repeal of which has been demanded in the country for years. Shahid’s mother, Alice Munawar, told AsiaNews that 15 days earlier, Dr Masood had warned Shahid’s elder brother about the theft of some medicines from his clinic and of his intention to track down the perpetrators.

On 10 September, continued the woman, four policemen came to look for Shahid, who was not at home, and they told the family that Masood had reported him for blasphemy. “We admitted our son takes drugs but he has nothing to do with anything connected to religious matters. We have lived here for years and had good relations with Dr Masood; we used to take treatment from him.”

Ejaz Ghauri, president of the Human Development Net (HDN), agreed this was a totally false case. He visited the family and relatives of Shahid Masih to get the facts to reconstruct the case. “There is no evidence and no witnesses; the case is totally false,” he said. According to Ghauri, this was a minor theft case (the two may have stolen medicines for personal use) but “we didn’t find any purposeful desecration of Islam”.

Shahid is being defended by Catholic lawyer, Khalil Tahir, chairman of Adal Trust, a NGO in Faisalabad. He has offered to help the young Christian’s family free-of-charge. Tahir said the blasphemy charge would not hold water because the only witness of Shahid’s presumed guilt was his companion Ghaffar, also involved in the case and said to have committed the crime together with the young Christian. According to Pakistani law, the statement of an accused person cannot be used against or for other people.”

Tahir is the same lawyer who fought for Javed Anjum, a Catholic youth killed in 2004. In March this year, two Muslim clerics were sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with his murder.