Zahid Hussain, Karachi
Updated: October 11, 2015 10:56 PM GMT
Christian rights activists in Pakistan welcomed a local court's decision to order the release of a Christian laborer accused of blasphemy.
Although the charges are still pending, they said it is a rare case of fair treatment when Christians are accused of contravening Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws.
Pervaiz Masih, 40, was arrested in the Pakistani city of Kasur in September after being accused by his Muslim contractor of making derogatory remarks against the Prophet Mohammed — a charge he denied.
He was granted bail on Oct. 8, according to his lawyer, Tahir Gull.
"Masih has been granted bail by the court on merit. And we are glad that speedy justice has been served in this case," Gull told ucanews.com.
Maish was booked under a section of Pakistan's criminal code that prohibits making derogatory comments that insult the prophet. The charge calls for the death sentence in the case of a conviction.
"There was no evidence whatsoever against Masih that he made any derogatory remarks," Gull said.
The lawyer said that Pervaiz Masih had expressed his respect for the Prophet Mohammed in an affidavit submitted to the court.
Joseph Francis, national director for the Center for Legal Aid and Settlement, which helps persecuted Christians in Pakistan, said that the decision to release Masih on bail was rare.
Fear of backlash from fanatics often results in unfavorable rulings against those accused of blasphemy, Francis said.
"It is, therefore, encouraging that the matter has been decided by the lower court without any fear," he said, noting that this year alone, five other people have been sentenced to death in separate blasphemy cases.
Shamoon Masih, Pervaiz' brother-in-law, told ucanews.com that the accusation was a result of Pervaiz demanding his wages from the accuser.
"Pervaiz and one fellow Muslim had a brawl with their Muslim contractor on the issue of payment of delivery of four trolleys of sand. The contractor did not make the agreed payment, resulting in heated arguments between the two sides," Shamoon said.
Sardar Mushtaq Gill, another rights activist, said that police shouldn't have registered the case in the first place.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 20, when his lawyers will argue for an outright acquittal.
According to rights defenders, Pakistan's blasphemy laws are often used to persecute religious minorities or to settle personal feuds.
Two top Pakistani officials, including a former Punjab governor and a Catholic minister, were assassinated in Islamabad after the two spoke out about the controversial law.
In late 2014, a Christian couple was lynched over accusations of blasphemy.
In 2013, an angry mob of several thousand Muslim men attacked Joseph Colony, a low-income Christian neighborhood in Lahore, setting fire to some 150 homes. The violence was triggered by rumors that a Christian sanitation worker had uttered offensive remarks against the Prophet Mohammed during an altercation. The man was arrested and later sentenced to death in March 2014.