Catholic organization hires Muslim to lead defense in blasphemy case in the high court
Christian mechanic Ashfaq Masih was accused of blasphemy after a dispute involving a Muslim customer. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry)
The Christian attorney of a Christian mechanic, recently sentenced to death for blasphemy, will now assist a Muslim lawyer in filing the appeal in Lahore High Court.
Ashfaq Masih was accused of uttering blasphemous comments about the Prophet Muhammad at his shop in 2017 a few days after a dispute involving a Muslim customer.
Muhammad Irfan, one of the six complainants, refused to pay his bill claiming that he was a religious devotee.
The police registered a first information report under section 295C of the Penal Code, which imposes a mandatory death penalty for blasphemy.
Reading out the 12-page judgment on July 4, Khalid Wazir, additional session judge of Lahore High Court, sentenced Masih to death and fined him 100,000 rupees (US$484).
Riaz Anjum, who represented Masih in court, said a Catholic NGO, the Human Friends Organization, has hired a Muslim lawyer to lead the case.
"These contradictions cast a shadow on the story of the prosecution"
“There are clear deviations between the initial statements of the complainants and their evidence before the trial court. These contradictions cast a shadow on the story of the prosecution. Irfan was not produced in court to support the prosecution's case,” he told UCA News.
“Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not only a fundamental principle of law but is also of fundamental importance in criminal justice. The same principle seeks to ensure that no innocent person is convicted.”
In court, Masih said the case against him was baseless.
“Irfan came to my shop to balance the wheel of his motorcycle but refused to pay the agreed amount claiming that he was a follower of peer faqeers [mystics]. I told him that I was a believer in Jesus Christ and I don’t believe in peer faqeer so give me what’s due,” he said.
On June 11, two Christian brothers, Amoon and Qaiser Ayub, were also given the death penalty for blasphemy.
While the authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, such accusations have led to the lynching of both local and foreign victims.
“I don’t remember any case where the lower court decided to grant bail or freed anyone accused of blasphemy"
Christian activists and groups have slammed the latest verdict.
In a statement issued on July 7, Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement UK, which supports persecuted Christians in Pakistan, said the judgment was very sad but had been expected.
“I don’t remember any case where the lower court decided to grant bail or freed anyone accused of blasphemy. The judges are aware that such cases are made to punish and settle personal grudges with opponents, especially against Christians.
“Because of pressure from Islamic groups, lower court judges are always hesitant to free the victims but make popular decisions to save their skin and shift their burden to the high court,” he said.
“Ashfaq is innocent and has already spent five years in prison for a crime he never committed. The National Assembly has passed a resolution calling for the law not to be abused in ways like this, but failed to bring any changes or legislation to stop the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy law.”
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