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Top Pakistan court bails Christian accused of blasphemy

Lawyers say there is no evidence proving Adnan Prince Masih, a pastor, insulted Islam
Top Pakistan court bails Christian accused of blasphemy

Pakistani Christians say accusations of blasphemy are often used to victimize them. (Photo by Arif Ali/AFP)

Published: February 06, 2017 06:54 AM GMT
Updated: February 06, 2017 06:56 AM GMT

In a rare move Pakistan's top court has granted bail to a Christian pastor kept in solitary confinement for more than three years on blasphemy charges.

Adnan Prince Masih, aged 26, from Lahore, was arrested in October 2013 for allegedly outraging religious feelings, defiling the Quran and defaming the Prophet Mohammed, charges which carry the death sentence or a life term. Masih is not a surname but is used to identify a male Pakistani as a Christian.

Prince denied the charges, while his lawyers said there was no evidence backing up the blasphemy accusation.

He claims he was making notes about a book, written by Maulana Ameer Hamza, head of Jamat-ud-Dawa, the political wing of the jihadist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Prince said a Muslim colleague took offence and went to a police station in Lahore and accused of "marking several pages… with abusive words against the Prophet of Islam."

A three-judge Supreme Court bench set bail at about US$3,000 on Feb. 1.

Human rights lawyer Nadeem Anthony, who helped represent Prince praised the court's decision.

"It is very difficult to free a person once he is trapped by the blasphemy law," he said.

The Supreme Court pointed to a lack of eyewitnesses and forensic evidence and said the case would be reviewed again at a later date.

Human rights groups have repeatedly called for the repeal of the controversial blasphemy laws, saying these are often used to victimize religious minorities or settle personal vendettas.

More than 1,000 blasphemy cases have been filed in Pakistan since 1988 when the laws were enacted, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Last week, an anti-terrorism court acquitted, due to lack of evidence, more than 100 Muslims who had ransacked a Christian colony over allegations of blasphemy against a minority member, over lack of evidence. 

Former provincial governor Salman Taseer and Catholic minister Shehbaz Bhatti were assassinated in Islamabad after they spoke out against the misuse of blasphemy laws.

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