On Tuesday 15 December, the Lahore High Court acquitted Imran Ghafur Masih, a Christian who was serving a life sentence under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and had spent more than eleven years in Faisalabad Central Jail. He and his family have gone into hiding for fear of extremist attack.
Imran was arrested in 2009, after a neighbour falsely accused him of burning pages of the Quran, and was sentenced to life in prison in 2010. His appeal hearing was postponed almost seventy times and the case passed through the hands of at least ten justices, believed to be unwilling to hear it for fear of Islamist mob violence.
The Lahore High Court acquitted Imran of “wilfully defiling the Quran” (under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code, an offence punishable with life imprisonment) and also of “deliberately hurting the religious feelings of Muslims” (under Section 295-A, punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment).
Following Imran’s release from prison, his brother Naveed Masih told International Christian Concern, “It is a day of resurrection for us. God has heard our cry and we are very thankful to him. It’s a Christmas gift for us. We went through a very painful time during Imran’s imprisonment. Imran lost his parents and was not allowed to attend the funeral. We lost our business and jobs which has affected our children’s education and future. We have not seen any happiness during these years.”
Imran’s lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu told Aid to the Church in Need, “It is excellent that Imran has been acquitted of all the charges against him but the question I must ask is who is responsible for his having to spend more than eleven years behind bars for a crime he never committed.” He said that during Imran’s imprisonment both his parents “died of grief” for their son.
Praising the High Court’s decision, the lawyer said that many justices were fearful in case of a hostile reaction from Islamist mobs determined to punish anyone accused of blasphemy, especially those from religious minorities.
Read Imran Ghafur Masih’s Prisoner Profile.
Read about Christians in Pakistan in the Pakistan Country Profile.
(Aid to the Church in Need, International Christian Concern)