Ashfaq Masih (37) has been in prison in Pakistan since 2017, when he was accused of blasphemy. His court hearings were cancelled repeatedly until he was sentenced to death in July 2022. The appeal against his death sentence is pending in the Lahore High Court.
LATEST NEWS (October 2023): On 19 October 2023 Ashfaq’s wife Nabeela visited him in prison and later reported that he was very disturbed because so much time had passed in jail and that he asked his family to urge the lawyer to start his case in court.
On 15 June 2017, Pentecostal bike mechanic Ashfaq Masih from Mariam Colony in Lahore’s Green Town neighbourhood was accused of blasphemy after he was involved in a dispute with a Muslim customer over payment for repairing a motorbike.
Muhammad Irfan got his motorbike mended at Ashfaq’s repair shop in Lahore’s Bagarhian suburb, but when Ashfaq asked for payment he refused to pay the full amount, saying he was a poor sadhu (religious devotee) and that Ashfaq should honour him. Ashfaq replied that he only believed in Jesus Christ, not others, and refused to reduce the price, telling the bike owner that he was a poor man himself and needed the money.
An argument developed, a crowd gathered and Ashfaq was accused of blasphemy for reportedly “disrespecting” the Prophet Muhammad by telling Irfan that Christians believe Jesus was the final prophet. Police were called and they arrested Ashfaq and brought him to Green Town police station, Bagarian Road, Lahore, where complainant Muhammad Ashfaq (the landlord of Ashfaq’s shop) lodged a First Information Report against Ashfaq under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, in which he claimed that on 15 June 2017 at approximately 12 pm when Ashfaq was sitting in his shop he made derogatory remarks against the Prophet Mohammad.
Ashfaq was imprisoned in Lahore’s Camp Jail (he has since been transferred to Sahiwal Jail, 180 km from Lahore). He testified in court that he was framed on false charges by Muhammad Ashfaq (the complainant in the case) and Muhammad Naveed, who runs a nearby bike repair shop – Ashfaq said Naveed was jealous of his success and held a grudge against him. Lawyer Riaz Anjum explained, “Masih believes both Ashfaq and Naveed conspired to implicate him in a blasphemy case by using Irfan.”
Ashfaq was sentenced to death in July 2022 and his family hired former Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Abid Saqi to file an appeal against the sentence in the Lahore High Court. Lahore-based NGO Human Friends Organisation said it would bear the legal costs.
Ashfaq and his wife Nabeela have a daughter who was three when he was arrested. His family fled the neighbourhood when he was accused of blasphemy but has since returned home. Ashfaq’s mother Zeenat died in November 2019, leaving his father Yaqoob and his older brother Mehmood; Ashfaq was briefly released to attend her funeral. The family is very poor but is receiving support.
15 June 2017 Ashfaq Masih was accused of blasphemy and arrested.
25 September 2019 A court hearing was due to be held but the judge adjourned the case.
7 October 2019 Ashfaq’s re-scheduled court hearing did not take place.
November 2019 Ashfaq’s mother Zeenat died.
29 July 2020 A scheduled court hearing was cancelled. A new date of 27 August 2020 was set.
27 August 2020 Ashfaq’s court hearing was adjourned to 30 September, because the judge did not attend.
30 September 2020 Ashfaq’s court hearing was adjourned to 14 October, because the judge did not attend.
26 December 2020 Ashfaq’s rescheduled court hearing did not take place.
23 January 2021 Ashfaq’s hearing, rescheduled for 23 January in the session court, was cancelled because the witness did not attend.
15 March 2021 Ashfaq’s hearing was was cancelled because the judge did not attend. The hearing was rescheduled for 29 March.
29 March 2021 Ashfaq’s hearing was adjourned because the witnesses did not arrive. The hearing was rescheduled for 10 May.
19 July 2021 Several of Ashfaq’s witnesses failed to attend a hearing on 19 July, following the adjournment of several recent court hearings because the judge or witnesses did not attend.
September 2021 Ashfaq’s case was scheduled but was not heard as the judge took the day off and did not attend.
7 March 2022 A court hearing was held and the judge heard witnesses from Ashfaq’s side. Another hearing date was scheduled for 21 March.
21 March 2022 Ashfaq’s lawyer was not present in court so the judge rescheduled the hearing for 4 April.
4 April 2022 The judge did not attend so the court rescheduled the hearing for 12 April.
12 April 2022 The court was closed due to a lawyers’ strike and Ashfaq’s hearing was rescheduled for 26 April.
26 April 2022 The complainant’s lawyer did not show up in court and the hearing was rescheduled for 12 May.
12 May 2022 Ashfaq’s court hearing did not take place. Lawyers for both sides did not arrive as the court room was changed. The hearing was rescheduled for 23 May.
4 July 2022 Session Judge Khalid Wazir sentenced Ashfaq to death for blasphemy.
19 October 2023 Ashfaq’s wife Nabeela visited him in prison and later reported that he was very disturbed because so much time had passed in jail and that he asked his family to urge the lawyer to start his case in court.
Read more about the persecution of Christians in Church in Chains’ Pakistan Country Profile.
(CLAAS-UK, Dawn, International Christian Concern Blasphemy Report, World Watch Monitor)
Photo Credit: CLAAS UK