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Christian man accused of blasphemy dies in Pakistan prison

Country/Region: Pakistan, South and East Asia

A young Christian man imprisoned in Pakistan on false accusations of blasphemy has died after he fell ill and failed to receive proper medical care.

Aslam Masih (30) passed away on 9 September, having been unwell with various diseases, including tuberculosis and dengue fever, for a number of months.

Aslam-Masih-4X3.jpg
Aslam Masih died of dengue fever

He was visited by a team from CLAAS, a Pakistani Christian legal organisation supported by Barnabas Fund, on 25 July. They said he had a high fever, was unable to stand and was struggling to breathe. Aslam was receiving basic treatment in the jail hospital but needed more specialised care.

CLAAS requested that the prison authorities allow Aslam to go to a regular hospital for proper treatment but this was initially refused for security reasons. He was later admitted to hospital in Lahore, where he died. A post-mortem found the cause of death to be dengue fever, which can be treated in Pakistan.

Aslam had been in prison in Lahore since his arrest in February 2010, having been falsely accused under Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, which are often used against Christians and other non-Muslim minorities. Two Muslims had registered a case against him under section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code, which carries a sentence of life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran.

Aslam had lost contact with his family, who did not visit him during his time in prison. Aslam’s mental as well as his physical health had deteriorated as a result of his ordeal. He, and others in the prison accused of blasphemy, were kept in solitary confinement without access to a toilet, water or electricity. Aslam was also denied basic products such as soap, toothpaste and clean clothes.

Blasphemy deaths

A number of Christians have lost their lives as a direct or indirect result of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Some, like Aslam, have died in prison. Earlier this year, Qamar David (57), who was serving a life sentence for blasphemy, apparently died of a heart attack in Karachi’s central jail. In September 2009, Fanish Masih (20) was murdered by police who severely tortured him in custody after he was falsely accused of blasphemy.

Others are killed by Muslim vigilantes. Pastor Rashid Emmanuel (30) and his brother Sajid (27) were gunned down on 19 July 2010 as they were escorted from court in Faisalabad following their first appearance on blasphemy charges. Rumours had spread the day before that the brothers would be found innocent and released.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law carries a mandatory death sentence for “defiling the name of Muhammad”. No-one has yet been executed for blasphemy, but zealous Muslims have, on a number of occasions, taken matters into their own hands. Since 1990 at least ten Pakistanis accused of blasphemy have been killed while their cases were being considered.

Many of those charged spend months or years in custody while their cases are considered. Aasia Bibi has been languishing in jail since she was accused of making derogatory remarks about Muhammad in 2009. She is on death row and may have to wait years before an appeal of her case is heard.

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