The Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad has granted bail to three Christians charged with “blasphemy” in separate cases.
Sanitary worker Salamat Mansha Masih was bailed on 23 August. He was originally arrested in February 2021 while working for Lahore Waste Management Company.
Salamat, along with Haroon Masih, was accused by four Muslim college students of ridiculing Islam when preaching Christianity to them. The allegations centre on a booklet that the Christian pair gave to the students. Haroon was bailed in February 2021.
Defence lawyer Abdul Hameed Khan Rana contended that the booklet related to the Bible and contained no material that any religion could deem sacrilegious, as claimed by the Muslim students.
The bench of two judges ruled that the accused should be protected until the allegation was proved and the state has a special responsibility to ensure protection of those accused of “blasphemy”.
Justice Qazi Faez Isa noted the polarisation in Pakistan caused by religion. “There is already a lot of division in the society in the name of religion. Don't create more,” he instructed the complainant’s lawyer.
No evidence to support accusations
Another Christian, Patras Masih, was granted bail the following day, 24 August. Patras allegedly posted offensive material about Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, on social media in February 2018.
Violent protests forced Patras to flee his home, and he was subsequently arrested under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which carries a mandatory death penalty.
Patras’s lawyer Saif Ul Malook argued that he should have been charged under Section 295-A, which relates to deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings and does not carry a death sentence.
The defence also asserted that there was no evidence that that he posted the material in question.
The case has been referred back to the lower (trial) court with clear directives from the Supreme Court to base their judgments on the evidence provided without succumbing to outside pressure.
In another case heard the same day, lawyer Saif Ul Malook successfully argued – in accordance with the Pakistan penal Code – that Raja Waris was entitled to bail because his trial had not been concluded within a year of his arrest.
Raja was arrested and charged under Section 295-A on 5 January 2021 following a Facebook post he allegedly sent in December 2020.
“Blasphemy” laws in Pakistan are often used to make false accusations in order to settle personal grudges. Christians are especially vulnerable, as simply stating their beliefs can be construed as “blasphemy” and the lower courts usually favour the testimony of Muslims, in accordance with sharia (Islamic law). Judges are often reluctant to acquit those accused of “blasphemy” for fear of reprisals.