Stephen Masih, a mentally disabled Christian man, was charged with “blasphemy” in Punjab, Pakistan on 11 March following a complaint by two Muslim men who claimed he “made derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet Muhammad in their presence” and ignored their requests to stop.
The complaint was lodged at Badiana police station in Sialkot District by local cleric Hafiz Muhammad Mudassar under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which carries a mandatory death sentence.
Stephen is being held in police custody while investigations continue. CLAAS (Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement), which is supported by Barnabas Fund, has taken up his case.
Stephen, 38, lives with his elder sister Alia and their mother, who is bedridden because of serious illness. At the age of about ten he became ill with typhoid fever which caused damage to his brain, leaving him mentally disabled.
Stephen’s family is too poor to pay for the medicine he needs to control the fits and vocal outbursts of bad language caused by his mental disability.
On 11 March, while his sister Alia was at church, Stephen became involved in a quarrel with the wife of Hafiz Muhammad Mudassar. She and a woman friend threatened to report Stephen to the police because “he often used filthy language against the local women”.
A crowd of Muslim men, including Muslim clerics, later gathered and brutally beat Stephen while Alia begged for his life. The beating only stopped when the police arrived and took Stephen into custody.
Alia conceded that Stephen used bad language to local women but said he did not utter any derogatory remarks against Muhammad. She said the family had lived happily among the Muslim community for up to 35 years, but now, for the first time, they are scared for their lives because of the false “blasphemy” accusation.
Pakistan’s “blasphemy” laws comprise 295-A, B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code. However, it is only the charge of “defiling the name” of Muhammad (295-C) which carries the death penalty. To date no one has been executed under the law, but a number of Christians and others have received death sentences . Aasia Bibi, who was in prison for more than nine years after being convicted of “blasphemy”, was acquitted by the Supreme Court in October 2018.
Barnabas Fund has launched a global initiative to pray for those imprisoned for their Christian faith. Visit our webpage: Christian Prisoners of Conscience .
From Barnabas Fund contacts