On Dec. 15, the Lahore High Court acquitted Imran Ghafur Masih, a Christian who was sentenced to life in prison under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws in 2010.
“God has heard our cry and we are very thankful to him,” Naveed, Imran’s brother, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “It’s a Christmas gift for us.”
According to ICC, on July 1, 2009, Imran was cleaning his family’s bookshop in Hajveri Town, Faisalabad, when he decided to burn some trash, which included some books and papers. While cleaning, Imran came across a textbook with Arabic writing. Concerned that the book contained religious writings, he consulted his Muslim neighbor.
The neighbor assured Imran that the book was fine to add to the burn pile. So Imran threw it into the fire and walked away. But before the book burned completely, the neighbor pulled it out of the fire and falsely accused Imran of burning a Quran.
Imran’s family said the neighbor wanted to expand his building materials business next door and planned to take over the family bookstore’s in order to do so.
Rumors about the alleged Quran burning spread to local mosques where it was announced over their public address systems. Soon, a large mob of approximately 400 Muslims came to Imran’s home, where they attacked him, his brother and his father. The attackers then doused them with paraffin in an attempt to burn them alive.
Local police intervened, but instead of protecting Imran, they arrested him and took him to the police station. A mob of 1,000 reportedly gathered outside of the station and demanded Imran be handed to them. The mob chanted, “Hang him who disgraces the Holy Quran … Christians are dogs. Imran is a dog.” Police soon registered a blasphemy case against Imran and copies of the charges were distributed to the mob in hopes of calming the crowd.
Yet the situation for Christians in Hajveri Town remained tense for several weeks, according to a report from The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Masih’s family was forced to flee to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city, because the neighbor and his supporters claimed they would not allow the family to live in the neighborhood or run their business.
The Sessions Court of Faisalabad sentenced Imran to life in prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees under Sections 295-A and 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws on Jan. 11, 2010.
“We went through a very painful time during Imran’s imprisonment,” Naveed said. “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.”
On Dec. 7, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 386-3 to pass a bipartisan resolution calling for the global repeal of blasphemy, heresy and apostasy laws. Eight days later, Masih was acquitted.
“It is great to see such a prolonged blasphemy case justly resolved at the High Court level in Pakistan,” said William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia. “However, we remain deeply concerned for the safety of Imran and his family. Extremists in Pakistan are known to target individuals accused of religious crimes, like blasphemy, even after they have been acquitted.
“The abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must be curbed and false allegations must be rooted out and punished,” he added. “Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minorities. Without reform, religious minorities will continue to face false blasphemy accusations and the violence that often accompanies these accusations.”
Above: The Lehore Supreme Court of Pakistan
Photo: AlexelA/Alamy Stock Photo