The High Court in Lahore has acquitted a Christian who was earlier sentenced to life in prison under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
The Lahore High Court on Dec. 15 acquitted Imran Ghafur Masih, who spent more than 10 years in prison for allegedly committing blasphemy.
“It is a day of resurrection for us,” Naveed Masih, Imran’s brother, told rights group International Christian Concern (ICC). “God has heard our cry and we are very thankful to him. It’s a Christmas gift for us.”
Imran’s family has already gone into hiding following the acquittal due to potential threats from extremist groups.
“We are happy to see Imran Masih finally acquitted and released,” said William Stark, ICC’s regional manager for South Asia.
“It is great to see such a prolonged blasphemy case justly resolved at the high court level in Pakistan,” he said.
Stark, however, expressed concern for the safety of Imran and his family, saying that 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,” said Stark.
He said that these laws “have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minorities.”
The case of Imran Ghafur Masih
On July 1, 2009, Imran was cleaning his family’s bookshop in Hajweri town in Faisalabad. He was about to burn some trash, which included some old books and papers, when he came across a textbook with Arabic writing.
Concerned that the book contained religious writings, Imran consulted Hajji Liaquat Ali, his Muslim neighbor. Ali told Imran to burn the book, so Imran threw it into the fire and walked away.
When the book was partially burned, Ali returned and pulled it out of the fire. Ali used the partially burned book to accuse Imran of burning a Qur’an.
According to Imran’s family, Ali wanted the storefront leased to the family’s bookshop to expand his building materials business located next door.
News of the incident soon spread to local mosques and made announcements over their public address systems.
A mob of approximately 400 Muslims gathered at Imran’s home and beat him, along with his brother, Naveed, and father, Ghafur, before dousing them with paraffin in an attempt to burn them alive.
Local police intervened, arrested Imran, and took him to the police station.
A mob of about 1,000 people gathered outside of the police station and demanded Imran be handed to them. Police soon registered a blasphemy case against Imran and copies of the charges were distributed to the mob.
On Jan. 11, 2010, the Sessions Court of Faisalabad sentenced Imran to life in prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees.
Imran appealed the case before the Lahore High Court but was postponed nearly 70 times over the course of the next 10 years.
According to Imran’s lawyer, the appeal passed through the offices of at least 10 justices.
“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,” said Imran’s brother.