Court acquits Christian man accused of Blasphemy in Pakistan after 10 years in Prison

A Christian man in Pakistan who was sentenced to life imprisonment for blasphemy has been acquitted by the Lahore High Court after spending ten years in prison. Imran Ghafur Masih was initially convicted under Pakistan's blasphemy laws. His release has been announced by the International Christian Concern (ICC). However, Masih is staying away from the public in order to avoid any future threat from Islamic extremists.

Lahore High Court reached the decision of Masih's release on December 15 to the amazement of his family. Imaran's brother, Naveed Masih could not contain his joy when he spoke to ICC. He said: "It is a day of resurrection for us. God has heard our cry and we are very thankful to him. It's a Christmas gift for us."

Imaran's accusation of blasphemy happened in 2009 when he wanted to burn some old books stacked in the bookshop his family runs. In the process of burning the old textbooks, he saw a book with Arabic writing. He asked his neighbor Hajji Liaquat Ali if he could burn the book and he agreed. However, that advice he took from his neighbor did not turn out well as Ali took the book out of the fire when it has burnt half way. Furthermore, he accused him of burning a Quran which was considered a blasphemy in the town.

Imaran's family linked Ali's action to his desire to take over the storefront which had the familys bookshop at Hajweri town, located in Faisalabad. This would enable him to expand his building materials business which was located next door. Ali spread the news of Imran burning a Quran to local mosques and in the community using public address systems. 

This led to a mob of about 400 Muslims storming Imrans home where they attacked him, his father, and his brother. However, the police came to the scene and took Imran into custody. At the police station, a mob of about 1,000 Muslims reportedly converged and chanted "Hang him who disgraces the Holy Quran Christians are dogs. Imran is a dog." 

In order pacify the mob, the police charged Imran with blasphemy and handed out copies of the charges to the mob. Consequently, the Sessions Court of Faisalaband sentenced Imran to life in prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees in January 2010. These charges were made under Sections 295-A and 295-B of Pakistan's blasphemy laws. 

For the past ten years, Imran's case was appealed to the Lahore High Court. However, it has been postponed about 70 times. Imrans lawyer stated that the appeal passed through the offices of at least 10 justices. 

False accusations of blasphemy are very rampant in Pakistan. Often, they are spurred by religious hatred or personal vendettas. According to reports, 24 Christians are presently imprisoned on blasphemy charges in the country.

ICC's Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark has released a statement on the release of Imran Masih. He said, "We here at International Christian Concern are happy to see Imran Masih finally acquitted and released after more than 10 years in prison. It is great to see such a prolonged blasphemy case justly resolved at the High Court level in Pakistan." 

"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. 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."

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