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New Blasphemy Case Filed Against Pakistani Christian

Sunday, August 26, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags: ,

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, April 9 (Compass) -- Police in Pakistan's Punjab province registered another questionable blasphemy case against one of its Christian citizens on April 1, jailing a respected high school principal for slander he allegedly spoke two months ago against Mohammed, the prophet of Islam. Pervaiz Masih, founding director of the Iqbal Memorial High School in Chelay Kay village near Sialkot, was arrested at his home on April 1 during a late-night police raid.

Accused of committing religious blasphemy against Mohammed as prohibited under Section 295-C of the Pakistan penal code, the 33-year-old teacher is liable for a mandatory death sentence if convicted.

According to Masih's accuser, a Qur'an course teacher named Sajjad Ahmed, the Christian had made the offensive comments two months earlier to three teenage schoolboys he was tutoring privately.

The students alleged that Masih had told them Mohammed once raped a six-year-old girl, an incident which he said was recorded in "Sahih Bukhari," a book of the Hadith (inspired traditions) of Islam.

When the schoolboys related the alleged comments to Ahmed weeks later, he promptly reported their claims to local community leaders, demanding that the Christian be punished severely for sinning against their holy prophet of Islam.

According to local sources, one of Masih's Muslim neighbors, who started a rival private school two years ago about a mile from the Iqbal Memorial High School, had an ongoing feud with the Christian teacher. This same neighbor reportedly convinced village leaders to agree a case should be filed against Masih and then accompanied Ahmed to the police station.

Along with more than 50 Muslim representatives from Masih's home village and his own village of Chak Miyana, Ahmed went to the Saddar police station in Daska on April 1 to present his written accusation against Masih. After first getting approval from the deputy commissioner of Sialkot, Assistant Sub-Inspector Ali Akbar registered Ahmad's formal complaint as First Information Report (FIR) No. 62, charging Masih with committing blasphemy.

Later that same night, officers from the Saddar Daska police station raided Masih's home and arrested him. Masih was sent the following day to the Sialkot District Jail, where his family has been refused admission to visit him.

Masih's family remains "very worried about his safety," a preliminary report from the Lahore-based Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) commented on April 6.

Non-Muslims incarcerated in Pakistan's large-ward prisons remain at risk of attack from other inmates once it is known they are charged with blasphemy. Christians charged under Section 295-C are rarely granted bail while under trial in the lower courts, an ordeal usually dragging on for several years. Representatives of CLAAS and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan are slated to visit Masih in the Sialkot District Jail on April 14 as part of a fact-finding investigation on the case. According to a local Protestant bishop, Masih, who is single, is a member of the Presbyterian Church in Pakistan.

Copyright © 2001 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.

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