Worthy News Asia News Service
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (Worthy News) -- Two Christian brothers accused of "blasphemy" against Islam in Pakistan were free Wednesday, April 22, after they were unexpectedly released from prison, but concerns remained over their future, Pakistani Christians and rights activists said.
Naveed Aziz, 17, and his elder brother Pastor Shafiq Masih, 35, were released from prison last week, April 16, after police and Christian groups were able to negotiate a settlement with their accusers out of court, rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) told Worthy News.
The two brothers were detained in January, when a Muslim mob reportedly burned their house and stoned them.
Their troubles began when Aziz was accused of blasphemy on January 27 in a school in the city of Narrowal in Punjab province where a fellow student noticed a pamphlet in his bag, according to Christian advocacy group Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).
It said that following the discovery, a teacher proceeded to search Naveed's bag, confiscate the pamphlet, and report him to the school principal.
Soon after, a group of angry Muslim students crowded the principal's office, demanding that Naveed be expelled from the school and handed over to police, rights activists said. The principal apparently attempted to calm down the situation, but did agree to expel Naveed from the school.
"News of Naveed's pamphlet spread, however, and one week later Muslim students from nearby high schools and colleges conducted a rally against Naveed. Radical Muslim groups persuaded the mob to seize Naveed and his brother, Pastor Shafiq Masih...burn their house and stone them," ICC said. Police reportedly intervened by arresting the two brothers and taking them to prison.
"This provides a rare case of Pakistani police defending Christian minorities, as the police did not permit the accusers to file a court case against the two men," ICC explained.
Instead, when a Christian legal group came to investigate the situation, they reportedly found that police were attempting to allow a local "Peace Committee" to negotiate an out-of-court agreement between the Muslim accusers and the two brothers. As a result of intervention by CLAAS, the two brothers were finally released on April 16 after spending two and a half months in prison, ICC said.
However ICC warned that it remained concerned about the brothers' future. "Even the accusation of blasphemy can stigmatize a person in Pakistan for life, and Christian leaders fear that these two Christian men will not be able to continue their work and school due to this incident," the group stressed.
Pakistan's government has come under increasing international pressure to protect Christian and other minorities in the mainly Islamic nation.