By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
LAHORE (Worthy News) – A mentally challenged Christian man has been released on bail after spending three years in a Pakistani jail on trumped-up charges of blasphemy against Islam, his lawyer told Worthy News late Tuesday.
“Stephen Masih was arrested more than three years ago following an argument with a neighbor. This forced family to move to a safe place,” said Farooq Bashir, a lawyer of the Masih family.
A court in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, granted bail to the 45-year-old amid concerns about the circumstances surrounding the charges, his lawyer said.
“The police raided Stephen’s home in March 2019 after he had an altercation with a [Muslim] neighbor. He had snuck into the Christian’s terrace to retrieve pigeons and, after a heated argument, accused him of blasphemy,” Bashir added.
Soon after the incident, an angry Muslim mob set fire to Masih’s house, forcing the family to move to a safer place, according to sources familiar with the cases.
In comments shared with Worthy News, Stephen Masih’s brother, Francis, called it “unfortunate that the neighbor made the accusations to punish Stephen for the language used during the altercation.”
CARE AND ASSISTANCE
He added: “I hope bail will allow us to provide him with care and assistance as Stephen has been of unsound mind since birth.”
Lawyer Bashir said he regretted that it took the court years to free the troubled man in part because “none of the neighbors dared to make a statement before the court about Stephen’s mental condition.”
Bashir linked the reluctance “to threats” by extremists associated with the blasphemy charge. This shows how “fake evidence and witnesses are produced in court to settle personal scores, misusing the laws relating to the desecration of religion,” he complained.
His view is shared by Joseph Jansen, president of Voice of Justice, a non-profit organization. He said the case was “a clear example of how blasphemy allegations originate from personal disputes rather than real cases.”
Still, defense attorney Abdul Hameed Rana who was also involved in the case, noted that obtaining bail, in this case, is an outstanding achievement. “Stephen has been facing imprisonment for over three years for an alleged offense he has never committed. The case against him has holes,” the lawyer stressed in a statement seen by Worthy News. “For our part, we will continue to fight in court to have him acquitted because he is innocent.”
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