The Supreme Court has granted bail to a Christian sanitary worker in a blasphemy case while expressing concern over the blatant misuse of the law, his lawyer said.
Advocate Rana Abdul Hameed told Kross Konnection that this was the first time a blasphemy accused charged under all three sections of the statutes – 295-A, 295-B, and 295-C – had been given bail during the trial.
Section 295-C is specific to disrespect of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and is punishable by death; 295-B relates to defiling of the holy Quran and is punishable by imprisonment for life and fine; while 295-A covers deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine.
“Salamat Mansha Masih, 27, was arrested on Feb 13, 2021, from Lahore’s Model Town Park after some college students overheard him and another Christian Haroon Ayub Masih reading the Bible in a park and accused them of ridiculing Islam and its prophet,” the lawyer said. He added that Haroon had managed to escape from the scene and has gone into hiding ever since after obtaining a pre-arrest bail.
Advocate Hameed said that Salamat Masih, an employee of the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC), was in illegal custody of the police for two months before he was presented before a judge on April 16.
“A sessions judge had dismissed Masih’s bail application last year while the Lahore High Court had also denied him bail in June this year.
“I moved his bail in the Supreme Court last week which was taken up by a two-judge bench comprising Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mansoor Ali Shah on Tuesday. I told the honorable bench that Masih had been accused by four students of committing blasphemy while preaching Christianity and also gifting them a book in Urdu language that, according to the complainant, contained sacrilegious matter,” he said.
The lawyer said that he told the court that the book “Zindagi Ka Paani or Water of Life was based on the Gospel of John and did not contain any sacrilegious matter against any religion – a fact also conceded by the concerned Lahore senior police officer from the prosecution side.
He said that the prosecution failed to furnish convincing evidence to connect the accused with the allegations of blasphemy. He also argued that the FIR was registered against his client after a delay of eight hours whereas his client’s arrest was brought on record after two months of keeping him in illegal custody.
“The judges questioned the prosecution that the incident took place in a park but no one, including the security guards, were made a witness to it,” he added.
“Justice Isa also regretted about the tendency of levelling accusations and said every second person gets up and starts accusing people of committing blasphemy. This is not a petty crime but its penalty is a life sentence,” the lawyer quoted the judge as saying.
‘WHY MUSLIMS DON’T TAKE CLEANING JOBS?’
Justice Isa asked the plaintiff’s counsel why Pakistan was created. At this, the counsel replied that according to Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan was made to function as a laboratory of Islam.
“When Quaid-e-Azam said this?” Justice Isa asked.
“Generals already attribute a lot of things to him (Jinnah), the lawyers should not do it,” the judge said, adding that Pakistan had already lost East Pakistan and the country can’t afford further polarization and divisions in its ranks.
“Justice Isa also remarked that he never heard that a Christian had lodged a blasphemy case against a Muslim,” the lawyer said.
Advocate Hameed said that when he informed the bench that his client was a garbage collector, Justice Isa wondered why Muslims never do this job although cleanliness was considered half of the Islamic faith and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
“We should be thankful to the Christian brothers for at least they clean up for us,” Justice Isa was quoted as saying. He added that the State must ensure the protection of the suspects in the blasphemy cases until the case is disposed of and ordered Salamat’s release on bail against surety bonds of Rs50,000.
Advocate Hameed said the bench had also ordered that its ruling be shared with all trial and high courts so that innocent persons are not wrongfully charged under an offense as serious as blasphemy.
Blasphemy accusations in Pakistan often provoke mob violence and lynching of suspects, while penalties are light for those who make such false accusations.
Lahore-based Center for Social Justice noted that at least 1949 persons had been accused under the blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2021.
Eighteen more cases were reported till July 14, 2022. The victims included 47.62 percent Muslims, followed by 32.99 percent Ahmadis, 14.42 percent Christians, and 2.15 percent Hindus, while the religion of 2.82 percent is not confirmed.
Church leaders and rights activists say that subordinate courts capitulate to pressure, resulting in convictions in almost all blasphemy cases.