A day after granting bail to a Christian sanitary worker in a blasphemy case, the Supreme Court has given bail to two other Christians charged with blasphemy, their lawyers said.
A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan and Justice Mazahar Ali Naqvi on Wednesday granted bails to two accused – Patras Masih and Raja Waris – in separate cases.
Patras Masih was 18 years old when he was accused in February 2018 of sharing a photo posted on Facebook deemed insulting to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), triggering violent protests by religious parties and forcing hundreds of Christian families to flee from their homes in the Shahdara Town area of Lahore. Patras was arrested and charged under Section 295-C, which is punishable by death.
Raja Waris, an outreach lay leader belonging to the Anglican Church of Pakistan, was arrested on Jan 5, 2021. He was charged under Sections 295-A and 298-A of the blasphemy laws over a Facebook post he posted on Dec 22, 2020. Section 298-A provides for up to three years in prison for derogatory remarks about a “holy personage,” while Section 295-A calls for up to 10 years in prison for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outreach religious feelings”.
PATRAS MASIH CASE
Patras Masih’s lawyer Saif Ul Malook told Kross Konnection that the blasphemy allegation against Patras did not merit a case under Section 295-C.
“Patras is accused of insulting the Prophet (PBUH) whereas the picture he allegedly posted on a Facebook group does not contain any material that can be deemed sacrilegious under Section 295-C. The prosecution has wrongly implicated him under this section.
“The definition of Section 295-C is purely specific to the disrespect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) through spoken or written words or images. Patras is accused of posting a blasphemous image of the Roza-e-Rasool (prophet’s grave) and at best he should have been charged under Section 295-A that relates to deliberate and malicious acts intended to outreach religious feelings,” he said.
Advocate Sattar Sahil, who also appeared in court on Patras’s behalf, told Kross Konnection that the prosecution had also failed to establish its claim that the blasphemous photo was uploaded to the Facebook group from Patras’s cellphone.
“The SC granted bail to Patras because the case requires further inquiry,” he said.
Advocate Aneeqa Maria of The Voice Society, which is representing Patras in the trial court, told Kross Konnection that the SC bench observed that the alleged blasphemous photo did not fall under Section 295-C.
“The court also noted the prolonged delay in the trial and observed that even if the trial court convicts Patras under Section 295-A, the accused has already spent four years in prison and there’s no need for him to stay behind bars till the outcome of the case.
“The bench also observed that the Muttahida Ulema Board was not formed to determine and recommend whether the case against Patras could be registered under Section 295-C, therefore the entire process was illegal. The bench said that the FIA [Federal Investigation Agency] or the police could not determine on their own whether the alleged offence came under Section 295-C,” she said.
She added that the SC bench had also directed the trial court to conduct proceedings according to the available evidence without capitulating to pressure.
“Let’s see how the trial court responds to this direction,” she said.
RAJA WARIS CASE
Commenting on the Raja Waris case, Advocate Saif Ul Malook told Kross Konnection that he told the bench that the entire process against his client was illegal.
“I asked the court to inquire whether the trial court had sought written permission from the federal or provincial governments under Section 196 of the CrPC [Criminal Procedure Code] before initiating the trial of the accused,” he said.
Section 196 of CrPC prescribes that “No court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable under Chapter VI or IXA of the Pakistan Penal Code (except Section 127), or punishable under Section 108-A, or Section 153-A, or Section 294-A, or Section 295-A or Section 505 of the same Code, unless upon complaint made by order of, or under authority from, the Central Government, or the Provincial Government concerned, or some officer empowered in this behalf by either of the two Governments.”
Advocate Saif said that according to third proviso of Section 497(1) of the CrPC, an accused who is charged in an offence not punishable with death and his trial has not been concluded within a year of his arrest is entitled to be released on bail.
“The bench admitted my arguments and ordered the release of Raja Waris on bail,” he said.
On Monday, a two-judge bench comprising Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mansoor Ali Shah granted bail to a Christian sanitary worker, Salamat Mansha Masih, while expressing concern over the blatant misuse of the blasphemy laws.
Masih’s lawyer, 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.
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.
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.