A Christian man in Pakistan is now in hiding with his family after being acquitted of blasphemy charges, for which he had already served over 10 years of a life sentence.
International Christian Concern (ICC) reports that the Lahore High Court acquitted Imran Ghafur Masih on Monday. The family has gone into hiding due to potential threats from extremists.
The development was a surprise for Imran’s family. “It is a day of resurrection for us,” Naveed Masih, Imran’s brother, tells ICC. “God has heard our cry and we are very thankful to him. It’s a Christmas gift for us.”
Imran ran into trouble in July of 2009 when he was cleaning his family’s bookshop in Hajweri town, located in Faisalabad. "He was about to burn some trash he collected, which included some old books and papers, when he came across a textbook with Arabic writing. Concerned that the book contained religious writings, Imran consulted Hajji Liaquat Ali, his Muslim neighbor," the ICC says.
The neighbour told Imran it was fine to burn the book, according to the man. "When the book was partially burned, Ali returned and pulled it out of the fire. Ali used this partially burned book to falsely accuse Imran of burning a Quran. According to Imran’s family, Ali wanted the storefront leased to the family’s bookshop to expand his building materials business located next door."
News of the incident soon spread to local mosques which made announcements over their PA systems. A large mob soon formed and they beat Imran, his brother, and father. Imran was soon arrested by local police and taken into custody where another large mob gathered outside. Police soon registered a blasphemy case against Imran and copies of the charges were distributed to the mob.
Imran was sentenced to life in prison on January 11, 2010 and fined of 100,000 rupees under Sections 295-A and 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Imran appealed the ruling but his case was postponed nearly 70 times over the course of the next 10 years.
“We went through a very painful time during Imran’s imprisonment,” Naveed tells ICC. “Imran lost his parents and was not allowed to attend the funeral. We lost our business and jobs which has affected our children’s education and future. We have not seen any happiness during these years.”
The ICC reports that ifalse accusations of blasphemy are common in Pakistan "and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests. Currently, 24 Christians are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan. These 24 Christians are defendants in 21 blasphemy cases represented at various levels of the judicial process in Pakistan."
ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, says, “We here at International Christian Concern are happy to see Imran Masih finally acquitted and released after more than 10 years in prison. It is great to see such a prolonged blasphemy case justly resolved at the High Court level in Pakistan. However, we remain deeply concerned for the safety of Imran and his family. Extremists in Pakistan are known to target individuals accused of religious crimes, like blasphemy, even after they have been acquitted. The abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must be curbed and false allegations must be rooted out and punished. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minorities. Without reform, religious minorities will continue to face false blasphemy accusations and the violence that often accompanies these accusations."