Christian acquitted of blasphemy charge, two others sentenced to death

A judge in Pakistan has acquitted a Christian accused of blasphemy one month after two Christians were sentenced to death in an online blasphemy case, sources said.
Kasur District Additional Sessions Judge Ijaz Ahmed Bosal dropped charges against Pervaiz Masih, 38, on Jan. 15 after prosecutors failed to submit any evidence against him.
Masih’s attorney, Aneeqa Maria of The Voice Society, told Morning Star News the prosecution failed to present even one witness against him during the three-year trial in Punjab Province. The case against him was registered on Sept. 2, 2015.
Maria said this was also one of the rare cases under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws in which the accused was granted bail just 20 days after the submission of the charge-sheet against him.
“The acquittal is good news for Masih and his family, but they have suffered a lot in the last three years,” she said. “Even though Masih is free from the charges, I have serious concerns for his security. He has been declared a blasphemer by the local Muslims, and his life will always be at risk.”
Masih’s family has said area Muslims entrapped him in a false blasphemy case after he obtained a sand contract in Garra village, near Mandi Usmanwala in Kasur District. Pervaiz Masih’s brother, Jamshed Masih, told Morning Star News at that time that the family was unaware of any accusations until the village mosque’s prayer leader began spreading word that Pervaiz Masih had blasphemed Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, during a discussion a few weeks prior.
Jamshed Masih said that 300 to 400 Muslims of the village and surrounding areas shouted chants against the Christians and vowed to avenge alleged “disrespect” of their prophet by burning his brother alive.
Pervaiz Masih had obtained a contract for sand from a local dealer at a better price than that of his Muslim competitors, Haji Muhammad Jamshed and Haji Muhammad Bashir, and since then they had nurtured a grudge against him, his brother said. On Sept. 1, 2015, Jamshed and Bashir began spreading word that Masih had disrespected Muhammad, he said.
Masih was arrested on Sept. 2, 2015, under Section 295-C of the blasphemy law, which calls for death or life imprisonment for blaspheming Muhammad. A day before he was arrested, a large police contingent had raided Masih’s village and beat his female relatives and other Christians in their search for him, his wife told Morning Star News.
Masih’s wife, Zarina Bibi, told Morning Star News at that time that police officers kicked family members and struck them with their fists and batons.
“The police just wouldn’t listen to our pleas that we did not know Masih’s whereabouts,” she said. “They searched all Christian houses in the village and tortured everyone they came across.”