(ADDS DECISION TO ADJOURN TRIAL TILL MONDAY, MARCH 24)
By BosNewsLife Asia Service
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A verdict was expected in Pakistan Monday, March 24, in a controversial case involving a young Christian man charged with blasphemy against Islam, which sparked one of the country’s worst anti-Christian riots.
Savan Masih, 27, was detained in March 2013 after allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. His hearing was to take place Saturday, March 22, but it was postponed due to an unrelated lawyers strike, said the Center for Legal Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).
Residents explained the problems began when Masih was refused a hair cut by the local barber shop’s Muslim owner, Imran Shahid. The incident triggered a heated exchange about religion between the two men, residents said at the time.
Masih has denied wrongdoing.
As news spread of the incident, as many as 3,000 Muslims rampaged in March, 2013, through the city of Lahore’s Joseph Colony, a heavily Christian area, to search for Masih.
Some 180 Christian-owned homes, shops and two churches were destroyed in the violence, according to witnesses. Christians have accused police of silently watching while Muslim protesters stole valuable possessions and destroyed Christians’ homes.
Christian lawyer Sardar Mushtaq Gill, who leads the Pakistan-based Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) told BosNewsLife his advocacy group had petitioned the Lahore High Court to cancel the release on bail of 36 Muslims accused of involvement in the riots.
Amid the tensions, Masih was transferred to ‘camp jail’ in Lahore, said the Center for Legal Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which supports his family.
CLAAS’s lawyers were to be present in the prison Monday, March 25, following another recent procedure in the detention facility.
A CLAAS director, Nasir Saeed, told BosNewsLife that he had urged supporters to “please pray that everything goes well and that the case is decided in Savan’s favour so that he can be reunited with his wife and children.”
Saeed also urged prayers for the judge, the “persecuted church” and other believers who he says are suffering at a time “when hostility towards the Christian faith worldwide is intensifying.”
He said, “Unfortunately, the blasphemy law has become a powerful tool in the hands of the extremist and is continually being used to attack churches and burn down Christian towns and villages.”
The legislation is also used to even “kill innocent Christians without giving them a chance to prove their innocence,” Saeed told BosNewsLife. “Sadly, the government has still failed to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
CLAAS is among several groups campaigning to repeal the controversial law or to introduce changes to stop its misuse. “The international community has also called for changes to these laws…and also to stop its misuse against religious minorities, but it is falling on the governments deaf ears,” argued Saeed.
Saeed also expressed concerns about other Christians held on blasphemy charges in the Islamic nation, including Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian mother of five. Her appeal against a death sentence was postponed this week after one of the two judges failed to appear, trial observers said.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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