Fourteen-year old Pakistani Christian
escapes death penalty on appeal: A chronology
Illiterate youth convicted, acquitted of writing blasphemous grafitti
        On May 11, 1993, the imam of the  mosque at Ratta Dhotran,
district Gujranwala, Punjab, Pakistan alleged at the Kot Ladha police station
that some persons had written derogatory remarks about the
Prophet Muhammad on the walls of the mosque and had thrown slips
of paper with similar language written on them into the mosque.
        Three Christians, Rehmat Masih, Manzoor Masih and a minor boy
Salamat Masih were alleged to have been been seen writing the
blasphemous material on the mosque wall.  Manzoor Masih and Salamat
Masih is reported to be illiterate.
        According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, Salamat Masih
reported that the affair started with a quarrel over some pigeons.  He
told the (non-governmental) Human Rights Commission of Pakistan that he had
been beaten to make him implicate the other accused.
        On February 9, 1995 Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih were sentenced to
death.  Manzoor Masih had been murdered in an attack in April 1994
that injured the other defendants and John joseph, a Christian human
rights activist.

Background

        In 1986, the Pakistan Penal code was amended by adding section
295-C.  This provided for life imprisonment or the death penalty for
the offence of defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

        295-C Use of deragatory remarks, etc. in respect of the Holy
        Prophet:  Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by
        visible representations, or by any imputation, innuendo, or
        insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name
        of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him), shall be punished with
        death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to
        fine.

        Previously, under Sections 295-298 PPC (dating from the period	
of the British Raj) attacks on places of worhip, insulting religious beliefs,
disturbing a religious assembly, trespassing on burial grounds, and
wounding religious feelings were forbidden.  The action had to be
intentional to be punished and all religious groups were covered by
the legislation.   The maximum prison sentence was two years.
        Ruling on a private petition in October 1990 the Federal
Shariat Court ruled that Islam provides only the death penalty for
this offence.  The Court required the government to remove the
alternative of life imprisonement by April 30, 1991, failing which the
the provision for life imprisonment would be deemed to have been
struck.
        The rulings of the Federal Shariat Court are binding on the
government under Article 203-D(3) of the Constitution.
        The government neither ammended the law, nor appealed the
judgement to the Shariah Appelate Court in the time allowed by the
judgement.  Thus, as of May 1, 1991 death is the only penalty for
someone found guilty under Section 295-C PPC.  While the provision for
life imprisonment remains on the books, it is without legal effect.
        Amnesty International reports that charges of blasphemy seem
to be brought arbitrarily and are usually motivated be religious
intolerance of the accused's beliefs or professional and economic
rivalry.
        A former Judge of the Supreme Court, Dorab Patel, has
criticised the law as being vague and unjust in that neither
is 'defilement' defined, nor is intention taken into account.
        In February 1994, the Pakistan Law Commission meeting under
the chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Dr. Naseem
Hasan Shah, expressed grave concern over the abuse of the blapshemy
law.

The Case So Far
        On November 8, 1993, Salamat Masih (not the other two
defendants) was granted bail of 50,000 rupees.
        On 15 November, 1993 the thirteen year old Salamat Masih was
released on bail by the Gujranwala sessions court after five and a
half months in jail over the objections of the mullahs who had held a
daily rally in front of the court.
        On 12 January 1994, the other accused were granted bail.  All of
the accused went into hiding after being released.  The case was
transferred from Gujranwala to Lahore on the grounds that the safety
of the accused could not be guaranteed in Gujranwala.  The Lahore High Court
granted police protection to the accused between the court and defense
lawyer's office.
        On 5 April 1994, a hearing of the case  was held in the
District and Sessions Court, Lahore.  After the court session the
defendants and an escort were attacked.  Manzoor Masih was shot dead.
The others, including Salamat Masih were seriously injured.
        Amnesty International reports that the Foreign Minister of
Pakistan issued a statement blaming the attack on foreign agents.
        The 20 or so Christian families of Ratta Dhotran have decided
to leave the village.
        On 9 February 1995, the defendants were sentenced to death by a court
in Lahore.
        On 22 February 1995, the Lahore High Court acquitted the accused on appeal.
During the appeal hearings demonstrators demanded the death of the
accused and even of the defence counsel.


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