February 7, 2013
Renewed Hope for Asia Bibi as Pakistan Acquits Second Christian of Blasphemy
(UPDATED) Recent releases could be good sign for jailed mother of five, Pakistan's first woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.
Update (Feb. 26): Morning Star News reports another rare instance in which a Christian accused of blasphemy in Pakistan has escaped sentencing on charges of blasphemy—at least for now.
Morning Star reports, "The complainant in Karma Patras’ case, Syed Zulqarnain Shah, stated on Thursday (Feb. 21) in Sangla Hill Judicial Magisterial Court that he had mistakenly accused Patras of committing blasphemy against Islam and that he would have no objection if the pastor were released on bail."
However, because the Shah is not the official plaintiff in the case, Patras could still face penalties for the charges.
Such a release is exceptionally rare, but may fuel the fire of renewed hope for the release of Asia Bibi, the first Pakistani woman sentenced to death for blasphemy several years ago.
Update (Feb. 20): World Watch Monitor examines whether the recent acquittals will set a precedent that protects Pakistani Christians from spurious charges of blasphemy.
“This is a remarkable case in which a trial court judge has released a person charged with blasphemy," attorney Allah Rakha told WWM. "In my several years of legal practice I have never seen a trial judge showing guts in such a sensitive matter. Almost in all blasphemy cases, the trial court judges pass on the buck to higher courts by convicting the accused. This is probably the first time a blasphemy accused person has been spared the ordeal of waiting for his release without going through appeals and bail applications.”
After being accused of blasphemy and spending 18 months in prison, a second Pakistani Christian has been acquitted by the nation's Supreme Court and released.
Advocacy group World Vision In Progress (WVIP), which defended Barkat Masih during his trial, reports that Masih finally has been released. Masih, a Christian who converted from Hinduism, was accused of blasphemy in late 2011 and has been held in prison since that time.
"'Masih could easily have received the death penalty,'" a WVIP official told BosNewsLife. "'However presiding Judge Javed Ahmedon of the Bahawalpur court declared [Masih] innocent.'"
And that rare decision—which comes on the heels of 14-year-old Rimsha Masih's acquittal in January—could be good news for Asia Bibi.
CT has previously reported on Rimsha Masih and Pakistan's harsh religious freedom restrictions. In 2010, CT also reported on Asia Bibi's sentence, and editorialized on Pakistan's blasphemy law after two high-profile Pakistani politicians were assassinated for using her case to seek reforms.