Punjab: Christian couple touches Qur‘an with dirty hands, gets 25 years in prison
Munir Masih and Ruqqiya Bibi are convicted on the basis of the blasphemy law. In January, they were released on bail; now they are in two separate prison facilities. Extremist fringe put pressure, and perhaps corrupted police to find the right evidence to justify the conviction.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – A court in Kasur district, Punjab, convicted a Christian couple, Munir Masih and Ruqqiya Bibi, to 25 years in prison. According to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), judge Ajmal Hussein convicted the couple for touching the Qur‘an without washing their hands.
Munir Masih and Ruqqiya Bibi were released on bail last January, but were re-arrested after the judge ruled against them. The husband was locked up in Kasur’s district prison; the wife was sent to the women’s prison in Multan. Both have started serving 25 years behind bars.
CLAAS, an association that fights for the rights of the poor and marginalised, said that the couple was accused of “contaminating” the Qur‘an when they touched it “without washing their hands”.
The incident, which dates back to December 2008, unleashed the fury of Muslim extremists who put pressure on police. Unconfirmed reports suggest that extremists paid off police agents to discover “new evidence” to justify the sentence.
At the end of the police investigation, husband and wife were charged with blasphemy.
The blasphemy law is the harshest tool for religious repression available in Pakistan. It was adopted in 1986 by then dictator Zia ul-Haq to protect Islam and its prophet, Muhammad, from attacks and insults.
In fact, it is actually comprised of sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which respectively punish with life in prison anyone who defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur‘an, and imposes the death penalty on anyone who defiles the name of the Prophet Muhammad.
In the last two months, there were two more convictions against Christians in Pakistan.
On 11 January, a court in Faisalabad sentenced Imran Masih, a 26-year-old Christian man, to life imprisonment for insulting and desecrating the Koran. He was accused of deliberately burning Qur‘anic verses and an Arabic book in order “foment interfaith hatred and hurt the feelings of Muslims.”
On 25 February, a court in Karachi sentenced Qamar David, also a Christian, to life imprisonment for hurting the religious feelings of Muslims when he sent blasphemous SMS.
CLAAS announced that it was filing an appeal with the High Court in Lahore to have the 25-year sentence against Munir Masih and Ruqqiya Bibi overturned.
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When Pakistan was created, its Founding Father Ali Jinnah endorsed the principles of religious freedom and equal rights for all, irrespective of caste or creed. The succession of constitutions that followed went counter to these ideals, and opened the door to persecution and violence against minorities. Beside blasphemy, Christians and members of other non-Muslim religions have to deal with the problem of forced conversions and marriages.
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Gulzar Masih and his son Suleman own a bookstore. They were forced to flee to avoid being attacked by a mob. Both are accused of burning a copy of the Qur‘an. In reality, they were set up by the older Masih’s Muslim business partner, who was envious of their success. Catholic priest bemoans the abuses linked to the ‘black law’ and warns that “extremist elements are getting stronger” in Pakistan.
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Prayers and special Masses are being said in Pakistan and around the world for the 45-year-old Christian woman, sentenced to death on blasphemy charges. Meanwhile, Arif Masih and his family are safe; he had been arrested on blasphemy charges and later released. Speaking to AsiaNews, he said he was in good conditions and that he did not experience any violence in prison. Another attack is carried out against a Christian in Mardan.