Published: 10:00 GMT Daylight Time - Wednesday 23 May 2012
Christian couple in Pakistan cleared of blasphemy with help from Barnabas
Country/Region: Pakistan, South and East Asia
A Christian couple in Pakistan sentenced to life imprisonment for blasphemy have been cleared on appeal with the help of a Christian legal organisation supported by Barnabas Fund.
Munir Masih and his wife Ruqqiya Bibi were acquitted at a hearing on 17 May following a three-and-a-half year ordeal.
A tearful Munir thanked God and, quoting from Psalm 94, said:
But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them.
Munir Masih and wife Ruqqiya Bibi
with one of their six children
The couple, who have six children, were sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in March 2010. Munir was granted bail in November 2010, but Ruqqiya has been held in custody for around three years.
A false blasphemy allegation was levelled at them in December 2008 following an altercation between their children and some local Muslim children. The latter’s family severely beat Ruqqiya and her children, prompting the Christian couple to complain to the police. In response the Muslim father had Ruqqiya and Munir accused of blasphemy under section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code, which concerns desecration of the Quran and carries a life sentence. The more serious allegation of making derogatory remarks against Muhammad (295-C), which carries a mandatory death penalty, was later added to their charge sheet. The police did not pursue the case against Ruqqiya’s assailants.
Despite not a single witness speaking against the couple regarding the blasphemy allegations, they were sentenced to life imprisonment on 1 March 2010; the court upheld the first charge but acquitted them of the second.
The couple has been helped throughout their ordeal by CLAAS, a Christian legal organisation in Pakistan supported by Barnabas Fund. In addition to helping with the couple’s legal defence, CLAAS has provided the family with their basic needs and also arranged for the children to visit their mother in prison.
CLAAS will look after the family at a safe location while plans are made for their future.
People accused of blasphemy in Pakistan remain vulnerable to attack by Islamists even after they have been exonerated. CLAAS requests prayers for the safety of Munir, Ruqqiya and their children.
“Hang like a sword”
Pakistan’s pernicious blasphemy laws were one of the matters discussed at a meeting, attended by a Barnabas Fund staff member, in the UK Parliament on Tuesday 15 May. Chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool, peers and MPs heard about the plight of Christian women in Pakistan and Egypt.
Thomsena Anjum, who had to flee Pakistan to the UK after being shot at by a Muslim cleric following a false blasphemy allegation against her son in 2009, said:
The blasphemy laws of Pakistan hang over Christians and other minorities like a sword on their necks.
As happened in the case of Munir and Ruqqiya, and also Christian mother Aasia Bibi, who remains on death row for an alleged blasphemy offence, the blasphemy laws are often used by Muslims to settle personal disputes; there is no penalty for false accusation.
Christians and other non-Muslims are particularly vulnerable to malicious, false accusation because the judiciary in the lower courts tend to believe the word of a Muslim over the word of a non-Muslim, in line with the teachings of sharia.