Pakistani Christian acquitted of “blasphemy” charge after more than decade in prison

22 December 2020

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A Christian man, imprisoned for life on the charge of “blasphemy,” has been acquitted by the Lahore High Court more than eleven years after his initial arrest.

Imran Ghafur, acquitted on 15 December, was sentenced to life in prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees (£460; $620; €510) in 2010 by the Sessions Court of Faisalabad for allegedly burning a sipara (a chapter of the Quran) while cleaning his bookshop in Hajweri, Faisalabad, in July the previous year.

Pakistani Christian Sawan Masih endured six years on death row before his acquittal in October 2020. Campaigners have called for the repeal of Pakistan's unjust "blasphemy" law, often used by Muslims to falsely accuse people against whom they have a grudge

Before his arrest, in July 2009, around 400 Muslims formed an angry mob outside his home, beating him before he was taken into custody.

Ghafur was accused of “deliberately hurting the religious feelings of Muslims” and “wilfully defiling the Quran”, and sentenced under Sections 295-A and 295-B of the Pakistani Penal Code.

Nadeem Anthony who, in 2010, led a fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to Hajweri, maintained Ghafur’s innocence throughout the proceedings. He said, “Ghafur was a successful businessman running a shop at the corner of the market. His Muslim neighbour, who ran a laundry shop, produced a partially burnt sipara as evidence. He manipulated local mosques in declaring him a blasphemer.”

Another Pakistani Christian, Sawan Masih, was acquitted of “blasphemy” charges by the High Court in Lahore on 5 October, after enduring more than six years imprisoned on death row.

At the time of writing, there are believed to be approximately 22 Pakistani Christians (including four minors) in prison accused of “blasphemy”; seven have been sentenced to death. To date no one has been executed under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal code, which carries a mandatory death penalty.

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