Christian couple acquitted in Lahore over false blasphemy charges *Indonesia: Church attacked with stones, urine
Pakistan, May 21, 2012: Charged in December 2008, they were initially given life in prison. After four years behind bars, they were acquitted. A Muslim man had accused them in a personal vendetta over a row among children. For the judges, the accusations were a frame-up over a personal dispute.
“The court took a brave decision by releasing the married couple. They were unfairly accused and jailed for a crime they never committed,” said Fr John Mall. The priest from the Diocese of Lahore welcomed the ruling by the High Court that acquitted Munir Masih and his wife Ruqayya for lack of evidence. The parents of six children had originally received a life sentence.
In the first trial held in Kasur in 2010, the court dropped the charge of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, which carries the death penalty. It was clear even then, that the couple was not guilty of any crime. However, they had to wait four years before the second charge was also thrown out.
“No one testified against the couple on the matter of blasphemy,” the couple’s lawyer Chaudhry Naeem Shakir said. The contradictions in the complaint against 32-year-old Munir and his wife were apparent.
Their accuser, Muhammad Yousaf, had said that they had used the Qur’an for exorcism. The court found his story too inconsistent, ruling that it was made only in revenge in a “personal dispute”.
A quarrel between the Christian couple’s children and those of Muhammad Yousaf, from Kasur in Punjab, drove the latter to use the ‘black law’.
Muhammad Yousaf induced his driver, Muhammad Nawaz, to bear false witness and accuse the Masih of blasphemy on the basis of sections B and C of Article 295 of Pakistan’s penal code. Seven other people were also named as witnesses to the crime.
Following the Lahore High Court’s decision, Munir Masih was released on bail. The charges against him were deemed weak from the start. His wife’s release from the Sahiwal Women’s Prison is expected shortly. She should be then reunited with her husband and six children (two boys and four girls).
“The court took a brave decision,” Fr John Mall told AsiaNews. “The blasphemy law is used to settle personal scores, especially in Punjab,” he exaplined. “The Catholic Church has appealed several times to the government to act against its abuse.”
“Many cases of blasphemy have occurred and many acts of violence have been perpetrated against minorities in the area,” said Fr Amir Romail, a priest in Kasur.
In view of this outcome, he said that he hopes to see judges making similar decisions “in other cases where the accused languishes in prison for years waiting for a judgement.”
Indonesia: Church attacked with stones, urine
A leader of the Batak Society Christian Church (HKBP) of Philadelphia in West Java has urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to take action against religious intolerance after radical Muslims were accused of throwing stones and urine at a church congregation.
Reverend Palti Panjaitan said almost 100 Protestants were subjected to hate speeches and murder threats on Thursday during a service to celebrate Ascension Day at a half-built church in Bekasi district.
More than 400 police and military personnel deployed to secure the service had asked church-goers to worship at a government-designated building 10 kilometers from the site to avoid a standoff with a crowd of 300 Muslim protestors.
“That was the time when the group threw stones, bags of urine and ditchwater at us,” said Rev Panjaitan, adding that the congregation had to halt the service because of the incident.
He warned the authorities that hatred between religious communities would escalate “if such religious intolerance is not resolved immediately.”
Rev Andreas Anangguru Yewangoe, chairman of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, accused President Yudhoyono of failing to address the problem.
“It is inhumane. We are tired of facing such incidents,” he said. “If we want this state to be united, the only way is to maintain religious freedom.”
HKBP Philadelphia has been waiting for five years to gain permission to build a church in Bekasi district after submitting an application in 2007.
In December 2009, the district administration issued a letter banning congregations from worshiping on the site but in July last year the Supreme Court overruled the decision, saying the church was eligible for a permit.
HKBP Philadelphia says this has still not been issued, however.