London: Nabeel Masih (now 20 yrs) Pakistan’s youngest ever blasphemy victim was released from prison on bail through the work of British Asian Christian Association on 18th of March. By this time he had already spent more than fours years of his life in Kasur District Jail. Read more (here).
Since that date British Asian Christian Association have continued the necessary legal work to obtain his acquittal and have also helped with necessary medical treatment to resolve health conditions that arose, while he was isolated in a decrepit cell(click here).
We update you on the current legal timeline since our last article (previous article):
A hearing was fixed for 2nd October and as per usual our BACA team collected Nabeel from the safe house we have provided for Nabeel and his family, as they continue this fight for freedom. Before leaving Amanat Masih a Godfearing Christian and the father of Nabeel Masih prayed for the safety of those journeying to court.
Naseeb Anjum, our BACA funded counsel for Nabeel was confident of Nabeel’s acquittal. In a cheerful and encouraging manner he spoke with Nabeel and his family and said:
“I am very hopeful return from court a free man.
“The judge will decide your case today”
Police protection preorganised for every visit of Nabeel to court. BACA have a defined risk assessment and methodology for all trips.
You can watch a video of Nabeel Masih describing his experience here:
The BACA team travelled to Pattoki Town Court under an intensely safe transport operation, where we have had to pay for armed bodyguards, a completely different hire vehicle every time and have our team and Nabeel equipped with body armour. We do not publish dates for court hearings and we have continued to liaise with local police ensuring our routes are only known and surveyed by them including a two covert police vehicle entourage. The efforts we have put into keeping Nabeel and our team safe are significant and thus far we have been successful.
However, to the disappointment of the travelling party it was found on arrival to court, that the date for the hearing had been altered without notification. The court reader then informed them that the next hearing was fixed for 9th October.
Advocate Naseeb Anjum protested against the uninformed change but his remonstrations to Judge Fareeda Ijaz fell on deaf ears. He said:
“My lord, you fixed this date yourself and both the counsels agreed.
“How is it possible that the date has been changed without informing us?
“I am scheduled for training and cannot make this date and this will cause further delay.”
At this judge Fareeda Ijaz replied:
“I don’t remember now.
“You can come on 9th October easily.
It’s not a long wait for the next hearing and it will be short so you should still be able to make it”
The judge’s reply was a shock to the visiting party. In particular her words shattered the hopes of Nabeel Masih, whose life is at risk every time he travels to court. To travel to court places Nabeel Masih on a inevitable journey through Dina Nath the town where he was initially living and accused of blasphemy and where effigies of him are still being burned. This as you can imagine is a potential death trap.
Mr Anjum, had to liaise with the court reader later and a new date was set for 6th November 2021. Again travel was made safe and full of confidence of an acquittal the same team left for Pattoki Town Court. However, on arrival the team were again shocked to find that Judge Fareeda Ijaz was now again cancelling with the court reader explaining that she was on holiday.
Hearing of another postponement was a sheer disappointment to Nabeel and the BACA team. Nabeel spoke with our officers and said:
“I am tired of attending court hearings”
“It seems I will never be free of this false blasphemy case.
“I risk my life every time I attend court but the court refuses to acknowledge my innocence.”
Since July we have been awaiting the final decision from Judge Fareeda Ijaz, postponements have been for ridiculous reasons including holidays and lawyers strikes. Moreover the complainants often arriving to court unprepared and have been allowed numerous adjournments despite ostensibly having no case from the beginning.
The complainant counsel a Advocate Muhammed Shehzad Ansari initially delayed submitting his argument while he waited for inclusion of sections of an attempted Cyber Crime FIR application, which was flatly refused. Since then he has been turning up without any case but Ms Ijaz seems to lack a desire to dispense justice. In July Ms Ijaz’s excuse had been that she had not studied the case – now she has opted for a holiday after agreeing a date for a decision hearing that has only one possible direction.
During the taking over the case by Ms Ijaz in July she at one point publicly admonished Nabeel Masih for committing a blasphemy. Resulting in Mr Anjum intervening by explaining that Nabeel was denying any blasphemy and no evidence existed of any such infraction. The Judge did not apologise and has ever since been very frosty during hearings.
It is our opinion that she holds a deep set prejudice and that justice for Nabeel may never come through Ms Ijaz. We are going to accept one more date for a hearing but if that fails to materialise we have no option but to apply to Lahore High Court and ask for this case to be quashed under section 561-A of the Punjab Code of Criminal Procedure 1898:
561-A. Saving of inherent power of High Court. Nothing in this Code shall be deemed to limit or affect the inherent power of the High Court to make such orders as may be necessary to give effect to any order under this Code; or to prevent abuse of the process of any Court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice
BACA is concerned about he mental health of Nabeel Masih and have organised vocational training as a barber for him. We have funded the training and via a Swiss charity and have also invested in a motorcycle for him to get to and from the venue to his protected home. He travels wearing a motorcycle helmet and has not divulged his real name using a pseudonym. This is his only escape from his home but allows him to avoid detection and have some interaction with the wider world. We are still hoping to gain an asylum place for him in a country in the west once he has been acquitted by the Pakistani Judicial system to enable him to enjoy a more liberated existence.
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
“Nabeel has been made to suffer 4 years imprisonment without conviction based on completely false accusations.
“This simply would not happen in any western nation and we should appreciate our freedoms and protections more dearly.
“That a judge can make appalling remarks openly in court, which in essence presume a man guilty before trial is a travesty.
“It beggars belief that judges holidays have delayed justice and freedom for young Nabeel.
“Such court incompetence, that includes frequent complainant-led adjournments despite no indication of fresh evidence, should result in disciplinary action against the judiciary.
“But no such action will ever be taken – so we may have to enter a fifth year before young Nabeel is finally set free.”