Ayub Masih acquitted by Supreme Court of Pakistan after six years under blasphemy.<br>By Robin Fernandez. PCP Karachi Bureau report.
15 Aug 2002
ISLAMABAD: The apex court on Thursday acquitted a Christian youth on death row more than four years after he was convicted of blasphemy by a high court.
Ayub Masih, 31, had been living in prison for almost six years, although his sentencing was widely challenged by human rights groups, Christian clergymen and lay persons. Within nine days of Masih's sentencing on April 27, 1998, Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad John Joseph committed suicide to protest the verdict and force the government to repeal the blasphemy laws--a demand that continues to resonate among Pakistan's religious minorities.
Senior lawyer Abid Hasan Minto on behalf of Ayub Masih in response to a second appeal filed Thursday's ruling, passed by a three-member bench of the court. The first appeal heard a little over the Multan bench of the Lahore High Court dismissed a year ago.
Human rights activists say Masih would need protection of the law even though he is now a free man. "Ayub cannot live a normal life because his accuser and all those who support him are sure to target him wherever he goes," said Sulaiman Chiragh of Conscience, a rights group. Ayub was twice attacked in his prison cell in Multan.
Earlier, defense lawyer Abid Hasan Minto claimed that the evidence presented by the prosecution before the judges of the Sahiwal sessions court and Lahore High Court was not in line with the Islamic law of evidence and was therefore inadmissible. Minto, a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, also proved beyond doubt that Muhammad Akram, the man who accused Masih of blasphemy, was a land grabber. "Almost immediately after Masih was arrested, Akram moved into his house in Chak 352 of Arifwala, Sahiwal," Minto told the court. Later, he said, Akram filed an application with the Land Department and won allotment of the plot.
Since his arrest in October 1996 Ayub Masih had maintained that he had been falsely accused of blasphemy. In a written statement to the police, Masih said he could not dream of committing blasphemy since he had studied Islamiyat in school and had respect for Muslim beliefs.