Pakistan court orders Christian freed

AP, Aug. 15, 2002
Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered authorities Thursday to release immediately a Christian sentenced to death in 1998 for blasphemy, the state-run news agency said.

Defense attorney Abid Minto told the court Thursday that his client, Ayub Masih, had never made the allegedly blasphemous statements, but instead was a victim of a plot to steal his land, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported. The court agreed and ordered Masih released.

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Masih was arrested in Punjab province in 1996 after a neighbor complained that he made statements supporting British writer Salman Rushdie, who was condemned to death by Iranian leaders because his novel “The Satanic Verses” was considered blasphemous to Islam.

Masih was convicted in 1998 and sentenced to death, a decision that sparked nationwide protests by minority Christian groups and human rights organizations. Nevertheless, lower appeals courts upheld the conviction.

Minto produced evidence that the accuser had used the conviction to force Masih’s family off of their land and then acquired the deed to it through a housing program, the agency reported.

Under Pakistani Islamic law, only the word of a Muslim accuser is needed to prosecute a non-Muslim on blasphemy charges, which can carry the death penalty upon conviction.

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