After six years in prison, Lahore High Court has acquitted Sawan Masih, who was sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
In March of 2013, Sawan Masih's Muslim friend, Muhammad Shahid, accused Masih of insulting the Prophet Muhammad when he allegedly said, "My Jesus is genuine. He is the Son of Allah. He will return while your Prophet is false. My Jesus is true and will give salvation."
After local mosques recounted the accusation over their PA systems, mob violence broke loose. A mob of more than 3,000 enraged Muslims attacked Joseph Colony, which is where Masih allegedly made the offensive comments. The attacks resulted in looting and burning approximately 180 Christian homes, 75 shops, and at least two churches. Masih was handed over to the police and was charged for blasphemy. He was later sentenced to death.
Maih's lawyer told the court during the appeal process that the police registered the case 35 hours after the alleged incident took place. His lawyer also pointed out contradictions in the First Information Report (FIR) and the testimony given by the complainant.
Upon hearing arguments from the two sides, the court concluded that the prosecution failed to prove that blasphemy had been committed by Masih. He was then acquitted and released by the Lahore High Court.
False accusations of blasphemy are commonplace in Pakistan and are often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Such accusations have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests. There are currently 25 Christians in jail on blasphemy charges in Pakistan.
"It is rare to see such a high profile blasphemy case against a Christian justly resolved at the High Court level in Pakistan. However, we remain deeply concerned for the safety of Sawan and his family. Extremists in Pakistan are known to target individuals accused of religious crimes, like blasphemy, even if they have been acquitted," said South Asia's ICC Regional Manager William Stark. "The abuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws must be curbed and false allegations must be rooted out and punished. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities. Without real reform, religious minorities, including Christians, will face more false blasphemy accusations and the extreme violence that often accompanies these accusations."