Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fearing Assassination, Christian Accused of "Blasphemy" in Pakistan Turns Himself In

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

Flag of Lashkar-e-Taiba, predecessor of Jamaat ud Dawa.
 (ArnoldPlaton, Wikipedia)
ISTANBUL (ANS) -- A young evangelist in Pakistan, in hiding after being accused of blaspheming Islam's prophet, has surrendered to police due to serious threats to his life from Islamic extremists, his lawyer said.

Attorney Aneeqa Maria, head of The Voice Society, told Morning Star News that Adnan Masih agreed to surrender to police in Lahore on Nov. 6, the end of his pre-arrest bail period, because of serious threats to his life.

Additional Sessions Judge Khizar Hayat Khan acknowledged the risk to Masih's life and ordered police to ensure his security while he is in custody, she said.

"We thought it wise to surrender Masih to the police by bringing to the judge's notice that he would have most likely been killed by Islamist extremists belonging to the banned militant outfit, Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD), which had been demanding from the police and The Voice Society that he be handed over to them," Maria said.

She said that Masih, 26, was deeply frightened when he agreed to surrender.

"The hapless man knew he did not have any option - the odds were against us, and Masih knew we could do nothing else except seek refuge in courts," she said. "My heart grieved when I handed him into police custody. I 'm determined to prove his innocence, because I believe that he has been wrongly accused."

The furor of Islamist protestors outside the Lahore courtroom on Nov. 7 led Judge Muzamil Ahmed Khan to call off Masih's scheduled appearance in which the court would have decided where he will be held, Maria said. She added that he will likely be sent to prison until trial as a security precaution.

"We reached the district courts at 7:30 a.m., but a large number of Islamists, some of them armed, were present outside the courtroom," she said.
Morning Star News said Maria continued, "We went to the superintendent of police's office, where we were told that Masih would be produced in court on Friday (Nov. 8) because they feared violence. We would not have believed him if we hadn't seen the extremists at the courts ourselves. The police are saying that they will send Masih to prison, as keeping him in their custody could be a security risk. They will interrogate him in prison."

For weeks Islamist clerics and members of the JuD protesting outside the police station have called for Masih's death. The JuD registered a case against Masih on Oct. 8. If convicted of blaspheming Muhammad, he faces the death penalty.

"When we filed his pre-arrest bail on Oct. 26, they started hounding us and issued us threats through various sources," Maria said.

She continued, "A large number of protesters were gathered at the sessions court on Nov. 6 as expected. Bringing his willingness to surrender to the court's notice was the best option at that time. Now if anything happens to him, the police would be responsible."

Morning Star News said Masih was charged under Sections 295-A, 295-B and 295-C of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law after he tried to correct misconceptions about Christianity in a Muslim book.

Sources close to him say that Masih denies having written anything against Islam or Muhammad when he scribbled in the Muslim book he found in a glassworks shop where his brother works.

Maria said the Sessions Court would have rejected Masih's petition for permanent bail because of the unprecedented inclusion of all three sections of the controversial blasphemy law.

The Christian attorney said that the matter had become a serious security threat for everyone involved due to the involvement of JuD, which has been threatening her and other members of the legal team since she filed Masih's pre-arrest bail in court.

Maria said the defense counsel would now petition for his bail.

"It is most likely that the judge will refuse bail as has been observed in several such cases, but then we will move a bail petition in the High Court," she said. "I believe we will be able to secure Masih's release from there."

Police told her that Masih had been interrogated until 2 a.m. on Nov. 7, but that he had refused to admit the charges against him, she said.

Masih's wife and two young daughters have sought refuge in another town for their security.

Sadar Superintendent of Police Operations Jahanzeb Khan told Morning Star News that Masih was safe in custody.

"We will not allow any person to take the law into their hands," he said. "The case will be investigated on merit, and all angles will be thoroughly examined."

He added that police could interrogate Masih in prison if they felt that keeping him in a police station was not required.

Sources in the superintendent of police's office told Morning Star News that police would not seek his physical custody.

"In such cases, the accused persons are safe inside prisons where a separate barrack is allotted to all persons accused of blasphemy," said a senior official of the Lahore Camp Jail.

He continued, "Those facing or convicted of blasphemy are not allowed to mingle with the other inmates, and special security is deployed at their barrack. They are taken outside their barrack for exercise when all other inmates are locked in their respective cells."

Masih was filling in for this brother, Irfan Masih, at the glassworks shop on Oct. 7, the day of the alleged crime.

Masih, who has a master's in English and trained as a pastor at a United Pentecostal seminary, became bored and began going through books in a desk drawer, where he noticed one entitled, "I Asked the Bible Why Korans Were Burnt (in Urdu, 'Mein ney Bible sey poocha Quran kyun jaley')," sources said.

A source close to Masih said the evangelist and tutor noticed several false statements about the Bible and about Jesus, which he highlighted with a marker and corrected by answering with verses from the Bible.

The next day Masih found a case had been registered against him for blasphemy under the Pakistan Penal Code's Section 295, parts A, B and C - for allegedly outraging religious feelings, defiling the Koran and defaming Muhammad respectively.

Morning Star News said the book belonged to a Muslim worker at the shop, Abid Mehmood, who upon seeing the notations went to police and also notified the JuD. That group is the religio-political face of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has been designated as a glob al terrorist group operating in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

The United States has announced a $10 million bounty on JuD chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, but he is supported by Pakistan's powerful Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence and moves about freely in the country.

Masih and his family went into hiding after learning that JuD had issued a fatwa calling for his head. A source said he had no idea that "pointing out false references in a book would land him in such big trouble."

Masih and his wife fled their home with very little money, leaving behind their valuables and important documents such as national identity cards and passports, which police have reportedly seized.

Hafiz Abdul Malik of the JuD had earlier told Morning Star News that the group would not tolerate one word against their prophet.

"How dare someone use derogatory language against our beloved prophet . Don't they know that the Koran orders us to slit the throat of whoever is disrespectful to Allah's beloved prophet ?" he said.

While many in Pakistan believe that the blasphemy laws are contrary to basic human rights and are widely misused against Christians and Muslims alike, very few have publicly demanded repealing them.

Statute 295-A forbids outraging religious feelings, 295-B forbids defiling the Koran and 295-C forbids defaming Muhammad, but parts A and B require that intent be shown in order to obtain a conviction.

Defiling the Koran is punishable by life in prison (25 years in Pakistan), and defaming Muhammad is punishable by death with or without a fine.

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