A man who was just a teenager when arrested for blasphemy in 2016 is calling for help with towards a solicitor to succeed with an appeal against his conviction.
On 17th September 2016, 16 year old teenager Nabeel Masih from the village of Kasur, was accused of an internet blasphemy after it was said that an image of the Kabba (holy shrine at Mecca) with a pigs head over it, was displayed on his Facebook page. This lead to a campaign by local mosques to lynch Nabeel Masih at his home and calls for his murder rang out from the PA systems of local mosques.
Soon a Muslim mob began to grow before his home till it reached over a thousand and members of the group threatened to lynch all of Nabeel’s family unless he gave himself up. With no option before him Nabeel the next day gave himself up to police to prevent family members being killed who arrested him under 295A of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which has a maximum sentence of 10 years for blasphemy against a holy relic. The First Information Report (FIR) leading to the arrest of Nabeel Masih was signed by a local Muslim man named Akhtar Ali.
The mob threatened and beat Christians many of whom left their properties vacant and locked as they fled for safety to relatives far from the area. When they returned a few days later many Christians found that their properties had been looted. None of them were entitled to any compensation and no arrests were made despite images and videos of rioters.
Intent to destroy a boy they believed to be a blasphemer, Pattoki Police tried to alter the initial charges of 295A for blasphemy of a holy relic which has a maximum sentence of 10 years to 295c a blasphemy against Muhammed which has an automatic sentence of death. Fortunately for Nabeel Masih the additional charge was thrown out of court due to a lack of evidence, as were attempts to add on a concoction of further cyber-crime charges.
After close to three years in prison Nabeel Masih now 19 years old has asked BACA to take over his case. He is devastated over his ongoing incarceration and is desperate to restart his life which he feels is slipping away, every day that he remains in a cell. Nabeel suffered the ignominy of a failed attempt for bail on 7th February 2018 despite being a juvenile and having no previous criminal record. At that point he had served two years in prison without conviction before he was finally sentenced to ten years in prison by Session Court Judge Naveed Iqbal on 17th May 2018, at Kasur Magistrates Court.
Nabeel Masih is extremely illiterate and would not have known how to use Facebook or write or create any offensive posts. He has stated that he allowed Muslim friends to create an FB profile for him and that they have implicated him in the crime.
Police have said that they have images of the derogatory image in print but removed the original offensive material from Nabeel’s Facebook page to reduce tensions. They have not confirmed whether the image was liked or actually posted on Nabeel Masih’s FB.
Mehwish Bhatti, National Executive for the British Asian Christian Association, said:
“I have met personally with Nabeel Masih and a legal advisor that the family and I believe can mount a successful challenge for his freedom.
“Nabeel was only a child when he went into prison under very flimsy circumstances with no witness that ever saw him add or like the offensive post that has stolen away his life and made him a national pariah.
“Nabeel has not had a chance to mature into an adult and being detained in isolation has done nothing but damage to his psyche and we need to pray for his sanity.
“His court cases have been crowded by extremists both inside and outside the court and the threat to his life is so immense, that he may have to flee the nation just like Asia Bibi only months earlier.
“Our justice system is evidently warped and has destroyed his young life and I can see no reform that will reduce the impact of the blasphemy laws.
“Many of our Christian brothers are suffering under these draconian laws and I hope the world continues to stay focused on helping them.
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee of the British Asian Christian Association, said:
“Prime Minister Imran Khan promised a ‘Naya Pakistan’ (New Pakistan) as his main campaign aim but I see little evidence of this.
“Christians and other victims continue to languish in Pakistani cells under trumped up charges of blasphemy despite their obvious innocence, which leads to release on appeal at High Court.
“While he chases former Prime Ministers who destroyed Pakistan’s economy through corruption, he neglects the innocent pampering to the radical elements who have hijacked the justice system of Pakistan.
“I hope any proceeds of crime retrieved as a consequence of his investigations are used to improve the lives of minorities, including providing compensation for victims released from these blasphemy convictions.
“Most of all however, I pray for the complete abrogation of these pernicious laws and an era of equality in which people are judged on the content of their character and not the precepts of their faith.”