Persecuted Christians

Catholic condemned to death for blasphemy tells of his trauma

.- Church and human rights bodies, including the Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace and the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, are challenging the judgment in the case of a young Catholic man, who has been sentenced to death.

On May 30, the Sessions Court sentenced Younis Masih, a 27-year-old furniture polisher, to death for blasphemy and fined him 100,000 rupees (US$1,663).

Younis, who has been imprisoned for nearly two years since being accused of blasphemy, was interviewed by UCA News on June 14.

"My knee joints ache due to the torture by police, who tried to make me confess the alleged blasphemy by beating me with heavy staffs," he told UCA News from within Lahore Central Jail. He said he is also denied clean water and other necessities provided to fellow inmates.

Younis denies the blasphemy allegation and recounted the events that led to the court’s most recent decision. On Sept. 9, 2005, about 70 members of a group singing devotional music attacked Younis, after he was accused of making derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad.

The next day, about 26 men continued the attack. They grabbed him from a billiards club and assaulted him. They abused his wife, threw bricks at his house and set it on fire. Several of the 50 local Christian families later fled the area.

When Younis went to police to report the assault, the police, in turn, registered a blasphemy case against him. He said a large mob, armed with sticks, gathered at the police station while he was there and refused to leave until a report was lodged against him for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Younis was jailed.

Difa-e-Islam Mahaz (front for the defense of Islam), an alliance of 22 Sunni religious organizations, organized a large demonstration at the Lahore Press Club, where they called for him to be hanged. They vowed to continue until Younis was sentenced to death.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a May 31 statement that it would monitor Younis' case and would help his counsel appeal before the High Court.

Nadeem Anthony of the Rights Commission told UCA News that police and Muslim clerics created an atmosphere of terror that led to the disappointing decision. Anthony claims the case was not investigated properly. He complained about "pressure from the religious extremists" and people taking the law "into their own hands."

Section 295-B of the Pakistan Criminal Code punishes those convicted of insulting the Qur'an with life imprisonment, and Section 295-C stipulates death for insulting Prophet Muhammad.


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