A young Christian pastor, in hiding after being accused of blaspheming against Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), has surrendered to police due to serious threats to his life reportedly from extremists belonging to a banned religious organisation, his lawyer told Pakistan Today.
Aneeqa Maria advocate said that Pastor Adnan Masih agreed to surrender to police on Wednesday, the end of his pre-arrest bail period, because of serious threats to his life. Lahore 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 extremist elements. These elements had been demanding from the police that Masih be handed over to them,” Maria said. The militant wing of the banned outfit has been tagged as a global terror organisation by the US State Department for carrying out brazen terror attacks in South East Asia.
ACCUSED DEEPLY FRIGHTENED:
She said that Masih, 26, was deeply frightened when he agreed to surrender.
“Masih knew we could do nothing else except seek refuge in courts,” she said. “I’m determined to prove his innocence, because I believe that he has been wrongly accused.”
She said that a large number of protesters affiliated with the banned outfit were present outside the courtroom of Model Town Judicial Magistrate Muzamil Ahmed on Thursday where Masih was scheduled to be produced by the police.
“We reached the district courts at 7:30am, but a large number of protesters, some of them armed, were present outside Magistrate Ahmed’s courtroom,” she said. “We avoided confronting them and went to the office of the Sadar Division SP Investigation, Jahanzeb Khan where we were told that Masih would be produced in court on Friday because the police were still investigating the matter. However, the police did not present Masih in court on Friday,” she added.
“When we filed Masih’s pre-arrest bail on Oct. 26, the extremist elements started hounding us and issued us threats through various sources,” Maria said. “A large number of protesters were gathered at the sessions court on Nov. 6 as expected. Bringing Masih’s 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,” she added.
The lawyer said the police are bound to produce a suspect before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours of his formal arrest, but since the nature of this case is very sensitive she believed the police was exercising caution. “I think the police will present him in court on Saturday (today) for seeking his judicial remand,” she added.
For weeks members of the banned outfit have been making rounds of the Township Police Station, demanding that Masih be arrested and handed over to them.
The complainant, Abid Mehmood registered a case against Masih [FIR No. 675/13] on Oct. 8 under sections 295-A, 295-B and 295-C.
Masih, 26, denies having written anything against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) when he scribbled in a book he found in a glassworks shop where his brother works.
Masih was filling in for this brother, Irfan Masih, at the glassworks shop, Diamond Glass on October 7, the day of the alleged crime.
Sources close to Masih told Pakistan Today that he began going through books in a desk drawer, where he noticed one entitled, “Mein ney Bible sey poocha Quran kyun jaley’ [I Asked the Bible Why Qurans Were Burnt] written by a cleric of the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), a banned religious organisation.
The sources said that the Christian pastor noticed several statements about the Bible and about Jesus Christ which he believed were incorrect. “Masih highlighted the statements with a marker and corrected by answering with verses from the Bible. The next day he found a case had been registered against him for blasphemy,” said the sources.
The book belonged to Mehmood, who works at the shop and is linked with the banned outfit. Upon seeing the alleged notations, he went to police and also notified his organisation.
The source said that amidst reports that the banned outfit had issued a fatwa calling for his head, Masih, his wife and two little girls aged 8 and 6 respectively, 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.
Pakistan Today made repeated efforts to contact Sadar Superintendent of Police (Investigations) Jahanzeb Khan when this report was made on Friday but his telephone operator said the police official was busy in meetings at the Chief Minister’s Secretariat.
While many in Pakistan believe that the blasphemy laws are widely misused against Christians and Muslims alike, very few have publicly demanded amending them to stop their misuse.
Statute 295-A forbids outraging religious feelings, 295-B forbids defiling the Holy Quran and 295-C forbids defaming Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), but parts A and B require that intent be shown in order to obtain a conviction. Defiling the Holy Quran is punishable by life in prison, and defaming Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is punishable by death with or without a fine.