The ECLJ’s affiliate in Pakistan, Organization for Legal Aid (OLA), is in the process of defending Ranjha Masih and his son Jalal, two Christians who have been falsely accused of defiling verses of the Quran and disturbing Muslims’ graves.
As in most blasphemy cases, a personal dispute with a local Muslim aristocrat led to the blasphemy charge against our Christian clients. (At this time, details of the dispute cannot be disclosed due to confidentiality and legal strategy reasons.) In 2011, Muhammad Taj, the Muslim aristocrat, conspired with other local Muslims to seek revenge by accusing Ranjha and Jalal of blasphemy. Soon after, two Muslims accused Ranjha and Jalal of digging up Muslim graves and trampling on the Quranic verses written on the burial shrouds.
The prosecution charged Ranjha and Jalal under section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which punishes willfully defiling the Quran with life imprisonment. The prosecution also charged them under section 297, which punishes defiling burial places with one year in prison.
Initially, our clients retained a local Muslim attorney to represent them in court. The attorney, however, was absent from the court hearings and failed to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. As a result, the OLA was recently asked to take over the case. Our attorneys sought the court’s permission to summon the witnesses again to cross-examine them. The court has granted our request. This is a major victory for our team in Pakistan since the prosecution’s entire case rests on the evidence of an unqualified, and currently unchallenged, private investigator. Findings of such private investigators, however, are not admissible in courts, a fact that was not challenged by the previous attorney.
Our team is preparing a legal defense that will challenge the prosecution’s witnesses. In addition, our team is preparing to move for dismissal of the charges, as there is no evidence that such a crime ever occurred.
Such false cases against Christians without any evidence are unfortunately a common occurrence in Pakistan. This case yet again tells a story that has been told numerous times, that blasphemy laws in Pakistan are severely abused, police file charges without any evidence, investigation officers do not follow the required procedures in investigating such sensitive cases, and many defense attorneys do not efficiently represent victims of blasphemy laws at crucial stages of the case. We recall Asia Bibi’s case that suffers from similar flaws. Recently, a three-Justice bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan has granted Asia’s leave to appeal. While the nation’s highest Court will hear the argument in due course, Asia is still in prison and under threats to her life from religious fanatics.
We will continue to provide updates as they become available.
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