Ranjha Masih should be released from jail “within two or three more days.” According to the article, he may or may not have been informed yet of how imminent his release is. “Pakistan – Christian Acquitted on ‘Blasphemy’ Charges,” from Compass Direct:
November 10 (Compass Direct News) — After eight and a half years in jail on unsubstantiated blasphemy charges, Pakistani Christian Ranjha Masih was acquitted today by the Lahore High Court.
At the end of a two-hour appeal hearing on the case, Presiding Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khausa ruled that the lack of any solid evidence against Masih required him to issue a complete acquittal.
Lawyer Justin Gill, who led Masih’s defense team, said he expected a prison release order for the former hospital worker to be issued tomorrow. “So within two or three more days, he should be out of jail,” Gill said. “I think he doesn’t even know this yet himself, but we have told his wife.”
According to a spokesperson from the Lahore-based Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which handled Masih’s legal appeal process, Masih will be transferred to a secure, undisclosed location after his release.
Those are handy.
Arrested in May 1998 during a funeral procession for former Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad John Joseph, Masih had been convicted and sentenced to life in prison by a district court in April 2003.
The 50-year-old Masih had been accused of throwing stones and knocking down a signboard that displayed a verse from the Quran during the funeral demonstrations. He was a close friend of the bishop, who had committed suicide to protest the targeting of Christians under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.
A similar case was recently discussed at Jihad Watch under the heading of “What not to do.”
“The conclusion of Judge Khausa was that there was not enough evidence to maintain the conviction,” Gill told Compass. “And there were so many discrepancies between the eyewitnesses.”
In his appeals argument before the court today, Gill said he had stressed the flat contradictions between the claims of prosecution witnesses and the testimony of the police officer who investigated the evidence a few hours after his client was arrested.
“All the eyewitnesses for the prosecution claimed that the signboard on which the [Quranic verses] were written had broken into two pieces and fallen down,” Gill said. “But the inspecting officer who conducted the investigation said in his written statement that the signboards at the scene were all intact after the incident. None of them were damaged.”
In fact, Gill told the court, it was not until 20 days later that Masih’s accusers produced the damaged signboard, claiming that he had thrown stones and a shoe at it.
This documented time lapse appeared to be a telling factor in the judge’s acquittal verdict, one courtroom observer told Compass.
This same discrepancy had been established clearly before the district court by Masih’s initial defense lawyer, Khalil Tahir Sindhu, a CLAAS spokesman said. “So Ranjha should have been acquitted then,” he said.
But with the Faisalabad District and Sessions courtroom filled with Muslim activists and journalists, the district judge had ruled Masih guilty.
Although Masih’s alleged crime of desecrating the words of the Quran actually fell under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws, he was inexplicably charged under Section 295-C, for insulting the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
Even more strangely, the appeals court noted today, his conviction under Section 295-C required the death penalty. But instead, the district court sentenced him to life imprisonment.
Held blindfolded and in heavy chains during his first weeks of detention, Masih told his lawyers he was beaten and tortured repeatedly by police authorities before his transfer to the Faisalabad Central Jail.