By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- A 70-year old Christian man who was detained in Pakistan on controversial charges of "blasphemy" against Islam has died, a friend and rights lawyer told BosNewsLife. "Mukhtar Masih, who was released on bail in May this year, died Thursday, November 2," confirmed Sardar Mushtaq Gill who leads the Pakistan-based Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) group.
It was not immediately clear why he passed away. "He was facing trial on the blasphemy charges that he had written blasphemous messages and affixed them to the door of a local Mosque. These were false accusations," Gill added.
Masih, a Christian from Gujranwala in Punjab province was detained in late January after he allegedly made derogatory remarks about the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims, and Islam’s prophet, Mohammed.
His entire family was detained with him on January 28, including three grandchildren. All but Masih were later released but were forced to go into hiding, BosNewsLife learned.
Local Christians said the allegations against Masih were part of efforts by Muslim hardliners to seize his property.
The case underscored international and local concerns about Pakistan's blasphemy legislation. Rights activists said that on the same day Masih was captured, Pakistan's Anti-Terrorism Court cleared 106 men of attacking homes and individuals in the Christian Joseph Colony area in Lahore city in 2013.
The riots in Joseph Colony in 2013 saw thousands of rioters loot and torch more than 150 Christian homes after a Christian road-sweeper named Sawan Masih was accused of blasphemy.
He was sentenced to death in 2014, and his appeal has yet to be heard. The rioters were released on bail the day they were accused.
In stark contrast, Pakistan’s Supreme Court recently granted bail to evangelist Adnan Prince more than two years after he was detained over accusations he had written blasphemous comments in a book about Islam, trial observers said.
Defense lawyers reportedly argued the case against him was flawed, leading to his freedom.