By Jawad Mazhar, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
LAHORE/KASUR (BosNewsLife)– A Christian couple, remained detained Thursday, March 11, as they began serving a 25-year prison term for blasphemy against Islam shortly after another Christian received a similar sentence, the latest in a series of cases that have worried the human rights community.
Ruqqiya Bibi and her husband Munir Masih were sentenced last week under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code for “defiling” the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims, because they allegedly touched it without ritually washing their hands, the independent Center Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) told BosNewsLife.
Islamic “fundamentalists came with fake evidences to prove that we allegedly violated Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law,” said the handcuffed Masih.
Soon after he and his wife were separated and now serve time in the District Jail Kasur and Women Jail Multan in the Kasur area, a city near Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, CLAAS confirmed.
Earlier in February, Qamar David was sentenced in Karachi to life imprisonment for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages with a mobile phone, although other trial observers said the jail sentence would be closer to 25 years.
His lawyer Pervaiz Aslam Chaudhry told reporters that David was innocent as over a dozen apparently said that not David but the owner of the cell phone, a Muslim, was guilty.
Righs activists and church representatives have told BosNewsLife the cases underscore their concerns over Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws which they say have been misused to target Christians and settle personal disputes.
A local Christian church leader in the Kasur area, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, described the detained Christian couple as “very religious people” and members of his church.
He said the couple apparently touched parts of the Koran “without an Islamic ritual in which head, teeth, mouth, hands and feet are washed with water, or sand and soil.”
The ritual, he explained, “is performed prior to offer an Islamic prayer or recite the Holy Koran or even touch any copy or part of the Koran. “By allegedly violating this rules the couple “incurred themselves to the gruesome dangers of allegations under the Blasphemy Laws in December of 2008,” added the church leader, whose name is known to BosNewsLife.
CLAAS confirmed to BosNewsLife it would support an appeal against the prison sentence for the couple, saying the charges amounted to “a fake blasphemy case.”The group also expressed concerns about the couple’s children, saying the “impoverished Christian family” should have had a fair opportunity to fight their case in court.
The latest blasphemy cases come amid mounting concerns over threats and attacks against the Christian minority in Pakistan, a mainly Muslim nation, rights groups say.
Last month, Pakistan’s government said it plans “to change” its blasphemy legislation to check its misuse by extremist groups. The law, which besides long prison sentences can even carry the death penalty for insulting Islam or its prophet, is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, which is more than 95 percent Muslim.
Previous governments have failed to reform the law because of opposition from powerful hard-line Islamic groups, according to observers familiar with the legislation.