10/24/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On September 28, Yaqoob Bashir, a 25-year-old mentally disabled Pakistani Christian, was sentenced to life in prison by the Session and District Court of Mirpurkhas for allegedly committing blasphemy against Islam. This life sentence was issued more than three years after the initial blasphemy accusation was leveled against Bashir in 2015.
Bashir was first accused of burning a booklet that carried Quranic verses in Mirpurkhas in June 2015. The case was registered (FIR # 41/15) against Bashir, under Section 295-B and C of Pakistan’s Penal Code on June 5, 2015. Bashir was reportedly receiving treatment at a mental health facility in Hyderabad prior to the blasphemy accusation.
Last month, the court sentenced Bashir under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code, which punishes individuals for using derogatory language against the prophet Muhammad. However, he was found innocent under Section 295-B, which punishes individuals for desecrating the Quran.
Collectively, Sections 295 A, B, and C comprise Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. Many human rights advocates who monitor Pakistan have reported on the widespread abuse of these blasphemy laws. Often, false accusations are made to settle personal scores or incite religious hatred against minority communities. Mob violence and lynchings often follow blasphemy accusations against Christians, even if those accusations are clearly false.
During Bashir’s three years and three months of imprisonment prior to his conviction, approximately 96 hearings were conducted as a part of his trial. During this period, Bashir was attacked by fellow inmates on several occasions. In June 2018, he was brutally beaten by fellow inmates for praying in their shared jail cell and sustained multiple injuries.
The young Christian also found little sympathy from the courts as his appeals for bail were twice rejected, once by the Session Court and then again by the High Court of Hyderabad. While awaiting trial, Bashir suffered from multiple serious illnesses due to the poor conditions in jail and the lack of adequate medical care from jail authorities.
“There are a number of case studies where these laws have been misused against the most vulnerable segments of the society…Because of this, these laws have created an atmosphere of fear in Pakistan.”
Since the day Bashir was accused of blasphemy, his family has been continuously monitored by extremist groups. These groups have repeatedly threatened and harassed them during court hearings.
“It’s unbearable and unjust,” Kasur Bibi, Bashir’s mother, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “My son is innocent. He did not insult or do blasphemy. He does not care much of these issues as his mind works differently than that of a normal person’s.”
In October, Bashir’s legal defense will file an appeal against his sentence in Hyderabad High Court. While that is positive development, it still may take years for that appeal to be heard.
“The blasphemy laws need reform,” Imtiaz Amanat, Legal Aid Coordinator at Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, told ICC. “There are a number of case studies where these laws have been misused against the most vulnerable segments of the society. Yet, these laws are mute about mentally disabled persons, children, and intention. Because of this, these laws have created an atmosphere of fear in Pakistan.”
“Keeping mentally disabled persons in mind, the government should introduce amendments to these laws and extend relief to innocent citizens,” Amanat concluded.
While these changes to the law would be helpful in preventing further abuse, they would do little for Bashir and his family who have already fallen victim to the blasphemy laws. Following his sentencing, Bashir is set to spend several years in prison as a convicted blasphemer. Bashir’s family will also have to endure the stigma of being related to a known blasphemer.
“I am illiterate and don’t know much about laws and policies, however, I just want justice for my son and to see him at home as soon as possible,” Kasur Bibi, Bashir’s mother, concluded.