Pakistan: Five Christians acquitted of blasphemy charges, two jailed
Five Christians were on Monday acquitted of blasphemy charges in Pakistan and two were jailed for six months under the blasphemy law and anti-terrorist act, according to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).
The case, which began on August 16, 2015, was against 16 people who were accused of displaying and publishing material considered threatening, abusive and insulting. Charges of instigating sectarian hatred and hurting religious feelings and the sentiments of Muslims were later added.
Pastor Aftab Gill of the Biblical Church of God in Gujrat had published a post about an upcoming ordination ceremony and referenced his late father Fazil Masih, who founded the church, calling him 'Rasool'.
The term Rasool means prophet in Arabic and is used in the Quran.
This offended local Muslims and a case was filed against him by Mukhtar Ahmed, the sub-inspector of Civil Lines Police Station.
In September 2015, the one Muslim arrested in the case was released on bail, but all the Christians involved were denied bail.
Almost 10 months later, five people – Shafqat Gill, Latif Masih, Unitan Fazal Gill, Mohsin Shoukat and Zulfiqar – were freed from blasphemy charges. Two others – Pastor Aftab Gill and Hajaj Bin Yousaf – were imprisoned for six months.
Attacks on Christians and Christian institutions are common in Pakistan, ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for Christian persecution by Open Doors.
The misuse of Pakistan's notorious blasphemy law is common and it is often used to settle private scores. Among other high-profile cases is that of Asia Bibi, who has been in prison for six years for insulting the prophet Muhammad, an allegation she has always denied.