Pakistani Christian acquitted of false murder charges

Pakistani Christians have protested the government's failure to protect religious minorities.Reuters

A Pakistani Christian has been acquitted more than four years after being charged with the murder of his Muslim employer's brother.

Imtiaz Masih, whose case has not been made public until now, was acquitted on 7 February. The court found that witnesses testifying against him were unreliable.

Masih was accused of fatally shooting Muhammad Anwar on 9 November 2010. Anwar's brother, Muhammad Aslam, originally filed a police report claiming that he witnessed three Muslim landlords and two others commit the murder. However, he later changed this statement, instead accusing Masih of the crime.

Aslam and Masih's employer Muhammad Sarwar, another of Anwar's brothers, then kidnapped Masih and allegedly tortured him until he confessed to the murder. Aslam apparently then duped Masih's father into handing over the family's land.

According to the Organisation for Legal Aid which pursued Masih's acquittal, Anwar's widow later filed charges against Sanwar and Aslam accusing them of murdering her husband. She later withdrew the allegations.

Masih was released on bail in March 2011, but was embroiled in legal battles for almost four years, until the court's final decision earlier this month.

Human rights groups say the laws in Pakistan are frequently misused by extremists, and false charges are often brought against Christians in order to settle personal scores or to seize property or businesses.

Masih's acquittal follows several high-profile cases of Christians being accused of blasphemy, which is an offence punishable by death in Pakistan.

In November 2014, a Christian couple near Lahore were been beaten and tortured by a mob for allegedly desecrating the Qur'an. Shama, 24, and her 26-year-old husband Shehzad were then burned to death in a brick kiln where they worked while the police stood by and watched.

Found guilty of blasphemy in November 2010, Asia Bibi has been on death row for more than four years. She continues to deny accusations that she insulted the Prophet Muhammad – charges levelled at her by former colleagues.