Stephen Masih is being unfairly held in Pakistan under the Blasphemy Laws

Over the last year there has been growing international attention given to the plight of religious minorities living in Pakistan. Individuals like Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of drinking water from a water well assigned only for muslims, was imprisoned for eight years and sentenced to the death penalty under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. It was only due to international pressure that Bibi has been freed and found refuge in Canada, where she received asylum. Similarly, currently two Christian Pakistani brothers Qasir and Amoon Ayub have been imprisioned since 2014, sentenced to death for blasphemy for allegedly posting “disrespectful material” toward Muslims on their website. These are just two examples of the tyranny experienced by minorities living in Pakistan.

In a question (E-001991/2019) posed to the European Commission earlier this year, British Member of European Parliament, Charles Tannock of the European Conservatives and Reformist Group, brought forth another troubling case.

Mr. Stephen Masih is a 38-year old Christian man. He has a history of mental health issues that resulted from a case of typhoid fever contract during childhood. Due to this families limited resources Mr. Masih received little medial attention and suffered irreparable damage. Until recently, Mr. Masih had been living with his mother and sister in Badiana, a neighbourhood in Pakistan’s Punjab province. On March 11th, Mr. Masih was accused of slandering the prophet Muhammad by his neighbour, Mr. Hafiz Muhammad Mudasir. The incident in question was the result of Mr. Masih having a debate with his brother-in-law on their own property, over the practices of prayer and fasting during the Christian festival of Lent.

It was commonly known in the community that Mr. Masih’s mental state left him susceptible to becoming agitated or upset. This is precisely what happened over the course of the discussion between Mr. Masih and his brother in law. The noise of the debate attracted the attention of his neighbour, namely Mr. Mudasir, who began to beat Mr. Masih before being stopped by the other members of Mr. Masih’s family. A short while later however, Mudasir returned with a group of Muslim community members who then took it upon themselves to assault Mr. Masih, and the members of his family, for their alleged crime of blasphemy.

These neighbours also filed this accusation with the local police, which resulted in Mr. Masih’s arrest and detention under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, section 295c of the Pakistan Penal Code. Months later, Mr. Masih remains in detention and is facing the possibility of the death penalty if he is convicted of these charges.

MEP Tannock demanded to know if the Commission, or more specifically if Ms. Mogherini, the European Commission Vice President and High Representative for the European External Action Services herself, was aware of this case. Now that it has been brought to light, MEP Tannock also asked if Ms. Mogherini will “instruct the EU Delegation to Pakistan to monitor this case”.

In the beginning of June 2019 (E-0001991/2019), Ms. Frederica Mogherini, issued a brief response to this question. She reported that the EU Delegation in Islamabad “keeps track of all blasphemy cases coming to its knowledge”. They were already aware of the case of Mr. Stephen Masih and have followed “with keen attention the ongoing fact-finding conducted by partners that is expected to reveal as much as possible about the circumstances of the case and to inform possible legal defence avenues”.

While the European Union has been closely following this case, and others like it, Mr. Masih has been detained and numerous other lives have been disrupted by this antiquated and highly critised law. The European approach needs to change from one that simply pays ‘keen attention’ to ongoing developments, to one of action in defence of freedom for all.

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