Pakistani court grants bail to Christian in blasphemy case

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistani court on Monday granted bail to a Christian man convicted in 2018 while still a teenager of insulting Islam by posting a picture of Islam’s holiest site on social media, a defense lawyer said.

The court order in the eastern city of Lahore came more than four years after Nabeel Masih was arrested. He was detained after a mob accused him of committing blasphemy by sharing a picture of Kaaba in Mecca on Facebook. He was 16 years old at the time.

According to his lawyer, Naseeb Anjum, Masih was granted bail by the Lahore High Court. It was unclear exactly when Masih would be freed.

Blasphemy has been a contentious issue in Pakistan. Domestic and international human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and to settle personal scores.

In 2018, Masih became the youngest blasphemy convict in Pakistan when the court sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Since then, the British Asian Christian Association has been supporting a legal battle for his release.

Anjum said he will try to quickly complete the paperwork to free Masih, now 20 years old. “I will continue this legal fight for his acquittal,” he added.

Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, a lawyer for the man who leveled the original accusation against Masih, confirmed that Masih was granted bail, but provided no further details.

Juliet Chowdhry, a trustee of the British Asian Christian Association, said in a statement she was happy Masih would be freed but noted that he “has lost many of his most important years of development.”

Chowdhry said Masih should be compensated for his false conviction to help him restore his life and the organization would pursue this for him. “We call on Christians everywhere to pray for him as we continue the battle,” she said.

A Punjab governor was killed by his own guard in 2011 after he defended a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy. She was acquitted after spending eight years on death row and left Pakistan for Canada to join her family after receiving threats.

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