Pakistan: Christian jailed on blasphemy charges

 Bashir Masih, a 30-year-old Christian, was sentenced to seven years in jail for desecrating the Qu'ran, AsiaNews reported this week. Mr Masih, who was given 30 days to launch an appeal to the High Court in Lahore, was arrested in August 2004 in the district of Bahawalnagar, after charges were laid against him for tearing pages out of a copy of the Qu'ran to write magic spells on them. According to local police, Mr Masih confessed to the deed. But doubts remain as to how the confession was obtained. The sentence was pronounced on February 23 in the Civil Court in Chishtian, a town located in the diocese of Multan but did not receive any publicity. Since 1986 more than 4,000 people, both Christian and Muslim have been tried under the country's blasphemy laws, namely articles 295 B and C of Pakistan's Penal Code. The first deals with offences against the Qu'ran (punishable death) and the second with defamation of the prophet Muhammad (punished by either a life or death sentence). Mgr Joseph Coutts, Bishop of Faisalabad said: "It is a tragic situation. This law strikes at the poor, those who cannot defend themselves, the people who lack the means to be heard." The Catholic Church and other minority communities have called for the immediate and total abrogation of these laws considering them an anomaly in the country's legal system. Source: AsiaNews/ABC

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