UN supports Pakistani Christian on blasphemy charges

 The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found that Pakistani Christian, Ayub Masih, was arbitrarily deprived of his liberty and has asked the government of Pakistan to free him. Ayub Masih was arrested in 1996 when he was 26, after allegations that he had blasphemed against Islam. Masih was sentenced to death in April 1998 for blasphemy. In July 2001, the Multan Bench of Lahore High Court rejected an appeal by Masih and upheld the death sentence earlier awarded against him. In February, 2002, the Supreme Court of Pakistan granted leave to appeal in Masih's case. The date for his appeal hearing has yet to be fixed. The UN Working Group studied the case and found in favour of Masih, saying: ".. the threats and atmosphere surrounding his trial and appeal denied him any chance of having a fair trial... the procedure conducted against him did not respect the fundamental rights of a person charged.....this coupled with the fact that under Pakistani law blasphemy cases insulting the Muslim religion are compulsorily heard by Muslim judges, undermines the credibility that a fair and impartial trial is being conducted." The Jubilee Campaign is also calling on British MPs to ask President Musharraf to intervene in the case of Nadia Clemence, a Pakistani Christian girl who was kidnapped in Mariamabad, Sheikupura District, in Punjab Province last year and forced to convert to Islam and marry. She was just 15. The police have taken no action and the Pakistani authorities have so far failed to ensure that Nadia is rescued and restored to her anxious parents. The kidnap of Christian girls and their forced conversion to Islam in Pakistan is not unusual and Jubilee Campaign has interviewed a number of girls who had been kidnapped and who were later rescued or managed to escape. Jubilee Campaign's researcher and Parliamentary Officer, Wilfred Wong, said: " We hope the decision by the UN Working Group will significantly add to the pressure on President Musharraf to ensure that Ayub Masih is released. Furthermore, we should not forget that there are at least 13 other cases of Christians who have been imprisoned because of blasphemy allegations. Justice needs to be done for them as well. For those girls who are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam, unless efforts are made by the authorities to rescue them, it is likely that they will be condemned to a lifetime in captivity."

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