Pakistan: Christian on blasphemy charge allowed to appeal

 The Supreme Court of Pakistan granted Ayub Masih, a Christian accused of blasphemy, permission to appeal on Wednesday. The decision was the first legal breakthrough since his arrest and jailing in October 1996. On July 25, 2001, the High Court in Lahore upheld a guilty verdict, sentencing Masih to death for allegedly stating that Salmon Rushdie's book was accurate. The sudden granting of the petition, seemed timed to coincide with the visit of President Pervaiz Musharaf to Washington, DC, observers note. The decision came hours before Musharaf met President Bush, as well as congressmen and senators who have raised Ayub's case. The Jubilee campaign with other human rights groups, have been working on behalf of Masih for more than five years. Last October, Jubilee arranged for the legal defense organization, Freedom Now in Washington, to present a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. In December the UN Working Group 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 Masih did not respect the fundamental rights of a person charged, coupled with the fact that under Pakistani law, blasphemy cases insulting the Muslim religion are compulsorily heard by Muslim judges, which undermines the credibility that a fair and impartial trial is being conducted." The UN Working Group called for the Pakistan government to take necessary steps to grant a pardon or commuting of the sentence, thereby calling for Ayub's release. Throughout January and February 2002, Jubilee Campaign has presented this UN finding to various Pakistan government authorities. Ann Buwalda, a spokesperson for the campaign, said: "We are pleased with this breakthrough, considering that Ayub Masih has been confined more than five years on false charges of blasphemy. The findings and decision by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions make it clear that his continuing detention violates international standards. We demand that the Pakistani government immediately release and fully pardon Ayub Masih. We will not rest until this happens." Jubilee Campaign is an interdenominational Christian human rights pressure group, which has worked with over 150 MPs to campaign on human rights issues around the world.

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