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Pakistan High Court Grants Bail to Christian Man, Youngest Person Convicted of Blasphemy

Naseeb Anjum, a lawyer for Nabeel Masih, a Christian man convicted while still a teenager in 2018 of blasphemy, arrives for an interview with The Associated Press, in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, March 1, 2021. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

A court in Pakistan has granted bail to a Christian convicted of committing blasphemy in 2018 while he was still a teenager. 

Nabeel Masih is the youngest person to be convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan's history. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for insulting Islam in a social media post. 

International Christian Concern (ICC) reports the Lahore High Court on Monday granted bail to Masih. 

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On September 18, 2016, Akhtar Ali accused Masih, then age 16, of committing blasphemy over a Facebook post that "defamed and disrespected" the Kaaba in Mecca.  

The Kaaba is a building at the center of Islam's most important mosque, the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is the most sacred site in Islam. 

According to Ali, he and some other friends were looking at Facebook when they discovered a picture on Masih's timeline that depicted the Kaaba with a pig on top of it. 

Ali filed a blasphemy accusation against Masih at the local police station and officers were sent to Masih's home in Dina Nath village. The officers arrested Masih and charged him with committing blasphemy under Sections 295 and 295-A of Pakistan's Penal Code. 

At the time, law enforcement officials claimed they removed the allegedly blasphemous image from Facebook to prevent further violence. Yet, the removal of the post has made it difficult to determine if Masih is innocent of the charge. It is still unknown whether Masih posted the photo himself or was just tagged in the photo. 

The British Asian Christian Association has been supporting a legal battle for his release, according to the Associated Press. 

Speaking to the media, Masih's lawyer, Naseeb Anjum, said he would try to complete the paperwork necessary to secure Masih's freedom. 

"I will continue this legal fight for his acquittal," he added. 

It was unclear exactly when Masih, now 20, would be freed.

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.

As CBN News has reported, in Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are common and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Such accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark Muslim mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests. Currently, at least 24 Christians are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan.

"We here at International Christian Concern are happy to see this positive development in Nabeel's case. We hope that he will soon be released from prison and allowed to return to his family," said ICC's Regional Manager William Stark. "We also hope that the Lahore High Court will also fully acquit Nabeel so his innocence can be proven beyond doubt. 

"We are also concerned for Nabeel's safety. Extremists in Pakistan often target individuals accused of blasphemy. Since 1990, more than 60 people have been extra-judicially murdered after being accused of blasphemy. When released, Pakistani authorities must take steps to secure Nabeel and his family. Pakistani authorities must also take steps to combat the false blasphemy accusations that have ruined so many lives," Stark continued. 

According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, blasphemy laws are astonishingly widespread throughout the world. Seventy-one countries spread out across many regions, maintain such statutes.

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