By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A Pakistan court last month surprised everyone when it dismissed charges of blasphemy against a Christian man accused of insulting Islam.
According to a story by the World Watch Monitor, the Jan. 28 ruling by a trial court in Punjab province surprised defendant Barkat Masih, his attorney and religious-rights advocates. It came two months after a different judge threw out similar charges against a teenage girl that drew worldwide criticism of Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws.
The World Watch Monitor said Masih was arrested in Oct. 2011 on the basis of a complaint filed by two men who accused him of insulting the prophet Muhammad. After one judge declined to take the case, a second stepped in and ordered a police investigation of the charge.
Police found evidence that the accusers were attempting to take property away from Masih, and prosecutors could provide no evidence to support the blasphemy charge.
The World Watch Monitor said the judge then threw out the case and set Masih free.
"This is a remarkable case in which a trial court judge has released a person charged with blasphemy," said Masih's lawyer, Allah Rakha. "In my several years of legal practice I have never seen a trial judge showing guts in such a sensitive matter."
The World Watch Monitor said some government officials drew a link from the case of Barkat Masih to the much more widely covered case of Rimsha Masih, an Islamabad girl arrested in Aug. 2012 on charges that she burned some pages of an Islamic text. The courts threw out the case when police provided evidence the burned pages were planted on the girl by a local Imam.
"Rimsha Masih's case is a clear example of how the blasphemy laws are misused by people," Peter Jacob, of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, told World Watch Monitor.
He added, "Even in Barkat Masih's case, it's quite clear that the complainants wanted to grab his property therefore they charged him with an allegation quite a few people in Pakistan dare to question. The government and judiciary should review all blasphemy cases because most of those accused are victims of jealousy and prejudice."