Pakistani Christian Acquitted of Blasphemy

Meanwhile, Protests Decry Violent Attacks

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LAHORE, Pakistan, AUG. 16, 2002 ( In a surprise decision, the Supreme Court in Islamabad has acquitted a Pakistani Christian who was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy against Islam.

The Christian Voice of Pakistan reported that Ayub Masih, a 34-year-old resident of the Punjab province, had been jailed since October 1996 for speaking well of Salman Rushdie’s book «The Satanic Verses.»

But according to defense counsel Abid Minto, the real reason behind the arrest was to grab the land owned by Masih and 17 other neighboring Christian families. The attorney general admitted that Mohammad Akram, the plaintiff, had succeeded in his intent.

«It’s the happiest day of my life to see something good coming out of Pakistan,» said Robin Gill, president of VIRSA, a New York-based organization working for Pakistani expatriates.

Before Thursday’s decision by the Supreme Court, Masih was twice convicted and sentenced to death by hanging — first by the Sahiwal Session Court in April 1998, and then by the Lahore High Court in July 2001.

Also on Thursday, thousands of Pakistani Christians observed a «black day» of mourning for the victims of anti-Christian attacks in several cities.

Christians held protest marches in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta against violence, and called for greater protection of their churches, schools and communities. Marches were forbidden in Islamabad, the capital, for security reasons.

Eleven people died last week in attacks on a Christian school in Murree, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Islamabad, and a Christian hospital in Taxila, 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of the capital.

These were the latest of a series of anti-Christian or anti-Western attacks in Pakistan. Since October, eight attacks have resulted in 59 dead, including 43 Pakistanis. Christians represent 2% of the 145 million inhabitants of this predominantly Muslim country.

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