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Christian in Pakistan Denied Bail in Blasphemy Case, Judge Fears Religious Extremists

A Christian man in Pakistan has been charged with blasphemy for allegedly desecrating the Quran and a judge is skeptical on granting him bail, due to pressure from the religious community.

Khuram Masih was arrested in a town near Lahore in Pakistan, early in December after his landlord, Zulfiqar Ali, told the police that Masih burned pages of the Quran to prepare tea.

According to Charisma News, willful desecration of the Quran or use of an extract in a derogatory manner is punishable with life in prison.

Despite his lawyers, Muhammad Farhad Tirmizi and Liaquat John, petitioning for his bail, Masih remains in jail. The judge in the case, Judge Anjum Raza Syed, is refusing to grant bail because the case was "very sensitive, and bail to the accused would fan religious sentiments and cause a great mishap," according to Charisma News.

In their request for bail, the lawyers stated police had registered a false case against Masih, based on word of mouth. They said that the police had not found any incriminating evidence against Masih.

Asif Aqeel, executive director of the Community Development Initiative, said that the lawyers for Masih asked for his bail too soon.

"There's no use moving for bail in the trial court, because the lower courts cannot sustain pressure in such cases," Aqeel said. "The judges in trial court are under extreme pressure from religious quarters and simply cannot set a blasphemy accused free on bail after just a month of the incident."

Aqeel also said that most blasphemy cases receive a guilty verdict due to pressure from Muslims.

"It is very unfortunate for those accused of blasphemy, but this is how the legal system of Pakistan operates," Aqeel added. "The accused have to spend several months, even years, in jail without bail, just because the judges are unwilling to put their own lives at risk from religious extremists.

Ali told police that he and other neighbors tried to stop Masih from burning pages of the Quran, but he refused and fled his home when Ali arrived. Masih's lawyers claim that charges against him were made up and baseless because Ali never witnessed the incident.

Masih has said that charges are fabricated and stem from an earlier argument with Ali over rent, according to the Persecution Times.

"The charges are completely fabricated," Masih said. "Ali has accused me of burning pages of a quranic booklet that had been [later] placed in a cavity in the wall [to keep them from touching the floor]."

Masih claims that the walls in his room are cemented and there's no hole or cavity where the burnt pages could have been placed.

One of Masih's neighbors told Ali that he had seen Masih and his wife burning pages of the Quran to make tea. He reportedly spread the news to other Muslims in the neighborhood, according to a First Information Report.

This led to a crowd of Muslims gathering outside Masih's house, shouting slanders towards Christians. Muslim leaders also made announcements from mosques, asking for severe punishment of the Christians.

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