Mentally Disabled Christian Beaten for Praying in Pakistani Jail

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A 25-year-old mentally disabled Christian man, who is in a jail in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy, was brutally beaten by his fellow prisoners because he was praying, according to the U.S.-based group International Christian Concern.

Yaqoob Bashir, who is from the Mirpurkhas area of the Sindh Province and has been in jail since 2015 after a Muslim cleric accused him of burning pages of a booklet carrying verses from the Quran, was praying for an upcoming hearing but his fellow prisoners didn't want him to pray in front of them.

Bashir's shirt and face were covered in dried blood and he sustained injuries to his face, eyes, chin, and head as he appeared in court last weekend, ICC reported. When the judge inquired about the injuries, Bashir narrated the incident. The judge ordered that Bashir be moved to a separate cell, and also summoned the prisoners to testify about the incident.

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"It is sad to hear that Christians are not secure even in police custody," Bishop Samson Shukardin of the Hyderabad Diocese was quoted as saying. "It is the duty of the state to ensure the protection of all citizens. If a young Christian is facing violence and torture in jail, then one can only imagine the new heights of persecution."

Shukardin suggested that Bashir's life was in danger.

ICC Regional Manager William Stark said it is "very disturbing to see that prison authorities would allow fellow prisoners to attack and severely injure Yaqoob for merely exercising his religious freedom rights."

Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which are embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, carry a death penalty, and yet there is no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy.

In 2011, Salmaan Taseer, a Pakistani businessman and politician who served as the governor of the province of Punjab, was assassinated by his own bodyguard after he publicly criticized the country's blasphemy laws referring to the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death in 2010 on accusations of blasphemy. The then minister of minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was also ambushed and killed supposedly because he said Bibi should be granted a pardon.

Allegations of blasphemy often "stem from the Muslim accuser's desire to take revenge" and to "settle petty, personal disputes," according to Pakistan's Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, or CLAAS.

In 2015, Katrina Lantos Swett, then the chairperson of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and her fellow commissioner, Mary Ann Glendon, released a report after their visit to Pakistan. "There is a rising tide of religious persecution by the state and by militants," they wrote. "The commission is aware of almost 40 people on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy, a statistic unmatched in the world. The law fosters violence against religious minorities, such as Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis."

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