Pakistani Woman Accused of 'Blasphemy' Illegally Held in Jail

Authorities fail to file charge sheet against young mother of 6-month-old.

LAHORE, Pakistan – The mother of a 6-month-old girl has been wrongly jailed for more than a month, as Pakistani authorities have failed to file a charge sheet within the mandatory 14-day period against the young Christian woman falsely accused of "blaspheming" the prophet of Islam, her attorney said.

Shamim Bibi, 26, of village Chak No. 170/7R Colony, in the Fort Abbas area of Bahawalpur district, was charged under Section 295-C of Pakistan's "blasphemy" statutes after neighbors accused her of uttering remarks against Muhammad. She was arrested on Feb. 28.

Speaking ill of Muhammad in Pakistan is punishable by life imprisonment or death under Pakistan's internationally condemned blasphemy laws.

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"Shamim has been implicated in a completely baseless case," said her husband, Bashir Masih. "I was present with her at the time of the alleged incident … nothing of the sort happened. The Muslims cooked up a false story, though it's still not clear who provoked them into leveling this accusation."

After visiting his wife in jail today, Bashir told Compass by phone that she was holding fast to her Christian faith and firmly believed that God would rescue her soon from the false charge.

"She is alright otherwise, but she especially misses her daughter," Masih said. "We are not sure when Shamim will be able to come back home, although our lawyer is quite hopeful of securing her release very soon."

One of the two witnesses named in the First Information Report (FIR), Abdul Qayyum, has already denied hearing anything from her that supports the charge.

"The police just did not listen to our pleas and went ahead and registered a case against my innocent wife," he said. "It's been over a month now, but the police haven't filed a charge sheet against her. Who will compensate for the agony that my wife and family are suffering for no fault of ours?"

Shamim Bib's lawyer, Mahboob A. Khan, told Compass that he had filed a bail application on March 17, but the court has not taken it up.

"The complainant party has changed their lawyer, and their new counsel filed his papers in court at today's [Tuesday] hearing," Khan said. "The bail application will now most likely be heard at the next hearing."

On the delay in completing the charge sheet, Khan said that police were supposed to register it within 14 days of filing the FIR under the Code of Criminal Procedure. Police say that they have forwarded the charge sheet to the prosecution department, but there has been nothing from them either, he said.

"The judicial process is painfully slow, and it's even slower in such sensitive matters," Khan said. "I just hope the judge realizes the gaps in the case, and even if he does not muster enough courage to quash the case, he should at least set her free on bail."

Shamim Bibi's family had earlier told Compass that she had been accused because she had resisted pressure to convert to Islam four days before her arrest. Three relatives had become Muslims on Feb. 24 and urged her to do the same, and when she refused, neighbors on Feb. 27 accused her of making derogatory remarks – as yet unknown – about Muhammad.

Ansar Ali Shah, a local prayer leader in Chak 170/7R Colony, claimed that Shamim Bibi's neighbors, Hamad Ahmed Hashmi and Abdul Qayyum, told him and other Muslims that they had heard the Christian woman making derogatory remarks about Muhammad in her courtyard, according to the First Information Report (FIR No. 30/12) registered by the Khichiwala police station. But there is no indication in the FIR of what, exactly, Shamim Bibi was alleged to have said.

As word of the allegation spread, a large crowd of villagers besieged her house and demanded "severe punishment for the infidel," claiming she had hurt their religious sentiments, sources said.

Shahbaz Masih, her brother-in-law, told Compass that Qayyum told police that he wasn't even present in his house at the time of the alleged incident and had come to know about it from Hashmi, the other witness. Hashmi, a motorized-rickshaw driver, also was not present at his house at 3 p.m., the time of the alleged remark, Shahbaz Masih said, based on information gathered from Shamim Bibi's neighborhood.

Bahawalnagar Superintendent of Police Investigation Irfan Ullah has acknowledged that one of the two witnesses had admitted to not being present at the alleged "crime" scene at the time of the alleged remark.

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