Blasphemy case of Sawan Masih in 2013
In another shocking display of violence in Pakistan, Islamists set ablaze about 160 Christian houses and a Church at Joseph Colony Badami Bagh Lahore on Saturday March 9, 2013 at about 11:00 a.m after a false blasphemy accusation was leveled against a Christian youth, Sawan Masih alias Boddy s/o Chaman Masih resident of Joseph Colony, Noor Road, Badami Bagh, Lahore.
Sawan Masih s/o Chaman Masih aged 40 resident of Joseph Colony, Noor Road, Badami Bagh Lahore. He has a wife, 1 son and 2 daughters and lived along with his parents. He worked as a Sweeper in Municipal Committee Lahore. Sawan has a Muslim friend named Shahid Imran who was a barber and running his own shop. Since 4 years they had friendship and used to sit together in the evening till late night and drink liqueurs.
According to the facts gathered by CLAAS, on March 7, 2013 Sawan and Shahid sit together for drink in Shahid’s shop while drinking there was some minor dispute arose between them and without resolving that issue they left to their houses. Next day on March 8, 2013 they have been doing their own works. In the evening there was a rumor by Shahid Imran that Sawan Masih has passed derogatory remarks against the Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Local Muslims became furious, they called upon some more Muslims from the locality and informed them about blasphemy accusation, and then the anti-Christian hostility spread like a wildfire in the area. Living up to their reputation of penalizing so-called “blasphemers”, local Muslim clerics accused the father and the son, of committing blasphemy and made inflammatory statements against Sawan Masih and his father Chaman Masih. They incited Muslim residents of Joseph Colony and adjoining other Muslims from surroundings to attack on the Christians of the area to avenge alleged blasphemy. Above than 3000 Muslims from surrounding armed with firearms and explosives, were gathered there to attack on the Christian Colony. They put pressure on the police to get register a false and fabricated against Sawan Masih. The police registered a case FIR number 112/13 Under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code against Sawan Masih in Badami Bagh Police Station, Lahore on March 08, 2013.
Sawan Masih was at his work and when he heard about registration of FIR against him. He became scared and ran away. At about 5:00 p.m CLAAS National Director Mr. Joseph Francis MBE was informed about the tense situation at Joseph Colony by Fr. Inayat Barnard a Catholic Priest, the area in-charge and board members of CLAAS that Christians were frightened (because of the example of Gojra and Koriean village in District Toba Take Sing in 2009 where 147 houses were burnt and 7 people were burnt alive due to the fake blasphemy accusation and Shanti Nagar village District Khanwal in 1997 where 3000, houses of Christian were burnt) and they left to the save places. Many families still at Joseph Colony were scared and they were waiting for help. CLAAS National Director has urged to the local police for the security of Christians because of the tense situation.
Immediately, CLAAS team headed by Mr. Joseph Francis MBE National Director reached at the place to help Christian residents. CLAAS team observed there were few police men in the area for security of Christians against the mob of above 3000 people. The mob demanded the physical custody of Swan Masih to them otherwise they will set the houses of all Christian Colony on fire, police arrested Sawan Masih’s father to calm down Muslims aggression.
A local social activist who is working for the welfare of the Christians informed Mr. Joseph Francis, there were announcements in the mosques urging Muslim to target Sawan Masih and his family to kill them at the spot. Therefore he kept safe Sawan and his family at some unknown place. He left Sawan Masih at CLAAS Office at 01:00 a.m. in the night and through CLAAS he handed over him to the custody of police to save his life. Investigation officer of this case also came to CLAAS office and recorded the statement of Sawan Masih and took him into the custody. He promised to CLAAS that he is responsible of Sawan Masih’s security and he will keep him at some other police station (hide).
Sawan Masih disclosed to CLAAS team that he did not utter any derogatory remarks against Prophet (PBUH). He was confused that why he got involved in such a dreadful case. He also informed CLAAS that the complainant Shahid Imran was his good friend. He requested CLAAS to handle his legal case. He also requested CLAAS for the shelter of his family as he has a son, 2 daughters, wife and parents.
At 1:00a.m. some other leaders of different Christian organizations took gathered in the area and went to the police station but police officials were not ready to hear them. Later at about 3:00am they all including Mr. Joseph Francis from CLAAS and team, gathered at Catholic Church Anar Kali Lahore along with Fr. Inayat Barnard a Catholic Priest to make the work strategy for this case. Fr. Inayat Barnard showed his trust on CLAAS to deal this case.
Next day on March 09, 2013 morning at about 11:00 the Muslims attacked the Christians of Joseph colony incited by broadcast from local mosques. The Christian residents fled to safety as Muslim clerics announced their verdict to “kill the blasphemers.” The chemical used by the Muslim mob to set fire to Christian houses was so inflammable that it utterly destroyed the targeted houses. The invaders broke into the houses, looted the valuable things and burnt the remaining belongings in the houses. SSP Operations Sohail Sukhera and the SHO Hafiz Abdul Majeed of Police Station Badami Bagh Lahore were also reportedly injured when the mob pelted a police party with stones. Till evening no one was allowed to enter in the area even the fire brigade could not come to help Christians.
The charged group had gathered around Joseph Colony on Noor Road, led by Shafiq Ahmed a local, who was in search of the accused Sawan, alias Boddy. The mob then attacked Sawan’s house, setting it on fire and pelting it with stones. About 160 other houses in the locality were also attacked and set on fire. Many residents, including women and children, hastily fled to save themselves. The attack was failure of the government security department which is totally failed to protect the non-Muslims especially Christians of the country. The police force could not control extremists who were demanding alleged accused of blasphemy. There was left nothing in the houses for Christians of Joseph Colony. They have lost everything and they were helpless at that time.
Through reporters, Punjab government has announced that all those whose property had been damaged will be compensated within five days and that the cases have been registered against those responsible for burning the houses of Christians will be prosecuted. While the eyewitnesses said that the Christian community of Joseph Colony Lahore has become the victim of aggression of armed Muslim extremist with the support of Punjab government. The local MPA’s and MNA’s of the government gave courage to the extremists to attack Christian belongings and threatened them to flee from the place as they want to grab the property of Christians.
CLAAS provided free legal assistance to Sawan Maish and also handled Joseph Colony case on behalf of the Christian Community. The Supreme Court of Pakistan took Suo Moto action and ordered the Government of Punjab Police to submit the report of the incident of Badami Baagh, Joseph Colony Lahore. The Court hearing fixed for March 13, 2013 but on the said date police was failed to submit any report truth therefore case was adjourned for March 18, 2013.
The Suo Moto action was under proceedings in Supreme Court of Pakistan; meanwhile CLAAS moved CM application (appeal for early hearing of the motive) on the behalf of Mr. M.A Joseph Francis National Director CLAAS was the applicant in the said case and the application was admitted by the Supreme Court. Later on April 03, 2013 a Constitution Petition against the violence in Christian colony Badami Bagh area over alleged blasphemy was filed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan on the behalf of CLAAS and on the same day the said petition was decided.
On March 09, 2013 (the day of incident of burning Joseph Colony) a case FIR No 114/13, offence under section 148/149, 186, 353, 427, 436, 324, 295-A, 337-F(i), A(i), 337-L(ii), 337-H (ii), 397,149, of the Pakistan Panel Code and section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 registered at Police Station Badami Bagh, Lahore against 117 accused of Joseph Colony who burn the houses of Christians. Five were declared innocent during police integration, five were acquitted by the trial court on initial stage and two died while the case was under proceedings. The reaming 105 accused were not arrested and they faced trial in Anti- Terrorist Court Lahore. After four years court proceedings the learned court acquitted them on January 28, 2017. During trial proceedings 65 effected Christian witnesses recorded their evidence in the favor of accused because it was difficult for them to identify any accused that they were present or not at the time of occurrence. Whereas some police officials’ witnesses recorded their evidence against six accused. Keeping in view the trial court closed the evidence from prosecution side and acquitted 105.
Up-date of Sawan’s case:
100 of Christian houses were set on fire in Joseph Colony-Badami Bagh, Lahore on 8th March 2013 by a large Muslim mob. The reason behind this massacre was a Blasphemy accusation on Sawan Masih one of the resident of Joseph Colony. The complainant Shahid Imran accused Sawan for making derogatory remarks against Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). The same day 8th March 2013 a case was registered against Sawan and after police investigation he was sent to Camp Jail Lahore. On March 27th 2014 Sawan was convicted under section 295C of PPC and sentenced to death with 200,000/- (two hundred thousand rupees) fine. His sentence was awarded by Chaudhary Ghulam Murtaza Additional and Sessions Judge Lahore. His appeal against this conviction was filed within 7 days in the Lahore High Court. After conviction the jail authorities wanted to shift him in Sahiwal Jail therefore CLAAS filed an application for the fixation of his appeal but the appeal was not fixed. So, CLAAS filed a petition on February 16, 2018 under section 426 C.R.PC. for the suspension of sentence in Lahore High Court Lahore which was disposed of on February 20, 2018 by the Divisional Bench of Lahore High Court Lahore.
After four years of constant waiting a date was fixed for hearing on May 8th 2018 before the Divisional Bench (DB) of Lahore High Court Lahore. The Judges did not show up on the date of hearing however CLAAS tried to re-fixation of the case and on October 24, 2018 his case was fixed for hearing and adjourned for November 27, 2018. On the said date case was not heard due to the non-availability of complainant’s counsel and fixed for December 18, 2018. On December 18, 2018 the complainant again request for adjournment which was allowed by the court with the direction that next time no adjournment will be given to the complaint and case was fixed for January 28, 2019. The same happened on the next dates of hearing and still his appeal is pending for finial arguments. Since six years (2013-2019) Sawan is in prison at Central jail Faisalabad.
In this year on a hearing on September 17th 2019 Sawan’s appeal fixed in Lahore High Court Lahore before the Divisional Bench headed by Mr. Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi for finial arguments. The CLAAS lawyer along with Mr. Joseph Francis, National Director CLAAS were present inside the court, case was called on its turn. Before starting arguments, the Judge refused to hear the appeal with the reason that High Court has constituted another bench for hearing of Anti-Terrorism and blasphemy cases and the Judge sent the appeal file to the office for its fixation to another bench.
From May 2018 to November 2019 almost 20 dates of hearings of Sawan’s appeal have been lapsed and on every date the court adjourned without hearing the appeal. After the Asia Bibi’s case, the case of Sawan Masih become most highlighted and the courts are reluctant to hear his appeal.
The reason behind the refusal is that after the acquittal of Asia Bibi a countrywide protest was made by the Muslims religious organizations in which numbers of invaders vandalized and ransacked the public property and created panic among the society. CLAAS is of the view that due to the pressure of religious fanatics groups the courts are hesitant to decide the blasphemy cases and always tried to shift their burden by making lame excuses and adjourned the cases without hearing the arguments.
The situation mentioned above made the CLAAS very disappointed by the conduct of Superior Judiciary and due to the unwanted behavior of the courts, on October 15th 2019 CLAAS National Director Mr. M.A. Joseph Francis was constrained to write an application to the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan and Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Lahore for fixation and early disposal of Sawan’s and Zafar Bhatti’s blasphemy cases. On this application the Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Lahore by allowing it fixed both the appeals, i.e. the case of Sawan Masih on 13th of November 2019 and Zafar Bhatti on 14th of November 2019.
Honorable Chief Justice Mr. Sardar Shamim Khan of Lahore High Court Lahore on the application of CLAAS was pleased to fix the appeal of Sawan Masih and decided to hear it by himself. On 13th of November 2019 CLAAS lawyer was present in the Divisional Bench headed by Chief Justice of Lahore High Court but due to the rush of work court adjourned the case for next date of hearing on 27th November 2019.
Few observation of Sawan’s case:
Sawan Masih was booked in a false case of blasphemy registered at police station Badami Bagh, Lahore. According to allegation the occurrence was taken place on March 07, 2013 whereas FIR registered on March 08, 2013.
- There is unexplained delay of one day in lodging the FIR. Investigation officer during the investigation and the trial court while passing death sentence to Sawan Masih ignored this material fact.
- It is observed in the judgment of trial court at page 16 that “it is settled law that to constitute the offence under section 295-C PPC number of witnesses are not required and it is not necessary that such abusive language should be loudly in public or in a meeting or in at specific place, but the statement of single witness that somebody had made utterance for contempt of Holy Prophet even inside the house is sufficient to award capital punishment”. The observation of trail court is not based on cogent reasons.
- It is settled principle of law of criminology that “no act is crime until it is committed with a guilty mind”. Intention is important part for the commission of any offence. But unfortunately in blasphemy laws mens rea (criminal intention) is not essential part. This is a big lacuna of blasphemy law which opens the door for the people to involve the innocent people into the false blasphemy cases just to gain their own scores. Moreover in the Holy Quran no punishment was described regarding an offence of blasphemy.
- The trial court convicted Sawan Masih to death just relying upon the instances taken from the Islamic history. Only two instances were mentioned in the judgment at page 17. Surprisingly in these two instances the name of those persons were not mentioned who killed the blasphemers. It is also note able thing that the trial court while quoting these two stories encouraged extra judicial killing.
- According to the FIR no blasphemous words were mentioned. The complainant gave supplementary statements on March 15th After 8 days of registration of FIR. The complainant mentioned the blasphemous words in his supplementary statement just to repair the space left by the complainant in the FIR. The trial court convicted Sawan Masih on the bases of supplementary statement.
Examples of blasphemy persecution:
The blasphemy law is widely being misused to settle personal scores. The blasphemy law is considered a root cause of Christians’ persecution. Christian villages are set on fire, Churches are attacked and Christians are killed by mobs, burnt alive and sometimes by the police and jail authorities. There is long list, but Samuel Masih, Tahir Iqbal, Nazir Masih and Fanish are a few who were killed by the police and jail authorities and no one has ever been punished.
Another aspect of the matter, sometimes to fulfill nefarious designs the law is misused by individuals leveling false allegation of blasphemy. Stately, since 1990, 62 people have been murdered as a result of blasphemy allegation, even before their trial could be conducted in accordance with law.
A latest example of misuse of this law was the murder of Mashal Khan, a student of Abudl Wali Khan University, Mardan, who in April 2017 was killed by a mob in the premises of the university merely due to an allegation that he posted blasphemous content online.
CLAAS handled a case in 2010 in which two bothers namely Pastor Rashid Emmanuel and Pastor Sajid Emmanuel have been brutally attacked and shout to death by the Muslim extremists in the District Courts of Faisalabad on July 19, 2010. Rashid Emmanuel and Sajad Emmanuel from Faisalabad were arrested by the Civil Lines Police Faisalabad on July 02, 2010 (offence under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code) based on the charges of writing a pamphlet with blasphemous remarks about Holy Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him). On July 19, 2010 they were brought in the Districts Courts for their judicial remand, they were appeared in the court without security and only the Investigation Officer along with three other constables were with them. While entering into the courts, four unknown persons moved rapidly to the front and opened up gun fire on Rashid and Sajad in their abdomen and vital parts of their body killing them on the spot.
In another case of one Ayub Masih, who was accused of blasphemy by his neighbor Muhammad Akram. The alleged occurrence took place on 14th October 1996, the accused was arrested, but despite the arrest, houses of Christians were set ablaze and the entire Christian population of the village (fourteen Families) was forced to leave the village. Ayub was shot and injured in the Sessions Court and was also further attacked in jail. After the trial was concluded, Ayub was convicted and sentenced to death, which was upheld by the High Court. However, in an appeal before the Supreme Court of Pakistan, it was observed that the complainant wanted to grab the plot on which Ayub Masih and his father were residing and after implicating him in the blasphemy case, he managed to grab the seven–marla plot (land property). The appeal was accepted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the conviction was set aside.
Recently an achieved milestone was one of the most high profile cases that was of Mst. Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was after nine years acquitted in October 2018 by the Supreme Court of Pakistan after being sentenced to death in 2010. The said verdict of Supreme Court was met with initiation of angry protests by religious fanatics who provoked the religious sentiments of people and robbed the public and private property of Pakistan. This assailant act created a sense of insecurity among the general public especially in the mind of Christian community. A revision petition was filed against release of Asia Bibi and was heard on January 29th 2019 that was subsequently set aside and she was legally allowed to move out of Pakistan.
The National Director CLAAS is of the view that minorities witnessed the same violence and persecution that they have been subjected to, in Pakistan far too long. Religious minorities are disproportionately affected by blasphemy laws, although more Muslims are prosecuted than any other group. No-one convicted of blasphemy has ever been legally executed in Pakistan, but a huge number of people have been reportedly killed since 1990 in attacks by lynch mobs or vigilantes after being accused of it. The blasphemy law of Pakistan has been grossly abused by many people while lodging false cases to settle personal issues.
We demand to the present government to make some procedural changes in the Blasphemy law to stop its misuse. Our recommendation is that if Blasphemy charges are filed against someone; the accused and the complaint must be immediately taken into the police custody and if the complaint is found false the accuser must be punished strictly in accordance with law. We strongly condemn the misuse of blasphemy law in Pakistan and we are appreciating the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s decision such like as taken in Asia Bibi’s case. We also hope that all who are still behind the bars in blasphemy cases will be getting justice by the law.
Meeting with Sawan Masih in the jail:
After the arrest of Sawan Masih, CLAAS had a meeting with his parents and other relatives who were worried about him. CLAAS also visited his few neighbors just to know about his life.
Besides providing legal aid to Sawan Masih, CLAAS also had meetings with him in the imprisonment to strengthen him in his difficult time so that he can bear all his troubles patiently.
Firstly CLAAS team met with him on April 12, 2013 when he was in the camp jail, Lahore and at that time CLAAS moved his post-arrest bail which was withdrawn later on and at that time Sobia and his children had first meeting with him after his arrest and through CLAAS they were able to meet him. Due to security risk his trial was conducted inside the jail at Camp Jail Lahore and CLAAS team and lawyer had meeting with him on his hearing. His family (wife and parents) also had meeting with him on visiting day but after his conviction jail authorities shifted him at Central Jail Faisalabad and they faced difficulties for meeting with him. Therefore CLAAS wrote an application to the Home Secretary Government of the Punjab, Civil Secretariat, Lahore for allowing the permission to his family for meeting with Sawan Masih and then his family was allowed for meeting with him.
One of the most important meetings was conducted by CLAAS on 4th March 2017 when Mr. Joseph Francis CLAAS National Director and Ms. Eiga Kenny Program Officer met with Sawan Masih in Faisalabad Central Jail. They arrived there at about 10:45 am. After meeting with Mr. Gulzar Butt–Superintendent Prison they were taken to Deputy Superintendent Prison Ali Akbar’s office for meeting with Sawan. Mr. Akbar told CLAAS team that due to high security issued for Blasphemy convicts they cannot bring them outside the prison walls, CLAAS National Director and Program Officer saw him and talked to him through Mr. Akbar’s office window that opens into the prison. After 20 minutes one of the prison guards informed the Deputy Superintendent that Sawan was on the other side of the window and was not allowed to take any picture.
He was wearing rusted color shalwar kameez (Pakistani dress) with white Muslim prayer beanie on his head. He looked healthy and was extremely happy to see Mr. Francis, he said that he had been praying for this visit for a long time. Mr. Francis told him that he was trying to meet him earlier but his request was denied. When inquired about his health he said that he was fine and does not have any medical issues. He told them that there are 8 prisoners in his cell. Three are Christians including himself, the other two Christian inmates (Anwar Kenneth and Javed Naz) are also convicted of capital punishment under 295 C of Blasphemy Laws. He conveyed Anwar Kenneth message to Mr. Francis (he requested Mr. Francis to visit him as well). When asked if he has any problem or face any threat in the prison, Sawan said that he does not have any problem as he keep very low profile and obey the authorities. He said that he keep to himself, he told Mr. Francis that he is taking Bible study from Mr. Anwar Kenneth and spend his time mostly in prayer. Mr. Francis also asked about his monthly visitation, he said that both his sisters visit him occasionally and his wife Sobia usually comes on Thursday and bring older son to the visit and not the daughter as she doesn’t feel comfortable brining her to the prison. Discussing about his case Mr. Francis told him that the Lahore High Court has not yet fixed his date for hearing (at that time appeal hearing was not fixed), Sawan said that he has firm faith in Jesus; his Saviour will protect him. Mr. Francis told him that he has brought some fruit and dry grocery for him, Sawan said that he will share this food with other Christian inmates, he requested if some money could be deposited in the prison canteen so that he can buy some cooked food and tea. Two thousand was deposited in the canteen under his name. CLAAS also gives Sobia money to buy food item and travel expenditures whenever she visit Sawan. At the end Mr. Francis asked if he wants anything else he said all he wants is a visit from Mr. Francis at least every six months. Mr. Francis told him that he will try to visit him more often. CLAAS was able to talk to Sawan for more than an hour. When leaving he seemed in good spirits and looked relaxed. CLAAS was thankful to Superintendent Mr. Gulzar Butt for his kind gesture to go out of his way to arrange our visit with Sawan.
CLAAS continue to pray that May God assign daring and fair Judges to hear his appeal in the Lahore High Court.
CLAAS support to Sobia wife of Sawan Masih:
On April 11, 2013 (after one month of the incident) Sobia wife of Sawan Masih approached CLAAS office and shared that she is living hand to mouth in a miserable condition, she was not compensated by the government and other local organization who have been giving relief items to the affected of Joseph Colony. Her house was also burnt where she was living with her husband and in-laws in a joint system and her in-laws were compensated with the government support but they did not share with her anything. Even they not allowed her to come at home after the incident.
Sobia further shared with CLAAS team that at the time of incident she was not present at her home in Joseph Colony, Lahore. Sobia and her children were at Sobia’s parent’s house in another place as they were visiting them and stayed there for few days. She was not aware about the allegation against her husband Sawan Masih but when she heard that Sawan was arrested by the police in a blasphemy case she got scared and she lived in hide at her parents’ home. She also told that Shahid (complainant of the FIR) was good friend of Sawan Masih and she was surprised when she heard that he involved Sawan in the blasphemy case.
She said that after her husband’s case she has not any house therefore she along with her three minor children namely Noor Sawan (12) Saim Sawan (11) and Romica Sawan (8) is living at her poor parents’ house. Her parents cannot afford their expenses and daily food. Sobia’s children were studying in different grades but after the incident they stopped studying. Sobia wanted to get admission of her children in the school.
After hearing the miseries of Sobia Bibi CLAAS team visited at her parent’s home and found that her parent’s home was demolished due to flood and heavy rain falls and they have no sources to rebuild again. And they live under the open sky. CLAAS took Initiative to help the family to rebuild the house with some help of Rt. Rev. Samuel Azariah Bishop of Raiwind Diocese, Vice-chairman CLAAS since then she permanently started staying with her poor parents.
Besides providing legal aid to Sawan Masih, since April 2013 CLAAS is also supporting to his family with monthly financial support by providing Rs. 10000/- PKR for her children’ education and other necessities and every Christmas CLAAS supported them for Christmas shopping. CLAAS also supporting her whenever she asked for jail visit of her husband. Through Feeding Project of Barnabas Fund UK CLAAS is providing grocery to her on monthly basis since 2013. CLAAS also supported Sobia’s younger sister Sadaf for her graduation (Higher Education).
Sobia also started working as cook in Salvation Army School and still is doing her job but at present she is ill and suffering from multiple diseases. She did not stop working as now her children are growing up and their demands are increasing. She stated that with the help of CLAAS, she is able to manage her children’s school fee and other necessities of life but alone it is difficult for her to manage all issues. Now her children Noor 15 years old, Saim 14 years old, and Romica is 12 years old are getting education although they are going through very tough time without their Sawan Masih. Therefore she is crying for her husband and praying for his release. She hopes that when he will be release with the help of God then they again will enjoy their life with the blessings of God.
Dated: November 22, 2019