In recent years, a record number of cases have been filed under blasphemy law introduced during British colonial rule.
A Pakistani court has granted bail to a Christian man convicted in 2018 while still a teenager of insulting Islam by posting a picture of Islam’s holiest site on social media, a defence lawyer said.
The court order in the eastern city of Lahore came more than four years after Nabeel Masih was arrested, at the age of 16, after a mob accused him of committing blasphemy by sharing a picture of Kaaba in Mecca on Facebook.
According to his lawyer, Naseeb Anjum, Masih was granted bail by the Lahore High Court. It was unclear exactly when Masih would be freed.
Blasphemy has long been a contentious issue in Pakistan. Domestic and international human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and to settle personal scores.
In 2018, Masih became the youngest blasphemy convict in Pakistan when the court sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Since then, the British Asian Christian Association has been supporting a legal battle for his release.
Anjum said he will try to complete the paperwork to free Masih, now 20, quickly. “I will continue this legal fight for his acquittal,” he added.
Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, a lawyer for the man who levelled the original accusation against Masih, confirmed that Masih was granted bail, but provided no further details.
Juliet Chowdhry, a trustee of the British Asian Christian Association, said in a statement she was happy Masih would be freed but noted that he “has lost many of his most important years of development”.
Chowdhry said Masih should be compensated for his false conviction to help him restore his life, and that the organisation would pursue this for him.
“We call on Christians everywhere to pray for him as we continue the battle,” she said.
A Punjab governor was killed by his own guard in 2011 after he defended a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy.
She was acquitted after spending eight years on death row and left Pakistan to join her family in Canada after receiving threats.
Rights activists say the stringent blasphemy laws have been used against the followers of other religions as well as minority Muslim sects such as the Shia and Ahmadiya in the Sunni-majority country.
The laws are treated as sacred, but religious experts say there is no clear definition of “blasphemy” in Islamic jurisprudence, nor is there agreement on the punishment for it.
Since the 1980s, nearly 80 people have been killed by individuals or angry mobs even before their trials were concluded in courts.
Between 2011 and 2015, the latest period for which consolidated data is available, there were more than 1,296 blasphemy cases filed in Pakistan.