A Christian man has been released from jail in Pakistan after nearly eight years after being acquitted by a court in Lahore.
Humayun Allahrakha (formerly known as Humayun Faisal Masih), was burning newspaper in Sanda, a town in Lahore district, in May 2015 when Muslim onlookers accused him of blasphemy, claiming that the papers contained verses of the Qur’an.
Hundreds of people fled for their lives after an Islamist mob running into thousands went on the rampage, attacking Christian homes and places of worship including the local St Joseph’s Catholic Church.
Mr Masih, a street cleaner, was detained by police before the mob had a chance to lynch him but he was charged in connection with section 295B of the Pakistan Penal Code, which carries a life sentence for desecration of the Qur’an.
The National (Catholic) Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a Catholic-run advocacy organisation, fought to prove Mr Allahrakha’s innocence and finally the Lahore District and Sessions Court acquitted him.
He was released from jail and transferred to a safe location amid continuing fears for his safety.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Emmanuel ‘Mani’ Yousaf, NCJP National Director, said:
“It is a matter of life and death to be able to help those accused in such situations.”
Giving details of the incident which led to his conviction, Father Yousaf said that Mr Allahrakha had mental health problems and used the newspaper to smoke narcotics.
Father Yousaf said: “He was a drug addict, sitting with his friends in a dirty place. He got hold of one piece of paper and used it to smoke drugs.
“Some of the paper contained verses of the Qur’an. But the man is illiterate. He did not know what he was doing.”
Father Yousaf paid tribute to the lawyers who, he said, had worked tirelessly to prove Mr Allahrakha’s innocence.