LAHORE: Lawyers appearing in court to defend 16-year-old Nabeel Masih in a case of alleged blasphemy over a Facebook post in Kasur have been threatened in front of the judge, prompting them to consider requesting the hearings be moved to Lahore.
Nabeel’s legal team is headed by advocate Aneeqa Maria. She told The Friday Times that there were about 80 people in the court of Judge Muhammad Imran where Nabeel’s bail application was to be contested on October 8.
“It is a blasphemy case and this man has […]. You should know that Pakistan is an Islamic state. We are all Muslims,” she quoted advocate Amin Muzammal Chaudhry, as saying to her and her associate Tahir Gul. He is representing the man who filed the complaint against Nabeel. Chaudhry had gone on to say: “These are Muslim courts so you should not defend such a criminal. You people come here from Lahore to pursue this case. Here are so many people who you cannot face. So you better watch yourself and stay away.”
Chaudhry represents Akhtar Ali, who has levelled the accusation against Nabeel. It started on Sunday, Sept 18, when Ali was taking a look at his friend Waqar’s Facebook account on his phone and scrolling though pictures. Ali says he saw what he described as an offensive image of a religious icon on Nabeel’s timeline. Ali filed a complaint with the Phoolnagar police station. Nabeel was arrested
Chaudhry represents Akhtar Ali, who has levelled the accusation against Nabeel. It started on Sunday, Sept 18, 2016, when Ali was taking a look at his friend Waqar’s Facebook account on his phone and scrolling though pictures. Ali says he saw what he described as an offensive image of a religious icon on Nabeel’s timeline. Ali filed a complaint with the Phoolnagar police. Nabeel was arrested. As fears spiked and rumours spread, many Christians of Phoolnagar fled for fear of reprisal. Since then, however, many have returned home. Nabeel’s lawyer Aneeqa Maria added, however, that the teenager had no intention to cause offense and was an unlettered boy of only 16 years of age. “We are confident that he has committed no crime that is why we are representing him,” she said.
Maria and Tahir Ali faced a tense courtroom at the bail hearing in which Akhtar Ali’s lawyer and his colleagues were expected to defend their position. “Rather than discuss the law, Mr. Chaudhry told me and my associate Tahir Gul that we had no idea what cases we were representing,” she said.
Maria is now planning to file an application for the case to be heard in Lahore because they deem it unsafe in Pattoki for the family and the defence lawyers. It is common for lawyers who defend such cases to be threatened. In 2014, a lawyer representing a professor of English in a similar case, Rashid Rehman, was threatened in court only to be later murdered in his office.
Human rights lawyer Napoleon Qayyum said that the judiciary was the only forum where religious minorities had any hope of being given justice. “We condemn this treatment of attorneys in the courtroom,” he said, referring to the threat. “Pakistani Christians are citizens of the country and other citizens should not consider us outsiders.”
Cases such as Nabeel’s have been surfacing more and more. In July, Christians in Gujrat had apprehensions of a mob attack after a man was accused of sending objectionable messages on WhatsApp. A similar situation arose after a 30-year-old was accused of watching on Youtube a firebrand Pakistani origin Christian preacher who is now living in the US.
Activists have been working to save the teenager by running a social media campaign under the hashtag #SaveNabeel.