After serving four and a half years in prison for alleged blasphemy against Islam, Pakistani Christian Aslam Masih was acquitted on June 4 in a 15-minute appeals hearing before the Lahore High Court.

Police arrested Masih, then in his mid-50s, in November 1998. Accusers said he had desecrated the Qur'an by hanging verses from the Muslim holy book in a charm around a dog's neck. Authorities have held him in jail ever since. Sources say he has suffered from health problems because of a police beating.

The prosecution produced only hearsay evidence against Masih, but a lower court found him guilty on May 7, 2002. The Faisalabad Additional Sessions Court sentenced him to serve double life sentences and pay a fine of 100,000 rupees (then $1,660).

In overturning Masih's lower court conviction, Justice Najam ur-Zaman noted the prosecution's star witness had retracted the statement attributed to him by the police. Ur-Zaman accused police of concocting it.

Security arrangements are now in process for Masih's release from prison. The high court must still deliver its verdict to the lower court before authorities can release Masih.

Seven other Christians remain jailed in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy under the country's notorious "black laws." These laws target members of the Muslim Ahmadi sect and other religious minorities.

Barbara Baker, Compass Direct, in Istanbul

Related Elsewhere:

Other coverage of Aslam Masih's acquittal includes:

Christians besieged in PakistanThe Washington Times (June 28, 2003)
Pakistani Christian set free after four and a half years in jail on false blasphemy charges—Christian Solidarity Worldwide (June 11, 2003)

Previous CT stories on Aslam Masih include:

Pakistan Sentences Another Christian to Death | Now two on death row, five appealing life sentences. (July 8, 2002)
Pakistan's Despised Christians | Despite a Catholic bishop's protest suicide in 1998, Christians hold little hope for repeal of blasphemy law. (April 26, 1999)

Previous Christianity Today articles on the plight of Ayub Masih, another Pakistanian Christian accused of breaking the country's blasphemy laws, include:

Weblog: Pakistan Mourns, Arrests More Militants, and Frees Christian Ayub Masih (August 16, 2002)
Death-row Christian May Hang for 'Blasphemy' | Family pins hopes for release on attorney's novel argument (May 29, 2002)
High Court Injustice | What you can do to help persecuted Christians in Pakistan. (November 14, 2001)
Condemned Prisoner Appeals for Help | Sentenced to death in 1998, Ayub Masih continues to fight "baseless and concocted" blasphemy charge. (October 19, 2001)
Pakistani Bishop's Death Sparks Riots | Suicide was in protest of the death sentence pronounced on Ayub Masih, 25, by a local judge. (June 15, 1998)

For more articles, see Christianity Today's areas on persecution and Pakistan.

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