A Christian man in Pakistan, who languished in jail for nearly eight years, has been released after he was acquitted by a court in Lahore.
Humayun Allahrakha (formerly known as Humayun Faisal Masih), now 32, 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 Allahrakha, 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 was transferred to a safe location amid continuing fears for his safety.
Speaking to 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.
Insisting that Mr Allahrakha leave the jail as soon as possible following the acquittal, Father Yousaf said: “We wanted to be sure he stays not a day longer in jail. He would not have been safe there.”
The priest paid tribute to ACN and its support for the NCJP, which provides legal and paralegal support for Christians accused of blasphemy and raises awareness of justice issues within the local community.
Father Yousaf said: “ACN has always been very helpful in supporting the NCJP. The charity has been a very good friend to us.”