Pakistani Christian imprisoned for blasphemy despite mental illness

(Reuters/Mohsin Raza/File Photo)Police beat and detain a Pakistani Christian protester during a demonstration against Saturday's burning of Christian houses and belongings in Badami Bagh, Lahore March 10, 2013.

A 65-year-old Christian from the Fazlia Colony of Lahore, Pakistan has been charged with blasphemy and sent to prison despite being recognized as mentally ill.

According to World Watch Monitor, Iqbal Masih, a retired father of nine, was arrested on the day of his son's funeral earlier this month for allegedly insulting Islam.

A close family member noted that Masih was supposed to be on medication for his mental health issues, but he had stopped taking them after his son, Bobby, died following a short illness.

The complainant, Muhammad Waqas, said that Masih would go out into the street and shout abuse at passers-by whenever he fails to take his medicine.

"Bobby's body was at home and people from the neighbourhood were visiting to pay their condolences when Iqbal started shouting abuse, after which the women left his home," Waqas said.

"Iqbal then recited the kalima [the Islamic proclamation of faith] and shouted abuse. Realising that he was not behaving normally, the police were called to take him away so that tension between Christians and Muslims of the area might not arise," he continued.

Dilraj John, a local resident, said that several Muslim clerics and others were also angered by Masih's comments. He recounted that some wanted to set him on fire, but others suggested that he should be turned over to the police instead because of his mental health issues.

John further noted that Waqas and Masih had no previous disputes, and the sole reason for the complaint against the Christian father was the name calling.

Waqas said that Masih had previously sent to an asylum but the family could no longer afford to allow him to stay there. He said that he has asked the authorities to sent Masih to the asylum again, and added that Christians in the area also supported the decision to turn him over to the police.

According to a report from Amnesty International, those who are of unsound mind are exempted from criminal prosecution under the Pakistan Penal Code.

However, the report went on to note that the "burden to prove 'unsoundness of mind' is on the accused, the difficulty of which is compounded within a context of general stigma and lack of awareness about people with mental illnesses in Pakistan."

Pakistan has been ranked in the Open Doors USA's 2017 World Watch List as the fourth worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution.

The country's high ranking was partly due to the existence of blasphemy laws, which, according to human rights groups, are being regularly used by Muslims to settle scores against religious minorities.

Under the Pakistan penal code, those who are found guilty of blasphemy can be punished with life in prison or even a death sentence.

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