A 25-year-old mentally disabled Pakistani Christian faces life in prison for allegedly committing blasphemy against Islam.
Yaqoob Bashir was accused of burning a booklet that carried Quranic verses in Mirpurkhas in June 2015.
Bashir was reportedly receiving treatment at a mental health facility in Hyderabad prior to the blasphemy accusation.
Human rights groups have reported widespread abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. False accusations are often made to settle personal vendettas or incite religious hatred against minority communities.
Christians accused of blasphemy may face mob violence and lynchings, even if those accusations are clearly false.
During Bashir’s three years of imprisonment prior to his conviction, he was attacked by fellow inmates on several occasions, according to International Christian Concern (ICC). In June 2018, he was brutally beaten by fellow inmates for praying in their shared jail cell and sustained multiple injuries.
Bashir’s appeals for bail were twice rejected. He also reportedly suffered from serious illnesses due to the poor conditions in jail and a lack of adequate medical care.
“The blasphemy laws need reform,” Imtiaz Amanat, Legal Aid Coordinator at Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, told ICC. “There are a number of case studies where these laws have been misused against the most vulnerable segments of the society. Yet, these laws are mute about mentally disabled persons, children, and intention. Because of this, these laws have created an atmosphere of fear in Pakistan.”
ICC says that since the day Bashir was accused of blasphemy, his family has been monitored by extremist groups who have repeatedly threatened and harassed them during court hearings.
“It’s unbearable and unjust,” Kasur Bibi, Bashir’s mother said. “My son is innocent. He did not insult or do blasphemy. He does not care much of these issues as his mind works differently than that of a normal person’s.”
Bashir’s legal defense will file an appeal against his sentence in Hyderabad High Court, but it may take years for that appeal to be heard.