Stephen Masih

Name: Stephen Masih

Country/Area of Origin: Pakistan

Background: Stephen Masih is a 40-year-old Pakistani Christian convert Imran Pura Badiana village, Sialkot District, Pakistan.

Reason for Arrest:

On 10 March 2019, Stephen Masih was engaging in an argument with his mother, sister, brother-in-law, and a few neighbors regarding a pigeon. During the dispute, Masih allegedly became agitated and used some verbally abusive language towards a Muslim neighbor woman. After the incident subsided, another Muslim woman appeared and told Masih that she would file a complaint to the police regarding his behavior. The woman’s husband, a Muslim cleric by the name of Hafiz Muhammad Mudassar, visited Masih’s home and began to physically attack him and accuse him of committing blasphemy; before he left, Mudassar explained he would return the next day with a mob of local residents to ‘teach Masih a lesson’.

On 11 March 2019, an angry mob surrounded Masih’s home and began to physically beat Masih and his family members. Instead of arresting the assailants, local Punjab police filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Masih for allegedly committing blasphemy and detained him under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code. Alia, Masih’s sister, has reported that while Masih did use some abusive language on 10 March towards the Muslim neighbor, he did not commit blasphemy. Moreover, Masih’s family has urged the authorities to release Masih and absolve him of his guilt as he suffers from mental disorders that affect his mood and cognition.

On 3 June 2019, Masih was officially charged with blasphemy and was transferred to police custody where he has since remained. An appeal hearing was to be heard on 14 April 2020, but it has been indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Latest Updates:

  • June 2022: USCIRF records that Masih was officially released from prison on 10 June 2022.
  • May 2022: ADF International reported that a Pakistani court had officially granted bail to Masih:
    • “No one should be persecuted because of their faith. This case is yet another horrible example of how people suffer under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. We welcome the court’s decision to grant bail to Stephen Masih. We urge the court to also clear Masih of all charges. The many delays to the hearing of Masih’s appeal have already caused him and his family enough suffering. Given how easily it is to file cases on the charges of blasphemy, such laws have a chilling effect on the practice and propagation of one’s faith. This is violative of international law. This case provides one very real example of the persecution that many Christians face.” – Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy in Asia, ADF International
  • April 2022: Jubilee Campaign received an update about the status of Masih’s trial throughout March 2022. On 5 March, instead of advancing arguments, the prosecution introduced three additional ‘witnesses’ who were not even present during Masih’s arrest and also applied for the formation of a Provincial Standing Medical Board to review the case. During a 12 March hearing, two of the new witnesses recorded statements against Masih and Additional Session Judge Mian Khadim Hussain rejected Masih’s bail application. On 25 March, a criminal revision petition was filed on behalf of Masih in the Lahore High Court against Judge Hussain’s bail rejection.
  • 20 February 2022: Jubilee Campaign received an update that Additional District and Session Judge Pasrur conducted a trial regarding Masih’s case, during which the Medical Board’s Dr. Aneel Shafi testified. However, it was determined that while Masih does suffer from some mental disorder, his previous diagnosis with Bipolar disorder is likely incorrect. Regardless, a bail application will be filed by Masih’s defense team in early March, and it is the general hope and expectation that bail will be granted and Masih will be released from detention.
  • 20 January 2022: Jubilee Campaign received an update that a hearing took place in the Lahore High Court regarding Masih’s case. The Court ordered that the session court decision to deny bail “should be set aside” and ordered that a new decision be made on his case within two months. Masih’s next sessions court hearing takes place on 29 January.
  • 10 January 2022: Jubilee Campaign received an update that a new bail application had been filed for Masih in the sessions court of Pasrur District Sialkot. Moreover, a request has been sent to the Punjab Institute of Mental Health for a medical examiner board member to be present at Masih’s next court hearing scheduled for 18 January.
  • 29 November 2021: Masih’s court hearing took place on 29 November before Judge Tariq Saleem Sheikh. Defense attorneys Rana Abudul Hameed and Farooq Bashir requested bail for Masih and informed the judge about Punjab Institute of Mental Health’s diagnosis of Masih with Bipolar Affective Disorder. Judge Sheikh requested that Masih’s lawyers review his previous cases related to blasphemy and requested that they bring all necessary files and documentation on 16 December 2021. Radical Muslim extremists were gathered outside of the court on the morning of the case but they were thankfully avoided.
    • **Judge Sheikh, though a strict adherent of Pakistan Penal Code 295 prohibiting acts of blasphemy, appears to be level-headed in his judgements and places emphasis on evidentiary standards. Judge Sheikh acquitted Christian couple Shagufta and Shafqat of blasphemy on account that “the prosecution has failed to establish the charge against the appellants”.
    • **Although Judge Sheikh expressed his written opinion on another case that Muhammad Shakir should not be granted bail as he buried his Quran in the ground, he noted that a bail application was legally permissible as “this Court is competent to grant bail if there are sufficient grounds for further inquiry into his guilt”; he also noted that “his [defendant] continuous incarceration would be like punishing him before conviction.” Moreover, when the complainant accused the defendant of stomping on the earth after burying the Quran, Judge Sheikh stated “he [complainant] contended that the said act depicted his [defendant] bad intention. I am afraid, I cannot buy this argument at this stage. […] Criminal cases are not decided on assumptions.”
    • **It is our hope that Judge Sheikh will acquit Stephen Masih of his charges either on account of his diagnosed mental disability, the lack of credible evidence of guilt, or both.
  • On 21 October 2021, a group of United Nations experts* published a statement calling on the government of Pakistan to release Stephen Masih:
    • “We are seriously concerned by the persecution and ongoing detention of Mr. Masih on blasphemy grounds, and by his treatment at the hands of the judicial and prison authorities who are aware of his psychological disability and health condition. We call on the authorities to urgently review Mr. Masih’s case, and to release and drop all charges against him, and to ensure protection for him and his family. […] We urge the Government of Pakistan to comply with its international human rights obligations, including with regard to freedom of expression, religion or belief, as well as with regard to the rights of persons who belong to minorities, to repeal all its anti-blasphemy and anti-apostasy legislation and to take measures to combat advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination and violence.”
    • *Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ms. Irene Khan; Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Mr. Fernand de Varennes; and Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health, Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng
  • 30 September 2021: Jubilee Campaign received news that Masih is currently being held in Sialkot Jail after being transferred from Lahore Prison, and that his brother was able to visit him recently. His brother reported that Masih is very sick and weak, and that he is not being medically treated for his mental disabilities. Masih’s family is also concerned that he is currently detained in a cell with Muslim prisoners, as they fear he may be targeted for attack due to his faith and his disabilities.
  • On 20 August 2021, Jubilee Campaign received the following update:
    • “On dated 16-08-2021 in Lahore High Court Lahore, Criminal Revision has been filed by the legal team [names redacted for security] which was heard on dated 17-08-2021 by Mr. Justice Ali Zia Bajwa honourable judge of the Lahore High Court. It is pertinent to mention here that the bail application of the accused Stephan Masih (Blasphemy Accused) has been dismissed by the learned ASJ Pasrur session court in Sialkot. […] The trial of the accused has also been adjourned.”
  • On 30 July 2021, the Punjab Institute of Mental Health officially released the results of Masih’s medical evaluation after withholding it for one year. It is important to note that the results were only published after Voice for Justice arranged a meeting between Masih’s lawyers and the Institute’s staff to pressure for the report’s release. The board of medical professionals concluded that Masih suffers from Bipolar Affective Disorder and that he is “unfit to stand trial at the moment”. Symptoms of the disorder include mood swings that interfere with “judgement, behaviour and the ability to think clearly.” Pakistan has signed and ratified both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and is therefore prohibited from discriminating against Masih on the basis of his religious beliefs and his mental disabilities.
  • In March 2020 a medical examination board was convened to review Masih’s mental health, four months after such a request was made.