Christian jailed in Pakistan despite another’s blasphemy confession

By Christian Daily International / Morning Star News |
Zimran Asim has languished in jail on a false blasphemy charge in Pakistan since Aug. 27, 2023.
Zimran Asim has languished in jail on a false blasphemy charge in Pakistan since Aug. 27, 2023. | (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)

A Catholic has languished in jail for six months on a blasphemy charge even though a teenage boy has confessed and told police the 34-year-old father had no part in the acts, sources said.

Zimran Asim’s family has been forced to leave their home after officials of the Counter-Terrorism Department and police arrested him in Chak No. 37 village, Sargodha District, Punjab Province on Aug. 27 on allegations that he helped desecrate pages of the Quran and wrote blasphemous content at three locations.

“The allegations against my younger brother are completely false and baseless,” the jailed co-defendant’s brother, Zeeshan Asim, told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “Police have maliciously named him as an accused in the three cases of blasphemy even though his co-accused has confessed that he had carried out the actions single-handedly.”

Zimran Asim told family members that a Christian neighbor, 17-year-old Akash Masih, confessed to police that he was behind one blasphemy incident on July 16 and another within two weeks after Muslim villagers on Aug. 16 burned and looted Christian homes and businesses in response to a blasphemy allegation in Jaranwala. Police reportedly identified Akash from CCTV footage from a bookshop where he had bought a quranic booklet.

“Zimran got implicated with Akash because one day he had taken the boy on his motorcycle to get a gas cylinder filled from a neighboring village,” Zeeshan Asim said. “When the police circulated Akash’s photo taken from the CCTV footage in a bid to trace him, the gas vendor recognized him and informed the police that he had seen the boy with Zimran. This is how my brother landed in police custody.”

He said that when the family was finally able to meet Zimran in jail, he told them that Akash had immediately confessed to committing the acts deemed blasphemous.

“Akash told police that he was angry at the Muslims for persecuting Christians and burning churches in Jaranwala,” Zeeshan Asim said. “Zimran also told us that though Akash had categorically absolved him of involvement, the police still named him as an accessory in the three cases.”

Investigators accused Zimran Asim of acting as a lookout when Akash desecrated quranic pages and wrote the blasphemous content, Zeeshan Asim said.

Akash and Zimran Asim were booked under Sections 295-A, 295-B, 295-C and 298-A of the blasphemy statutes for three incidents that took place on July 16, Aug. 20 and Aug. 25, he said. Violations under 295-C, blaspheming Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, carries a mandatory death sentence.

“Police claim they have concrete evidence against Akash, but they have no proof of my brother’s involvement,” Zeeshan Asim told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “The police know he’s innocent, yet they have made him a scapegoat and scarred him for life.”

Zimran Asim’s family was forced to leave their village after his arrest as village Muslims branded him and Akash as blasphemers and “spies,” he said.

“There was a vicious campaign against our family on social media after the Punjab police chief’s press conference in which he claimed that the incidents in Sargodha were carried out at the behest of a foreign country,” Zeeshan Asim said. “Our photographs were downloaded from Facebook and made viral in social media groups and pages, putting the security of the entire family at serious risk. My elderly parents and siblings had no other option but to relocate from the village.”

He added that Muslims had planned to burn their house when the allegations surfaced, but timely intervention of police and local elders thwarted their intentions.

“Though our house was saved from being burned down, someone broke into our house and stole all our household items,” Zeeshan Asim said. “My father tried to register a theft case, but instead of taking action, the local police’s attitude was very derogatory towards him – they taunted him for being the father of a ‘blasphemer’ and questioned his upbringing of Zimran, despite knowing that my brother was innocent.”

Zeeshan Asim said that his brother has not seen his 3-year-old daughter since he was arrested.

“Zimran misses her very much and longs to see her, but the circumstances are such that even we have to exercise extreme discretion when we go to court hearings or for prison meetings,” he said. “We can only pray and hope that God will rescue Zimran from these false cases, and he will reunite with his family soon.”

Aneeqa Maria of The Voice Society, who is Zimran Asim’s defense attorney, said police have no justification for holding him in custody.

“Zimran’s only crime is that he was Akash’s neighbor,” Maria told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “Though police claim they have sufficient evidence against Akash, there is no evidence against Zimran. All three First Information Reports [FIRs] were filed against ‘unknown people,’ making it easier for the police to entangle Zimran in the cases without proper evidence.”

She emphasized the need in Pakistan for ensuring fair trials in blasphemy cases, including objective assessment of evidence and scrutinizing intent behind alleged blasphemous acts.

Zeeshan Asim said law enforcement personnel arrested his brother on a roadside as he was going to work.

“The police officials told Zimran that a shopkeeper had informed them that he had seen him with a Christian boy who had bought the quranic booklet which was desecrated in two incidents,” he said. “Zimran told the police he had no clue about the allegations and led them to the house of the boy in question.”

Akash’s family has been their neighbor for decades, Zeeshan Asim said.

“No one suspected that Akash could be involved in the desecration and blasphemy incidents in Sargodha,” he said.

Area Muslims were quick to suspect Christians after the Jaranwala attacks as Punjab Police Inspector General Dr. Usman Anwar on Aug. 28 stated that the riots and desecration of the Quran in Sargodha were evidence of a conspiracy by Indian intelligence agencies to detract from that country’s mistreatment of Christians. He also claimed that investigators had evidence that both the suspects arrested, without naming Zimran Asim and Akash, had links with the hostile agencies.

Church officials strongly refuted the police chief’s claim, calling it “ludicrous” and an attempt to “bury the facts, as has been the past practice in all such incidents.”

“Instead of investigating the underlying reasons of such attacks and addressing the root cause, i.e. misuse of the harsh blasphemy laws, the police are arresting and harassing innocent Christians and trying to cover up the truth behind the violent attacks in Jaranwala by blaming foreign intelligence,” Church of Pakistan’s President Bishop Azad Marshall said at the time.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.