By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - A court in Pakistan has released on bail two Christian nurses charged with “defiling the Koran,” deemed a holy book by Muslims, Christians confirmed.
The “unprecedented” verdict was kept secret for two months to avoid Islamist backlash, their attorney said.
Often those charged under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, even with little or no evidence, languish in jail for years until verdicts and appeals are exhausted.
Nurse Mariam Lal and student nurse Nawish Arooj, detained on April 9, reportedly received bail from a sessions court on September 23, attorney Atif Jamil Paggan said.
They were charged in Faisalabad under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy after an Islamist mob on April 9 strode into their workplace, the Faisalabad Civil Hospital.
They reportedly demanded “death to blasphemers” after the nurses.
Muslims were angry as the head nurse ordered the nurses to remove old wall hangings and stickers, some inscribed with Koranic verses, from the hospital‘s psychiatry ward.
A conviction for defiling the Koran is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment or at least a fine, according to experts.
Faisalabad Additional Sessions Judge Shahzad Ahmad granted bail to both Roman Catholic nurses on September 23, Christian sources said. “This is an unprecedented decision by any sessions court in a blasphemy case,” Paggan told Morning Star News agency.
The judge ordered their release on surety bonds amounting to 100,000 rupees (US$571) each, the attorney added.
He said the ruling was kept secret amid fears of possible reprisal by Islamists, mainly from the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a formerly banned political party.
Security fears also kept the judge from requiring the two women to appear at a court hearing on November 8, Paggan said.
On the day the two nurses were accused, a Muslim co-worker allegedly attacked Lal with a knife.
“Both women are currently in a safe location,” Paggan said. “They are very happy and relieved after this court victory, and we are optimistic that the court will absolve them of the charge once the trial concludes.”
However, Paggan said it would be impossible for the two nurses to return to work at the hospital.
Yet he is hopeful the two will be acquitted a key witness for the prosecution, a Muslim head nurse identified only as Rukhsana, failed to appear in court on Thursday (November 18 cross-examination, he said.
“She has sought exemption on maternity grounds. The bit we think that she is now avoiding the court because she had falsely accused Ms. Lal and Ms. Arooj over a personal grudge against the former,” Paggan explained.
The case comes as Pakistan has come under mounting international pressure to overturn blasphemy legislation used against minority Christians and others deemed un-Islamic.