[IMAGE: Nabeel Masih, 16, appearing at a court hearing in October (Photo: The Voice Society)]

A Pakistani Christian boy accused of blasphemy for “liking” and “sharing” a Facebook post which “defamed and disrespected” the Kaaba in Mecca – the building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque – has again been refused bail.

In February 2017, 16-year-old Nabeel Masih was refused bail by a local magistrate, despite his lawyers’ insistence that, as a child with no prior convictions, he should be released. But now a Districts and Sessions judge, Naveeb Iqbal, has come to the same decision, saying the boy committed a “heinous and odious act by defiling the religious feelings of Muslims and their holy place of worship”. It was Judge Iqbal who in 2010 convicted the Christian woman Asia Bibi of blasphemy. She has been on death row ever since.

Riaz Anjum, from human rights group Pakistan for All, told World Watch Monitor the judge had acted in contravention of the law because, under Section 196 of Pakistan’s Code of Criminal Procedure, courts are prevented from hearing cases relating to blasphemy without the approval of the central or provincial government. (This is because the State perceives blasphemy to be a crime against the State.)

Nabeel was arrested on 18 September last year. After his arrest, many Christians living in the area went into hiding fearing reprisals, though they later returned. In October, his lawyers reported being intimidated by the complainant’s supporters, as they made their Appeal Court appearance. Aneeqa Maria Anthony said she was told by a lawyer for the complainant to “watch herself and stay away”. She also said about 80 people at the hearing threatened Nabeel’s family.

Ms Anthony added that she was “confident [Nabeel] has committed no crime and that is why we are representing him… “Nabeel is innocent: the accusation against him has not yet been proven”.

Other social media cases

  • In July 2016, Pakistani Christian Nadeem James and his family fled their home in the religiously conservative city of Gujarat after he was accused of committing blasphemy by sending an offensive text message from his mobile phone.
  • In May 2016, Imran Masih, a 30-year-old road sweeper, was attacked and had a fatwa declared against him after a work colleague said he’d found an anti-Islamic video on Masih’s phone.
  • In 2014, lawyer Rashid Rehman was threatened in court while he represented a man accused of ‘liking’ a ‘blasphemous’ message posted on Facebook. Rehman was later murdered at his office.