ISLAMABAD, Aug 17: Amnesty International (AI) on Saturday welcomed Pakistan’s decision to acquit a Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy and called for urgent steps to ensure the man’s safety after his release from jail.

Ayub Masih was arrested in 1996 for allegedly “speaking against Islam” and defending British author Salman Rushdie. He was sentenced to death by a trial court two years ago. But the Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the verdict which had been upheld by the Lahore High Court last year and ordered Masih’s immediate release from jail.

The London-based human rights watchdog in a statement welcomed the court’s ruling and appealed to the authorities “to take urgent measures to ensure his safety upon release.”

It cited the killing of Yusuf Ali convicted of blasphemy law by fellow prison inmates in a Lahore jail in June.

“Amnesty International believes that the killing could not have been carried out without the tacit approval of prison staff.”

The statement said Amnesty had written to President Pervez Musharraf asking him to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of anyone imprisoned on blasphemy convictions.

Amnesty reiterated its demand for a repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy law which it said had been frequently misused.

“The law has frequently been abused to imprison people on grounds of religious enmity, but has also proved to be an easy tool to have people imprisoned when the real motives are business rivalry and land issues,” it said.—AFP

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