In September, two Christian nurses convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan were freed on bond. The verdict was reportedly kept under wraps for over two months to prevent Islamist retaliation, especially from Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan.

Initially reported by Morning Star News, Mariam Lal and Nawish Arooj were allowed bail by a Faisalabad sessions court on September 23. They were accused under Section 295-B of Pakistan's blasphemy law. If found guilty of defiling the Koran, they might face up to ten years in jail and/or a sizable fine.

The International Christian Concern (ICC) also noted that those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan are sometimes held in prison for several years before their appeals are exhausted.

But in an appeal presented by the administrator of the Faisalabad District Jail, Judge Shahzad Ahmad reportedly granted release to both Roman Catholic nurses on September 23.

Legal counsel Atif Jamil Paggan told Morning Star News that "this is an unprecedented decision by any sessions court in a blasphemy case."

Paggan also disclosed that the decision to grant bail was kept a secret out of fear of retaliation from radicals. Paggan claimed the judge was also concerned about the women's safety and did not order them to appear in court on November 8 for a hearing.

The backstory

In Faisalabad, Pakistan, two Christian nurses, Lal and Arooj, were wrongly charged of blasphemy on April 9. Rukhsana, a senior nurse at the hospital, allegedly ordered Lal to remove outdated wall hangings and stickers off a wall. After hearing Rukhsana's orders, Lal proceeded to take down the wall decor.

Rukhsana, who allegedly harbored ill feelings for Lal, inflamed tensions among Muslim coworkers at Civil Hospital by alleging that Lal had desecrated wall hangings containing sacred Quranic texts. In retaliation, a Muslim pharmacy employee called Waqas stabbed Lal as she was ministering to a patient in the hospital's medical ward. As a result, Lal suffered many injuries to her arm.

Furthermore, angry Muslims demonstrated in front of Civil Hospital after hearing about the fabricated blasphemy charges against Lal. Blasphemy charges were also brought against Lal by these mob supporters.

An FIR (FIR #347/21) was filed by police in connection with the claim. Under Section 295-B of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, Lal and Arooj were both charged of breaching the law. While the two acknowledged to removing the sticker, they denied any deliberate intent to desecrate religious insignia.

Paggan informed Morning Star News that both ladies are presently in a secure area. As a result of this court win, they are "relieved" and "optimistic" that they will be cleared of all charges when the trial closes.

The ICC noted that Pakistan is rife with false accusations of blasphemy rooted in personal grievances or religious bias. Mass demonstrations and lynchings are too likely to follow when these false accusations are thrown about.

Back in 2018, according to The Morning Star, a Senate Special Committee on Human Rights and the Islamabad High Court advised that people who make false blasphemy claims face the same penalties as those who have been convicted of it. The administration, however, rejected this suggestion.

Because of the country's strong Islamist beliefs, human rights groups fear no government would take action to remove or reform the blasphemy laws. Their argument is that strong procedural and institutional protections must be pushed upon Pakistani authorities immediately to avoid misuse of these laws at the investigation, prosecution and judicial levels.