Pakistani Christian gets death penalty for blasphemy
Critics say sentence is being used only to settle feud
A Christian man accused of blasphemy in a case that sparked riots against the country’s minority community in Pakistan’s Punjab province last year has been sentenced to death.
Sawan Masih was arrested in Lahore in March last year after being accused by a barber friend of uttering derogatory remarks against the Prophet Mohammed.
Following the accusations, thousands of people attacked the Lahore Christian community of Joseph Colony, where Masih lived, and torched over 150 Christian homes, despite a heavy police deployment. No one was killed.
“Additional Session Judge Chaudhry Ghulam Murtaza handed the death sentence to Masih in addition to a fine of Rs200,000 [over $US2,000],” Tahir Bashir, one of his lawyers, told ucanews.com.
He said that Masih’s trial was conducted inside the jail due to security reasons.
Bashir said that an appeal would be filed in the Lahore High Court on Saturday and that he would request an early hearing.
Meanwhile, Joseph Francis, director of the Centre for Legal Assistance and Settlement, a group which extended legal assistance to Masih, expressed his disappointment at the decision, saying that he had been almost sure of his acquittal.
“I was very optimistic and expected an acquittal. An appeal will be lodged in the hope of getting the decision overturned soon,” he said.
Masih denied the charges against him, asserting that he had said nothing in respect of the Prophet Mohammed and that false accusations were made against him because of a property dispute. He had been in jail since his arrest in March last year.
Rights campaigners have repeatedly warned that controversial blasphemy laws are often misused to settle personal feuds.
Blasphemy remains a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan. Former governor Salman Taseer and Christian minister Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated in early 2011 after the two spoke out against the misuse of blasphemy laws.
Pakistan has used blasphemy laws more than any other country in the world, listing 14 people on death row and 19 others serving life sentences for insulting Islam, according to a report from a US government advisory panel released this month.
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