By Kevin M. Mathewson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
LAHORE, Pakistan – A Pakistani Christian man has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, in a case which sparked fierce rioting in the eastern city of Lahore last March.
Sawan Masih, a government sanitation worker, was given the death penalty after the court listened to testimony about how he had allegedly insulted the Prophet Mohamed. The 35-year-old Mr. Masih, who has two children, has pleaded not guilty and will appeal to a higher court.
Mr. Masih was part of an altercation between him and two other men in Lahore’s Joseph colony, home to many Christian families, when he was accused of blasphemy.
Allegations of blasphemy against Islam are taken very seriously in Pakistan, where 97% of the population is Muslim.
The police arrested the government worker as word of what had happened spread, a mob descended on Joseph Colony and set fire to scores of homes and two churches. “Sever the head of the blasphemer,” the crowd is said to have chanted.
Several recent cases have prompted international concern about the application of blasphemy laws. However, because of a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, it is unlikely that Mr. Masih will face the gallows any time soon.
Since the 1990’s, scores of Christians have been convicted for desecrating the Koran or blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed. Campaigners say very often the accusation of blasphemy is used to settle personal grievances and squabbles. Once an accusation is made, it is almost impossible for the authorities to ignore it.
While most of those convicted have been sentenced to death by lower courts, many sentences have been overturned due to lack of evidence. Sawan Masih now has 30 days to appeal.
For more information, please see:
BBC News – Sawan Masih: Pakistani Christian gets death penalty for blasphemy – 28 March 2014
The Independent – Pakistani man sentenced to death for blasphemy over ‘Prophet Mohamed insult’ – 28 March 2014
The Telegraph – Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan – 28 March 2014
The Huffington Post – Pakistani Christian Sawan Masih Sentenced To Death For Blasphemy Against Prophet Muhammad – 28 March 2014