A PAKISTANI Christian has been sentenced to death for blasphemy
in an incident which provoked a riot and the burning of 150
Christian homes in the city of Lahore a year ago.
Sawan Masih, a roadsweeper, was found guilty by a session court
in Lahore, despite defence claims that the Muslim who reported him
was drunk at the time.
Mr Masih, who lives in the Christian enclave of Joseph Colony,
in Lahore, was also fined the equivalent of £1200. The court heard
that during a heated exchange with a barber he allegedly uttered
the words: "Our Jesus will come back again, and must come back, and
he is the Son of God," and wrote derogatory comments about the
Mr Masih denied the charges, and says that false accusations had
been made against him because of a property dispute.
The human-rights group Life For All, which is based in Pakistan,
condemned the sentence. Its president, Xavier William, said: "In
Pakistan, even being accused of blasphemy is equivalent to being
sentenced. The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used to settle
personal vendettas, and the Joseph Colony incident is a clear
example of intolerance and misuse of the blasphemy laws."
The chairman of the London-based British Pakistani Christian
Association, Wilson Chowdhry, said: "Pakistani Christians have
become easy targets for extremists. Every day, a new travesty
reminds us how their quality of life is being eroded, and their
concern about safety has reached its lowest ebb.
"They are anathema to Pakistani civil society, simply due to the
scriptural text they choose to believe, and the God they choose to
worship. Their status in the country they belong to, and still
adore, has reached a nadir; their only hope is an insouciant
government and uncaring world. We will continue to pray for them
and support them as best we can."
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom says that
Pakistan has more convictions for blasphemy than any other country.
Fourteen people are on death row, and 19 are serving life
sentences. Many of them are Christians.
Elsewhere in Pakistan, Hindus have taken to the streets to
protest at attacks on their places of worship in Larkana, Badin,
Hyderabad, and Tharparkar. Police arrested 12 people after the
Hyderabad incident, in which a temple dedicated to the Hindu deity
Hanuman was desecrated.
Aasia Bibi case continues. Attempts to overturn
the death sentence passed in 2010 on the Punjabi Christian woman
Aasia Bibi for allegedly blaspheming against Muhammad (News,
3 January) continued last week at the High Court in Lahore. The
hearing lasted only ten minutes, however, because the prosecution
lawyer failed to attend.