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Roadsweeper in Lahore found guilty of blasphemy

03 April 2014

Found guilty: Sawan Masih, who has received a death sentence from a court in Lahore

Found guilty: Sawan Masih, who has received a death sentence from a court in Lahore

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 prophet Muhammad.

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.

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