LAHORE, Pakistan – A Pakistani Christian has been sentenced to death for blasphemy by the sessions court in Lahore.
According to sources in Pakistan, following the sentencing Wednesday, a large mob led by Islamic clerics responded by shouting slogans against Younis Masih and threatening anyone involved in providing security or legal assistance to “blasphemers.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide says Masih, a Christian from Chungi Amar Sadu in Lahore, was charged Sept. 10, 2005, under Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code. Section 295C relates to blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and carries the death penalty.
Although no one has yet been executed by the state for blasphemy, several have been murdered by extremists. Masih has been held in Kot Lakhpat prison since Sept. 11, 2005, where he faces regular threats to his security.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide says Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are regularly misused as a means of settling scores or targeting religious minorities. Although Masih will now appeal against the sentence in the High Court, he faces death threats from extremists even while he remains in jail.
The human rights organization says Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which relates to blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, was introduced in 1986 by the then-ruler of Pakistan, General Zia ul-Haq. Section 295B, relating to desecration of the Koran, was introduced in 1982.
The blasphemy laws require only an accusation by one man against another for a case to be filed. In almost all cases the charges are entirely fabricated. Masih was outspoken against incidents of rape committed against Christian girls, and is a Christian himself. It is believed these were the reasons he was accused of blasphemy.
Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, executive secretary of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance and one of Pakistan’s leading human rights activists, said: “This judgment in the case of Younis Masih is an example of the blatant abuse of the blasphemy laws. The laws require absolutely no evidence, and no proof of intent, and as such they are a tool in the hands of extremists to threaten and destroy the lives of anyone they disagree with.
“In addition, the judiciary is threatened and is therefore unable to provide a fair trial. Furthermore, the safety of the accused, and of the lawyers defending them, is under constant threat. Younis Masih faces severe danger in jail. It is imperative that the international community raises this case with the Pakistani authorities as a matter of urgency to ensure that Younis Masih, and others like him, receive proper protection and a fair appeals process. Ultimately, this unjust law which is so open to abuse must be repealed.”
Stuart Windsor, national director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: “We are so saddened and deeply concerned to hear that Younis Masih has been sentenced to death. We will do all we can to raise his case with the Pakistani authorities and the international community. This is a blatant miscarriage of justice and the world should not stand by while an innocent man faces death.”