New Delhi: A 37-year-old Christian man accused of blasphemy was awarded the death sentence by a Lahore court Tuesday.
Asif Pervaiz, a garment factory worker, has been imprisoned since 2013 and was accused of blasphemy reportedly for having sent offensive texts about Prophet Mohammed to his former work supervisor.
The court first sentenced Pervaiz to a three-year prison term for “misusing his phone” to send derogatory texts and fined him 50,000 Pakistani rupees. He will then be “hanged by neck till death”, the order said.
Charges against Pervaiz
The complainant, Muhammad Saeed Khokher, had accused Pervaiz of sending texts containing derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohemmed. Pervaiz, in his defence, accused Khokher of trying to convert him to Islam. Pervaiz claimed that the supervisor confronted him after he quit work at the factory, and when he refused to convert, he was accused of having sent blasphemous text messages to Khokher.
Khokher’s lawyer said Pervaiz had accused Khokher because he had “no other clear defence”. He also said there were other Christian factory workers with him but no one had accused Khoker, the supervisor, of trying to convert them.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan
Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws were enacted by the British in colonised India and inherited by Pakistan after Partition in 1947. Several more clauses were added to these laws in the 1980s by Pakistan’s then president, Zia ul-Haq.
According to these laws, disturbing a religious assembly, trespassing on burial grounds, insulting religious beliefs or intentionally defiling a place or object of worship will amount to punishment of up to 10 years in jail, and may include a fine.
The laws also state that a person charged for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad will be sentenced to death or to imprisonment for life.
According to data provided by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a total of 776 Muslims, 505 Ahmadis (Ahmadiyya being a sect that is considered non-Muslim in many Islamic countries, and persecuted), 229 Christians and 30 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law from 1987 until 2018.
In July, a man called Tahir Naseem, who was accused of blasphemy, was shot dead in front of a judge during a hearing in a district court in Peshawar. According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, currently, there are at least 80 people Pakistan’s prisons for the crime of ‘blasphemy’, with almost 40 of them facing life sentences or the death penalty.
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