11/27/2006, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Two Christian men sentenced to ten years in prison for "blasphemy"

by Qaiser Felix
Despite the lack of evidence a court in Faisalabad condemns two Catholic men for burning some pages of the Qur'an. For their attorney the verdict was influenced by Muslim extremists.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law strikes again and two more Catholics are jailed for alleged offences against the Qur'an in Pakistan. The victims this time are James Masih, 70, and Buta Masih, 65, both resident of Munir Park, Faisalabad,

The defendants were arrested by police last October 8 for allegedly burning pages of the Qur'an. Last Saturday they were found guilty and sentenced to ten years in jail under the infamous Section 295 B of Pakistan's Penal Code—also known as the blasphemy law—by judge Muhammad Islam from the Anti-Terrorism Court in Faisalabad.

The two Christian men were also sentenced to five years under the Anti-Terrorism Act but will purge both sentences concurrently so that they will spend ten years in prison altogether.

The court also fined them 25,000 rupees. Failure the pay that sum will result in an additional year in prison.

Khalil Tahir, the two men's defence attorney and a Catholic, said he was disappointed by the judge's decision since there was "no direct evidence against the two men who rather seem to be the victims of a personal vendetta".

"We believe," the lawyer told AsiaNews, "that the verdict is the result of pressures by extremists. This explains why it took four days for the court to reach its decision".

Mr Tahir also pointed out that the blasphemy law calls for life in prison and that the ten-year sentence "is a clear signal that the judge considers the two men innocent, but had to rule against them to satisfy Muslim extremists".

He now intends to launch an appeal against the sentence before the High Court in Lahore this week.

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