07/11/2022, 18.53
PAKISTAN
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Lahore court sentences Christian man to death over false blasphemy charges

by Shafique Khokhar

In 2017, a customer accused a Christian bicycle repair shop, Ashfaq Masih, of defaming the Prophet Muhammad. For the latter’s family, the charges are spurious, a way not to pay for the work done. In many cases, lower courts impose the death penalty under pressure from extremist groups.

 

Lahore (AsiaNews) – A court in Lahore on 4 July sentenced Ashfaq Masih to death by hanging.

The Christian man was convicted of an act of blasphemy allegedly committed five years ago when, according to the prosecution, he defamed the prophet Muhammad by stating that Jesus Christ is the one and only prophet.

On 15 June 2017, police opened a file against Ashfaq Masih after he was arrested following a row with a Muslim man who had come to his bicycle and repair shop.

For the Christian man's family, the blasphemy charge was just a pretext by the client, Muhammad Irfan, not to pay for the work done.

Before the court, Masih declared his innocence, accusing the plaintiff of trying to “destroy his shop”. In spite of his proclamations of innocence, Additional Session Judge Khalid Wazir issued a death penalty sentence.

After waiting for five years to see what the court would decide, Masih’s wife and eight-year-old daughter were plunged them into pain and despair after the sentence was read.

Now Ashfaq Masih could be either executed by the state, or, like in other cases, become the victim of extrajudicial murder, even in prison, in the name of the blasphemy law.

Masih's death sentence is a source of fear for all Pakistani Christians, especially the “victims of other cases of blasphemy and their families,” this according to Voice for Justice president Joseph Jansen speaking to AsiaNews.

In most cases, the accusations are “false or linked to revenge and personal disputes rather than to real acts of defamation” against the prophet or the Islamic religion.

In some cases, accusations can trigger violent reactions by angry mobs who take matters in their own hands and attack the accused and the places where they live, causing very serious damage.

What is more, the people who file complaints using the pretext of blasphemy or make false accusations by manipulating or distorting the facts “go largely unpunished”.

Christian activist Ashiknaz Khokhar agrees. It is not uncommon practice for lower courts to issue death sentences in blasphemy cases even “in the absence of evidence or if innocence is evident”.

“This is due to the lack of security in courtrooms and the pressure exerted by extremist (Islamic) groups against judges during trial,” he explained.

“In most blasphemy cases, accusations are used to settle personal disputes,” For this reason, “The government must take decisive action to end the misuse of blasphemy laws and protect citizens.”

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