An appeal is being launched by his lawyers
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- In yet another shocking case against a Christian, a court in Pakistan today (March 27, 2014), sentenced a Christian man to death for blasphemy, which his lawyer said, was over an incident that triggered a riot in the country's second-largest city.
According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), Sawan Masih was convicted of insulting the prophet Muhammad during the course of a conversation with a Muslim friend in the Joseph Colony neighborhood of Lahore in March last year.
More than 3,000 Muslims rioted, torching about 100 Christian homes in Joseph Colony, after the allegations against Masih emerged.
Naeem Shakir, one of Masih’s lawyers, told AFP: “The judge has announced the death sentence for Sawan Masih. We will appeal the sentence in the Lahore high court.”
Additional Session Judge, Chaudhry Ghulam Murtaza, handed down the death sentence to Savan Masih after finding him guilty of blasphemy, and also ordered him to pay a fine of 200,000 Pakistani rupees ($2,043.94 USD).
“This is the punishment for someone found guilty of committing blasphemy against the prophet,” Nasir Saeed, Director of the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS-UK), told the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net).
“The trial was conducted in prison as CLAAS-Pakistan (PK) Director, Joseph Francis, who was keeping in view the situation, had expressed his apprehension that Savan’s life could be in danger, so he requested the case to be heard in jail for Savan’s safety.”
Naeem Shakir, Tahir Bashir and Nasir Anjum, lawyers for CLAAS-PK, who represented Mr. Masih, were present in the prison court room alongside the accused.
“This is not the only blasphemy case where this has happened,” Mr. Saeed went on to say. “There are other examples, including the trial of Younis Masih. Several blasphemy law victims have been killed during their hearings, including Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid Emmanuel who were killed by extremists in broad daylight in 2010 in front of hundreds of people in the district court’s compound in Faisalabad.”
After hearing the verdict, Mr. Francis was reported to have expressed his “grief and disappointment” over the death sentence, but added that he was “very optimistic and expecting an acquittal.”
Francis said that discussions would begin immediately and that an appeal would be lodged on Saturday “in the hope of getting the decision overturned soon.”
Savan Masih was convicted of insulting the prophet Muhammad last March during a conversation with his Muslim friend. He was accused of blasphemy for allegedly saying “Jesus is true. He is the Son of the God. He will come to save me while Muslims’ Prophet (PBUH) is fake.”
Masih denied the charges against him asserting that he had said nothing in respect of the Prophet Mohammad, and claimed that false accusations were made against him because of a property dispute. Savan Masih has been in jail since his arrest in March, 2013.
“Savan has stayed courageous as the verdict was read and remains strong in his faith, believing that the appeal will be successful as he has done nothing wrong,” said Nasir Saeed. “Meanwhile his family also remain strong in their faith and are hopeful that the decision will be overturned by the Grace of God.”
Following the accusation, the entire Christian town of St. Joseph Colony- Badami Bagh, Lahore, was torched by a Muslim mob and Christians had to flee.
“The police silently watched while the Muslim protestors stole valuable possessions and destroyed Christians’ homes,” said Saeed. “These blasphemy laws are being misused to settle person scores.”
He added: “Unfortunately the blasphemy law has become a powerful tool in the hands of extremists and is continually being used to attack churches, burn down Christian towns and villages, and also kill innocent people.”
He also said that this law has several flaws and is incompatible with human rights, prompting calls from the international community on several occasions to amend these laws.
Mr. Saeed concluded: “The government is under pressure from extremist groups and hesitates to bring this matter to the parliament. A week ago, a Hindu temple and other properties in Larkana-Sindh were torched and a man was taken into police custody without any proof that he had burnt the Holy Quran. He has not yet been charged under the blasphemy law.
“Religious minorities, and particularly Christians, are living under constant fear of their lives and secretly migrating to different countries to save their lives. The international community has a responsibility to question the Pakistani government about the deteriorating situation of human rights and minorities in Pakistan.”
AFP said that a recent report from a US government advisory panel said Pakistan used blasphemy laws more than any other country in the world, listing 14 people on death row and 19 others serving life sentences for insulting Islam.
In January, an elderly Briton was sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy, though his lawyers said the court had failed to consider "overwhelming" evidence of his mental illness.
The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) is an interdenominational organization working for Christians who are being persecuted because of their faith in Pakistan. CLAAS works for religious freedom, to stop persecution of Christians in Pakistan because of blasphemy and other discriminatory laws, raise awareness, disseminate information and highlight the plight of Christians on an international level. CLAAS provides free legal aid to victims of religious intolerance in Pakistan, as well as shelter and financial support for the victims and their families.