BAHAWALPUR, Pakistan: A Court in Bahawalpur on May 20 sentenced a Christian man to death by hanging after being accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in 2019.
Lazar Allah Rakha, the lawyer of Noman Masih, said that he is deeply disappointed by the conviction carrying the death penalty as the prosecution failed to provide evidence of the blasphemy allegation against Noman, yet after four long years, the Court convicted him to death.
According to the complainant, Noman was accused of blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by carrying blasphemous images on his mobile, where the First Information Report was registered against him under Section 295-C, which has a mandatory death sentence.
The trial of Noman Masih was concluded in January but the Court repeatedly postponed the verdict on various pretexts, Rakha said.
Minority rights activist Joseph Jansen said it is disturbing that a young Christian man is sentenced to death for a crime that has doubts about a fair investigation. T
he false accusations of blasphemy against religious minorities are often made to settle personal vendettas, property disputes, religious prejudice, or business rivalries, as seen in Mussarat Bibi’s case.
At the same time, the abuse of blasphemy laws (sections 295 through 298 of PPC) carrying severe punishments has increased exponentially.
Mere accusations of blasphemy became a justification for attacking any accuser as mob justice and taking the laws into their own hands without any investigation, which has been evidenced in several cases across the Country.
He added that a fair trial is guaranteed in the constitution of Pakistan, yet the accused persons do not receive a fair trial under blasphemy laws.
“The complainants and witnesses involved in leveling false allegations against the accused often enjoy impunity,” said Joseph Jansen
Human Rights Activist Ilyas Samuel hoped the High Court would set aside the death sentence awarded by Additional Sessions Judge Muhammad Hafeez Ur Rehman Khan and drop all charges against Noman.
Nadia Stephen, a women rights activist, observed that Masih’s case is not the first when the court handed over a death sentence to an individual from a religious minority community.
In the past, there have numerous instances in which people have been accused of blasphemy and ended up being handed over death sentences by trial and high courts.
Human rights activist Ashiknaz Khokhar stressed that it is unfortunate fact that has become a practice in trial courts in blasphemy cases to convict the accused, despite clear doubts about fair inquiries and lack of evidence. He said that these laws have massively affected the marginalized Christian community of Pakistan and have ruined the lives of many innocents in the country, and still, no one is trying to amend them.
The Chairperson of National Minority Alliance of Pakistan, Lala Robin Daniel, expressed that the blasphemy issue is a very sensitive matter in the country which has often been wrongly used to target religious minorities motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. The highly inflammatory accusations can potentially spark mob lynchings and vigilante justice.
The government needs to introduce a national action plan to counter its abuse of blasphemy laws in the name of religion.