Pakistan: Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy 

Ashfaq Masih, a Pakistani Christian, was sentenced to death for blasphemy on July 4. During his trial, he kept reminding that he was the victim of false accusations. 

Ashfaq Masih, a 36-year-old Christian, was sentenced to death by the Pakistani courts for blasphemy on July 4.

He had been arrested in 2017, following an argument with a Muslim customer, who refused to pay for the repair of his bicycle on the pretext that he was a devout Sufi Muslim. His lawyer, Riaz Anjum, specifies that Ashfaq Masih “rejected his request, saying that he only followed Jesus and that he was not interested in the religious statutes of Muslims”.

Following this altercation, the local police arrested the Christian for disrespecting the Prophet Muhammad.

Throughout the trial, Ashfaq Masih maintained his innocence. He denounced the false accusations made against him by the plaintiff Muhammad Irfan. He claimed he was framed by the owner of his shop walls, Muhammad Ashfaq, who allegedly teamed up with his direct competitor, Muhammed Naveed, to harm him.

"Muhammad Ashfaq had pressured Masih to leave the store, ignoring the latter's pleas not to move his current business," his lawyer told Morning Star News.

“Masih believes Ashfaq and Naveed conspired to implicate him in a blasphemy case using Irfan. »

During the trial, the attorney further reminded the judge that there was no profanity in the first information report. The blasphemy allegation was allegedly made by Muhammad Ashfaq, the owner of the defendant's shop walls, when he gave his statement to the police.

The lawyer adds that Ashfaq and other Muslims went to Masih's shop and claimed to have seen him insult the Prophet of Islam. He clarifies that “nowhere in the recorded testimony or the FIR is there any mention of the alleged blasphemous remarks”.

Furthermore, Riaz Anjum indicates that the main plaintiff in this case, the Sufi Muslim, did not appear at the trial to testify.

“The prosecutor 'dropped' the main witness who was most relevant to the case and presented only two of the total five witnesses during the trial, and even their statements were contradictory,” the lawyer continued.

These arguments were not enough to convince Judge Khalid Wazir who sentenced Ashfaq Masih to death at the end of the trial.

Joseph Jansen, the president of Voice for Justice, spoke about this court decision. In a statement to AsiaNews, he says Masih's sentencing creates fear among Pakistani Christians, especially those accused of blasphemy.

He further recalls that in most cases, these accusations are “false or linked to revenge and personal disputes rather than genuine acts of defamation” against the Prophet or the Islamic religion.

In Pakistan, ranked 8th in theGlobal Index of Persecution of Christians 2022 from the NGO Portes Ouvertes, accusations of blasphemy are commonplace.

According to the organization, Pakistani Christians “live under the threat of blasphemy laws which are often used against them. They can be unjustly accused, arrested, imprisoned, or even sentenced to death, out of simple jealousy or to settle personal conflicts”.

Melanie Boukorras

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