A Christian in Pakistan has been sentenced to hang for blasphemy after receiving a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed. The case highlights the heightened anti-blasphemy laws in the country and the dire consequences faced by religious minorities.
Christian Sentenced to Death
Premier Christian News reported that Noman Masih, arrested in 2019, finally received his sentence in January, marking almost four years of legal proceedings. This unprecedented ruling represents the first instance where the newly intensified anti-blasphemy laws have led to the execution of a Christian individual. The Pakistani National Assembly unanimously passed an amendment to the Criminal Laws Bill in January, significantly increasing the penalties for insulting the Prophet Mohammed's companions, wives, and family members. The punishment for such offenses has been raised from three to ten years of imprisonment.
A report from Catholic Herald stated that the individual and his family have claimed that Bilal Ahmad, a young Muslim not apprehended by the authorities, had sent him the controversial Mohammad illustrations at the center of the dispute. Sunny Mushtaq, the Christian cousin of Masih, awaiting sentencing for blasphemy from the Bahawalpur Magistrates Court, has reportedly received the same drawings via WhatsApp, a popular social media platform. According to Aneeqa Maria Anthony, a lawyer from The Voice legal group supporting the duo, the sentencing of Asghar has left him disheartened. The lawyer stated that the prosecution of two men is another instance of misusing blasphemy laws. Anthony added that these laws had been used to prosecute numerous Christians, often based on false accusations.
Pakistani Christian Brothers Executed for Cyber Blasphemy
In a similar report, two Christian brothers have been sentenced to death for blasphemy. It comes just weeks after Asia Bibi was acquitted of the same crime, which had sparked an international outcry, Telegraph reported. They were identified as Qaiser and Amoon Ayub and were sentenced to death by hanging by a district judge. The verdict was delivered after the duo was found guilty of posting articles and portraits on their website that were deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed. After being accused of the crime in 2011, the brothers fled the country. However, they have since returned home discreetly. They were apprehended at the airport. As mentioned, Amoon was attempting to leave the country for the second time when the arrest was made. Since 2014, the duo has been incarcerated in Jhelum prison.
According to Tahir Bashir, the legal representative for the two individuals, they have been accused of posting content that is considered blasphemous on the United Christians Organisation of Pakistan website back in August of 2010. A Muslim cleric from a different district has registered a complaint, which was filed a year later. Moreover, Bashir also stated that although the men had initiated the website, they were not responsible for the offense. Accordingly, Pakistan's blasphemy laws are again in the spotlight as the sentence for a recent case was handed down just two days after the country was placed on America's religious freedom blocklist. The ruling is expected to draw further attention to the strict laws in Pakistan.