Pakistan Christian On Death Row Over False Blasphemy Charges Acquitted After Nearly 10 Years In Jail

Prison cell

Sajjad Masih Gill, a 37 year old Christian in Pakistan was released from prison after almost 10 years of incarceration over a false blasphemy conviction. He was released on November 9 after a high court decided to acquit him, but did so quietly to avoid Islamist outrage, Gill's attorney said.

According to the Christian Headlines, Gill initially had a life sentence but it was converted to the death penalty on March 10 due to pressure from Islamists. Gill's attorney Javed Sahotra said that the two-judge division bench of the Lahore High Court decided to acquit Gill on October 26 on grounds of insufficient evidence, thereby ordering his release.

"My client is facing serious security risks," Sahotra lamented to Morning Star News. "We intentionally kept the news secret to avoid putting his and our lives at risk. Gill is very happy after being released from prison on November 13, but he cannot return to his normal life."

Gill is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Pakpattan. Following a false blasphemy charge, he was ordered to spend up to nine years, 10 months, and 15 days in prison. Sahotra explained that Gill's appeal hearing was adjourned "over a hundred times" by the Lahore High Court because the judges did not want to hear the case for fear of blasphemy cases.

When the appeal came before the female judge, she even outright refused to hear it. She also denied reading the case file and if she did, she would have requested the chief justice to place the case before another judge.

Nonetheless, Sahotra said he appreciated the high court judges for finally delivering justice to his client. He said, "Though the court's verdict is laudable, it's high time the superior judiciary and the government realize the suffering of all those accused of blasphemy, especially those who have been framed in fake cases."

Sahotra lamented how Gill spent almost 10 years imprisoned for a false charge. He remarked, "Who will compensate for the immense loss that he has suffered during this time?"

According to UCA News, Gill was sentenced by a trial court in July 2013 to life imprisonment after sending a controversial text message to a Muslim man in December 2011. The court decided that Gill should be fined 314,500 rupees or $2,000. Gill was then arrested by police who traced his mobile phone number through a cellphone tower.

The abuse did not end there as even his brother and nephew were being attacked and threatened by unknown people as they made their way home after visiting Gill in Central Jail Sahiwal.

In the verdict decided in October, Lahore High Court Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan and Justice Muhammad Tariq Nadeem said that the investigators failed to recover from Gill the mobile phone and SIM that was allegedly used in sending the blasphemous text message.

Sahotra concluded, "There were no witnesses of the alleged incident who could implicate Gill as the writer and sender of that alleged text message."