LAHORE: A court in Pakistan sentenced a Christian man to death for blasphemy Thursday, his lawyer said, over an incident that triggered a riot in the country's second-largest city.
Sawan Masih was convicted of insulting the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) during the course of a conversation with a Muslim friend in the Joseph Colony neighbourhood of Lahore in March last year.
More than 3,000 Muslims rampaged through Joseph Colony, torching some 100 Christian homes, 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.”Verdict and sentence were announced inside the jail where Masih was held, Shakir said.
The country has had a de facto moratorium on civilian hangings since 2008. Only one person has been executed since then, a soldier convicted by court martial.
Pakistan has extremely strict laws against defaming Islam, including the death penalty for insulting the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), and rights campaigners say they are often used to settle personal disputes.
Masih has maintained his innocence and argued the real reason for the blasphemy allegation was a property dispute between him and his friend.
No one was killed in the rampage through Joseph Colony last year but the incident highlighted the sensitivity of blasphemy in Pakistan.
Some 97 per cent of the 180 million population are Muslim, and even unproven allegations can trigger a violent public response.
Earlier this month an angry mob set fire to a Hindu temple in the southern city of Larkana over the alleged desecration of a Quran.
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.