Lahore court sentences Christian man to death over blasphemous texts

08 Sep 2020

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The convict Asif Pervaiz has been in custody since 2013. — AFP/File
The convict Asif Pervaiz has been in custody since 2013. — AFP/File

A sessions court in Lahore on Tuesday sentenced a Christian man to death after convicting him of sending text messages containing “blasphemous content”.

Asif Pervaiz, 37, has been in custody since 2013 fighting blasphemy charges that were levelled against him by the supervisor of the garment factory he once worked at. The supervisor had accused him of sending derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to him in a text message.

The court order issued by Additional Sessions Judge Mansoor Ahmad Qureshi, seen by Reuters, said Pervaiz would first serve a three-year prison term for “misusing” his phone to send the derogatory text message. Then “he shall be hanged by his neck till his death.” He was also fined Rs50,000, the order said.

Pervaiz's lawyer Saiful Malook told AFP that Pervaiz has denied all charges against him and had merely forwarded the text messages in question.

“This case should have been thrown out by the judge,” Malook said, adding he would appeal the verdict in the Lahore High Court.

“He has already spent seven years awaiting the court's decision. Who knows how many more years he will have to wait till this is over?”

Pervaiz claims his supervisor, who had been trying to convert him to Islam, had accused him of blasphemy after he quit his factory job.

Human rights groups say blasphemy laws are often misused to persecute minorities or even against Muslims to settle personal rivalries. Such accusations can end up in lynchings or street vigilantism.

Up to 80 people are known to be imprisoned in the country on such charges — half of whom face life in prison or the death penalty — according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

In July, a US citizen of Pakistani origin on trial over blasphemy allegations in Peshawar was shot dead in a courtroom by a teenager who told bystanders he killed him for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Since his arrest, the alleged shooter has been glorified as a “holy warrior” by supporters and thousands of people have rallied to demand his release.