A court in Lahore, Pakistan has sentenced Christian Ashfaq Masih to death by hanging for blasphemy. The judgment, handed down on July 4, 2022, concerns an incident that took place just over five years ago, when, according to the indictment, Masih allegedly defamed the Prophet Muhammad by claiming that Jesus Christ is the only prophet.
On June 15, 2017, the police opened an investigation against Ashfaq Masih, who was arrested after an argument with a Muslim customer of his bicycle repair shop. The Christian's family claimed the blasphemy charge was just a pretext used by the client, Muhammad Irfan, to avoid paying for the work done.
Since 2017, Masih's wife and eight-year-old daughter had been awaiting his sentencing from Associate Judge Khalid Wazir. Despite the man's declarations of innocence, the jury imposed the death sentence. It is feared that the man will be executed or, as has happened in the past, that he will be the victim of an extrajudicial execution – even in prison – carried out in the name of the blasphemy law.
AsiaNews interviewed Voice for Justice President Joseph Jansen who points out that Masih's death sentence is a source of fear for the entire Pakistani Christian community, especially for “victims of other blasphemy cases and their families.”
Most of the accusations, he continued, are “false or related to blood feuds and personal disputes, rather than genuine episodes of defamation” of the Prophet or the Islamic religion.
Moreover, in some cases, the accusations trigger violent reactions from angry mobs, which seek to take justice into their own hands and attack the accused and the places where they live, causing very serious damage. But those who make false accusations, manipulating or distorting the facts “remain largely unpunished.”
A view shared by Christian activist Ashiknaz Khokhar saying that it is now common for trial courts to pass (death) sentences on defendants appearing in blasphemy cases, even “in absence of evidence or if it is clear that they are innocent.”
“This is linked to the lack of security in the courts and the pressure exerted by extremist [Islamic] groups on judges during hearings,” he explains. It is well known that “most cases of blasphemy are registered with false accusations to settle personal disputes,” concludes the expert.
“The government must take strong action to end the misuse of Islamic laws, and protect citizens,” he concludes. Which is unfortunately probably not for tomorrow, because the pressure mentioned above can then turn against the magistrates, or even against the legislators, as has already been the case in other attempts at moderation.