(Vatican Radio) A Christian man has been sentenced to death by a court in eastern Pakistan for blasphemy after he allegedly sent a Muslim friend a poem on WhatsApp that insulted Islam, a lawyer said on Friday. James Nadeem of Lahore was charged in July last year after his friend, Yasir Bashir, complained to police that he received a poem on the messaging app that was derogatory toward the Prophet Mohammed and other holy figures.
The accused “was handed a death sentence by the court on Thursday on blasphemy charges,” defence lawyer Riaz Anjum told AFP, alleging that his client was been framed by Bashir. Anjum said his client intended to appeal against the verdict, passed on Thursday by a sessions court in the town of Gujrat. He said Nadeem “has been framed by his friend who was annoyed over his [the accused's] affair with a Muslim girl.” He said the trial was held inside a prison due to security reasons after local clerics had threatened the accused and his family.
Controversial blasphemy laws
Insulting the Prophet Muhammad in Pakistan is a crime punishable by death, while offending the Koran, Islam's holy book, incurs life imprisonment. The blasphemy laws remain an extremely sensitive issue in the predominantly Muslim nation and they have drawn intense criticism even within the country. Rights organizations say the law is often misused to settle personal scores.
A tally by Al Jazeera showed that right-wing vigilantes and mobs have taken the law into their own hands, killing at least 69 people over alleged blasphemy since 1990.
Perhaps, Pakistan’s most famous blasphemy victim is Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death in 2010 for insulting Muhammad, an allegation she denies. Pakistan's Supreme Court adjourned her death sentence appeal on October 13 last year, after one of the 3 judges recused himself from the case.
Former Punjab governor Salman Taseer and Catholic minister Shahbaz Bhatti were both assassinated in 2011 after they defended Asia Bibi and spoke out against her death sentence and the misuse of the blasphemy laws.
Earlier this year, a mob in Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan beat up a student, Mashal Khan, to death after accusing him of blasphemy over social media. The incident caused an outrage across the country, with calls for the blasphemy law to be amended. An investigation into the case later cleared the victim of all blasphemy charges.
In 2015, Muslims beat to death a Christian couple and burned their bodies in a brick kiln for allegedly desecrating the Koran.
In June, 30-year-old Taimoor Raza was sentenced to death for allegedly committed blasphemy on Facebook, in the first such case involving social media.
In May, a 10-year-old boy was killed and five others were wounded when a mob attacked a police station in an attempt to lynch a Hindu man charged with blasphemy for allegedly posting an offensive image on social media.
Last month, a Christian youth was arrested on blasphemy charges after he allegedly desecrated the Koran in Wazirabad town in eastern Punjab province. Police said they rescued him from being lynched by an angry mob. The man is now awaiting trial.