The flag of Pakistan. Credit: Creative Photo Corner/Shutterstock
A Pakistani court sentenced Asif Pervaiz, a Christian, to death on Tuesday on charges of blasphemy.
The 8 September sentencing by a court in Lahore arose from charges that Pervaiz, 37, included insulting remarks about Muhammad in a text message sent to Muhammad Saeed Khokher, his supervisor at the garment factory where he had worked.
Pakistan’s state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim. The country’s blasphemy laws impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad. Although the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy laws, accusations alone have inspired mob and vigilante violence.
Pervaiz was also sentenced to a fine of 50,000 Pakistani rupees (£275), and three years’ imprisonment.
His lawyer told Reuters he would appeal the sentence. The lawyer has added that Pervaiz said he was accused of blasphemy only after refusing to convert to Islam, which Khokher has denied.
Khokher’s lawyer told Al Jazeera that Pervaiz “has taken this defence after the fact, because he had no other clear defence. That’s why he accused him of trying to convert him.”
Ucanews reported that Sajid Christopher, founder of the Pakistani religious freedom nonprofit Human Friends Organization, said that “A major mistake was that Pervaiz did not report the loss of his phone. He had heated arguments with a supervisor in factory who used messages from a stolen SIM card as evidence. Maybe the judges in session and trial courts feel insecure when dealing with such cases. They even consider evidence that has no relevance.”
Pervaiz’ trial began in 2013.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are reportedly used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only 3 percent of the Pakistani population, 14 percent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.
Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law are also targeted by violence.
The blasphemy laws were introduced between 1980 and 1986. The National Commission for Justice and Peace said more than 1,300 people were accused under this law from 1987 until 2014. The Centre for Research and Security Studies reported that at least 65 people have been killed by vigilantes since 1990.
In July a US citizen on trial for blasphemy in Peshawar was killed at a court hearing.
More than 40 people are serving a life sentence or face execution for blasphemy in the country.