A Christian man, Sawan Masih, father of three from Joseph Colony in Badami Bagh area of Lahore has been sentenced to hang in Lahore. Blasphemy law is highly contentious issue in Pakistan and attempts to revisit the laws have been vehemently opposed by more radical elements. Challenging the blasphemy laws was a prominent factor in the murders of Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities and Salman Taseer Governor Punjab in early 2011.
Human rights groups claim that blasphemy laws are often misused against religious minorities, including Christians, to settle personal scores and seize property. Christians are being persecuted for their faith in the country; they face routine harassment and discrimination. Christian groups and human rights campaigners condemned the verdict and called for the blasphemy laws to be repealed.
Christian human rights activists’ woe after the death sentence of Sawan Masih. “All too often in Pakistan rivals will cry blasphemy to settle scores and enact revenge,” said Sohail Johnson, chairman Sharing Life Ministry – SLMP. “Unfortunately the blasphemy law has become a powerful tool the hands of extremists and is continually being used to attack churches, burn down Christian towns and villages and also kill innocent people” he added.
Furrakh H Saif, chief of World Vision in Progress - WVIP considers it a kangaroo justice with the victims of blasphemy law. He said that judges are biased and are under pressure of Islamists. He is afraid that in its routine order, they will soon award death sentences to Shagufta with her husband Shafaqat and Pastor Adnan.
Nazir S Bhatti chief of Pakistan Christian Congress – PCC said that the laws were out of step with rights guaranteed under Pakistan’s constitution and should be repealed. It’s an obscene law, he said. “Essentially the blasphemy law is used as a tool of persecution and to settle other scores that are nothing to do with religion. In makes religious minorities particularly vulnerable because it’s often used against them.”
“In reality the death sentence may not be carried out but it can mean that an accused person ends up behind bars for years,” said Albert David, chairman Pakistan United Christian Movement. “Even if their conviction is eventually overturned on appeal the accused are still vulnerable to attacks by vigilantes”. It leads to death threats, murder and riots. In the interests of justice Pakistan must revisit these blasphemy laws, he added.
So far, no death sentence for blasphemy has been carried out but even if the verdict is eventually overturned, the accused can spend years in prison awaiting the outcome of lengthy appeals and if freed, they run the risk of brutal mob justice. The worry is that the climate in Pakistan is taking a turn for the worse for Christians as Federal Sharia court has called for a mandatory death penalty for those found guilty. This would be a giant leap backwards for Pakistan