Pakistan Christian Receives Life Imprisonment For "Blasphemy"

Saturday, January 23, 2010

By Worthy News Asia Service

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (Worthy News)-- A young Christian man was behind bars Saturday, January 23, after being sentenced tolife imprisonment for having "insulted and desecrated" the Koran, seen as a holy book by Muslims.

A court in the town of Faisalabad sentenced Imran Masih, under controversial blasphemy legislation which has been criticizedby international rights groups.

Judge, Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan, handed down the sentence under Article 295-Bof the Pakistan Penal Code because the 26 year old allegedly burnt verses from the Koran and a book inArabic "on purpose", to "stir up religious hatred and offend the feelings of Muslims," trial observers said.

Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church,suggested that his organization would appeal against the verdict, saying it was important to "battle to save his life."


Christians said Masih, a shopkeeper by profession, was "brutally tortured" by a group of Muslims in July lastyear before being detained by police on what they described as "fabricated" charges that he had burned pages of the Koran.

The court eventually sentenced Masih to life imprisonment last week, January 11, which he will serve in the federal prisonin Faisalabad where he is currently confined, trial observers said. The court reportedly also imposed an additionalpenalty of 10 years' imprisonment and payment of 100 thousand rupees ($1,200) under section 295-A of the Penal Code,Christians said.

In published remarks Jacob described the ruling as "not a good verdict" and said it shows a "lack of freedom"of the judiciary. Churches have urged authorities to change  blasphemy legislation which they say has been misused byextremists to imprison Christians.

The blasphemy law was introduced in 1986 by Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq and has become an instrumentof discrimination and violence, Christians rights groups say.

AsiaNews, a Catholic website, said the norm is contained in Section 295, paragraph B and C of Pakistan Penal Code and punishes with life imprisonment those who offends the Koran and with the sentencing to death those whoinsult the Prophet Muhammad.

Some 1,000 people are believed to have been indicted, while Christians have reportedly also suffered attacks and dozens of extra-judicial killings in the predominantly Muslim nation. (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).