Pakistan Sentences Christian To Death For Blasphemy

Monday, March 22, 2021

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News

(Worthy News) - A Christian young man faces execution by hanging death after a Pakistani court sentenced him to death for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages about Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

The Lahore High Court changed the life imprisonment of 36-year-old Sajjad Masih Gill, a Seventh-day Adventist Church member, from life imprisonment into capital punishment, trial observers confirmed.

The court made the March 10 ruling under pressure from the Islamic religious group Khatam-e-Nabuwwat Forum (KNF), or 'Movement for the Finality of the Prophethood,' Christian sources explained. The group opposes changes to Pakistan's strict blasphemy legislation, Christian sources explained.

In July 2013, a trial court sentenced Gill, from Gojra town in Punjab province, to life imprisonment, over an alleged controversial mobile phone text message to a Muslim man in December 2011. The verdict included a fine of 314,500 rupees (US$2,000).

According to Christians familiar with the case, the Christian was detained by Pakistani police tracing his mobile phone number through a cellphone tower. His relatives and lawyers were also targeted. In 2015, Gill's brother and nephew were reportedly attacked and threatened while returning home after visiting Gill in Central Jail Sahiwal, the largest prison in Asia.

And in 2016, two lawyers of the Legal Evangelical Association and Development advocacy group reportedly received similar threats by armed men on the road between Kasur and Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city. Both had defended Gill and appealed to the Lahore High Court.


However, a Muslim lawyer praised the execution by hanging the Christian man in a post on his Facebook website. "[The] capital sentence is the only possible sentence in blasphemy," wrote Zeeshan Ahmed Awanan, an advocate and "motivational speaker". "Life imprisonment...awarded by the [lower] Trial Court is illegal and being repugnant t the injunctions of Islam!" he wrote in the post seen by Worthy News. "Allah bless them for their noble efforts!" he added.

It was not immediately clear when and if Facebook will remove the message or include a warning for violating its self-declared Community Standards. For instance, the Standards say: "We believe that all people are equal in dignity and rights. We expect that people will respect the dignity of others and not harass or degrade others."

Facebook previously removed or added warnings to posts from non-Muslim leaders, including former U.S. President Donald J. Trump, for allegedly violating those standards.

The trial came shortly after the Lahore High Court adjourned without hearing a much-awaited appeal from Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel, a Christian couple facing the death penalty last seven years after being convicted of blasphemy, Christians said.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws envisage death as the maximum punishment for insulting Prophet Muhammad. Rights activists claim the legislation has been used against minority Christians and outnumbered religious groups, including Muslims such as Shias.


The blasphemy legislation also fueled tensions, according to rights investigators. Since 1987, at least 78 persons have been killed extra-judicially after allegations related to blasphemy and apostasy, data show. Among those killed are dozens of Christians as well as Muslims, Ahmadis, and Hindus said the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice (CSJ), a minority rights organization.

In documents seen by Worthy News, the CSJ said 2020 saw the highest number of blasphemy cases on record, some 200 known so far. CSJ Executive Director Peter Jacob complained that the data collected by his organization revealed rampant misuse of blasphemy legislation. He said the abuse had 'increased exponentially' over time in Pakistan.

Among more well-known cases was that of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother-of-five, who was sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 for blasphemy against Islam.

In October 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted her based on insufficient evidence. She was only able to leave the country in May 2019 and received asylum in Canada.

The leadership of the Islamic Asian nation has come under international and local pressure to end the strict blasphemy legislation. Still, so far, subsequent governments have been unable or unwilling to do so.