Pakistan: Court announces death sentence for accused Christian in Joseph Colony blasphemy case

Joseph Colony burns at the hands of outraged Muslims, March 2013

LAHORE: Almost a year after riots in Joseph Colony of Lahore saw 100 Christian houses being burnt, a court on Thursday sentenced a Christian man at the heart of the controversy that triggered the riots to death for blasphemy, his lawyer said.

Sawan Masih was convicted of committing blasphemy during the course of a conversation with a Muslim friend in March last year.

After allegations against Masih emerged, more than 3,000 people had rampaged through Joseph Colony, torching some 100 Christian homes.

Naeem Shakir, one of Masih’s lawyers, told AFP that “the judge has announced the death sentence for Sawan Masih.”

“We will appeal the sentence in the Lahore High Court.”

The verdict and sentence were announced inside the jail where Masih was held, Shakir said.

Masih has maintained his innocence and argued that the real reason for the blasphemy allegation was a property dispute between him and his friend.

No one was killed in the rampage through Joseph Colony last year but the incident highlighted the sensitivity towards blasphemy.

A recent report from a US government advisory panel said Pakistan used blasphemy laws more than any other country in the world; listing 14 people on death row and 19 others serving life sentences.

In January 2014, an elderly Briton was sentenced to death for blasphemy, though his lawyers said the court failed to consider “overwhelming” evidence of his mental illness.