18:08 GMT21 October 2020
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    A Pakistani Christian man was sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy after allegedly sending a WhatsApp message insulting Islam to a Muslim friend.

    Nadeem James Masih was charged last July after his friend, Yasir Bashir, told officials that Masih sent him a poem on the messaging app insulting the Prophet Mohammed and other holy figures. 

    According to Masih's lawyer Anjum Wakeel, "James was handed a death sentence by the court on Thursday on blasphemy charges," The Hindu reported.

    "My client will appeal the sentence in the high court as he has been framed by his friend, who was annoyed over James' affair with a Muslim girl," Wakeel added, asserting that his client is innocent.

    After the incident, Masih escaped from his home in Sara-e-Alamgir town in Punjab province after being threatened by an angry mob outside his house, but later surrendered to police officials.

    The trial took place for almost a year inside the Gujarat Jail, 200 kilometers from Punjab province, after local Muslim cleric threatened James and his family.

    In addition to being given the death sentence, Masih was also fined almost $5,000. His family has been taken into protective custody and moved to a safer location.

    Pakistan is a mostly Muslim state with a small population of about two million Christians. The minority Christian community has been frequently targeted by religious groups in Pakistan. 

    The country's blasphemy laws were instituted by former military ruler Zia-ul Haq in the 1980s and have been in effect ever since. Many civil rights groups claim that many Muslims use the blasphemy laws to settle private disagreements with minorities.

    In 2014, a Christian couple were lynched and burned in the Punjab province after being accused of desecrating the Quran.

    Earlier this year, Abdul Wali Khan University student Mashal Khan was beaten to death after being falsely accused of blasphemy over social media.

    The incident caused people across the country to protest the blasphemy laws. However, the laws have not been amended and former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar still threatened to block all social media sites with blasphemous content.


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    death sentence, minority, Christians, Muslim, blasphemy, Pakistan
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