A court in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Tuesday sentenced a Christian man to death on charges of “blasphemy.”
Prosecutors accused Asif Pervaiz of sending “blasphemous” text messages to a former supervisor at a garment factory where they both worked. The court rejected Pervaiz’s testimony, in which he denied the charges against him, and sentenced the 37-year-old to death, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on Tuesday.
Speaking in his own defense in court during the trial, Pervaiz said that his supervisor, Muhammad Saeed Khokher, tried to convert him to Islam while he worked at the factory. After Pervaiz quit his job, Khokher accused Pervaiz of sending him derogatory remarks about the Islamic prophet Muhammad via text message.
Pervaiz’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that his client denies all charges against him and “had merely forwarded the text messages in question.”
The court order, seen by Reuters, stipulates that Pervaiz will “first serve a three-year prison term for ‘misusing’ his phone to [allegedly] send the derogatory text message. Then ‘he shall be hanged by his neck till his death.'”
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws call for extreme punishments for anyone found guilty of insulting the country’s state religion, Islam. Under the laws, authorities may imprison people for insulting Islam, its holy book, the Quran, or certain Islamic holy people. Insulting Muhammad is a crime punishable by death, though the state has never actually implemented the death penalty for this crime. People accused of blasphemy in Pakistan often face threats to their life from extrajudicial forces, such as Muslim lynch mobs, meaning many alleged blasphemers are still killed.
In October 2018, Pakistan’s supreme court acquitted a Roman Catholic woman, Asia Bibi, of blasphemy charges citing no evidence against her. The court rebuked Bibi’s accusers for falsely accusing her of insulting Muhammad. Prior to the ruling, Bibi languished on death row for eight years because of the charges against her. She was forced to flee Pakistan last year after receiving death threats. Her trial caused mass civil unrest in Pakistan, much of it instigated by the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party. The radical Islamist group organized nationwide riots to protest Bibi’s acquittal, which were defended by Pakistan’s government.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are overwhelmingly backed by the country’s 98-percent Muslim population, which seeks to enforce them through street vigilantism. In July, a U.S. citizen accused of blasphemy was shot dead in a courtroom in Peshawar during a hearing in his case. His murderer was apprehended, but has received massive support from the Pakistani public, who hail him as a “holy warrior” of Islam for the assassination.