A Christian will rely on a Muslim lawyer to appeal his death sentence
Catholic organization hires Muslim to lead defense in High Court blasphemy case
Christian mechanic Ashfaq Masih has been charged with blasphemy after an argument involving a Muslim customer. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry)
The Christian lawyer for a Christian mechanic, recently sentenced to death for blasphemy, will now assist a Muslim lawyer in his appeal at the Lahore High Court.
Ashfaq Masih was accused of making blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Muhammad in his shop in 2017 days after an argument involving a Muslim customer.
Muhammad Irfan, one of the six plaintiffs, refused to pay his bill on the grounds that he was a devotee.
Police filed a first information report under Section 295C of the Penal Code, which imposes a mandatory death penalty for blasphemy.
On July 4, reading the 12-page judgement, Khalid Wazir, an additional sessional judge of the Lahore High Court, sentenced Masih to death and fined him 100,000 rupees ($484).
Riaz Anjum, who represented Masih in court, said a Catholic NGO hired a Muslim lawyer to take the case.
“There are clear discrepancies between the plaintiffs’ initial statements and their testimony in the trial court. These contradictions cast a shadow over the prosecution’s story. Irfan was not presented in court to support the prosecution’s case,” he told UCA News.
“Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not only a fundamental principle of law, but it is also of fundamental importance in criminal justice. The same principle aims to ensure that no innocent person is convicted.
In court, Masih said the charge against him was baseless.
“Irfan came to my shop to balance the wheel of his motorcycle but refused to pay the agreed amount claiming he was a follower of Peer FAQs [mystics]. I told him that I believed in Jesus Christ and that I did not believe in peer faqeer so give me what is due,” he said.
On June 11, two Christian brothers, Amoon and Qaiser Ayub, were also sentenced to death for blasphemy.
While authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, such charges have led to the lynching of local and foreign victims.
Activists and Christian groups criticized the latest verdict.
In a July 7 statement, Nasir Saeed, director of the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement UK, which supports persecuted Christians in Pakistan, said the judgment was very sad but was expected.
“I don’t remember any case where the trial court decided to grant bail or released a person accused of blasphemy. The judges are aware that such cases are made to punish and settle personal grudges with opponents, especially against Christians.
“Due to pressure from Islamic groups, lower court judges are still reluctant to release victims but make popular decisions to save their skins and shift their burden to the high court,” he said.
“Ashfaq is innocent and has already spent five years in prison for a crime he never committed. The National Assembly passed a resolution calling for not misusing the law in this way, but made no changes or legislation to end the misuse of the blasphemy law.