Pakistan: Anglican Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy

Christians in Pakistan - India minority minorities

A young Anglican Christian, Noman Masih, was on June 1 sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy by the Bahawalpur court in Pakistan's Punjab province, Bitter Winter reported.

Launched in May 2018, Bitter Winter is an online magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China.

Masih's age is cited by different sources as 19 or 22.

According to Bitter Winter, Noman was convicted of keeping blasphemous images of Prophet Muhammad on his cell phone and sharing them with others via WhatsApp. According to his relatives and lawyer, the prosecutor's story is, however, contradictory.

On June 29, 2019, Sunny Waqas, who happens to be Noman's cousin, was arrested in Bahawalnagar, more than 170 kilometres from his home. He was accused of carrying in his bag printed caricatures of Prophet Muhammad with the intention of showing them to other people. The police had received a tip from an undisclosed source.

Waqas, who is being separately prosecuted, told police that he had received the images from his cousin Noman via WhatsApp and had printed them. This made Noman a co-defendant in the Bahawalnagar case, where a decision has not been rendered yet, as per Bitter Winter.

The police of Bahawalpur on July 1, 2019, received another confidential tip that they would find Noman in a public park at 3:30 in the morning showing blasphemous images to other people from his phone. The FIR filed against Noman states that he was arrested in a park at 3.30 am, while his family and neighbours testified that he was arrested on that night in his home where he was sleeping.

The prosecution could not find witnesses ready to state that Noman had shared blasphemous images with them (as mentioned earlier, his cousin Waqas claims he did, but the case concerning Waqas is being tried separately).

The decision is based on forensic expertise, which concluded that Noman's images were in his cell phone and shared via WhatsApp. Noman's lawyer, however, observed that the cell phone has been in the possession of the police for almost three years and could easily have been tampered with.

According to Bitter Winter, the decision should be confirmed by the Lahore High Court where the lawyer plans to show the prosecutor's contradictions.

In the meantime, Noman remains in jail. He could receive a second death sentence in the Bahawalnagar case, where he will be tried together with his cousin. 

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