New Delhi: More than five years after his arrest, a Christian mechanic booked on the charges of blasphemy was sentenced to death by a Lahore court Monday. Masih has been in jail since 2017 and his case riddled with adjournments. The accused, who has a wife and a daughter, also lost his mother in 2019 while he was behind the bars.
According to reports, in June 2017, Masih got into a dispute with a Muslim customer in Lahore after he repaired the latter’s bike. When Masih asked for payment, the customer did not pay the entire amount and asked for a waiver on grounds that he was a religious devotee. Masih refused the request, saying he believed in Christ. The issue of money led to a heated argument and a crowd gathered, accusing Masih of “disrespecting” the Prophet Muhammad. The mechanic had allegedly said that for Christians, Jesus was supreme. This was enough for his arrest.
Since 2019, the case has witnessed multiple adjournments, rescheduling, judge not showing up, witness failing to turn up and even the complainant’s lawyer not registering their presence.
In 2019, Masih was released on parole to attend his mother’s funeral. After he was arrested, it has been reported that the family fled from Lahore in fear.
Blasphemy victim, Ashfaq Masih's mother died and Ashfaq Masih was released by the legal team of PCLJ on parole so that he can attend his mother's funeral ceremony.@JaySekulow @JordanSekulow @fispahani pic.twitter.com/vE6A1ivgk2
— PCLJ (@pclj_justice) November 5, 2019
On multiple occasions, in different court appearances, Masih can be seen chained and in handcuffs.
— Naila Inayat (@nailainayat) July 2, 2017
#PAKISTAN: Please pray for Ashfaq Masih, a #Christian who is in jail on false charges of blasphemy. He has been imprisoned over two years now.
His next court date is later this month. Pray that he will get justice and that he will be released soon! #persecution #religiousfreedom pic.twitter.com/dWdArxLv1X
— ICFD (@icfdorg) September 13, 2019
This is not the first time a judge in Pakistan has sentenced someone to death under the blasphemy law. In September 2021, a local Lahore court sentenced a school principal to death. The charge against the principal was that she had claimed to be the ‘Prophet of Islam’ in pamphlets she distributed and denied the finality of Prophethood.
In yet another incident in January this year, a 26-year-old woman was sentenced to death for posting ‘blasphemous material’ as her WhatsApp status. She had sent caricatures of Prophet Muhammed.
Pakistan inherited the blasphemy laws after Partition in 1947. However, during General Zia-ul Haq’s regime between 1980 to 1986, a number of clauses were introduced that included a provision to punish blasphemy against Prophet Muhammed and the penalty for this was “death, or imprisonment for life”. It has been used in these cases of death sentences.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has said that Muslims constitute the majority of people booked under the blasphemy laws, followed by the Ahmadi community. According to data by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, 776 Muslims, 505 Ahmadis, 229 Christians and 30 Hindus have been booked under the blasphemy law from 1987 to 2018.