22-year-old Christian man sentenced to death in Pakistan
The 22-year-old Christian man was convicted on an unsubstantiated sentence under the country’s blasphemy laws on Tuesday the 30th of May.
Noman Masih was convicted of blaspheming Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, which carries a mandatory death sentence under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes. Based on the account of Masih’s attorney, Lazar Allah Rakha, the court reached the verdict despite the prosecution failing to provide evidence of the blasphemy charge against the young man. The ordeal started back in 2019, and the court repeatedly postponed the ruling.
“I’m extremely disappointed by the conviction, because there was absolutely no case” Rakha said. “There was no proof against Noman, and none of the witnesses produced by police could corroborate the blasphemy allegation against him. Despite so many contradictions in the case, I’m at a loss to understand why Bahawalpur Additional Sessions Judge Muhammad Hafeez Ur Rehman sentenced Noman instead of acquitting him. This is murder of justice”.
The attorney is going to file an appeal against the conviction. Noman’s family had been shocked by the verdict. His father, sanitation worker Asghar Masih, said the police had arrested the young man in a late-night raid on 29 June 2019. Authorities took Noman’s cousin, Sunny Waqas, into custody 174 km away on a blasphemy charge just a few hours earlier.
Trainee Sub-Inspector Fraz Ahmed of the Faqirwali Police Station in Bahawalnagar said he had been tipped off that Waqas had printed blasphemous sketches of the prophet Muhammad and was carrying them in a black bag to show other people. He also claimed that upon questioning, Waqas confessed that his cousin, Noman, had shared the alleged sacrilegious images with him on WhatsApp.
Courts routinely dismiss bail appeals of blasphemy suspects. There are instances where suspects in non-bailable offenses, including murder, can be granted bail. If suspects have not been formally charged, the trial has not been concluded within two years and the delay is not due to the accused, they should be granted bail. On this premise, the court granted bail to Waqas on 17 January 2023, but the bail amount was outrageous: 4 million rupees (US$13,994).
Attorney Aneeqa Maria of The Voice Society said “It seems the judge wanted to make Waqas’s release impossible by setting the value of the bonds to 4 million rupees. The maximum allowable amount for bail under Section 295-C is 500,000 rupees (US$1,750).”
“The allegations in both First Information Reports (FIRs) are baseless. Noman was sleeping in the house when he was arrested, but the police have alleged that he was in a park showing blasphemous images to 9-10 people at 3:30 a.m” Noman’s father revealed ” Noman’s mother and I yearn for him every day. Our hearts broke today when our counsel informed us about the death verdict. But our faith in Christ has not waivered, and we trust God that He will rescue us from this suffering. I work as a shop cleaner and can barely manage the household expenses in my meagre salary. Ever since Noman’s incarceration, I’ve amassed a huge debt, because I’ve to provide for his jail expenses on every visit.”
Asghar Masih, a member of the Anglican Church of Pakistan, said he was grateful to attorney Rakha for his support. “However, this mounting debt fuelled by inflation is exacerbating our miseries. We appeal to our church and community leaders to help us in this difficult time”.