A court in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore has sentenced a Christian man, Asif Pervaiz, to death under the country’s blasphemy law, after he was accused of sending blasphemous text message to his former boss.
According to his lawyer, Saif-ul-Malook, Pervaiz, 37, has been in custody since 2013 after his former supervisor at the hosiery factory where he worked said Pervaiz sent him several blasphemous text messages about Islam and the prophet Muhammed.
Pervaiz has denied the allegations, saying his supervisor, Muhammad Saeed Khokher, pressured him to convert to Islam, which he refused to do. Pervaiz said he later quit working at the factory but was confronted by Khokher, who continued to push for his conversion. When Pervaiz refused again, he said his former boss accused him of sending the blasphemous text messages.
According to the verdict, Pervaiz will have to serve three years in prison before being hanged to death.
Pervaiz pleaded not guilty. His lawyer Saif ul Malook, who also successfully defended Asia Bibi, submitted an appeal in Lahore High Court on Sept. 14.
The lawyer told Newsmen that it may take a few years before his appeal is taken up for hearing by the court.
Under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, there is a mandatory death penalty for insulting Muhammad, as well as severe penalties for other crimes such as insulting Islam, the Quran, or certain Muslim holy figures.
Though the majority of those accused are Muslim, as 98 percent of Pakistan’s population adheres to Islam, critics have argued that the laws disproportionately target minorities such as Christians and Hindus, who are falsely accused due to discrimination rather than guilt.
Rights activists argue that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are used to settle scores and persecute religious minorities.
In recent weeks, the UN human rights office has raised alarm over an increase in blasphemy accusations targeting minorities.