A Christian man has been sentenced to death in Pakistan for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, his lawyer has said. Nadeem James, 35, supposedly insulted Islam by sending message to his Muslim friend on WhatsApp. He allegedly sent a poem that was derogatory about the Prophet Muhammad and other Islamic holy figures to a friend over this messaging service. James was indicted last year and was arrested in July last year after going on the run following the accusation of blasphemy.
The problem about a blasphemy law is that it is sometimes used in the country to settle personal scores and target minorities, according to human rights groups. Defense lawyer Anjum Wakeel told the AFP news agency that in this case there had been a dispute between his client and the friend over a woman. Those accusations are merely an act of revenge, the lawyer states. “Mr James was handed a death sentence by the court on Thursday on blasphemy charges. My client will appeal the sentence in the high court as he has been framed by his friend, who was annoyed over Mr James’ affair with a Muslim girl,” Wakeel said. The verdict was passed by a court in the town of Gujrat in eastern Pakistan.
There have been at least 67 murders over unproven allegations of blasphemy since 1990, according to figures from a research centre and independent records kept by Reuters. Another man was sentenced to death in June 1996 for allegedly posting “derogatory content” on Facebook. An atheist was beaten to death earlier this year after being accused of blasphemy. In 2015, Muslims beat to death a Christian couple and burned their bodies in a brick kiln for allegedly desecrating the Quran.
Lawmakers are being urged to amend the blasphemy law to put to death those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy, though blasphemers would still be subject to death. Under the existing law, the false accuser faces punishments ranging from two years in prison to life imprisonment. According to Mehdi Hasan, chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, this law is being misused by people to take revenge against their opponents, and it is very easy to charge anyone for blasphemy.
None of these punishments are acceptable in civilized societies. In such cases, the penalty outweighs the crime because one's opinion must never be punished by death.
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