On March 27, 2014 Additional session judge Chaudhry Ghulam Murtaza sentenced Savan Masih to death after finding him guilty of blasphemy, and also ordered him to pay a fine of 200,000 Pakistani rupees.
This is the punishment for someone found guilty of committing blasphemy against the prophet. CLAAS’s lawyers Naeem Shakir, Tahir Bashir and Nasir Anjum were present in the prison court room alongside Savan. The trial was conducted in prison as CLAAS-PK Director, Joseph Francis, keeping in view the situation, had expressed his apprehension that Savan’s life could be in danger, so he requested the case to be heard in jail for Savan’s safety.
This is not the only blasphemy case where this has happened, there are other examples including the trial of Younis Masih. Several blasphemy law victims have been killed during their hearings, including Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid Emmanuel who were killed by extremists in broad daylight in front of hundreds of people in the district court’s compound in Faisalabad, in 2010.
Mr Francis has expressed his grief and disappointment over Savan Masih’s verdict as he was very optimistic and expecting an acquittal. He said discussions would begin immediately and that an appeal would be lodged on Saturday in the hope of getting the decision overturned soon.
Savan Masih was convicted of insulting the prophet Muhammad last March during a conversation with his Muslim friend. He was accused of blasphemy for allegedly saying “Jesus is true, he is the son of the God. He will come to save me while Muslims’ Prophet (PBUH) is fake”.
Savan Masih denied the charges against him asserting that he had said nothing in respect of the prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and that false accusations were made against him because of a property dispute. Savan Masih has been in jail since his arrest in March last year.
Savan stayed courageous as the verdict was read and remains strong in his faith, believing that the appeal will be successful as he has done nothing wrong. Meanwhile his family also remain strong in their faith and are hopeful that the decision will be overturned by the grace of God.
After the accusation, the whole Christian town of St. Joseph colony- Badami Bagh, Lahore was torched by a Muslim mob and Christians had to flee. The police silently watched while the Muslim protestors stole valuable possessions and destroyed Christians’ homes.
Nasir Saeed, Director CLAAS-UK, said that blasphemy laws are being misused to settle person scores.
He added: “Unfortunately the blasphemy law has become a powerful tool in the hands of extremists and is continually being used to attack churches, burn down Christian towns and villages and also kill innocent people.”
He also said that this law has several flaws and is incompatible with human rights, prompting calls from the international community on several occasions to amend these laws.
Mr Saeed concluded: “The government is under pressure from extremist groups and hesitates to bring this matter to the parliament.”
He further stated that a week ago a Hindu temple and other properties in Larkana- Sindh were torched and a man was taken into police custody without any proof that he had burnt the Holy Quran. He has not yet been charged under the blasphemy law. Religious minorities, and particularly Christians, are living under constant fear of their lives and secretly migrating to different countries to save their lives. The international community has a responsibility to question the Pakistani government about the deteriorating situation of human rights and minorities in Pakistan.