A court in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore has sentenced a Christian man to death for having committed “blasphemy”, his lawyer says, in the latest case of Pakistan’s strict religious laws being applied against minorities.
Asif Pervaiz, 37, has been in custody since 2013 for allegedly insulting Islam and was found guilty in Lahore on Tuesday but denies any wrongdoing.
He claims after quitting his job at a hosiery factory, his supervisor Muhammad Saeed Khokher tried to convert him to Islam.
But Asif says when he refused to change his beliefs, he was then accused of having sent blasphemous texts about Islam to his boss.
Asif’s lawyer Saif-ul-Malook told Al Jazeera: ‘The complainant was a supervisor in a hosiery factory where Asif was working under him.
‘He denied the allegations and said that this man was trying to get him to convert to Islam.’
The lawyer added Asif would appeal his sentence of a three-year prison term and a fine of 50,000 Pakistani rupees ($300) for ‘misusing’ his phone to send the derogatory text message.
The court order said Asif would be ‘hanged by his neck till his death’ after serving the jail time.
Asif spoke in his own defence during the trial, saying he was confronted by his boss after he quit the factory job.
But Khokher denies wanting to convert his Christian colleague, according to his lawyer, Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry.
He said: ‘He has taken this defence after the fact, because he had no other clear defence. That’s why he accused him of trying to convert him.’
Chaudhry added that other Christians work at the factory and none have accused Khokher of trying to convert them to Islam.
Pakistan has strict blasphemy laws which carry a death penalty for people who insult the Prophet Muhammad, Islam, the Quran or certain holy people.
There are at least 80 people in prison in Pakistan accused of blasphemy, with half facing life sentences or the death penalty, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom found.
An overwhelming 98 per cent of the population follows Islam and critics say the law targets members of other religious groups including Hindus and Christians.
Domestic and international human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate minorities and settle personal scores.
A US citizen of Pakistani origin on a blasphemy trial in the northwestern city of Peshawar in July was shot dead in the courtroom by a teenager who told bystanders he killed him for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
Since his arrest, the alleged shooter has been glorified as a “holy warrior” by supporters in Pakistan and thousands of Islamists have rallied to demand his release
A Punjab governor was killed by his own guard in 2011 after he defended a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy.
She was acquitted after spending eight years on death row in a case that drew international media attention.
Faced with death threats from Islamic extremists upon her release, she flew to Canada to join her daughters last year.
Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws prescribe a mandatory death penalty for the crime of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, and strict penalties for other infractions such as insulting Islam, the holy Quran or certain holy people.
There are currently at least 80 people in prison in Pakistan for the crime of “blasphemy”, with at least half of them facing life sentences or the death penalty, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
Those accused under the laws are mainly Muslim, in a country where 98 percent of the population follows Islam, but the laws disproportionately target members of minorities such as Christians and Hindus.