LAHORE, Pakistan – A Christian man was recently sentenced to life in prison by a Pakistani court for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages, even though the prosecution’s evidence was said to be highly questionable.
Earlier this month, Additional District and Sessions Judge Mian Shahzad Raza of Pakistan’s Toba Tek Singh district ruled that Sajjad Masih will spend the rest of his life behind bars due to the charges brought against him. Additionally, the judge fined the 29-year-old in the amount of 200,000 rupees—a sum roughly equivalent to $2,000.
According to reports, prosecutors claimed Masih used the cell phone of his ex-fiancé (who is also a Christian) to text a Muslim cleric with Muhammad-mocking messages. The complainants in the case claim this happened in late 2011, when Masih was seeking revenge against his former fiancé after they suspended their relationship.
As reported by The Times of India, Masih was initially charged with violating a section of Pakistan’s “Telegraph Act,” which is a collection of communication rules created in 1885. More specifically, he was charged with violating Telegraph Act section 25B, titled “Theft of Telegraph Line.”
“If any person commits theft of a telegraph line, copper wire, cable or cable accessory,” the law states, “he shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which is not less than one year and not more than seven years and also with fine.”
Though prosecutors claimed at first that Masih’s theft of his fiancé’s phone was punishable under this provision, they eventually decided to accuse him of a much more serious charge: blasphemy. Under Act XLV, section XV of Pakistan’s Penal Code, anyone who speaks offensive utterances about Muhammad is punishable by fine, life imprisonment or death.
“Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine,” the 150-year-old law mandates.
Often in these types of cases, Pakistani courts are accused of showing noticeable Islamic bias, especially against Christians. A statement on the website of the district court that heard Masih’s case suggests that the court is seen as a “service” to Allah.
“[W]e have become in a position to serve litigant public more and more,” the statement reads. “May God bless us to be more expedient in this task. Furthermore, we are always and shall always remain excels in service. With regard to serve the human kind, which is auspicious task and a source of happiness of Allah Almighty. … May God bless us to follow the path of virtue to seek gladness of Almighty Allah and His beloved Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (P.B.U.H).”
Masih’s attorney, Javed Sahotra, told Morning Star News that prosecutors presented no evidence in the courtroom to support their accusatory claims. Instead, he stated, Judge Raza’s decision was influenced by an angry Islamist mob who wanted the young Christian man convicted. Sahotra also asserted that prior to the trial, police had physically abused Masih after first taking him into custody.
“They hung Masih upside down in a room and tried to force him to ‘confess’ that he had indeed sent those text messages,” he said. “A naked electric wire was tied around his feet, and he was threatened with electrocution if he did not do what the police wanted.”
In Pakistan, where over 95% of the populace is Muslim, Sahotra says the radical Islamists often influence the judicial system for the worse.
“No government or judicial officer will ever dare [to defy] the religious extremists,” he said. “Just because of them, an innocent man will rot in prison.”
Ultimately, Sahotra is hoping to pursue further legal action in an effort to free Masih.
“The verdict will be made available to us in a couple of days; we will have a month to file the appeal,” he stated. “I’m hopeful that the Lahore High Court will suspend the sentence and order Masih’s release, because the case is clear. Everyone knows that trial court judges throw the ball in the higher courts because they can’t handle the pressure … It’s a pity though that a young man would have to suffer in jail until his appeal is taken up by a judge.”