Pakistan court upholds death sentence of Christian brothers in blasphemy case

Men say their prayers during Eid al-Fitr at the Badshahi mosque in Lahore, Pakistan. | REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

A court in Pakistan’s Punjab province has upheld the death sentence for two Christian brothers charged with posting blasphemous content on a blog that, they maintain, they never created.

The Lahore High Court upheld the death sentence of Qaisar and Amoon Ayub, who were accused of blasphemy after Qaisar got into an argument with his friends at work in 2011, the U.K.-based Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, an interdenominational aid agency that is supporting the accused, said in a statement Friday.

When Amoon learned about the court’s decision, he “burst into tears,” and his brother, Qaisar, “became very sad,” the group said.

The brothers, who are from the city of Lahore, were arrested in 2014 after the reopening of a police case stemming from the 2011 allegation made by a Muslim man, Muhammad Saeed.

Qaisar had previously explained that he closed down the webpage in question in 2009 but one of his Muslim friends restored the webpage.

In December 2018, the trial court found them guilty of blasphemy, and Additional Sessions Judge, Javed Iqbal Bosal, sentenced them to death with a fine of $500 (100,000 rupees). 

On behalf of the Christian brothers, CLAAS submitted an appeal to the Lahore High Court against their death sentence.

“We all were hoping that because the court had reserved the verdict, and because they were taking so long to announce it, blasphemy charges against them would be dropped and both would be freed.

“Both brothers were looking weak as they are already suffering from health issues,” Nasir Saeed, the director of CLAAS-UK, said, adding that his team met with them in prison.

“The brothers have signed the power of attorney, we are taking this case to the Pakistan Supreme court and are very hopeful that justice will be done and they will be freed. Unfortunately, we cannot tell how long it will take but we are hopeful that the country’s highest court will do justice,” Saeed added.

The blasphemy laws embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code are frequently misused for personal revenge. It carries no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness. Dozens of individuals are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan. 

The law is also abused by Islamist extremists to target religious minorities — Christians, Shi’as, Ahmadiyyas and Hindus.

The world’s attention was drawn to Pakistan’s blasphemy law after Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was sentenced to death and served over 10 years in prison before Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted her in 2018. Her acquittal drew the ire of radical extremist groups as many protested in the streets and threatened to kill the Supreme Court justices responsible for setting her free.

In 2014, Christian couple Shehzad and Shamah Masih were burned to death in a brick kiln over false accusations that they had ripped pages out of the Quran.

Open Doors USA ranks Pakistan as the eighth-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution. The U.S. State Department has named Pakistan on its list of “countries of particular concern” that tolerate or engage in egregious violations of religious freedom.

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