Pakistan Upholds Death Sentence for Blasphemy

Article excerpt

A Pakistani appeals court last month confirmed the death sentence of a Christian charged with having made derogatory remarks against the Muhammad.

The case of Ayub Masih received international attention when Pakistani Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad committed suicide in May 1998 to protest the verdict. The bishop shot himself in front of the court building after the verdict was handed down.

Ayub was arrested in October 1996 and sentenced to death in April 1998. He was charged with blasphemy under a section of the Pakistani penal code. Blasphemy, in the Pakistani definition, includes speaking or writing against the prophet Mohammed or Islam. It carries a mandatory penalty of death.

At the time of his arrest, tensions were mounting between the landless Christian peasants and the land-owning Muslims in the southern Punjab. Ayub was accused at the time of blasphemy during a dispute with a Muslim villager. Human rights activists claim that the accusation was a tactic used by Muslim groups to assure that Christians would not be able to reclaim land they held before being expelled from the area.

Human rights groups in Asia are protesting the latest ruling and calling for international support in their appeal to have it reviewed. Lawyers in Pakistan said it was a response to pressure from Islamic extremists. …