The Lahore High Court has upheld the death sentence of two brothers, both Christians, for alleged “blasphemy”.
Qasir and Amoon Ayub were convicted of “blasphemy” and sentenced to death by a lower court in Jhelum, northern Punjab, in December 2018.
Their appeal was heard by the Lahore High Court Rawalpindi bench and lasted from 28 February to 4 March. The verdict was announced on 8 June.
Lawyers working on behalf of Qasir and Amoon announced their intention to file a further appeal with the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad.
Qasir and Amoon have been imprisoned since 2014. They were accused of posting “disrespectful” material online in 2011, but there is no evidence linking them to the material in question.
Both men were charged under all three of Pakistan’s “blasphemy” laws – sections 295-A, B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code.
It is 295-C, the section relating to “defiling the name” of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, that carries the death penalty.
“Blasphemy” laws have existed in the region since 1927 and were incorporated into Pakistan’s Penal Code at the country’s founding in 1947. The laws were strengthened under the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq (in office 1978-88) to include mandatory life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran (1982) and to allow the death sentence for defiling the name of Muhammad (1986). A subsequent decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court making the death sentence for “blasphemy” against Muhammad mandatory came into effect in 1991.
The “blasphemy” laws are often used to make false accusations in order to settle personal grudges. Christians are especially vulnerable, as simply stating their beliefs can be construed as “blasphemy” and the lower courts usually favour the testimony of Muslims, in accordance with sharia (Islamic law).
On 31 May the Lahore High Court released on bail Stephen Masih, a mentally disabled Christian who was accused of “blasphemy” following a dispute with his Muslim neighbour.
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