Islamabad: A Pakistani court on Monday sentenced four individuals to death for committing blasphemy by sharing content deemed to be insulting to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Holy Qur’an, while another one was awarded seven years of rigorous imprisonment in the case.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue and carries harsh penalties, including a death sentence, in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam’s holy book and personalities can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes.
Since 1990, at least 1,415 people have been accused of blasphemy in the South Asian nation of 241 million, while 89 of them have been killed, including 18 females and 71 males, according to Islamabad-based think-tank Center for Research and Security Studies. A majority of these accused include Muslims.
On Monday, a Rawalpindi district court judge, Ahsan Mahmood Malik, handed down the death sentence to Faizan Razzaq, Amin Rais, Muhammad Rizwan, and Wazir Gul for committing the offense, additionally imposing a fine of Rs100,000 ($325).
“Death sentence of the convict shall not be executed unless it is confirmed by the Honourable Lahore High Court, Rawalpindi Bench, Rawalpindi,” the judgment read.
As per Pakistani law, a death sentence awarded by a lower court has to be confirmed by the relevant high court before its execution.
Another accused Usman Liaqat was sentenced to “rigorous imprisonment for seven years and with a fine of Rs100,000” in the case, according to the court order.
The convicts were booked by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in September last year, after the complainant, Umar Nawaz, accused them of creating a WhatsApp group and sharing blasphemous content on it. An FIA investigation team found them guilty of the crime following a forensic analysis of the group, according to the charge-sheet.
The verdict came a day after a man shot and wounded a Christian priest, Elizar Sandhu, in the eastern Pakistani city of Jaranwala after he refused to recite a Muslim religious text, according to the police complaint.
The incident occurred just weeks after vigilante mobs in the area vandalized 19 churches and more than 80 homes, displacing hundreds in the small religious minority community.
The violence began after someone allegedly found desecrated pages of the Qur’an in the vicinity and took them to a mosque prayer leader that was followed by announcements calling for punishment, police and residents say.