By BosNewsLife Asia Service
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A young Christian man was behind bars Saturday, January 23, after being sentenced to life imprisonment for having “insulted and desecrated” the Koran, seen as a holy book by Muslims.
A court in the town of Faisalabad sentenced Imran Masih, under controversial blasphemy legislation which has been criticized by international rights groups.
Judge, Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan, handed down the sentence under Article 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code because the 26- year-old allegedly torched verses from the Koran and a book inArabic “on purpose”, to “stir up religious hatred and offend the feelings of Muslims,” trial observers said.
Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church,said his organization would appeal against the verdict as it was important to “battle to save his life.”
Christians said Masih, a shopkeeper by profession, was “brutally tortured” by a group of Muslims in July last year before being detained by police on what they described as “fabricated” charges that he had burned pages of the Koran.
The court eventually sentenced Masih to life imprisonment last week, January 11, which he will serve in the federal prison in Faisalabad where he is currently confined, trial observers said. The court reportedly also imposed an additional penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment and payment of 100 thousand rupees ($1,200) under section 295-A of the Penal Code,Christians said.
In published remarks Jacob described the ruling as “not a good verdict” and said it shows a “lack of freedom”of the judiciary. Churches have urged authorities to change blasphemy legislation which they claim has been misused by extremists to jail Christians.
The blasphemy law was introduced in 1986 by Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq and has become an instrumentof discrimination and violence, according to Christians rights groups.
AsiaNews, a Catholic website, said the norm is contained in Section 295, paragraph B and C of Pakistan Penal Code and punishes with life imprisonment those who offends the Koran and with the sentencing to death those who insult the Prophet Muhammad.
Some 1,000 people are believed to have been indicted, while Christians have reportedly also suffered attacks and dozens of extra-judicial killings in the predominantly Muslim nation. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center and BosNewsLife’s Jawad Mazhar in Pakistan).