By BosNewsLife Asia Service
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Christian man remained behind bars Saturday, February 27, after a Pakistani court sentenced him to life imprisonment for making “blasphemous” remarks about the Koran and Islam’s prophet Mohammad.
Qamar David was arrested in 2006 for allegedly spreading blasphemous messages using his cell phone, charges he strongly denied.
Khalid Gill, a regional leader of rights group All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), said David was eventually moved to Karachi Prison in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
David, who also received a penalty of 101,000 Pakistani Rupees ($1187), is the second known Christian to receive a life sentence for blasphemy in the last two months.
On January 11, another Pakistani court sentenced Imran Masih to life imprisonment after his Muslim neighbor “falsely” accused him of deliberately burning the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims, Christian trial observers said.
David’s punishment, which was handed out Thursday, February 25, came shortly before a Christian couple prepared for 25 years imprisonment in Punjab province for touching the Koran with “unwashed hands”, rights investigators confirmed.
“Ruqqiya Bibi and Munir Masih were accused of defiling the Koran” in December 2008, said the Centre for Legal Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) in a statement.
They were released on bail in January 2009 but subsequently re-arrested when the judge ruled against them, CLAAS said. An appeal to have the expected sentence overturned was reportedly being planned.
Desecrating the Koran and blaspheming the name of Mohammad is punishable by life imprisonment or even the death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy legislation.
Last week, an official said the Pakistani government plans to change its controversial blasphemy law to check its misuse by extremist groups.
“We are holding consultative meetings with representatives of minorities and political parties, as well as with Muslim clerics,” Minister for Religious Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti said in published remarks.
Liberal and secular groups have called for the repeal of the blasphemy law altogether, which they say discriminates against religious minorities.
“Muslims in Pakistan use the blasphemy law to persecute Christians and other religious minorities,” said International Christian Concern (ICC), a Washington-based Christian advocacy group.
Blasphemy accusations have also led to violence, often inciting Muslims to riot against Christians, ICC and other groups said.
In one of the bloodiest incidents last year, a Muslim mob reportedly killed at least 11 Christians in the town of Gojra following allegation that Christians had desecrated the Koran. They earlier burned down two churches and about 80 Christian homes in the Pakistani village of Korian, rights investigators said.
ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa and South Asia, Jonathan Racho, said Pakistan’s blasphemy law has been used “for persecuting Christians.” He said ICC has urged Pakistani officials “to release David” and other Christians and “change the law that is being abused by Muslims to oppose Christians.”
Yet, overturning the law remains sensitive in this predominantly Muslim nation. The U.S.-allied government of President Asif Ali Zardari, which is fighting an Islamist insurgency, says it plans to “reform” the law instead, Reuters news agency reported.