ASIA/PAKISTAN - Christian sentenced to life imprisonment for a blasphemous SMS

Monday, 15 July 2013

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - The controversial blasphemy law continues to claim victims in Pakistan: Sajjad Masih Gill, a 28-year-old Christian, residing in the district of Pakpatan, in the province of Punjab, was sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of 200 thousand rupees ( about $ 2,000) by a court of first instance in Gojra (Punjab). The ruling was issued on July 13. Gill, a member of the "Seventh Day Adventist" Christian community, had been indicted for blasphemy (in particular for insulting the Prophet Muhammad and Islam) by some Muslim religious leaders and other influential people for sending an SMS from his mobile phone with blasphemous content.
As reported to Fides, this is the first case of "blasphemy vis SMS" recorded by the police in Pakistan". The verdict which condemned Masih was a big surprise, because there is no evidence against him", comments to Fides Agency the Catholic lawyer Nadeem Anthony, who has followed the case.
According to a reconstruction of the case sent to Fides by Aftab Alexander Mughal, Director of the magazine "Minorities Concern of Pakistan," on December 18, 2011, Malik Muhammad Tariq Saleem, a Muslim resident in Gojra, a cloth merchant, received some blasphemous text messages from a unknown phone. The next day, Tariq was reported to the police in Gojra who registered a complaint ("First Information Report") for blasphemy, indicting and arresting Sajjad Gill.
According to members of the Christian community in Goira, the accusations are unfounded and Gill is an innocent victim. The charges against him failed to produce any evidence to show proof of guilt: From Gill's cell phone, in fact handed over to the police, there appears to be no blasphemous SMS which was sent, nor are there any eyewitnesses. Sajjad Masih has pleaded not guilty. As reported to Fides by the lawyer Mustaq Gill, of the LEAD organization ("Legal Evangelical Association Development"), it seems the message was sent from a Pakistani Christian girl's phone, Rome Ilyas, in love with Gill. The girl, however, was forced by her parents to marry Donald Bhatti, another Christian resident in the United Kingdom. The latter, out of jealousy, registered a SIM card with Rome’s name and later sent blasphemous SMS with the SIM card, to give the two a lesson.
The accusation was against Sajjad. Once arrested, the police tried to extort Sajjad with violence to a false confession, never signed by Gill.
Among other things, as argued by Gill’s lawyer, Javed Chaudhry Sahotra, police officers who registered the complaint and dealt with the case did not have the responsibility to investigate a case of blasphemy. Despite these shortcomings, the judge sentenced Gill to life imprisonment. The defense lawyers have announced the appeal to the High Court, in second instance. The Seventh Day Adventist Christian community gathered in prayer for Gill, for his family (his mother, four brothers and a sister) and for all the innocent victims of the law of blasphemy. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 15/07/2013)