Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – A Christian youth accused of blasphemy has been condemned to death by a high court in Gujarat, Pakistani Punjab. Nadeem James, aged 24, living in the Christian community of Yaqoobabad, was accused of committing blasphemy in July 2016 for certain messages sent by mobile phone to a Muslim using WhatsApp messaging service. Fides was told that a young man, Yasir Bashir, a friend of the Nadeem family, launched an official complaint at Sarai Alamgir police station with the help of two imam connected with the Sunni Tehreek group known for their religious intransigence, demanding the immediate arrest of Nadeem. On 10 July 2016 Nadeem was charged with blasphemy according to articles 295a and 295c of the Pakistani Penal Code, which punish blasphemy against Islam. Soon after the complaint was lodged, Nadeem James disappeared and in his absence his two sisters were taken into custody by the police and beaten in an attempt to reveal the whereabouts of Nadeem.
The trial before the high court closed with a death penalty and a heavy fine. In a 28 page sentence the Court declared that Nadeem James had sent blasphemous messages via WhatsApp to Yasir Bashir and was to be executed.
In recent weeks another Christian Asif Masih, age 18, was arrested on charges of blasphemy in the village of Jam Kayk Chattha, near Wazirabad, a town in central Punjab. The youth was accused of burning pages of the Koran. After his arrest a mob of at least 200 men formed in front of the police station calling for the man’s execution
According to the Pakistan Human Rights Commission at present some 40 people accused of blasphemy and condemned to death are detained in Pakistani prisons and since 1990 to today, radical Islamists, individuals and groups, have killed in an extrajudicial manner at least 71 persons for suspected blasphemy.
In April this year a Muslim university student Mashal Khan was killed by a group of colleagues after being accused of blasphemy in the city of Mardan, the episode reopened the debate for a reform of the law to prevent abuses.
Nasir Saeed, Christian activist of the NGO Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) told Fides: “Pakistan’s Blasphemy law penalises unjustly not only members of religious minorities but also Muslim citizens. Moreover it deteriorates our country’s international relations and damages our image abroad. A reform is urgent for the good of the nation”. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 15/9/2017)