Adventist Given a Life Sentence for Allegations of “Blasphemy” in Pakistan
by AT News Team
This a corrected and updated version of this story published July 17.
A member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Pakistan was sentenced to life in prison last Sabbath (July 13) for sending "blasphemous" mobile phone text messages to a Muslim named Malik Tariq Saleem. As originally reported by the Pakistan Christian Post it appeared that the offense was simply an attempt at personal evangelism on the part of Sajjad Masih, who was arrested December 28, 2011, in the city of Gojra and has been held in jail at Toba Tek Singh.
"The prosecution failed to produce any evidence," according to the Christian news Web site. The police investigators did not produce the cell phone that Masih is accused of using and could not produce any record of a purchase of such equipment or an account with the Zong mobile phone service. They did not provide an eye witness in court, reported the Pakistan Christian Post. The same report was published by The Christian Post in the United States and many of the same facts published in a story in Ahmadiyya Times.
A number of other sources have reported additional facts that place a different perspective on the story even if the life sentence is inappropriate and unjust. The Times of India, one of the most respected publications in a country that often has a critical view of Pakistan's government, reported Sunday (July 14) that Masih was engaged to a woman who married another man in the United Kingdom and wanted to get her in trouble "to teach her a lesson for her 'betrayal.' [He had] a mobile phone … belonging to [the woman] and he sent blasphemous messages" to several Muslim clerics with this goal in mind.
"A forensic record of the accused's mobile phone messages was … presented in court," The Times reported, and "several ulemas (clerics) of Gojra testified against him. … The police initially registered a case against Masih under Section 25-B of the Telegraph Act but then added the controversial blasphemy law … on the demand of the clerics."
The defense attorney, Javed Chaudry Sahotra, argued that the police had no authority to investigate a case under the blasphemy law, according to a report in the Ahmadiyya Times. The attorney stated that, in fact, what was presented in court was a defective investigation as defined in Section 156 of the Pakistan Criminal Code.
Despite the arguments of the defense attorney, Judge Main Shahzad Raza sentenced Masih to life in prison. An appeal is being filed with the High Court in Pakistan seeking an acquittal. The All Christian Communication Alliance (ACCA) and the Seventh-day Adventist Church members "have been praying for … Masih, his defense counsel … and his family," stated the Pakistan Christian Post.
Muslim leaders in Gojra "also pressured police to try [the woman] under the blasphemy law," The Times reported. "The police finally succumbed to their pressure and registered a case against her under the law." Because she is now resident in the U.K., the Pakistan government has filed a notice with Interpol declaring her a fugitive. A story similar to The Times of India report also appeared in The Indian Express newspaper, Zee News and on Free Republic.com.
"It is amazing to me that this judge was so insensitive to the issues in such a case that he held the sentencing on the Sabbath," an Adventist attorney with international experience told Adventist Today. "This is the kind of case that could be brought to international bodies if the High Court does not rule against it."