Sentenced to Death for Alleged Blasphemy, Adventist Man in Pakistan Freed After Nearly 10 Years in Prison
- Sajjad Mashi Gill falsely accused of blasphemy in 2011.
- Gill spent nearly 10 years in prison before a court acquitted him due to insufficient evidence.
- Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2021 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
12 January 2022 | Free at last!
In 2011, Seventh-day Adventist Sajjad Masih Gill was arrested for allegedly sending a blasphemous text defaming the Prophet Muhammad in Pakistan.
Police did not find any evidence on his cell phone that the text had been sent, but said they had been able to trace the messages back to his phone number through a cellphone tower. Gill and his lawyers maintained he had been framed as part of a crackdown on the Adventist community, reported Bitter Winter magazine.
According to Christianity Daily, Gill was sentenced by a trial court in July 2013 to life imprisonment and fined 314,500 rupees, or $2,000. But in March 2021, Gill’s life sentence was converted to the death penalty due to pressure from Islamists.
The Lahore High Court acquitted Gill on Oct. 26, 2021, on the grounds of insufficient evidence. The judges found that investigators failed to recover from Gill the mobile phone and SIM that was allegedly used in sending the blasphemous text message.
“There were no witnesses of the alleged incident who could implicate Gill as the writer and sender of that alleged text message,” said Javed Sahotra, Gill’s lawyer.
Gill, now 37, was finally released on Nov. 13, 2021. His release was not announced until three weeks later, in order to avoid reprisals by Islamist extremists after the acquittal, reported the APD, the Adventist news agency in Germany.
Gill spent nine years, ten months and 15 days in prison. The court put off hearing Gill’s appeal more than 100 times out of fear, Sahotra said. Blaphemy cases are often marked by violence in Pakistan.
In October 2015, Sajjad’s brother, Sarfraz Masih Gill, and nephew, Ramiz Gill, were attacked after visiting Sajjad in jail. They have been living in hiding ever since.
In January 2016, two lawyers from Sajjad’s defense team were stopped by armed men and threatened on the road from Kasur to Lahore.
“My client is facing serious security risks,” Sahotra said after Gill’s release. “We intentionally kept the news secret to avoid putting his and our lives at risk. Gill is very happy after being released from prison on November 13, but he cannot return to his normal life.”
No one in Pakistan has been executed for blasphemy so far, though death sentences are increasing, reported the Morning Star News. False accusations of blasphemy are common and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. The highly inflammatory accusations have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders and mass protests.
The U.S. State Department has designated Pakistan among nine other “Countries of Particular Concern” for severe violations of religious freedom.
Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2021 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.