Extortion victim sentenced to death for blasphemy

Christian man seeking police help against blackmailing is accused of blasphemy and given capital punishment

Extortion victim sentenced to death for blasphemy
An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan condemned a Christian man to death on June 27 for committing blasphemy. Sixty-year-old Anjum Naz Sandhu had sought police protection against blackmailing and extortion last year, but was instead booked and jailed without his case being registered.

Anti-Terrorism Court Judge Bushra Zaman sentenced Sandhu and two other suspects Javed Naz and Jafar Ali to death. Sandhu has also been fined 500,000 rupees. The other two have been also been sent to prison for 35 years and fined 80,000 rupees each.

Sandhu has an honors degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in English literature, and ran eights branches of the Science Locus School in Gujranwala, with two other partners. About 3,000 students go to his schools right now, and Sandhu is widely respect in Gujranwala as an educationist.

“He has been teaching for more than 30 years and many prominent judges, civil servants, army officers, doctors and engineers have been his student,” human rights activist Napoleon Qayyum told me. “He has no inclination towards discussing religion.”

Javed Naz used to work for Sandhu and had been for leaking examination papers. “He wanted to avenge being fired.”

According to the first information report lodged by the Satellite Town stationhouse officer Basharat Ahmed on May 15, 2015, Sandhu told him that Anjum Naz and Jafar Ali had blackmailed him and extorted 20,000 rupees from him. They were now demanding another 50,000 rupees.
"He has been an esteemed teacher for more than 30 years"

Basharat says the two men were arrested after Sandhu identified them, and the extorted money was also seized. But the suspects told the police that “Sandhu had committed blasphemy during a school discussion.”

Anjum Naz and his friend Ali produced an audio recording with a voice similar to that of Sandhu and threatened and blackmailed him,” Napoleon told me.

“Sandhu consulted with his friends and lodged a complaint with the police. Rather than registering a case, the police demanded money from Sandhu too, since he ran a successful business,” he alleges.

The first information report is registered under the Criminal Procedure Code, which says that “information relating to the commission of a cognizable offence if given orally to any officer in-charge of a police station, shall be reduced to writing by him or under his direction.”

But in this case, rather than recording his statement, the police assumed the role of the complainant itself. The entire procedure of law did not treat Sandhu as the one who was the complainant in the case, Napoleon said, adding that this was an injustice. “Sandhu took the matter to the police because he was confident that he was innocent and the police would be able to permanently deal with the culprits, but he never knew that the police themselves would become another, bigger problem.”

The outcome might have been different if the case had been tried in a regular court rather than an anti-terrorism court. “Extortion, which puts a person in fear of death or grievous hurt, is treated as a terrorist act, hence the case was tried by an anti-terrorism court,” lawyer Arif Goraya told me. He represented Sandhu in the court.

“Sub-inspector Shaukat Hayyat investigated the case under the same head of the police station who had lodged this case,” he said. “All the witnesses were from the police and there were no private witnesses, who carry far more weight in the eye of law. Also, the police never investigated with students if Sandhu had ever used such words while addressing them as was the allegation.”

“The judge believes that a report from the Forensic Science Laboratory shows that Sandhu did commit the crime,” the lawyer says. “But we argue that the report clearly expresses the inability of the laboratory to give an opinion on voice recognition and matching.”

Dozens of people have been killed over mere suspicion of committing blasphemy while several Christian settlements have been attacked, looted and set or fire on the pretext of blasphemy, and that is why it was natural for Sandhu to yield to the blackmailing for a while, he said.

“Since the passing of the judgment, we have locked our houses and moved to undisclosed location for fear of life,” Napoleon told me.

A list published by the Express Tribune of the most prominent people killed in Pakistan shows that many of them were killed over the issue of blasphemy. However, the list does not include Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti who died in 2011 for supporting Aasiya Noreen, who was accused of blasphemy.