A sessions court in Lahore has sentenced a Christian man to death in a three-year-old blasphemy case.
The verdict was announced by Additional District and Sessions Judge Ishrat Abbas on December 20, 2023.
The police lodged an FIR (237/20) dated June 2, 2020, on the complaint of a police officer, Muhammad Nawaz, allegedly accusing Anwar Masih of making objectionable remarks against the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), which is a criminal offense punishable with the death penalty under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Why was a blasphemy case filed against Anwar Masih?
Anwar Masih’s daughter, Samreen, contracted a marriage with a Muslim man, Naqash Maqsood, in 2017 and converted to Islam with her mother without informing her family members. Later, in 2022, when Anwar Masih came to know about it, he was astounded and unhappy with the decision of his wife and daughter to change their religion and held them responsible for causing division in his family on religious lines.
Anwar Masih’s wife and daughter lodged a case against him at police station Civil Lines, claiming they are facing life threats from him because they have converted to Islam.
The police called Anwar Masih to the police station civil line in Lahore and scolded him for harassing his wife and daughter and practicing Islam. Although he refuted the allegation, however, the police lodged an FIR (237/20) dated June 2, 2020, on the complaint of a police officer, Muhammad Nawaz, allegedly accusing Anwar Masih of making objectionable remarks against the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), which is a criminal offense punishable with the death penalty under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.
After Anwar was arrested by the police on June 2, 2020, the influential groups offered Anwar’s children to adopt the majority religion; otherwise, the accused and his offspring would be killed. The threats and fear of family loss compelled Anwar’s eldest son to opt for changing religion along with his wife and children.
On April 9, 2021, a charge sheet against Anwar Masih was framed in the Sessions Court, to which Anwar Masih responded by stating, “He does not plead guilty to the blasphemy charges levelled against him."
Anwar’s daughter and Muslim son-in-law recorded statements.
On December 11, 2021, the daughter and wife of the accused, Samreen Bibi, got her statement recorded on oath before the District and Session Judge, Lahore, stating that “an FIR of blasphemy accusation based on concocted facts was registered against Anwar Masih, who did not commit any act of blasphemy.
Similarly, the son-in-law of the accused, Nakash Maqsood, got his statement recorded on oath before the District and Session Judge, Lahore, stating that “the FIR is based on the mala fide intention of the police to entangle Anwar Masih in this fabricated case of blasphemy, without our complaint, consent, and approval.
“He has never uttered any blasphemy comments, either in person or telephonically. The application submitted by my mother-in-law to the police contains allegations regarding the domestic dispute and does not contain any allegation about blasphemous remarks,” he stated.
“However, the police conducted proceedings unfairly without our consent and will and converted a family dispute into a blasphemy case to fulfill their nefarious designs against my family with mala fide intentions,” he stated.
Anwar’s other children are facing threats of dire consequences.
On the other hand, Imran Masih, a son of the accused, stated that “my siblings have been pressured to change their religion to prove that they are not against Islam and Muslims, and we have been facing threats of dire consequences, not limited to blazing our house on fire, with living souls, so we are living in hiding. However, we are strong in our Christian faith and are committed to laying down our lives for being faithful to God.”
While talking to The Friday Times, Anwar’s lawyer, Advocate Rana Abdul Hameed, said that instead of solving Anwar Masih’s family dispute, the police filed a blasphemy case against him because he expressed displeasure over the conversion of his wife and daughter. He said that using blasphemy law to settle personal scores is against the teachings of Islam.
Minority rights activist Joseph Jansen expressed concern over police behavior and how they transformed a family dispute into a religious issue that has resulted in the death sentence of an innocent Christian father.
He stated that the verdict will be challenged in a high court, and he is hopeful that justice will be ensured.