Lahore, Oct 6 (PTI) A Pakistani court on Tuesday acquitted a Christian man who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges six years ago.
Sawan Masih was sentenced to death by a trial court in Lahore for allegedly insulting the Prophet during a conversation with a Muslim friend in Joseph Christian colony in March 2014. He had filed an appeal against his death sentence.
'A Lahore High Court division bench headed by Justice Syed Shehbaz Ali Rizvi acquitted Sawan Masih,' a court official told PTI on Tuesday.
He said the LHC admitted the application of Masih and ordered his release.
More than 3,000 people rampaged through Joseph Colony, torching some 100 Christian homes in Pakistan's second-largest city, after the allegations against Masih emerged. The Christian families had to flee the area to save their lives.
Masih had filed an appeal in LHC against the death sentence raising objections on police investigation and prosecution. He pleaded that the blasphemy charges were fabricated by the elements who wanted to occupy the property of the Joseph Colony.
'The trial had ignored the basic principles of criminal justice in general and principles of Islamic Justice in this case. It committed material irregularity in non-reading and misreading of the evidence on record that has caused serious miscarriage of justice.
'The trial court completely ignored a serious lapse in the prosecution case of 33 hours of un-explained ordinate delay in recording the FIR over such a sensitive issue by the complainant and also ignored, the case law of the superior courts cited at the Bar by the defence counsel,' Masih said in his appeal.
His lawyer told the court that the businessmen in the area had exploited the blasphemy allegations for seizing the land. He said there were contradictions in the story of the FIR and the one narrated by the complainant before the trial court as the FIR had been registered with malafide intention.
After hearing arguments from both sides, the LHC observed the prosecution has failed to establish involvement of the convict in blasphemy.
Pakistan has extremely strict laws against defaming Islam, including the death penalty, and rights campaigners say they are often used to settle personal disputes in the Muslim-majority country.
A US government advisory panel report says Pakistan used blasphemy laws more than any other country in the world.
Mere allegations of blasphemy have triggered violence against minorities like Christians. Several persons accused of committing blasphemy have been lynched in recent years.
Christians constitute around 2 per cent of the population in Pakistan. Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad have a large Christian population. There are many Christian villages in the Punjab heartland, while there is also a sizable population in the deeply conservative north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, particularly in Peshawar city. PTI MZ ZH