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World News

Christian sentenced to hang over cartoon under Pakistan blasphemy laws

by Sophie Drew

A Christian in Pakistan has been sentenced to hang on blasphemy charges, after receiving a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Noman Masih was arrested in 2019, and the trial ended in January, but it took the legal system almost four years to hand down his sentence.

It’s thought to be the first time the newly-heightened anti-blasphemy laws have resulted in a Christian being put to death.

In January, the National Assembly unanimously passed an amendment to the Criminal Laws Bill, increasing punishment for insulting the Prophet Mohammed’s companions, wives, and family members from three years to ten years imprisonment.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws criminalise anyone who insults Islam, with punishments including the death penalty and life imprisonment.

It’s believed the man that sent the cartoon to Masih – a Muslim – has not received any form of punishment, the Vatican News Agency reports.

A second man also received the images; it is expected he will receive the same sentence.

The cartoons were sent via WhatsApp, a messaging service that automatically downloads the images to your phone upon receipt, whether you wish to keep them or not.

Masih says his lawyers hope to appeal the sentence, elevating the issue to the High Court of Lahore.

Less than two per cent of the Pakistani population are Christian, and they continue to be targeted by Pakistan’s renowned anti-blasphemy laws.

Last month, a 12-year-old and an 18-year-old were ordered to serve prison sentences after naming a puppy after well-known boxer Muhammad Ali.

They deny even owning a dog.

In 2019, charity Open Doors condemned the treatment of Stephen Masih, who was the victim of false accusations of blasphemy following a dispute with his Muslim neighbours.

The case prompted action from the United Nations, who released a statement in 2021 calling for his immediate release and referring to the trial as “deeply alarming”.

After three years in prison, he was eventually bailed.

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