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ICC Note:

Last week, Nadeem James, a 35-year-old Christian in Pakistan, was sentenced to death by a trial court in eastern Pakistan for allegedly sending a blasphemous text message on Whatsapp. Religious minorities, including Christians, are often convicted after being accused of blasphemy in Pakistan with little to no evidence. Pressure from radicals outside the courts often guarantee convictions. Many rights groups complain that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are widely abused to settle personal scores or incite religious hatred. With all this against him, does Nadeem James have a chance of getting released on appeal? 

09/20/2017 Pakistan (DW) – On Friday, an anti-terrorism court in eastern Pakistan sentenced Nadeem James, a 35-year-old Christian, to death on blasphemy charges. James, a tailor by profession, was accused by a friend for sharing “blasphemous messages” on WhatsApp’s text messaging service.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where around 97 percent of its 180 million inhabitants are Muslim. Rights advocates have long been demanding a reform of the controversial blasphemy laws, which were introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.

Activists say the laws have little to do with blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas. Religious groups oppose any change to the blasphemy law and consider it necessary for Pakistan’s Islamic identity.

Pakistan’s Christians and other religious minorities complain of legal and social discrimination. In the past few years, many Christians and Hindus have been brutally murdered over unproven blasphemy allegations.

One of Pakistan’s most high profile blasphemy cases is that of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was found guilty of committing blasphemy while working in the fields in 2009 and was sentenced to death. In 2014, her death sentence was upheld by the Lahore High Court. Amnesty International called the verdict a “grave injustice.”

In one case, a young girl between the ages of 10 to 14 years with Down syndrome, was accused in August of 2012 of burning pages upon which verses of the Koran were inscribed. Rimsha Masih was taken into police custody and only released months later, when charges were dropped. The case caused an uproar in her home town and beyond and sparked riots and violence against Christians in the region. In 2013, she and her family relocated to Canada.

In 2014, a Christian couple was beaten to death for allegedly desecrating a copy of the Koran. Their bodies were subsequently burned in a brick kiln.

In an interview with DW, James’ brother, Faryaad Masih, denies blasphemy allegations against his brother and says his family has been living in constant fear since James’ arrest in July 2016.

DW: You deny that your brother, Nadeem James, sent blasphemous messages through WhatsApp. Do you have any proof to substantiate your claims?

Faryaad Masih: Police say that my brothers sent blasphemous material through WhatsApp but those messages could easily have been sent by James’ Muslim friends through his phone. Actually, the main complainant in the case is the one of who forwarded those messages.

DW: Why would James’ friends make false allegations against him?

Faryaad Masih: James has three friends who live in the Gujarat area. Their names are Shakeel, Yasir and Akram. Our neighbor’s daughter, Nargis, fell in love with James although she knew that he is married with two children. His friends told him he could only marry Nargis if he converted to Islam although the girl had no problem with James’ religion. My brother refused to convert to Islam, and that created a rift among friends.

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