Christian man sentenced to death for blasphemy

A Pakistani court handed a death sentence to a Christian man for blasphemy, his lawyer said Friday. Sawan Masih, from the eastern city of Lahore, was arrested last year after a Muslim friend accused him of maligning the Prophet Mohammed during an argument, a crime that carries death penalty in Pakistan.

His lawyer Naeem SHakir said the judge announced the ruling on Thursday after a year-long trial, held in secret inside a jail because of fears that Muslims might attack his client. Amnesty International condemned the ruling, which Masih can appeal in a higher court. Insulting Islam is considered blasphemy in Pakistan and punishable by death.

The blasphemy laws, enacted in 1980s by then military ruler General Ziaul Haq, are widely seen as a tool to persecute religious minorities. Rights bodies have in recent years been demanding their repeal, but the government has resisted reform, some say out of a fear of backlash from the conservative Islamic society.

An estimated 1,300 people have been accused of blasphemy since 1986, according to the human rights unit of the Law Ministry. Around 50 were killed before their trial was over, apparently by outraged Muslims.

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