Sawan Masih, a conservancy worker who was sentenced to death for blasphemy last week by a sessions court in Lahore, has filed an appeal on Tuesday in the high court according to news reports quoting his lawyer.
Sections 295 to 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) are generally referred to as the blasphemy code. This is the second case this year after a Briton Mohammed Asghar was sentenced to death in January by a sessions court in Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi despite a proven record of mental illness. Masih was also fined Rs 200,000.
The case against him was filed after an argument with a neighbor where he was accused of defaming the Prophet. A mob attacked Joseph Colony where he lived in March 2013, in which nearly 100 homes and some churches in the locality were torched.
Masih has refuted the blasphemy charge and said that the attack on the colony was a move to evict the residents from the area. The case against over a 100 arsonists filed in an Anti Terrorism Court is not getting anywhere and it is unlikely that his appeal will get quick results.
The latest blasphemy sentence was condemned by Members of the National Assembly as well. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed alarm over a number of disturbing developments including the death sentence for Sawan Masih.
In a statement it said, "HRCP believes that we are witnessing a new wave of intolerance and these instances stem from the same motivation.
While the court's verdict against Sawan is another matter, the assault on the Christian-dominated Joseph Colony in Lahore in March 2013 and torching of over 100 houses in Sawan's neighbourhood following the charge of blasphemy is part of the same wave. It is a matter of concern that while Sawan has been sentenced to death a year after the incident, cases against those involved in the arson and looting are not progressing." HRCP called on the government not to be a mere spectator as this new phase of intolerance gets under way.
While lawyers for Mr. Asghar also filed an appeal in the high court, the case of Aasia Bibi convicted for blasphemy and sentenced to death in 2011 is dragging on. Last week, news reports said that the Lahore high court adjourned the hearing of her appeal against the death sentence after her lawyer did not appear. Twice earlier the hearings were cancelled.
The Human Rights Watch World Report 2014 says that abuses are rife under the country's blasphemy law, which is used against religious minorities, often to settle personal disputes. Dozens of people were charged with the offense in 2013. At least 16 people remained on death row for blasphemy, while another 20 were serving life sentences.