A Christian father in Pakistan has been sentenced to death for “blasphemy” following a five-year wait in prison after he reportedly described Jesus as the only “true prophet.”
Ashfaq Masih, a 34-year-old mechanic from Lahore, was arrested back in 2017 following a disagreement with a Muslim customer who refused to pay for repairs.
The customer, Muhammad Irfan, demanded free service on the grounds of his Muslim faith. Masih, who is a married man with a young daughter, insisted on payment and reportedly informed Irfan that he was a Christian and not interested in the man’s religious status.
Shortly after the exchange, Masih was arrested for ‘disrespecting the Prophet Muhammad’ by allegedly claiming that Jesus was the “true prophet.” Masih has remained in prison ever since.
Masih appeared in a Lahore court on July 4 where he was sentenced to death under Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) section 295-C, which carries a mandatory death penalty for anyone who “defiles the name” of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.
In court, Masih claimed his innocence, describing the case against him as “baseless, false, and frivolous.”
According to Masih, his accuser was a business rival who wanted to destroy his motorbike repair shop.
“I insisted for my bill and said I don’t follow anyone other than Jesus, and so wasn’t interested in the man’s religious status,” Masih said.
Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement, a Christian charity dedicated to helping persecuted Christians in Pakistan, the case against Masih was clearly based on a false accusation.
“I don’t remember any case where the lower court decided to grant bail or freed anyone accused of the blasphemy law,” he said in a statement following the ruling. “The judges are aware that such cases are made to punish and settle personal grudges with the opponents, especially against Christians.
“Because of pressure from Islamic groups, lower courts’ judges are always hesitant to free the victims but make popular decisions to save their skin and shift their burden to the high court.
“He is innocent and has already spent five years in prison for a crime he never committed,” Saeed said.
This is the second time in the space of a month that a Christian has been sentenced to death for ‘blasphemy.’
On June 11, two Christian brothers, Amoon and Qaiser Ayub, were sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy.
The pair were accused in 2011 of publishing blasphemous material on a website registered under their name.
In 2014, authorities arrested Qaiser, a father of three, and charged him with “insulting the Prophet Muhammad.” Four years later his brother was also arrested.
In December 2018, the two were sentenced to death, and on June 8, 2022, the Lahore High Court Rawalpindi bench upheld the sentence.