A Pakistani Christian in Lahore has been sentenced to death for allegedly sending a poem insulting Islam to a Muslim friend via WhatsApp.
The convicted Nadeem James, 28, hails from the town of Sarai Alamgir in Punjab province.
“James was handed a death sentence by the court Thursday on blasphemy charges,” defence lawyer Anjum Wakeel told AFP on Friday, adding that the friend, annoyed by the Christian man's affair with a Muslim girl, reported him for blasphemy to the police.
The lawyer said James will “appeal the sentence in the High Court as he has been framed by his friend [Yasir Bashir] over the love affair,” reports RT.com.
James, whose story drew widespread publicity in the summer of 2016, was held inside a prison for safety reasons as local Muslim clerics repeatedly threatened his family, the lawyer continued.
Meanwhile, the Rescue Christians charity group termed James as an illiterate working as a tailor who would not have been able to write or understand the poem.
The group also said Pakistani police “intimidated” James’ family and arrested his sister-in-laws, who were later released.
“They were threatened with prosecution if they did not give up their brother,” said the group, to whom James had detailed the incident.
“… One of my friends sent me a WhatsApp message. I forwarded it to my Muslim friends as I was not educated and unaware of the contents written in the message. [Now] they are after me to kill me as they believe that I have committed blasphemy against their Prophet,” James had said.
“Nadeem (James) is uneducated and could not have possibly sent that text message. I am sure that Bashir had downloaded the alleged blasphemous text onto Nadeem’s phone and then forwarded it to his cell number to frame him,” the convict's brother Shahbaz James told Morning Star News, a news agency focusing on the persecution of Christians.
The charge of blasphemy can carry heavy sentences in Pakistan. According to Amnesty International, “Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used against religious minorities.”
A 2016 Amnesty International report states that Pakistan’s use of such laws “shows how once a person is accused, they become ensnared in a system that offers them few protections, presumes them guilty, and fails to safeguard them against people willing to use violence.”