Two Christians and a Muslim have been sentenced to death for blasphemy Pakistan after allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad. In addition to the death penalty, the two Christians have also been given a 35-year life term in prison.
According to the International Business Times, the Anti-Terrorism Court in the industrial city of Gujranwala in Pakistan's Punjab province sentenced Anjam Naz and Javed Naz, both Christians, and Jafar Ali to death after the three men made derogatory remarks against Muhammad in an audio recording.
"When police arrested Javed and Jafar on May 15, they recovered an audio recording of Anjam committing blasphemy. We also recovered the recorded audio from Jafar's possession and found that he and Javed were blackmailing Anjam by threatening to release the audio to the public if he did not pay them," said Mohammad Tanveer, a senior police official, reported Newsweek Pakistan.
The case was first registered in May and the verdict was pronounced on Monday, 29 June. The guilty have the option of appealing against the judgment in the high court.
Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws carry life in prison or the death penalty as punishment. Often, the laws are used to reinforce the oppression of groups and individuals that are already marginalized -- particularly Christians, who make up just 4% of the country's population.
As reported by The Gospel Herald, the Lahore High Court recently upheld the death penalty of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother-of-five who was convicted of blasphemy.
She was sentenced in 2010, a year after she was accused. Bibi was harvesting berries with a group of Muslim women, who accused her of drinking from the same water bowl as them. Following an argument, the women told a local cleric that Bibi had blasphemed against Islam.
Last November, a Pakistani mob beat to near-death a Christian and his pregnant wife for her alleged 'blasphemy', then threw them both into the large kiln where they both worked as bonded laborers, according to the World Watch Monitor.
Last month, a young Christian boy was forced to go into hiding after Muslims falsely accused him of watching an anti-Islamic video on this phone, a crime punishable by death.
"I cannot believe that such things are still happening in this world," said Nasir Saeed, director of the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement. "Such treatment towards Pakistani Christians is a slap on the face of the Punjab and central government, and to all those who never tire of telling the world that minorities are protected and enjoying equal rights in the country."
Pakistan, the world's second largest Muslim country, is ranked #6 on the Open Doors 2016 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians, and has received the maximum score in the violence category.