A Pakistani Christian man accused of "insulting Islam" after sending a Muslim friend a poem on WhatsApp has been sentenced to death, a high court ruled on Thursday.
According to the AFP, Nadeem James was handed a death sentence by a Pakistani court after being charged with blasphemy last July. At the time, his Muslim friend Yasir Bashir complained to police that James sent him a poem on the messaging app that was "derogatory toward the Prophet Mohammed and other holy figures."
Defense lawyer Anjum Wakeel told AFP that he will appeal the sentence, claiming his client was "framed" by Bashir, who was angered by James' relationship with a Muslim girl.
He told reporters that the trial was held inside a prison due to security reasons after local Muslim clerics had threatened James and his family.
Last year, a police official told reporters that James' relatives had been taken into "protective custody," while security had been increased in Christian neighborhoods in the town of Sara-e-Alamghir, in Punjab province due to "local tension concerning the complaint."
Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws often target Christians, who make up just one percent of the country's population. Morning Star News notes that the laws are often used to "settle personal scores, and Islamist groups and lawyers often advocate the harshest punishments and apply pressure for convictions on police and courts."
In 2015, a Christian couple was burned to death by a mob after they were accused of having desecrated the Quran, though the claim was later proven to be false.
Last month, a 16-year-old Christian boy was arrested and imprisoned for allegedly burning pages of the Quran. A short time earlier, a 17-year-old Christian boy was charged with blasphemy after a leader of a local Islamist group accused him of disrespecting Muhammad.
In June, a Pakistani Christian father was arrested on charges of blasphemy after he asked a Muslim man to pay for a bicycle that he had repaired the week earlier.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has said that there are 40 people on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy in Pakistan. USCIRF ranked Pakistan among the top five countries with the strictest blasphemy laws in the world.
"Advocates for blasphemy laws may argue that they are needed in order to protect religious freedom, but these laws do no such thing. Blasphemy laws are wrong in principle, and they often invite abuse and lead to assaults, murders, and mob attacks. Wherever they exist, they should be repealed," USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark wrote.
Pakistan is ranked fourth on Christian support organization Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List, which lists the 50 countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.