A Pakistani Christian has been sentenced to life in prison for "blaspheming" the Quran -- even though he is mentally impaired.
World Watch Monitor reports that Yaqoob Bashir Masih has remained in prison since 2015, when he was accused of committing blasphemy. Now, his hometown District and Sessions Court in Mirpur Khas, a small district in Pakistan's Sindh province, has sentenced him to life-long imprisonment for burning a booklet that contained verses of the Quran.
Masih, locally known by the name "Kala", is known to have learning difficulties, his next-door neighbor in the Mehmoodabad area, told WWM.
"It was around 7pm and I was sitting with my wife on our camel cart. We were discussing how earning our daily living had become so tough when we started hearing the noise of a group of a people.
"I heard Yaqoob's elder brother asking him, 'Where is the copy of the Quran which the cleric gave you this morning?'
"Yaqoob was not telling them, and he kept naming a few other neighbours. The mob were severely beating him, but Yaqoob did not tell them where the Quran was. In the end, some of them doused him with kerosene oil and told him that they would set him on fire if he would not tell them. Then he told them that he had burned it in the morning and then buried it."
Some locals reported that "Yaqoob used to go to the cleric, who had told him that his mental condition would improve if he recited the Quran".
Mushtaq Masih went on: "That morning Yaqoob requested the cleric to give him the copy of the Quran, saying that his two sisters would read it to him. But rather than bringing it home, he burned it."
According to reports, several students of a local Islamic seminary) saw him burning the Quran, and later informed a cleric.
Mushtaq Masih explained: "About two years ago Yaqoob had started learning 'black magic' and, since then, he sometimes acted quite erratically. Most of the time he was fine but sometimes he behaved as if he had no control over himself.
"For instance, his mother told the crowd that only three days before the incident, Yaqoob had torn the Bible into four pieces and thrown it on the floor.
"The police were informed of Yaqoob's confession and they arrived to arrest him. But still a mob was gathering."
The outlet notes that following the conviction, a petition on Masih's behalf will be filed within a month in the Sindh High Court to challenge the decision. However, it will likely take years before his petition will be heard and he could be released.
The BBC notes that while Pakistan's blasphemy laws have been widely condemned by rights groups, Islam is the country's national religion and underpins its legal system.
However, the laws have historically often been used to exact revenge after personal disputes, and that convictions are based on little evidence. The outlet notes that "scores" of Christians have been convicted despite making up just 1.6% of the population.
Pakistan ranked fourth on Christian support group Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.