BS |  Lahore 

 Last Updated at 20:12 IST

A Pakistani Christian man convicted for blasphemy today challenged his death sentence in the Lahore High Court.

Sawan Masih was sentenced by additional district and sessions judge Lahore Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa here last Thursday for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad during a conversation with a Muslim friend in Joseph Christian colony here in March last year.

Raising serious objections on the police investigation and prosecution before the court, Masih said, “Lahore police registered a case 35 hours after the alleged occurrence showing mala fide intention of the police officials concerned”.

Besides, he said there were contradictions in the story in the FIR and one narrated by the complainant before the trial court.

Masih said the court handed down the death sentence even before the conclusion of the trial.

“The blasphemy charges were fabricated by the elements who wanted to occupy the property of Joseph Colony,” he said and pleaded before the high court to set aside his conviction and order his acquittal.

Over 150 homes of the minority Christian community were burnt down by a Muslim mob following the incident.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, where only about three per cent of the 180-million population are non-Muslims.

Mere allegations of blasphemy have triggered violence against minorities like Christians.

Several persons accused of committing blasphemy have been lynched in recent years.

Rights groups have said Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which carries the death penalty, is often misused to persecute minorities and to settle personal scores.

Amnesty International said Pakistan should immediately release Masih and quash his conviction.

The vague formulation of the blasphemy law, along with inadequate investigation by authorities and intimidation by mobs and some religious groups has promoted vigilantism across Pakistan, especially in the northeastern state of Punjab, Amnesty said.

Blasphemy is punishable by death under Pakistani law.

The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement has also asked its legal team to assist Masih.

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