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Pakistan court overturns blasphemy conviction of man on death row

The Lahore High Court in Pakistan [official website] on Thursday acquitted a Christian man sentenced to death for blasphemy. Younis Masih has been in prison for six years. The charges against him stemmed from a incident in which allegedly interrupted a gathering of Sufi singing to make blasphemous remarks [AFP report] in 2005. Masih is expected to be released in several days [ANI report]. According to article 295 of Pakistan's Criminal Code, 295-Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet, "Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."

Pakistan's blasphemy legislation is highly contentious. In November 2012 a Pakistani court ordered police to drop blasphemy charges [JURIST report] against a 14-year-old girl. In August Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said that the country's blasphemy laws would not be misused to persecute religious beliefs. Zardari's comments came after the young girl's arrest. Police said after the girl's arrest that she may have Down syndrome. Blasphemy laws are currently in effect in several countries around the world. In July the US Department of State released [JURIST report] its annual International Religious Freedom Report, documenting threats to religious freedom throughout the world. The report documents current international threats to religious freedom—particularly laws that punish religious traditions and blasphemy laws that are often used to punish religious tolerance.

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