Masih, 37, was also fined $1,667 in local currency by the Session Court in the town of Lahore during "the first ever video trial in a blasphemy case", said Shahbaz Bhatti, Chairman of the advocacy group All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA).
He and his family have denied the allegations and APMA lawyers of Younis Masih will file an appeal against the decision at the Lahore High Court, Bhatti told BosNewsLife.
During the proceedings of the court on Wednesday, May 30, the defendant remained in jail to appear on a screen "installed as part of the video trial in the conference room of the Lahore district and sessions court," Bhatti explained. "The trial at his prison had been arranged for security reasons; all evidence in the case was also recorded through a video facility."
Masih was arrested September 10, 2005 under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy legislation.
Police in Lahore reportedly took Masih into custody after he sparked an outcry by asking a Muslim living nearby to turn down the volume of Islamic Mystical Sufi Music on a Saturday night as people gathered in the Christian’s home to mourn the death of his one-year-old nephew.
The Muslim, identified as Baba Chaby, refused and Muslim men became angry and "abused" Masih, APMA investigators claimed. In addition, the next morning, Muslims in the local mosque were allegedly encouraged to participate in ransacking homes of Christians and to damage their properties and local Churches in the area.
During the rots in Lahore, "Younis Masih was brutally beaten and his wife, who came to save him, was not spared…Her clothes were torn to shreds by the mob," recalled APMA’s Bhatti, adding that "they left Younis [only because they] considered him to be dead."
His wife, Meena, and cousin Nobel Masih apparently took him home after he regained consciousness and later went to a local police station to get a complaint registered against the local Muslims. However police officers refused and instead filed a blasphemy case against Masih to "appease" an angry mob surrounding the police station, Bhatti said.
Masih and his family have rejected allegations that he "disrupted Muslim celebrations" and used "derogatory remarks" against the Prophet Mohammad.
Meena Masih said in a statement that the allegations "are totally false." She said her husband was "sad on that day because of the death of his nephew" and did nothing more than asking Muslims "to turn down the (Islamic) music."
While his family and Christian supporters have condemned Wednesday’s death sentence, Islamic organizations have welcomed the ruling. Several groups reportedly called for the "public hanging of Younis Masih" and those who demand an end of the blasphemy legislation.
Meanwhile, Masih has "appeared in a shabby condition" dressed in old clothes and "with beard and hair untidy and grown," said Bhatti, after an APMA team and Masih’s brother met him at the Kot Lakhpat Lahore Prison.
"An atmosphere of melancholy surrounded the place…as he approached, he embraced his brother with tears. He told the APMA team that the charges against him were false and that he was wrongfully implicated in it."
However he stressed that "his faith in God" gives him "spiritual strength" and that he will continue "to state that although the news of the death sentence shocked" him he has "not lost his hope and constantly prays in jail asking God for justice."
He reportedly said that "God knows all and Lord Jesus is the God of Truth, Who will provide" justice.
Bhatti said his organization has urged supporters in a letter to pray that "God may give Masih strength and courage to face this critical situation" as well as for "protection and safety of Younis Masih’s family," amid apparent death threats, and that "the death sentence will be turned down".
The ruling came a day after the Lahore Session Court released on bail an 84-year-old Pakistani Christian, Walter Fazal Khan, who also faced the death penalty on charges of blasphemy. Since January at least five Christians are known to have been arrested under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and there has been growing international pressure on the Pakistani government to change them. (With BosNewsLife reporting and BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).
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