Noman Masih is accused of having shared caricatures of Prophet Muhammad via WhatsApp. He claims to be innocent.
by Massimo Introvigne
On June 1, Noman Masih, a young Anglican Christian whose age is given by different sources as 19 or 22 (a frequent problem in Pakistan), has been sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy by the Court of Bahawalpur, in the Punjab province of Pakistan.
Noman has been convicted of keeping blasphemous images of Prophet Muhammad in his cell phone and sharing them with others via WhatsApp. According to his relatives and lawyer, the prosecutor’s story is, however, contradictory.
The story starts on June 29, 2019, when Sunny Waqas, who happens to be Noman’ cousin, was arrested in Bahawalnagar, more than 170 kilometers from Noman’s home, and accused of carrying in his bag printed caricatures of Prophet Muhammad with the intention of showing them to other people. The police had received a tip from an undisclosed source.
Waqas, who is being separately prosecuted, told the police that he had received the images from his cousin Noman via WhatsApp and had printed them. This made Noman a co-defendant in the Bahawalnagar case, where a decision has not been rendered yet.
On July 1, 2019, the police of Bahawalpur received another confidential tip that they would find Noman in a public park at 3:30 in the morning showing the blasphemous images to other people from its phone. The FIR (First Information Report) filed against Noman states that he was indeed arrested in a park at 3:30 am, while his family and neighbors testified that he was arrested on that night in his home, where he was quietly sleeping.
The prosecution could not find witnesses ready to state that Noman had shared blasphemous images with them (as mentioned earlier, his cousin Waqas claims he did, but the case concerning Waqas is being tried separately).
The decision is based on a forensic expertise, which concluded that Noman’s images were in his cell phone and were shared via WhatsApp. Noman’s lawyer, however, observes that the cell phone has been in the possession of the police for almost three years and can easily have been tampered with.
The decision should be confirmed by the High Court of Lahore, where the lawyer plans to show the prosecutor’s contradictions. In the meantime, Noman remains in jail. He can receive a second death sentence in the Bahawalnagar case, where he will be tried together with the cousin who accused him in the first place.