Two Christian brothers jailed for a year on blasphemy charges were given 35-year prison sentences last week by a lower court in Pakistan's populous Punjab province. Rasheed and Saleem Masih from the Sabu Mohaal village near Pasrur received verdicts May 11 for alleged blasphemy against Islam and its prophet. Both men are married. Rasheed, 33, has five children and Saleem, 29, has three.The verdict was handed down by Pasrur Additional Sessions Court Judge Rana Mohammed Yousaf a week after he heard final arguments on the case May 5. Despite mob-incited pressures on the judiciary, the defense told Compass they had expected an acquittal of the two Christians.The alleged blasphemies reportedly took place after ice cream vendor Maqsood Ahmed refused to serve the two Christians ice cream in the same bowls used by Muslims. The vendor later filed a complaint with the police over the incident, claiming that the angry brothers had made "bad remarks" against Islam and Mohammed.Declaring the guilty ruling "very strange," the defendants' lawyers filed an appeal before the Lahore High Court on May 17. According to the main counsel for the defense, Pervaiz Aslam Chaudhry, the appeal questioned both the lower court's jurisdiction to try the case, as well as the "clear contradictions" in testimony given by prosecution witnesses.In the 16-page judgment, the Masih brothers were sentenced under two separate statutes of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) 295-C and 295-A. Jailed on June 2 last year, the two men had initially been charged only with violating PPC 295-C, which carries a mandatory death sentence if found guilty of insulting the prophet Mohammed. Inexplicably, however, the judge sentenced both men under ...1
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