A Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy nearly two years ago has been acquitted.
The case against him – brought by a police officer whose protection he sought against two blackmailers – was “clearly fabricated”, his lawyer said after the 13 March acquittal.
Anjum Sandhu, from the north-eastern city of Gujranwala in the Punjab Province, went to the police in May 2015 to report that Javed Naz and Jafar Ali had extorted 20,000 rupees ($200) from him and were demanding a further 50,000 rupees ($500).
The two men were arrested, but they told the police that Sandhu, during a discussion at his school, had “used blasphemous words” and that they had a recording of him doing so.
Napoleon Qayyum, a human rights activist and relative of Sandhu, said at the time that “the blackmailing involved an audio recording of a voice that sounded like Sandhu’s. Naz, with the help of his friend, Ali, produced an audio recording with a similar voice to Sandhu’s and threatened him with dire consequences if he did not give them the money they demanded. When they once again demanded money, Sandhu consulted with his friends and lodged a complaint with the police. The police, rather than registering a blackmail case, demanded further money from Sandhu, knowing he was running a chain of schools as a successful business”.
When Sandhu tried to make a First Information Report at the police station, which, under Pakistan’s Criminal Procedure Code, should have been recorded in writing, “the policeman, rather than recording Sandhu’s statement, assumed the role of a complainant himself”, Qayyum said.
The recording was investigated by the Forensic Science Laboratory. Their opinion that it was Sandhu’s voice convinced the judge and Sandhu was found guilty.
Riaz Anjum, one of Sandhu’s defence lawyers at the appeal hearing, told World Watch Monitor that the case was “clearly fabricated”.
“The judges noted that although the investigation was flawed, no evidence was found that could show if Sandhu had any inclination to discuss religion in the first place,” Anjum said.
“It was a case of no evidence,” he added.
The judges who acquitted Sandhu, Justices Sayyed Mazahar Ali Hussain Naqvi and Mushtaq Ahmad, said that, to ensure a fair, transparent and unbiased investigation, “no renowned religious scholar from the area, who would have a broad knowledge of Islam, was associated with the case”.
Their judgement notes also said: “The forensic laboratory in Lahore had no voice recognition facility… In the absence of a voice comparison report it cannot be said with certainty that the speech in question was actually made by Anjum Naz Sindhu.”
Sandhu is one of three directors of the Science Locus School in Gujranwala. At his sentencing in June 2016, Naz and Ali were also sentenced to death, but only after first serving 35 years in jail. They also received fines of 80,000 rupees ($800).