Pakistani High Court Reviews Christian´s Death Sentence

Was Scheduled to Be Hanged for Blasphemy

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ISTANBUL, Turkey, FEB. 15, 2002 ( The Supreme Court of Pakistan in Lahore ordered a full hearing for Ayub Masih, a Christian sentenced to be hanged for blasphemy against the Muslim prophet Mohammed, Compass Direct reported.

A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled today that Masih´s appeal was «a fit case for further consideration» in light of apparent legal irregularities in his prosecution.

Set for review before three or more Supreme Court justices, the case is expected to be heard «within the next two or three months,» Masih´s defense lawyer, Abid Hassan Minto, said.

It will be the final judicial appeal for Masih, jailed since October 1996 and kept in solitary confinement on death row for nearly four years in Multan´s New Central Jail.

Now 34, Masih was convicted on the verbal testimony of one Muslim complainant, who claimed that during a private conversation his Christian neighbor had slandered Mohammed by praising Salman Rushdie´s book, «The Satanic Verses.»

In April 2000, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf announced procedural changes to restrict «misuse» of the blasphemy law, including a magistrate´s review of the evidence before a case was registered. However, after two weeks of heavy protests launched by Islamist leaders, the government was forced to back down, and the statutes were never changed.

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