Man who spent 18 years on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan is released after court rules there was no evidence
- Wajih-ul-Hassan was sentenced to death in 2002 for writing blasphemous letters
- He will leave Kot Lakhpath prison in Lahore after his conviction was quashed
- The Supreme Court judged the initial conviction was based on weak evidence
A Pakistani man who has endured 18 years on death row has had his blasphemy conviction quashed by the Supreme Court which ruled there was a lack of evidence.
Wajih-ul-Hassan, a Muslim, was sentenced to death in 2002 after a handwriting expert judged he had penned a string of blasphemous letters.
But he is poised to walk free from Kot Lakhpath prison in Lahore following his exoneration by a three-judge bench.
Following the acquittal, his lawyer Nadeem Anthony said: ‘Everyone was crying with happiness… it’s been a long journey.’
Wajih-ul-Hassan (pictured), a Muslim, was sentenced to death in 2002 after a handwriting expert judged he had penned a string of blasphemous letters. But his conviction has now been overturned
The Supreme Court overturned the initial conviction because the judges considered the handwriting report was weak evidence which was not corroborated by any witnesses, according to Dawn News.
Hassan had originally been charged with a Section 295-C offence which prohibits the ‘use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet’.
Prior to his conviction, for which he received a 10-year jail sentence followed by execution, he was incarcerated for a year.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan and any conviction warrants a death sentence.
Even unproven allegations of insulting Islam can lead to assassinations and lynchings.
The Supreme Court (building pictured) overturned the initial conviction because the judges considered the handwriting report was weak evidence which was not corroborated by any witnesses
About 40 people convicted of blasphemy are currently on death row in Pakistan, according to a 2018 estimate by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In a statement on Wednesday Amnesty International tore into these ‘coercive laws’.
The organisation said: ‘Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are overly broad, vague and coercive.
Asia Bibi, a Christian who had spent more than eight years on death row for blasphemy, was controversially acquitted
‘They have been used to target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas and carry out vigilante violence.
The rights organisation also demanded Pakistani authorities release another blasphemy accused, university professor Junaid Hafeez, who has spent more than five years in solitary confinement.
There have been ‘severe delays’ in his trial, with eight judges succeeding each other in the case without deciding his fate, according to Amnesty.
In May 2014, three gunmen murdered Hafeez’s lawyer.
The acquittal last October of Asia Bibi, a Christian who had spent more than eight years on death row for blasphemy, provoked violent protests across Pakistan.
Bibi now lives in Canada with her family.
Most blasphemy cases involve Muslims in Pakistan, experts say.