Amnesty International has condemned the Pakistani authorities who have put a Christian road sweeper on death row and fined him 200,000 rupees.
David Griffiths, deputy Asia-Pacific director for Amnesty International, said the authorities should release Mr Masih immediately and quash his conviction.
He has been sentenced to death by hanging, after being arrested on 6 March when a supposed friend accused him of making blasphemous remarks during an argument.
Mr Griffiths added: ‘This is a travesty of justice. It sheds light on discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities through blasphemy laws and Pakistan’s justice system in general. There are serious concerns about the fairness of his trial, and an argument between two friends is not a basis for sending anyone to the gallows’.
The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) has also warned of the ‘vague formulation’ of the blasphemy laws, which it alleges has promoted vigilantism across Pakistan, especially in the north-eastern state of Punjab.
Director Joseph Francis said the trial, which was conducted in prison for Mr Masih’s safety, indicates the danger faced by Christians in the country as a result of extremists.
In a statement, Mr Francis expressed his grief and disappointment over Mr Masih’s verdict as he had been expecting an acquittal. He said that an appeal would be lodged soon, in the hope of getting the decision overturned.
Mr Masih denied the charges against him asserting he had said nothing in respect of the prophet Mohammad and that false accusations were made against him because of a property dispute.
Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK, said that blasphemy laws are being misused to settle person scores. He added: ‘Unfortunately the blasphemy law has become a powerful tool in the hands of extremists and is continually being used to attack churches, burn down Christian towns and villages and also kill innocent people’.