A Pakistani Christian man has been sentenced to death for blasphemy after he sent a Muslim friend a poem on WhatsApp that insulted Islam, a lawyer said on Friday.

Nadeem James was charged in July last year after his Muslim friend, Yasir Bashir, complained to local police that he received a poem on the messaging app that was derogatory towards the Prophet Mohammed.

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“Mr James was handed a death sentence by the court on Thursday on blasphemy charges,” Anjum Wakeel, the lawyer of James told AFP.

“My client will appeal the sentence in the high court as he has been framed by his friend, who was annoyed over Mr James’ affair with a Muslim girl.” Wakeel added. 

He said the trial was held inside a prison due to security reasons after local Muslim clerics had threatened James and his family.

Court officials confirmed the sentence.

A sensitive topic in Pakistan

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Within the deeply conservative Muslim-majority country, blasphemy is seen as a sensitive issue and legally punishable by death, where often unproven accusations can stir violence.

In 2011, a personal bodyguard assassinated the provincial governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, after he called for the existing blasphemy laws to be reformed.

In 2014, a Christian couple was lynched in a kiln in the province of Punjab after being falsely accused of desecrating the Quran. 

Several rights groups have said the laws are routinely abused to seek vengeance against ethnic and religious minorities.