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The television version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall is the latest account to challenge St Thomas More’s reputation as a courageous defender of the rights of conscience. Was he, in truth, a liberal icon, a religious fanatic or something in between?
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The trial court of Lahore in Pakistan on 27 March sentenced Savan Masih, a Catholic, to death for blasphemy.
Following the blasphemy allegation against Mr Masih in March last year, thousands of Muslims, urged on by clerics, went on a rampage in the Joseph Colony, Lahore’s Christian district, setting on fire and damaging 178 houses, 18 shops and two churches.
Joseph Francis, director of CLAAS (the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance-Settlement) that has been providing assistance to Masih, said in a press statement on 31 March that the trial was based on a false accusation.
CLAAS said that Mr Masih was framed “in a false case of insulting the prophet Muhammad during the course of conversation with a Muslim friend” at the Joseph Colony concerning a property dispute.
Mr Masih appealed against his conviction on Tuesday saying that the charges were fabricated to accelerate the eviction of Christians from the area.
The sentence evoked strong protests the next day from opposition parties in the National Assembly, who decried the persecution of minority communities on trumped up blasphemy charges.
Shireen Mazari of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party said it was a travesty that the people who burned down so much of the colony in Lahore were released on bail, while the accused, tried on a disputed charge, was sentenced to death.