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Thursday, May 7, 1998 Published at 05:43 GMT 06:43 UK



A Roman Catholic bishop in Pakistan has committed suicide in protest against a death sentence which had been handed down to a Pakistani Christian. The Bishop of Faisalabad, Dr John Joseph, shot himself with a pistol in front of the court building in the town of Sahiwal, where the sentence had been passed. From Karachi, Owen Bennett-Jones sent this report:

The death sentence was passed ten days ago. Christian activists close to the case say that Ayub Masih was charged with blaspheming in a public place.

He denied the accusation but was found guilty and sentenced to death. Colleagues of Bishop John Joseph say that he had been worried about the case and had been trying to arrange lawyers who could appeal against the sentence.

John Joseph, who was 66, had long campaigned against Pakistan's blasphemy laws and one of the newspapers in Pakistan, Dawn, says it received a letter from the bishop shortly before his death.

The letter said Christians and Muslims should act together to get Ayub Masih's death sentence lifted and also to get the blasphemy laws repealed.

And in a sign that colleagues are taking to mean that the suicide was premeditated, the bishop ended the letter by saying that "dedicated persons do not count the cost of the sacrifices they have to offer".

The death sentence that led the bishop to commit suicide is by no means the first to be passed by a lower court in Pakistan but in the past such sentences have been reversed by the High Court and lawyers say it is unlikely that the condemned man would actually have been killed by the state.

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