The Pakistani court found Sawan Masih guilty of blasphemy on Thursday and sentenced him to the death penalty. The Christian sanitation worker had been accused of speaking against the Prophet Muhammad in March 2013 by a Muslim friend.
According to The New York Times, the friend informed authorities that Masih had insulted Muhammad during an argument. The accusation caused an uproar in which riots swarmed the Christian neighborhood of Joseph Colony in Lahore. Residents fled the area as 170 houses were burned along with two churches.
While an execution has never been performed in Pakistan for a blasphemy charge, recently elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has voiced his public support of capital punishment.
Masih’s lawyer will be appealing the sentence to the Lahore High Court.
Masih says that he has been falsely charged so that Christians will leave the Joseph Colony area, making it available for industrial development.
“They hatched a conspiracy to push out the residents of the colony,” Masih said in a statement. “They contrived a case and got it filed by a person who was close to me. I am innocent.”
Human rights groups say that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been used in the past by individuals with personal vendettas settle scores with another. Some accused of blasphemy are attacked and murdered by vigilantes before cases come to trial.