The Anti-Terrorism Court in the industrial city of Gujranwala in Pakistan's Punjab province has sentenced two Christians and a Muslim to death for blasphemy. Anjam Naz and Javed Naz, both Christians, and Jafar Ali were found guilty of insulting Prophet Muhammad. The three men are said to have made derogatory remarks against Muhammad in an audio recording.

"When police arrested Javed and Jafar on May 15, they recovered an audio recording of Anjam committing blasphemy. We also recovered the recorded audio from Jafar's possession and found that he and Javed were blackmailing Anjam by threatening to release the audio to the public if he did not pay them," said Mohammad Tanveer, a senior police official, reported Newsweek Pakistan.

Besides the death sentence, the two Christians have been given a 35-year life term in prison. The case was first registered in May and the verdict was pronounced on Monday, 29 June. The guilty have the option of appealing against the judgment in the high court.

Pakistan, a Muslim-majority nation, has strict blasphemy laws based on Islam. Anyone found insulting or mocking Islamic principles or religious figures is given harsh punishment including the death penalty.

Rights groups have been arguing against such draconian laws saying they are often used by political forces to settle scores against opponents and minorities in the country.