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By Mubasher Bukhari
LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Christian man has been sentenced to death on blasphemy charges by a court in eastern Pakistan after a close friend accused him of sharing anti-Islamic material, the defendant's lawyer said on Friday.
Blasphemy is a criminal offence in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and insults against the Prophet Mohammad are punishable by death. Most cases are filed against members of minority communities.
Nadeem James, 35, was arrested in July 2016, accused by a friend of sharing material ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad on the Whatsapp messaging service.
Lawyer Riaz Anjum said his client intended to appeal against the verdict, passed on Thursday by a sessions court in the town of Gujrat.
There was widespread outrage across Pakistan last April when student Mashal Khan was beaten to death at his university in Mardan following a dorm debate about religion.
Police arrested over 20 students and some faculty members in connection with the killing.
Since then, parliament has considered adding safeguards to the blasphemy laws, a groundbreaking move given the emotive nature of the issue.
There have been at least 67 murders over unproven allegations of blasphemy since 1990, according to figures from a research centre and independent records kept by Reuters.
And in 2011, a bodyguard assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer after he called for the blasphemy laws to be reformed.
Taseer's killer, executed last year, has been hailed as a martyr by religious hardliners.
(Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Kevin Liffey)