Lahore Court Sentences Christian Man to Life Imprisonment for Blasphemy

Lahore – In a highly contentious case that has drawn widespread attention and concern, Fanson Shahid, a 56-year-old Christian man from Lahore, has been sentenced to life imprisonment under Pakistan's stringent blasphemy laws. This decision was pronounced by the Additional Sessions Court in Gujranwala District, Punjab Province.

The case against Shahid stemmed from an alleged derogatory comment about the Prophet Muhammad on social media. According to Shahid's wife, who has requested anonymity, Shahid was physically assaulted during his arrest in March 2022 and later coerced into a confession under torture. She contends that the blasphemous comment was posted using a lost phone which was not password-protected and had Shahid's Facebook account logged in, suggesting possible misuse by someone else.

Shahid's sister, Sonia Shahid, expressed her family's disappointment and disbelief at the verdict, having hoped for his acquittal on the grounds of his innocence. The sentencing, carried out on January 24, 2024, under Section 295-C of Pakistan's blasphemy statutes, typically mandates the death penalty for such offenses. However, the court, considering the comment was posted only once, issued a life sentence as a "mitigating circumstance." Shahid was also fined 100,000 rupees (approximately £1,000).

In addition to the blasphemy charge, Shahid was found guilty of "hurting religious sentiments," "causing communal unrest," and "promoting religious hatred on social media," leading to additional prison terms and fines.

The verdict has left Shahid's family, including his two children, in a state of fear and insecurity, compelling them to relocate from their home due to safety concerns.

The court's decision has been heavily criticized by Lazar Allah Rakha, a prominent Christian lawyer. Rakha points out significant contradictions in witness statements and a lack of conclusive evidence. He argues that Shahid should have been acquitted, as the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. "There are glaring contradictions in the statements of the prosecution witnesses which discredit the entire prosecution evidence," Rakha stated. He expressed his concern about the court's reliance on the prosecution's evidence without adequately considering the defence’s version.

This case underscores the ongoing debate and controversy surrounding Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which are often criticized by human rights groups for being misused to target religious minorities and settle personal disputes. The sentence and the circumstances of Shahid's case continue to raise critical questions about the application of these laws and the protection of minority rights in Pakistan.