Christian Youth Sentenced to Death in Blasphemy Case, Given 22 Years in Prison and Rs1 Million Fine

Sahiwal, 1st July 2024 - In a controversial ruling, Special Judge Ziaullah Khan of the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Sahiwal has sentenced a Christian youth to death for allegedly circulating a social media post that incited riots in Jaranwala. The judgment, announced yesterday, also includes a 22-year prison sentence and a fine of Rs1 million.

The young man was accused of sharing blasphemous content on TikTok, leading to a violent backlash in Jaranwala. Following allegations of desecration of a copy of the Holy Quran, mobs vandalized dozens of Christian homes and approximately 20 churches.

The complaint was lodged by Sub-Inspector Amir Farooq of Dera Rahim police. Acting on intelligence reports, police apprehended the accused three days after the riots. According to Farooq, now serving as SHO at Ghala Mandi police station, the youth did not produce the blasphemous content but shared it, causing it to go viral.

The final judgment outlined multiple punishments: a death sentence and a fine of Rs500,000 under Section 295(C), 10 years of rigorous imprisonment under Section 295(A), seven years under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, and five years plus a Rs500,000 fine under Section 7(1)(G) of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

This case has reignited debates over Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and their implications. Just in March, a Faisalabad ATC acquitted two Christian brothers who had been framed for desecration due to personal enmity, according to a police probe.

The severity of the sentencing and the violence that ensued underscore the volatile nature of blasphemy accusations in Pakistan, drawing attention to the urgent need for legal reforms and protections for minority communities.

Revd Ghazala Shafique, a prominent Christian leader and advocate for minority rights, has strongly condemned the recent sentencing of a 22-year-old Christian youth in Pakistan. The young man was convicted for his alleged involvement in the Jaranwala incident, where 26 churches were burned, 200 homes were destroyed, and sacred Christian symbols such as Bibles and crosses were desecrated.

Revd Shafique emphasized the disproportionate nature of the punishment, which includes a hefty fine of Rs. 800,000, 12 years of imprisonment, and a death sentence. She remarked, "This young man has been handed an extremely harsh punishment, while those who actually committed the acts of violence have been acquitted. This clearly shows the discriminatory nature of the laws and the bias against Christians in our judicial system."

She called upon the government and judicial authorities to review the verdict and address the deep-rooted biases in the legal system. "True justice was not served in this case," she concluded. "Only by addressing these injustices can we hope to live in a society that values and protects all its citizens equally."

Christian lawyer Kashif Alexander, former president of the Christian Lawyers Association Pakistan (CLAP), has raised serious concerns about the misuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws. According to Alexander, these laws have been ruthlessly applied against minorities, leading to a heightened sense of insecurity among these communities.

Recently, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif and Federal Minister for Law & Justice Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar brought these issues to light during a comprehensive debate in the National Assembly. Their statements, widely reported in Pakistani newspapers and broadcast live on television, underscore the national significance of the matter. The Punjab Assembly, National Assembly, and Senate have all unanimously passed resolutions to stop the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy law and mob lynching.

Alexander specifically referenced the Jaranwala incident, lamenting the lack of justice served. He pointed out that the request for a Judicial Commission on Jaranwala has been pending in the High Court for an extended period, with no significant actions taken by the courts to date. Despite expectations, the current government has not addressed the plight of marginalized minorities or established the promised commission.

Furthermore, Alexander highlighted a recent mob lynching in Sargodha, where all accused individuals were executed without due process. This incident exemplifies the increasing trend of mob violence in Pakistan, further exacerbating the insecurity felt by Christians. The misuse of blasphemy laws and the lack of judicial action not only affect the national fabric of Pakistan but also have international repercussions.