Christian sentenced to life in prison under Pakistan’s blasphemy law

By Christian Daily International / Morning Star News |

A judge sentenced a Christian to life in prison under Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes for a social media message that relatives say was posted on a phone stolen from him, sources said.

Fanson Shahid was sentenced to life in prison on blasphemy charges on Jan. 24, 2024.
Fanson Shahid was sentenced to life in prison on blasphemy charges on Jan. 24, 2024. | (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)

Fanson Shahid, 56, had been beaten in his home in Lahore when arrested in March 2022 and tortured into confessing after he was accused of posting a derogatory remark about the prophet of Islam in a comment on a post that another Christian had shared, his wife said.

The phone on which the Facebook comment was made had been stolen from him in 2019, she said.

Justice Zafar Yab Chadhar of the Additional Sessions Court Gujranwala District, Punjab Province, handed down the sentence on Jan. 24, but the family did not disclose it until now.

“We were praying for Shahid’s acquittal because he’s innocent, but the verdict has shattered our hopes for justice,” his sister, Sonia Shahid, told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

Investigators found Fanson Shahid’s Facebook account was logged on in the new phone they recovered in 2022 and presented that as evidence that he had made the comment. His wife, Safia Shahid, said at that time, “We believe that the lost phone was misused by someone to post the blasphemous comment, because my husband did not use a passcode for its security, and his Facebook account was also logged in.”

Fanson Shahid was convicted under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes, which calls for a mandatory death sentence for derogatory comments about Muhammad, but Chadhar cited as a "mitigating circumstance" that the comment was posted “only once.”

“If a single doubt or ground is available creating reasonable doubt in the mind of the court/judge to award even death penalty or life imprisonment, it would be sufficient circumstance to adopt alternative course by awarding life imprisonment instead of death sentence,” Chadhar wrote in the verdict.

He also handed Fanson Shahid a fine of 100,000 rupees (USD 358). Shahid was also convicted under Section 295-A, which prohibits hurting religious sentiments, and sentenced to three years in prison.

He was also convicted under Section 153-A, which prohibits causing communal unrest, and sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 50,000 rupees (USD 179). The judge also sentenced Shahid to three years in prison under Section 11 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, which prohibits promoting religious hatred on social media.

The sentences are to run concurrently, the court’s verdict stated.

Sonia Shahid said the verdict shocked the family, members of the Full Gospel Assemblies church. Fanson Shahid has two children, and his family has been forced to relocate from their house due to fears for their security.

Prominent Christian lawyer Lazar Allah Rakha said the verdict showed the court had disregarded the defense’s arguments without giving a reason for doing so.

“Moreover, there are glaring contradictions in the statements of the prosecution witnesses which discredit the entire prosecution evidence,” Rakha told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “The court blindly relied on the prosecution’s evidence instead of viewing both the prosecution and defense’s versions.”

Rakha said Shahid was entitled to acquittal as prosecutors failed to prove their case without any shadow of doubt.

Sonia Shahid said the family was scrambling for support to file an appeal in the Lahore High Court. The appeal must be filed within 30 days of the verdict, and with less than a week left to submit it, the family has yet to find able legal representation.

Fanson Shahid worked as a purchase officer at Pakistan Railways in Lahore and was due to retire in eight years when he was arrested on blasphemy charges in 2022.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.