A 54-year-old Christian is in the custody of a federal agency in Gujranwala on allegations that he made a blasphemous comment on a Facebook post, sources said.
Fansan Shahid, an employee of the Pakistan Railways, was arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency’s Cybercrime Circle Gujranwala in a raid on his Lahore residence on March 16, Wednesday.
Shahid’s wife Safia told Kross Konnection that the family – comprising the couple and their two children – were about to go to bed at 12:30 am when the doorbell rang.
“When my husband opened the gate, over a dozen policemen stormed their way in and started beating him up. They seized his phone, a photograph and his national identity card and bundled him into their vehicle. They said he had committed blasphemy and a complaint had been registered against him by a resident of Sialkot district,” she said.
According to Safia, her husband had lost his cellphone in 2019, but he had not registered a formal police complaint about the loss.
“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,” she claimed, insisting that Shahid “could not commit such a crime because he was aware of the consequences”.
Explaining the details of the case, the family’s lawyer Advocate Saif Ul Malook told Kross Konnection that according to the FIR [First Information Report No. 17/22], the FIA had initiated an enquiry against Shahid on the complaint of Allama Waseem Raza, a resident of Jamkay Cheema, Daska tehsil of Sialkot district, on May 3, 2019.
“The complainant has alleged that a person named Suleman Masih, a resident of Jamkay Cheema, had shared a controversial post on Facebook on which another user ‘Farhan Shahid’ had made a blasphemous comment. According to the FIA, its investigation revealed that Fansan Shahid was operating the account under the name of ‘Farhan Shahid’ after which it conducted a raid on his residence and arrested him on March 16, 2022,” Malook said. He added that Shahid had been charged under Section 295-C and 295-A of the blasphemy statutes and Section 11 of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016 r/w Section 153-A of the PPC.
Section 295-A calls for up to 10 years in prison for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outreach religious feelings” while Section 295-C calls for mandatory death sentence for blaspheming against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Sec 153-A, on the other hand, relates to hate speech and is punishable by imprisonment up to five years and fine. Section 11 of PECA also relates to hate speech via electronic devices and is punishable by imprisonment up to seven years and/or fine.
Advocate Malook said that per the FIR, the FIA had claimed that Shahid had “confessed to the crime” but statements given during custody have no legal value unless they are recorded in the presence of a magistrate or judge.
“I can comment further on the case after meeting the accused and going through the investigation report,” he said.
False accusations of blasphemy are common in Pakistan, often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. The highly inflammatory accusations have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders and mass protests.
The government’s failure to curb the misuse of the blasphemy laws is emboldening false accusers, church leaders say.
Speaking at a press conference in January, senior bishops of the Anglican Church of Pakistan demanded additions to the blasphemy statutes to penalize false accusers.
“There is no deterrence against false accusations of blasphemy,” Bishop Azad Marshall, moderator/president of the Church of Pakistan. “We understand the sensitivity of the issue, which is why we are not seeking a repeal of the laws, but we do want the state to punish false accusers of blasphemy instead of putting the onus of prosecution on those falsely accused of the crime.”
He added that the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Islamabad High Court had also recommended giving false accusers the same punishment as those prescribed for blasphemy accused, but that the government had taken no action.