In a controversial decision that has reignited debates over Pakistan's blasphemy laws, a young Christian has been sentenced to death for allegedly circulating a blasphemous social media post that incited riots in Jaranwala.

Special Judge Ziaullah Khan of the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Sahiwal sentenced Ehsan Shan on Monday. The sentence also includes a 22-year prison sentence and a fine of Rs1 million (4,888 CAD).

Shan was accused of sharing blasphemous content on TikTok, which led to a violent backlash in Jaranwala. Allegations of desecration of a copy of the Holy Quran spurred mobs to vandalize dozens of Christian homes and approximately 26 churches. The complaint was lodged by Sub-Inspector Amir Farooq of Dera Rahim police, who, based on intelligence reports, apprehended Shan three days after the riots. According to Farooq, now serving as SHO at Ghala Mandi police station, Shan 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 7(1)(G)-ATA.

The sentencing sparked several protests across the country on Monday, July 1.

This case has drawn significant attention and sparked renewed debates over the implications of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. In March, a Faisalabad ATC acquitted two Christian brothers framed for desecration due to personal enmity, highlighting the potential for misuse of these laws. The severity of Shan's sentencing and the ensuing violence underscore the volatile nature of blasphemy accusations in Pakistan, emphasizing the urgent need for legal reforms and protections for minority communities.

Nasir Saeed, Director of CLAAS-UK, strongly condemned the recent sentencing. "This is a religiously motivated and biased judgment. The youth is being made a scapegoat to justify the release of those detained for attacking and burning churches and Christian homes," he said.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has also criticized Pakistan's blasphemy laws, particularly Sections 295-A, B, and C, for their broad and vague provisions that are often misused to target minority communities and settle personal scores. The USCIRF report highlights numerous cases where individuals, including Christians, Hindus, and Ahmadis, have been falsely accused and imprisoned. The report notes that mere accusations can lead to mob violence, extrajudicial killings, and mass protests, creating a climate of fear and intimidation.

"The Christian community in Pakistan is facing severe injustice, living in constant fear for their lives, property, and places of worship," Saeed said. "This verdict symbolizes the virtual death of all Christians in Pakistan today. A young Christian has been scapegoated for the violence and destruction that occurred in Jaranwala."

"The laws here are discriminatory and unjust, perpetuating a climate of fear and persecution for religious minorities. Our community is left feeling vulnerable and unprotected. True justice was not served in this case," Saeed concluded. "We call upon the government and judicial authorities to review this verdict and address the deep-rooted biases in our legal system. Only then can we hope to live in a society that values and protects all its citizens equally."

Saeed also highlighted a recent mob lynching in Sargodha, where most of the accused individuals were released on bail. This incident underscores the rising trend of mob violence in Pakistan, heightening the sense of insecurity among Christians. The misuse of blasphemy laws and the lack of judicial action not only undermine Pakistan's national fabric but also have significant international repercussions.

Recently, the Punjab Assembly, National Assembly, and Senate have all unanimously passed resolutions to stop the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy law and mob lynching, aiming to protect minorities. However, the implementation of these resolutions remains a critical issue.

This case continues to attract international attention and calls for urgent legal reforms to ensure the protection and equal treatment of all citizens in Pakistan.