Justice Denied: Fanson Shahid, Pakistani Christian, Forced into False Confession and family in Exile

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London: (By Hannah Chowdhry and Juliet Chowdhry) A Pakistani court in Gujranwala has convicted Fanson Shahid (56 yrs)  for making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad on a Facebook post shared by a man named Suleman Masih.

Alongside this verdict, the court has imposed a sentence of life imprisonment.

On 18th March 2022, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested Fanson Shahid from his residence in Lahore. The initiator of this legal action, Allama Sahibzada Waseem Raza, Chief cleric of Jamaat-Ahl-Sunnit, Jhamkay Cheema, was informed by a villager named Yasir Quyyum that Suleman Masih, a resident of Jhamkay Cheema, District Sialkot, had shared pictures of suicide bombings in Sri Lanka, where the attackers ‘appeared to be Muslims’. Shahid, is listed as a friend of Masih on social media, and his profile left a comment that directly insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr Raza subsequently applied to the Motra Police Station against both Suleman Masih and Fanson Shahid. Due to the involvement of social media in the alleged offense, the Motra Police forwarded the case to the FIA for further investigation.

The FIA team conducted a raid at Fanson Shahid’s residence in Lahore and apprehended him during the night of March 18, 2022. Around a dozen police officers forcibly entered his home, subjecting him to physical assault while forcibly seizing his phone. The officers also subjected his family, including his wife Safia Shahid and their two children, to harassment, exposing them to the distressing sight of their innocent father being mistreated by law enforcement. Subsequently, an FIR (First Information Report) 17/22 was lodged against Shahid under sections 295C, 295A, 153A, and 109 of the PPC (Pakistan Penal Code).

During the investigation, Shahid was coerced into confessing to the alleged crime, a confession he later retracted before the judge during the trial. Shahid informed the court that he had been subjected to physical abuse and forced to admit guilt. He further stated that the phone purportedly used in the commission of the offense had been lost before the incident, sometime in 2019. When the police arrested Mr. Shahid, they found that his phone was logged onto Facebook. Despite the post being made at a time when his old phone was stolen, they proceeded with the arrest.

Mr. Shahid, a purchasing officer at Pakistan Railways, was the sole breadwinner for his family. He is an educated individual fully aware of the repercussions of such remarks, and leaders across Pakistan’s Christian community do not believe he made the comment.

Despite Mr. Shahid’s denial of all allegations against him, the Additional Sessions Judge at Gujranwala Sessions Court, Zafar Yab Chaddhar, ruled against him on 24th January 2024, and imposed concurrent sentences as follows:

Under section 295A of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC): Life imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 100,000; failure to pay this fine will result in an additional six months of imprisonment.

Under section 295-A of PPC): Three years’ imprisonment for offending the sentiments of the Muslim community by posting sacrilegious comments.

Under section 153-A of PPC: One year’s imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 50,000; failure to pay this fine will result in an additional six months of imprisonment.

Under section 11 of PECA [Prevention of Electronic Crime Act 2016]: Three years’ imprisonment for disseminating information through information systems.

The family of Fanson Shahid is engulfed in sorrow and distress. In their pursuit of justice, they have turned to the British Asian Christian Association (BACA) for support, seeking the expertise of advocate Naseeb Anjum to file an appeal at the Lahore High Court. However, to initiate this crucial legal process, BACA urgently needs to raise £1500.

BACA depends on the generosity of compassionate donors like you to meet this immediate financial requirement. Your contribution can make a significant difference in helping Fanson Shahid’s family seek justice and alleviate their suffering. You can support BACA’s mission by donating (here). Your kindness and generosity will be deeply appreciated in this time of need.

Sonia Shahid Fanson Shahid’s sister expressed profound shock at the verdict, a sentiment shared by both her family and the members of the Full Gospel Assemblies Church, where they attend. Sonia Shahid, said:

“We are deeply shocked by the conviction of Fanson.

“We as a family know he is innocent, he could not think of undertaking such a dangerous act, he is an educated and successful man with so much to lose.

“We are praying for justice and Fanson’s release through appeal.”

Fanson Shahid, who has two children, has been compelled to relocate his family from their home due to heightened concerns for their safety.

Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee of the British Asian Christian Association, raised concerns, stating:

“This is a distressing situation where it appears that a Christian man has been coerced into confessing to a crime he did not commit under brutal police interrogation.

The last time such an incident occurred, Zafar Bhatti became the longest-serving blasphemy victim in Pakistan. Despite witness confessions under police interrogation carrying little weight in Pakistan’s legal system, fearful judges continually postponed his case, preventing his acquittal.

“We are deeply worried that Fanson Shahid could suffer a similar fate. The evidence suggests that Pakistan has become even more intolerant since 2013 when Zafar Bhatti was arrested.

“It is crucial for international bodies and Western nations to exert pressure on the Pakistani government to reform its laws and address the pervasive intolerance within the nation.”

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"Trial of Pakistani Christian Nation" By Nazir S Bhatti

On demand of our readers, I have decided to release E-Book version of "Trial of Pakistani Christian Nation" on website of PCP which can also be viewed on website of Pakistan Christian Congress www.pakistanchristiancongress.org . You can read chapter wise by clicking tab on left handside of PDF format of E-Book.

nazirbhattipcc@aol.com , pakistanchristianpost@yahoo.com