Human Rights Activists Condemn Death Sentence of Young Christian Man in Pakistan

Islamabad, Pakistan – 5 July 2024 – Human rights activists have condemned the death sentence handed down to Ehsan Shan Masih, a young Christian man, by the Anti-Terrorism Court in Sahiwal for allegedly reposting blasphemous content on TikTok.

The activists are urging the High Court to expedite Masih’s appeal, overturn the death sentence, and acquit him. Masih was arrested on 19 August 2023 and charged under Sections 295-A, 295-B, and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, Section 11 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 for reposting defaced pages of the Quran on his TikTok account. He has been in solitary confinement since his trial began.

In August 2023, Jaranwala witnessed the burning of dozens of homes and churches by groups of Muslim men after accusations that two Christian men desecrated the holy Quran. Though over 100 suspects were arrested following the attacks, it remains unclear if any have been prosecuted. Ehsan Shan Masih, though not involved in the desecration, was accused of reposting the defaced pages, leading to his death sentence pronounced by Special Judge Ziaullah Khan on 29 June 2024.

In addition to the death penalty, Masih has been fined one million Pakistani rupees (approximately 3300 euros) and sentenced to a total of 22 years of imprisonment under various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA).

Human rights activist Joseph Jansen expressed grave concern over Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which often lead to mob violence and extrajudicial killings without serious consequences for the perpetrators. Jansen highlighted the misuse of these laws to persecute religious minorities, stating, "The trend of false accusations of blasphemy is extremely disturbing and poses a serious life threat to religious minorities. It is high time for the government of Pakistan to legislate against the misuse of the blasphemy laws, as numerous people have been lynched or killed over fake allegations, while hundreds languish in jails for years."

Minority rights activist Ashik Naz highlighted the growing trend of mob violence in Pakistan, citing a recent lynching incident in Sargodha where most of the suspects were released on bail. He noted that such events exacerbate the insecurity experienced by Christians and other minorities. Naz emphasized the need for the government to prosecute and punish those who incite violence, including those who use mosque loudspeakers to provoke attacks on the accused and the wider community.

The activists referenced a landmark Supreme Court ruling in the case of Salamat Masih, where the Supreme Court emphasized taking 'utmost care' in blasphemy cases, as Section 295-C prescribes only the death penalty.