A 25-year-old Pakistani Christian was arrested and charged with violating the country’s blasphemy laws after sharing a social media post critical of Islam in December.
Pastor Raja Warris, a Christian pastor, was charged for posting on Facebook on Dec. 22 a message that reportedly hurt the religious sentiments of his Muslim neighbors.
On Dec. 26, hundreds of people gathered in Warris’ Charar neighborhood in the city of Lahore and threatened to behead the pastor and to set fire to Christian homes unless police took action.
“The situation turned dangerous when someone found out the Muslims were planning to set fire to the houses of Christians,” said Saleem Khokhar, one of those displaced by the incident.
“This forced the Christians to flee the neighborhood,” he told the group International Christian Concern (ICC).
Hundreds of anti-riot policemen were deployed to Charar while leaders of the Christian community met with authorities to resolve the situation.
“The police said they could not guarantee the safety of our people if the accused was not presented for arrest,” said Rev. Ayub Gujjar, vice moderator of the Raiwind Diocese of the Church of Pakistan.
“We reluctantly agreed to bring Warris but demanded that he be kept at an undisclosed location due to the serious threat to his life,” the church leader told local media.
On Dec. 27, police charged Warris with committing blasphemy. He also apologized for the social media post.
William Stark, regional manager of ICC, said called on Pakistani authorities “to continue to protect the homes of Charar’s Christians” although Warris has already been charged.
He said “there is still the potential for mob violence against the Christians of Charar.”
“No one should be forced to flee their home because of a social media post,” said Stark, adding that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws “must not be misused to justify mob violence.”
If convicted, Warris could face up to 10 years in prison for committing “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.”
From 1987 to 2017, at least 1,534 people in Pakistan have been accused of blasphemy, 54 percent of whom were made against religious minorities.
With Christians only making up 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s total population, the 238 accusations made against Christians is highly disproportionate, said the ICC in a statement.
Currently, 24 Christians are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan.
One of the most well-known past cases was that of Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman who spent eight years on death row over a false blasphemy conviction. In October 2018 Bibi was acquitted and she now lives abroad.