A 25-year-old Christian leader in Pakistan is facing charges of violating the country’s blasphemy laws after sharing someone else’s social media post critical of Islam.
International Christian Concern (ICC), a global human rights advocacy group for religious minorities, reports that the Dec. 22 Facebook post by Raja Warris incited protests by hundreds of Muslims four days later in the Charar neighborhood of Lahore where Warris, a Christian, lived.
Hundreds of anti-riot police were deployed to the scene where a mob threatened to behead Warris and set neighborhood houses on fire if Warris was not arrested.
Warris had previously apologized to a Muslim group shortly after sharing the Facebook post while claiming he was only seeking academic understanding among Christians and Muslims.
If convicted of the blasphemy charges, Warris could face up to 10 years in prison for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.”
ICC reports that false accusations of blasphemy are widespread in Pakistan and often incite mass protests, mob violence and vigilante murders.
Police relocated Warris, his wife and two children to an undisclosed location for their safety.
According to ICC, arrests for blasphemy in Pakistan have soared since 1987 when such laws were enacted. Although Christians represent only 1.6% of the country’s population, more than 15% of charges for blasphemy have been leveled against Christians.
Presently, 24 Christians are imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan, ICC reports.
ICC Regional Manager William Stark said: “We call on Pakistani authorities to continue to protect the homes of Charar’s Christians. Even though Pastor Warris has been officially charged with violating the blasphemy laws, there is still the potential for mob violence against Christians of Charar. No one should be forced to flee their home because of a social media post. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must not be misused to justify mob violence. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities.”
On Dec. 7, the U.S. State Department redesignated Pakistan along with nine other offenders on its list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) for extreme violations of religious freedom.
Pakistan also ranks fifth on Open Doors 2020 World Watch List of the top 50 countries for Christian persecution.