By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
ISLAMABAD (Worthy News) – Uncertainty remained Thursday about the plight of four youths after a Pakistani court sentenced them to death for committing “blasphemy” against Islam on social media, several sources said.
The additional district and sessions court of Rawalpindi in Punjab province concluded that Muhammad Amin, Wazir Gul, Faizan Razaak, and Muhammad Rizwan, all in their 20s, should be executed by hanging.
Each was also given a 28-year jail term for committing blasphemy against the Koran. It was unclear what impact that would have on the timing of the execution and whether the young men would appeal the ruling.
A fifth suspect, Usman Liaqat, received seven years of imprisonment in a case that minority Christians have closely watched in the Islamic nation, Worthy News learned.
Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said its anti-cyber-crime wing had detained the suspects last year after receiving a complaint for allegedly sharing “blasphemous material” on social media about Islam’s Prophet Muhammed and the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims.
The FIA added that the judge, Ahsan Mahmood Malik, “convicted the accused” after it presented “forensic evidence” of their social media accounts.
In his ruling, the judge noted that “Blasphemy against the Prophet and Koran are unforgivable crimes. Therefore, the accused do not deserve any concession or leniency,” the FIA announced in published remarks.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the four convicted men would appeal the sentence, a process that can take years.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, where anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures can face the death penalty.
Often, an accusation can cause riots and incite mobs to violence, lynching, and killings, Christians and rights activists said.
Last month, Muslim extremists attacked scores of Christian homes and churches in a Christian area of the city of Jaranwala.
Police detained Muslims and Christians in the aftermath of the attack, raising concerns about the fairness of law enforcement authorities, said the Emergency Committee to Save the Persecuted and Enslaved (ECSPE).
“A local priest in Jaranwala has confirmed the illegal detention of at least 20 Christians by the police,” said ECSPE co-founder Farrukh H. Saif.
“The priest expresses frustration over the lack of information about the investigation and the treatment of their community members,” Saif added.
He told Worthy News that “senior police officials have promised to intervene” after similar incidents in Chalis Mor village, near Jaranwala, “where only three Christian families reside. Here, police conducted raids, unlawfully detaining Christian men.”
Well-informed Saif said a Christian woman “recounted the horrifying experience of police storming her home, assaulting her son, and detaining her husband. Her daughters also suffered abuse, and nearby relatives faced similar fates.”
Christian leaders have also expressed concerns about Punjab Police Inspector General Usman Anwar, who suggested that Indian spies were involved in the riots to divert attention from India’s mistreatment of Christians.
Pakistan and India have tense relations, and Pakistani Bishop Azad Marshal expressed concern that labeling Pakistani Christians as Indian spies “jeopardizes the entire Christian community.”
He reportedly asked the Lahore High Court to order an independent investigation into alleged police and district administration negligence following arson attacks targeting Christian properties in Jaranwala and “past incidents like the attacks in Shantinagar, Gojra, and Joseph Colony.”
Pakistan ranks 7th on the annual World Watch List of 50 nations, where advocacy group Open Doors says Christians face the most persecution for their faith. “Christians in Pakistan are considered second-class citizens and face discrimination in every aspect of life,” the group noted.
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