Two Christian brothers freed of blasphemy charges by Pakistan court in landmark case

(Photo: REUTERS / Faisal Mahmood)Members of the Pakistani Christian community hold placards and wooden crosses during a demonstration to condemn the death of a Christian couple in a village in Punjab province on Tuesday, in Islamabad November 5, 2014. Police in Pakistan arrested dozens of people after a mob beat a Christian couple to death and burned their bodies for allegedly desecrating a Quran.

Pakistan's Anti-Terrorist Court in Faisalabad has acquitted two Christian brothers charged with blasphemy, which can be punishable by death, in a case that drew widespread attention due to the upheaval caused to Christians in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

Umair Saleem, known as Raja, and Omar Saleem, known as Rocky were acquitted of blasphemy charges on Feb. 29, 2024, Pakistan Christian News reported.

Their arrest on August 16, 2023, ignited widespread violence, including the burning of churches and Christian homes.

"This judgment marks a significant milestone in the pursuit of justice and religious equality in Pakistan," commented the news service.

"The ATC's decision is a ray of hope, indicating a possible shift towards a more equitable legal system. This development is acknowledged as a crucial advancement in the continuous fight for human rights and religious freedom in the country."

The case centered around a violent mob comprising thousands of Muslims burning down 24 churches and 86 homes of Christians in Jaranwala city, some 130 kilometers from Lahore, on August 16, 2023, on the allegations of desecration of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

The mob was led by a radical Islamist party, Tehreek-a-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).

Hundreds of Christians fled their homes following the incident in Jaranwala, The Indian Express reported in a Press Trust of India dispatch it carried.


More than 100 people, who were arrested for attacking the churches and Christian houses, are currently facing trial.

Police had also arrested the two brothers on charges under different sections of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Anti-terrorism Court judge Muhammad Hussain in Faisalabad on March 1 ordered the acquittal of both Christian brothers after it transpired that they were framed by local Muslims who implicated them over personal enmity.

According to a Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) fact-finding mission's report, at least 24 churches, and several dozen smaller chapels, as well as scores of houses, were torched and looted in a series of brutal mob-led attacks against the local Christian community in August 2023 due to the allegations of blasphemy against the Christian brothers.

It says the mob attack on Christian worship places, their residences, and the cemetery was part of a "larger hate campaign against local Christians" and it questioned the open involvement of radical Islamists and the complicity of police in the incident.

The commission said the incident was not a spontaneous or random Muslim crowd that attacked the churches and homes but part of a larger campaign of hatred against local Christians.

The brothers' defense lawyer was Tahir Bashir, from the Center for Legal Aid Assistance & Settlement, who described the justice journey as arduous and fraught with risks.


"The acquittal of Umair and Omar Saleem serves as a powerful reminder of the strength of due process and the importance of an independent judiciary," said Bashir's in his closing remarks.

"It highlights the courage of those who stand up for the rights of minorities in the face of great adversity."

Beyond the courtroom, this case triggered discussions on religious freedom and minority rights at the national level in Pakistan,

"It underscores the need for ongoing vigilance and reform in the application of blasphemy laws and calls for a societal re-evaluation to protect vulnerable communities," said Pakistan Christian News.

Of Pakistan's 247 million people, 96.5 percent are Muslims and the other 3.5 percent are mostly Christians and Hindus according to the CIA Factbook.


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