A Pakistani man who allegedly posted blasphemous content about Islam on Facebook has been sentenced to death – the harshest ever sentence in a case involving dissent on social media.
A judge in Bahawalpur —about 400 miles south of capital Islamabad— handed down the verdict on Sunday after finding Taimoor Raza guilty of insulting the prophet Mohammed and his wives, prosecutors said on Sunday.
Raza, 30, was arrested last year following an online argument about Islam with someone who turned out to be a counter-terrorism officer, defense lawyer Fida Hussain Rana told AFP.
While Raza, who is a minority Shia Muslim, was initially charged with making derogatory remarks about Sunni religious leaders, which carries a maximum two-year punishment, his charge was later expanded to include counter-terrorism offenses linked to hate speech, he added.
The sentence is the harshest ever handed out in the country for a case involving social media.
Even though no one convicted of blasphemy has yet been executed in Pakistan, insulting the Prophet Mohammad is still considered an unpardonable offense in the conservative Muslim-majority country, where mere allegations can trigger mob vigilante justice , threats and attacks.
According to Reuters, there have been at least 67 murders over unproven accusations of sacrilege since 1990.
Back in April, Mashal Khan, a 23-year old student at Abdul Wali Khan university, was dragged out of his dorm room, lynched and shot dead by an angry mob after getting into heated argument about religion on campus. The attack sparked outrage across the country, with calls for obsolete blasphemy laws to be amended. More than 20 students and some faculty members are currently under investigation in connection with his killing, after he was cleared of all blasphemy charges.
Raza is among 15 people arrested by the counter-terrorism department last year after being accused of blasphemy, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
His conviction marks the latest step in a wider crackdown by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Shari on blasphemy content online. Earlier this year, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar threatened to block all social media platforms that featured “blasphemous content.”
Raza will be able to appeal his sentence in the High Court and later in the Supreme Court.