Pakistan sentences man to death for blasphemy on Facebook

The conviction of Taimoor Raza, 30, follows a high-profile crackdown against blasphemy on social media by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

By: Reuters | Lahore | Published:June 11, 2017 8:53 pm

A Pakistani counter-terrorism court has sentenced to death a man who allegedly committed blasphemy on Facebook, a government prosecutor said on Sunday, the first time someone has been handed the death penalty for blaspheming on social media. The conviction of Taimoor Raza, 30, follows a high-profile crackdown against blasphemy on social media by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive topic in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where insulting the Prophet Mohammad is a capital crime for which dozens are sitting on death row. Even mere accusations are enough to spark mass uproar and mob justice. Shafiq Qureshi, public prosecutor in Bahawalpur, about 500km (300 miles) south of provincial capital Lahore, said Raza was convicted for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammad, his wives and companions.

“An anti terrorism court of Bahawalpur has awarded him the death sentence,” Qureshi told Reuters.” It is the first ever death sentence in a case that involves social media.” It is rare for a counter-terrorism court to hear blasphemy cases but Raza’s trial fell under this category because his charge sheet included counter-terrorism offences linked to hate speech.

Qureshi said Raza was arrested after playing blasphemous and hate speech material on his phone on a bus stop in Bahawalpur, where a counter-terrorism officer arrested him and confiscated his phone. The material obtained from the phone led to Raza’s conviction, he added. “The trial was conducted in Bahawapur jail in tight security,” Qureshi said.

Qureshi added that Raza belongs to the minority Shia community and in court he accused of spreading “hate speech” against the Deobani sect, which adheres to a strict school of Sunni Islam. Relations between Shia and majority Sunni communities have flared up at times in Pakistan, with some extremist Sunni groups such as Lashkhar-e-Janghvi trying to exploit sectarian tensions. Several other violent incidents linked to blasphemy accusations have alarmed human rights groups and activists in recent months.

Police are currently investigating over 20 students and some faculty members in connection with the killing of Mashal Khan, a student who was beaten to death on April following a dorm debate about religion — an attack that shocked the country. Since then, parliament has discussed adding safeguards to the blasphemy laws, a move seen as groundbreaking in Pakistan where political leaders have been assassinated for even discussing changes.

As Raza’s blasphemy conviction was under the counter-terrorism court, he will be able to appeal his sentence in the High Court and later in the Supreme Court. There have been at least 67 murders over unproven allegations since 1990, according to figures from a research centre and independent records kept by Reuters.

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  1. I
    indian man
    Jun 12, 2017 at 12:14 am
    What a barberic religion. And Muslims call themselves literate. They keep women in burka but allows them use facebook. What a religion.
    1. R
      Raj Parwani
      Jun 13, 2017 at 1:26 am
      you are ignorant hater. They don't kill people for simply transporting cows, in India 9 ts are killed just for su ion of kil cow when it was later proved that they were transporting a dead cow.
    2. C
      Cybil Penning
      Jun 11, 2017 at 10:53 pm
      Bahawalpur, den of Wahhabi criminals like Azhar Masood is well known place where Wahhabis breed. stan is aq curse on Islam and has caused more damage to Islam than anything.
      1. P
        Jun 11, 2017 at 10:25 pm
        Prophet Mohammad must be a very fragile that he gets insulted when somebody tells truth about him.
        1. R
          Raj Parwani
          Jun 13, 2017 at 1:24 am
          you are ignorant hater.
        2. M
          Jun 11, 2017 at 9:28 pm
          meanwhile in our own country India, Holy "Cow" is one subject for which one can be killed by deshbhakt and sanskari mobs. Slowly but surely we are catching up with "great stan". They do it on name of Islam we will do it in name of Hindus. After all we re long separated brothers only.
          1. B
            Jun 12, 2017 at 12:17 am
            You are right sir. We both behave similarly. We lynch Pehlu Khan for merely transporting cow.
            1. A
              Ajay Nair
              Jun 12, 2017 at 12:49 am
              Since India and Porkistan are same for you, why don't you pack your bags and go there?
              1. R
                Raj Parwani
                Jun 13, 2017 at 1:22 am
                anybody criticizes any behaviours in India you ask them to leave the country, what a civilized person you are.