A 30-year-old Pakistani man was sentenced to death after being found guilty of blasphemy.
An anti-terrorism court handed Taimoor Raza, who allegedly committed the crime on Facebook, a harsh verdict to discourage social media dissent from others in the country.
Pakistani authorities asked Twitter and Facebook to help identify blasphemous material, and users engaged in the practice. They have also encouraged Pakistanis to report the offending citizens.
Raza was arrested last year after having a debate about Islam with a man who turned out to be a counter-terrorism agent.
The sentence is the most severe ever handed down of this crime.
Waseem Abbas, Raza’s brother, said the family was “poor but literate”, and belonged to Pakistan’s minority Shia Muslim community. “My brother indulged in a sectarian debate on Facebook with a person, who we later come to know, was a [counter-terrorism department] official with the name of Muhammad Usman,” he said.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Raza was one of 15 people accused of blasphemy and arrested by the counter-terrorism department.
“The casual manner in which death sentences are handed in blasphemy cases coupled with the lack of orientation of Pakistani courts with technology makes this a very dangerous situation,” said Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch. “Such sentences will embolden those who want to wrongly frame people,” he said, noting with concern that Saturday’s sentence was handed down by an anti-terrorism court, not a regular court. “The confusion between national security and religion is very alarming,” Ijaz said.
Raza’s attorney, Fida Hussain Rana, stated that his client has been slapped with two unrelated charges. ““Initially, it was a case of insulting remarks on sectarian grounds and the offence was 298A, which punishes for derogatory remarks about other religious personalities for up to two years,” he said.
Additionally, Raza was later charged under section 295C of the penal code, which relates to “derogatory acts against Prophet Muhammad”, Rana added.
Recently, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) detained dozens of social media users, including journalists, for posting what was labeled as “anti-military” content. They were detained under the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, passed last year, which has been criticized for curbing human rights and giving extraordinary powers to enforcement agencies.
An FIA official told the Guardian that, “We are authorized to detain anyone, just on suspicion.”