Pakistan Death sentence for blasphemy on Facebook
15 Jun 2017
Taimoor Raza, a Shi’a Muslim, has become the first person to be sentenced to death by Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) on 10 June, for allegedly committing blasphemy on Facebook.
Mr Raza is from
Okara in Punjab province. He was arrested in 2016 and accused of allegedly
posting derogatory content about Islam on Facebook, after he got into a debate
with a man working as a counter-terrorism agent.
The case against
Mr Raza was registered under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC),
which concerns making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad; and
Sections 9 and 11-W of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), regarding stirring up and
disseminating material to incite sectarian hatred. Although 15 other people
were arrested under similar charges last year, this is the harshest sentence to
be applied to anyone accused of online blasphemy.
sentence is symbolic of a wider campaign to quell dissent, including criticism
of the present government and military, on social media. Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif described blasphemy as an “unpardonable offence” and stated on 14 March
that effective steps must be taken to remove and block blasphemous content on
social media. Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, has since confirmed
that Facebook has agreed to enter into consultation with the Pakistani
government about content deemed to be blasphemous on their social media site.
Pakistan is a highly sensitive issue with a disproportionate number of false
accusations lodged against religious minorities, though the highest number of
accusations are filed against Muslims. The laws are widely misused to settle
personal scores or in matters related to money, property or business rivalry.
Blasphemy accusations often result in mob violence. On 13 April, university
Khan was beaten to death by a mob at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan
after being accused of posting blasphemous content online, a claim which was
later found to be false.
Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We are deeply concerned about Mr Raza’s
conviction on blasphemy charges and the severity of his sentence, which sets a
dangerous precedent from the Anti-Terrorism Court and puts his life at risk,
particularly as a member of a religious minority. This conviction has a
chilling effect on upholding an individual’s right to exercise their freedom of
religion or belief and freedom of expression online. We are concerned that this
sentence will further encourage people to misuse the blasphemy laws and social
media to register false cases against anyone with whom they may have a personal
vendetta. We continue to urge the government of Pakistan to review the
blasphemy laws and to ensure the implementation of much-needed procedural
amendments to minimise their misuse.”