June 13, 2017

PAKISTAN: First Death Sentence Handed Down By The Court To Man For Blasphemy Over Social Media Content Per Islamic Sharia Law. ๐Ÿ˜ง๐Ÿ˜ 

Dawn News, Pakistan
written by AP staff
Saturday June 10, 2017

An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) on Saturday sentenced a man to death for sharing blasphemous content about Islam on social media, a government prosecutor said.

ATC Judge Shabir Ahmed announced the sentence for the 30-year-old accused in Bahawalpur, according to Shafiq Qureshi.

The Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) had arrested the accused, who belongs to the Shia community, last year in Bahawalpur.

The accused, who hails from Okara, had allegedly posted derogatory content about prominent Sunni religious figures and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his wives on Facebook.

A case was registered against him on behalf of the State at CTD Multan police station under Section 295-C (use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet) and Sections 9 and 11w of the Anti-Terrorism Act (which deal with whipping up sectarian hatred) .

The sentence is the harshest among cyber-crime related sentences handed down so far in the country. Pakistan has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy.

Blasphemy has been a contentious issue in the country where people have been murdered over allegations of sacrilege. Earlier this year, a mob in Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan beat up a student, Mashal Khan, to death after accusing him of blasphemy over social media.

The incident caused an outrage across the country, with calls for the blasphemy law to be amended. The investigation into Mashal's murder was concluded after a joint investigation team probing the case cleared him of all blasphemy charges.

Pakistan is cracking down against blasphemy related crimes on social media with the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar threatening to block all social media websites with 'blasphemous content' earlier this year.
The Guardian, UK
written by Sune Engel Rasmussen in Kabul and Waqar Gillani in Islamabad
Sunday June 11, 2017

An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has sentenced a man to death for allegedly committing blasphemy on Facebook, the latest step in an intensified crackdown on dissent on social media.

A court in Bahawalpur handed out the verdict, the harshest yet for such a crime, after finding Taimoor Raza, 30, guilty of insulting the prophet Muhammad.

Raza was arrested last year after a debate about Islam on Facebook with a man who turned out to be a counter-terrorism agent. He was one among 15 people arrested by the counter-terrorism department last year, accused of blasphemy, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

The verdict is part of a wider crackdown on perceived dissent on social media in a country where unfounded allegations of blasphemy can lead to mob vigilante justice.

Raza’s brother, Waseem Abbas, 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.

Raza’s defence attorney said his client had been charged with two unrelated sections of the law to ensure the maximum penalty. “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,” said Fida Hussain Rana, the defence counsel. Raza was later charged unde section 295C of the penal code, related to “derogatory acts against prophet Muhammad”, Rana said.

Social media represents a new battleground for the Pakistani fight against blasphemy. Authorities have asked Twitter and Facebook to help identify users sharing blasphemous material, and have distributed text messages encouraging Pakistanis to report fellow citizens.

Human rights defenders have expressed concern that the country’s blasphemy laws, and the authorities’ zealous application of them, provide a tool for people to carry out personal vendettas, particularly because nobody is ever punished for making false accusations.

“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 in Pakistan.

“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.

Aside from blasphemy, national security charges are also levelled against people who say their only offence is opposition to the government.

Recently, the Federal Investigation Agency detained dozens of social media users for posting “anti-military” content, including journalists and supporters of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) party, one of whom shared a satirical photo of prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

They were detained under the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, passed last year, which has been criticised for curbing human rights and giving overreaching powers to law enforcement agencies.

An FIA official told the Guardian that his agency had orders from the interior ministry to interrogate, and seize laptops and phones, without warrant. “We are authorised to detain anyone, just on suspicion,” the agent said.

Quratulain Zaman, human rights defender with Bytes for All Pakistan, said the harassment of social media users was unprecedented, and a sign of social media’s growing ability to shape public opinion, including against the military.

While Raza is the first person sentenced to death for blasphemy on social media, several others are on death row for alleged blasphemy in public. Among them is Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted in 2010 after a row with two Muslim women in a village in Punjab. With a long-awaited final appeal adjourned, Bibi is still in solitary confinement.

In Pakistan, blasphemy is so contentious that the mere mention of unfounded allegations can ignite mass uproar. In April, a mob at a north-western university took 23-year-old Mashal Khan from his dormitory and lynched him, angered by accusations that Khan had offended Islam.

Last week, a joint investigation concluded the baseless allegations had been a conspiracy by some students and university staff.

In another incident, in May, a 10-year-old boy was killed when a mob tried to storm a police station in Balochistan in anger at a man held on blasphemy charges.

Four people were sentenced to death for blasphemy last year, according to the HRCP.

In a 2016 report (pdf) by the commission, Justice Ibadur Rehman Lodhi rejected most blasphemy allegations. “A majority of blasphemy cases were based on false accusations, stemming from property disputes or other personal or family vendettas rather than genuine instances of blasphemy,” he said.

Additional reporting by Kiyya Baloch.

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