Pakistani man gets death penalty for 'blasphemous' Facebook post

(Reuters/Fayaz Aziz)People demonstrate after the killing Mashal Khan, accused of blasphemy, by a mob at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, during a protest in Peshawar, Pakistan April 14, 2017.

A Pakistani man has been sentenced to death on Saturday after an antiterrorism court found him guilty of posting 'blasphemous' messages on social media.

Taimoor Raza, 30, a member of Pakistan's Shia minority, received the death penalty for making derogatory remarks about the Islamic Prophet Muhammad on Facebook and WhatsApp.

New York Times reported that Raza was arrested by counterterrorism officials at a bus station in Bahawalpur in April 2016. According to officials, he was showing blasphemous content on his mobile phone to people at the bus station when he was apprehended.

Muhammad Shafique Qureshi, the prosecutor in the case, said that the forensic report on Raza's mobile phone showed that he had committed blasphemy in at least 3,000 posts.

The prosecutor noted that Raza also confessed to a being a member of a banned Shiite group, Sipah-e-Muhammad, which has been known to engage in retaliatory campaign of violence against radical Sunni groups before it was outlawed in 2001.

Raza was initially charged under a section of a penal code that carries the punishment of up to two years for derogatory remarks about other religious personalities. However, he was later charged under a law that specifically deals with derogatory comments against Muhammad, which carries the death penalty.

"An anti terrorism court of Bahawalpur has awarded him the death sentence," Qureshi said, according to the Daily Mail. "It is the first ever death sentence in a case that involves social media," he added.

Raza's death sentence came after the Pakistani government launched a high-profile crackdown against blasphemous content on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. Pakistan's interior minister has recently requested Facebook to identify people suspected of committing blasphemy so that they could be prosecuted.

Critics have contended that Pakistan's blasphemy laws are largely misused, with hundreds of people being jailed under false charges.

The independent rights group Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that 15 people — 10 Muslims and five non-Muslims — have been arrested on blasphemy charges last year.

While the country has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy, mere accusations have sometimes led to mob violence or lynching.

In April, a university student in northern Pakistan named Mashal Khan was tortured and shot to death by other students after he was accused of blasphemy. Over 20 students and some faculty members are currently under investigation in connection with the killing. The attack on the student has prompted nationwide outrage and criticisms about Pakistan's blasphemy law.

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