A 30-year old Pakistani man has been sentenced to death after being accused of committing blasphemy by insulting the prophet Muhammad in a heated Facebook discussion.
Taimoor Raza is one of 15 people arrested by the country’s counter-terrorism department last year for blasphemy. Raza argued with someone on Facebook about Islam, throwing insults at prophet Muhammad. Little did he know that the person he was arguing with was actually a counter-terrorism agent.
According to The Guardian, Raza’s brother said that his “brother indulged in a sectarian debate on Facebook with a person, who [they] later come to know, was a [counter-terrorism department] official with the name of Muhammad Usman.”
Shafiq Qureshi, public prosecutor in Bahawalpur, told The Times of India that Raza’s faith was sealed after he “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.”
In Pakistan, Blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad calls for capital punishment.
The hearing was conducted at the Bahawapur jail under “tight security”. Qureshi also added that Raza belonged to Shia community, a group of people accused of spreading “‘hate speech’ against the Deobani sect, which adheres to a strict school of Sunni Islam.”
Even though Raza will get his chance to appeal the case in the Pakistani High Court and Supreme Court, he may not have much luck given his ties to the Shia community, and because of the government’s active stance against blasphemous content. Officials have warned that if sites like Facebook and Twitter cannot filter out this type of content, they would end up blocking access to them as a whole.