Death sentence for man who blasphemed on Facebook

Death sentence for man who blasphemed on Facebook June 11, 2017

In a week that saw Canada ditch its 90-year-old blasphemy law, an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan sentenced a man to death for committing blasphemy on Facebook.
A court in Bahawalpur yesterday handed down the verdict – the harshest yet for such a crime – after finding Taimoor Raza, 30, above, guilty of insulting the “prophet” Mohammed.
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 for alleged 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.

Raza’s defence attorney, Fida Hussain Rana, 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.

Raza was later charged under section 295C of the penal code. This charge relates to:

Derogatory acts against prophet Mohammed.

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.
Said Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch in Pakistan.

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.
Such sentences will embolden those who want to wrongly frame people. The confusion between national security and religion is very alarming.

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.

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 that 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.

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  • L.Long

    As been said so many times by so many…RELIGION IS EVIL!!!
    And who needs more proof of this evil then these debased acts!! And to all those that say these are not true (fill in the blank) can do better by acting like tolerant compassionate HUMANs rather then religious ahole slaves!!

  • Every religion, and every subdivision within every religion, blasphemes against the rest. Every religion that has a change in doctrine is a blasphemy to what it was or will be. Blasphemy is a tool for those who wish to punish because everyone and everything is blasphemy.
    Allah does not and never did exist, Muhammad (if he existed) was not a man of life-long virtue, Islam is on the whole a negative force in the world.
    I hope that appologists for Islam come to their senses sooner than later.

  • Harry

    Pakistan … what a shit country. And like all Muslim countries, Pakistan is a beggared country fucked up totally by tribalism and islam and hate and intolerance and bigotry. If the Arab States were bereft of oil and gas they would all be slum ridden begging bowl sandpits too. Trouble is that muslims instinctively recognise, and are mortally jealous of, the superiority and success of Western Culture and so filled with resentment that instead of improving themselves they are desperate to drag everyone else back to the barbaric dark ages but with the aid of modern weaponry and the worthless lives of their suicide terrorist shitehawks.

  • remigius

    ‘Authorities have asked Twitter and Facebook to help identify users sharing blasphemous material…’
    I think the state sanctioned execution of their users would be a good reason for such social media companies not to comply with such a request.

  • 1859

    Notice the first premise : he was arrested for being a ‘terrorist’ because he blasphemed against Mo. So – in Pakistan at least – terrorism and terrorists – can be redefined as anyone who speaks out against their stupid beliefs. I wonder what they call those who go around with bombs strapped to their bodies and blow themselves and others to smithereens – oh I forgot, they’re called martyrs. Good is bad and bad is good, don’t worry how it’s spilt – blood is blood.

  • andym

    “‘Authorities have asked Twitter and Facebook to help identify users sharing blasphemous material…’
    I think the state sanctioned execution of their users would be a good reason for such social media companies not to comply with such a request.”
    Facebook actually agreed to discussions with the government about it. I no longer have a Facebook account as a result.

  • Stephen Mynett

    Andym, there was a bit on Jerry Coyne’s site a while back about how Facebook is shutting down the pages of Apostates because there have been complaints that these pages are offensive. Basically apostates are being targeted by fanatics and once a certain number of complaints is received the page is automatically shut down, regardless of its content. There have been attempts to try to get Facebook to look at this but nothing has happened so far.

  • Paul

    What a weak religion, what cowards that support a weak religion that needs to kill people because they don’t believe.

  • Brian Jordan

    Canada is no beacon of enlightenment. They may have repealed an old blasphemy law but they’re introducing a new one: Motion M103.

  • andym

    SM Two separate but connected stories. The one about account closure is Islamisms triggering an algorithm.The second is Facebook pandering to the Pakistan Govt.
    This seemingly from Facebook:
    “I wanted to reiterate that Facebook takes the concerns raised by the Pakistani government very seriously. We have also committed our representative to meet with you and senior officials of your government.”
    Those “concerns” were that the authorities were unable to track down posters of “blasphemous” comments.

  • barriejohn

    This business of Facebook closing “anti-Muslim” sites was raised here recently. We know that Muslims (like some fanatical Christians) trawl the net for critical comments, and troll like mad, or, in the case of sites like Facebook, make multiple complaints that trigger automatic action. I think there are even certain key words that prompt a response. How pathetic their wonderful deity must be that it requires such assiduous protection from critical and rational thought!

  • Har Davids

    For starters, every social media outlet should regularly warn its users in certain parts of the world to be very careful with their activities on the web. Freedom of speech is a great thing, but wasting the lives of the sane individuals in the cess-pits of the planet should be avoided, as not everybody can have a free conversation over a beer.

  • barriejohn

    @andym: That’s a very interesting article. Your comment was not visible when I posted mine!

  • andym

    @ barriej.I think the “Ghost of Seff” is still working its magic. Originally , Har Davids’ post was displayed immediately after mine.
    As I said, they are similar issues, but not identical. One the one hand, Facebook’s supposed anti-extremist measures were allowing Islamists to invoke the closure of atheist websites by complaining “en masse.” Then you have Facebook seemingly sharing the worries of the Pakistan Government that they can’t be allowed free access to FB posters’ details to hunt them down.
    Maybe FB think they are playing the long game.But I think,in the long run, Barry’s approach is the more sincere, the one that helps secular Muslims more, and the one more likely to succeed.