A Pakistani man has become the first in the country to be sentenced to death for allegedly posting blasphemous content to Facebook, the latest case in an intensifying crackdown on dissent on Social Media.
The exacting wording of the content is unclear, but 30-year-old Taimoor Raza was accused by a Pakistani counter-terrorism court of making negative remarks against religious figures such as the prophet Muhammad, his wives and companions, Al Jazeera reported. Raza was reportedly one of 15 arrested by the government who were accused of blasphemy, although Raza’s sentence was the harshest. Notably, this marks the first time that the death penalty has been awarded in a case related to social media and internet use, according to the BBC.
The comments were apparently made in a conversation about Islam that Raza had with a man who turned out to be a counter-terrorism agent, according to The Guardian. Raza had been arrested after he allegedly played hate speech and other blasphemous material from his phone, which was subsequently confiscated and analyzed by local authorities. Raza will be able to appeal the sentence at the Lahore High Court, and if necessary, Pakistan’s Supreme Court, the BBC reported.
Raza’s case is the latest step in a crackdown by Pakistani government authorities on social media use and dissent — an intensifying situation that has Human Rights advocates concerned. According to a May report by the Human Rights Watch, the government sent a text message to millions of Pakistani citizens, asking them to report blasphemy that they saw on social media. Soon after, a government official announced authorities to take action against internet users who disrespected the Pakistani military. “The Pakistani government’s crackdown on online expression will put dissenting voices at a greater risk in an already toxic environment,” said Brad Adams, the Asia director at the Human Rights Watch.
Facebook had previously sent a team to Pakistan to help address government concerns about blasphemous content on the platform — though the Menlo Park company added that it still wished to protect the “privacy and rights” of its individual users. A similar case occurred in April, when a Saudi Arabian man was sentenced to death after being accused of insulting the prophet Muhammed on Twitter, the Washington Post reported.
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