Published on 13 June 2017 in Blasphemy news

Death sentence for Facebook post in Pakistan – and the social media giant stays silent

A Facebook user, Taimoor Raza (30), has been handed a death sentence by an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan.

Taimoor Raza, in a photograph widely shared in media coverage

The International Humanist and Ethical Union has some detail:

Taimoor Raza was accused of making a post that made “derogatory” remarks about the Prophet Mohammad and his family in a way that was interpreted as “sectarian”. According to reports, he was initially arrested after allegedly playing “blasphemous” material on his phone at a bus stop in Bahawalpur.

The counter-terrorism court in Bahawapur found him guilty and sentenced him to death, on 8 June. The conviction may be appealed at the High Court and the Supreme Court.

The IHEU understands that Taimoor Raza has a Shia Muslim background and is from Lahore. As an active social media user, he comments on diverse issues around politics, social, religious and sectarian problems. A man named Muhammad Sadiq appears to have provoked a discussion with him on Facebook, and it later transpired that Sadiq works in counter-terrorism. Muhammad Sadiq cited a “sectarian” comment to file an initial case at Bahawalpur against Raza, accusing him of “blasphemy”. Initially, an FIR (first information report) was registered under article 298-A, with a maximum sentence of 2 years in prison.

However, later 295-C and “terrorism” charges were added to the FIR. Bahawalpur Judge Shabbir Ahmad passed the sentence on 8 June.

Taimoor Raza’s attorney complains that his client is sentenced under two irrelevant and contradictory articles.

This is just the latest in several horrific injustices related to “blasphemy” accusations this year in Pakistan, including enforced disappearances, a social media crackdown and arrests of “atheists”, and the murder of “humanist” student Mashal Khan.

The BBC points out that:

Facebook itself has yet to comment on the case.

The US firm previously announced in March that it was deploying a team to Pakistan to address the government’s concerns about blasphemous content on its service, but added that it still wished to protect “the privacy and rights” of its members.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has described blasphemy as being an “unpardonable offence”.

There are no charge papers yet, and they may not be some for some time. Many prior “blasphemy” cases take years to get through the court system, from initial trial and appeal. The conviction rate is high and appeals courts rarely release “blasphemers”. In similar situations to Taimoor Raza, many of those convicted remain on death row in perpetuity under a moratorium on the death penalty for all but terror offences. The road ahead for Taimoor Raza looks extremely bleak.