Published on 8 January 2021 in Blasphemy news
On 1 January 2021, an Anti-Terrorism Court in Islamabad reportedly sentenced three men to death for ‘blasphemy’ on social media, and condemned a fourth person to 10 years in prison. In addition the court issued perpetual arrest warrants for four others implicated in the case, who were at large, according to the Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn.
The four were among 17 originally arrested in March 2017 pending an investigation into allegations that they had shared objectionable or blasphemous content on social media. According to the original complaint registered with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA):
“There are several unknown people/groups disseminating/spreading blasphemous material through internet using social media i.e. Facebook, Twitter, websites, etc. through alleged profiles/pages/handles/sites etc… and several others wilfully defiled and outraged religious feelings, belief by using derogatory words/remarks/graphic designs/images/sketches/visual representations in respect of the sacred names.”
The four pled not guilty to the charges during their indictment on 12 September 2017. Over the course of the proceedings, the prosecution has reportedly presented 19 witnesses. Witnesses for the defence were not admitted to the court on account of the fact that they were blood relatives of the accused, Dawn reports.
Two of the accused were convicted of operating pseudonymous social media profiles and disseminating blasphemous material on social media, another was found to have uploaded blasphemous content on YouTube. The three were sentenced to death after being found guilty of ‘blasphemy’ under Chapter XV of the Pakistani Penal Code, in addition to violations of the Anti-Terrorism Act . A fourth individual received a 10-year sentence after being found to have delivered a ‘blasphemous’ speech during a lecture at Islamabad Model College. The individuals have the right to appeal.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws carry the death penalty or life in prison, and tend to target non-believers, religious minorities and dissenting Muslims. Though there has been an effective moratorium on carrying out the death sentence in recent years, dozens of people at least remain on death row, and furthermore those accused of blasphemy are often murdered before or after any trial takes place.
The End Blasphemy Coalition calls on the Pakistani authorities to abide by its obligations under international law, and to repeal its blasphemy legislation. In this specific case, the Coalition calls on the authorities to quash their convictions and release them immediately and unconditionally, along with all those who have been convicted of similar offences.