A man accused of posting blasphemous content to Facebook has been sentenced to death by a court in Pakistan.
Taimoor Raza was convicted after allegedly posting remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, his wives and companions within the site’s comments.
Raza’s defence lawyer said the 30-year-old had become involved in an argument about Islam on the social network with someone who had turned out to be a counter-terrorism official. The public prosecutor involved said he believed it was the first time the death penalty had been awarded in a case related to social media.
Human rights campaigners have expressed concern, and Facebook itself has yet to comment on the case.
The developments come seven years after a Pakistan court temporarily blocked local access to Facebook after the social network was used to promote a contest to draw images of Prophet Muhammad – an act considered to be offensive by many Muslims.
The US firm previously announced in March this year 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”.
The prosecutor said the accused had been arrested after playing hate speech and blasphemous material from his phone at a bus stop, following which his handset had been confiscated and analysed. Raza will be able to appeal against the death penalty at Lahore High Court and then, if required, in Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
The Express Tribune, a local newspaper, reported that the verdict came days after a college professor was refused bail in another case involving accusations of blasphemy on social media in Pakistan. Amnesty International recently published a report critical of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
“[They] enable abuse and violate the country’s international legal obligations to respect and protect a range of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief and of opinion and expression,” it said. “Once someone is charged, they can be denied bail and face lengthy and unfair trials.”