Man sentenced to death for insulting Muhammed on Facebook

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PAKISTAN —  A 30-year-old man has been sentenced to death after he was found guilty of  insulting the Prophet Muhammed and his wives on Facebook.

According to officials,  a counterterrorism court convicted Taimoor Raza for words exchanged during an online argument about Islam. He was arrested last year for the crime after the person he was arguing with turned out to be a counterterrorism agent.

Raza, who belongs to the minority Shia sect in the Sunni-dominant country, was initially charged for insulting religious personalities, which carries a maximum two-year punishment. Later, charges of “derogatory acts against Prophet Muhammad” were added, which carry the maximum penalty of death.

Raza’s arrest was not a singular event. Reportedly, blasphemy claims are increasing in Pakistan, and officials are cracking down on offenders. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, at least 15 Pakistanis have been arrested by the counterterrorism department for blasphemy. In 2016, four people were sentenced to death for the crime.

The verdict in the trial, which was held in Bahawalpur, is the country’s first ever death sentence in a case pertaining to social media. Human rights activists wonder if Raza’s case means a wider social media crackdown will begin. Disturbingly, fictitious accusations can be made with no accountability.

However, since the trial was handled by a counterterrorism court, Raza may appeal the ruling in the Pakistan High Court, and the Pakistan Supreme Court.

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