A minority Shia Muslim man in Pakistan was today sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court for posting blasphemous content on Facebook, the first death sentence handed for blasphemy on social media in the country. The sentence is the harshest among cyber-crime related sentences handed down so far in the country. Pakistan has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy.

Judge Shabir Ahmed of the Anti-Terrorism Court in Punjab province’s Bahawalpur district announced the sentence for 30-year-old Taimoor Raza after holding him guilty of posting derogatory content on Facebook. According to the Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab Police, Raza, who hails from Okara, some 200 km from Lahore, was arrested last year at Bahawalpur following complaints by his co-workers that he had shared blasphemous content on Facebook.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where 97 per cent of the population is Muslim. Pakistan’s tough blasphemy law has attracted criticism from rights groups, who say they are frequently misused to settle personal scores.

A 10-year-old boy was killed and five others were wounded last month when a mob attacked a police station in an attempt to lynch a Hindu man charged with blasphemy for allegedly posting an incendiary image on social media.

Millions of Pakistanis have been receiving text messages from the government warning them against sharing “blasphemous” content online, a move rights activists said would encourage more vigilante attacks.

Pakistan last year passed a controversial cyber crime bill (Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016) that proposed strict punishment for cyber crime offences.

–With PTI inputs

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