A court in Pakistan has sentenced a man to death for an entry he made on Facebook which it concluded was an act of blasphemy as it offended the Prophet Mohammed.
The anti-terror court, which was held in Bahawalpur, in the Punjab province of the country, ruled that Taimoor Raza, aged 30, should be executed after he participated in a debate about Islam on the site with a man who, it turned out, was a counter-terrorism police officer.
Online blasphemy crackdown
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, he was arrested, along with 14 other people, in a crackdown on the issue of online blasphemy. As we reported back in March, Pakistani authorities have been trying to stop people blaspheming online, which has created a dilemma for sites like Facebook and Twitter, as they have been asked to cooperate in the effort.
Human Rights organisations in Pakistan have condemned the crackdown and warned that it was being by people to settle personal vendettas with people. The likelihood of this being true is enhanced by the fact that there is no punishment if people are found to have made up false accusations.
Indeed, in a report published last year, it was confirmed that most blasphemy cases were unfounded. Justice Ibadur Rehman Lodhi was quoted as saying “A majority of blasphemy cases were based on false accusations, stemming from property disputes or other personal or family vendettas rather than genuine instances of blasphemy.”
Highest penalty possible
Raza’s lawyer has argued that he has been prosecuted under two separate and unrelated legal clauses in order to maximise the punishment that can be handed down to him.
He claimed that Raza was initially charged for making insulting remarks on sectarian grounds, the punishment for which is up to two years in jail. Raza is a Shia Muslim and is accused of having posted content which was offensive to Sunni Muslim leaders.
But he claims the charge of “derogatory acts against Prophet Muhammad” under section 295C of the penal code were then added.
Blasphemy is a hugely contentious issue and can often lead to mob justice if reported blasphemers are identified in public. Back in 2014, a human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman was shot dead in his office simply for defending an alleged blasphemer in court.
However, while several death sentences have been passed before, this is the first time that one has resulted in a claim related to online activity. But it is now an area of real potential risk to young Pakistani’s, as many people still lack a basic understanding of such technology.
As Saroop Ijaz, who works for Human Rights Watch in Pakistan has said: “The casual manner in which death sentences are handed in blasphemy cases coupled with the lack of orientation of Pakistani courts with technology makes this a very dangerous situation.”
How a VPN can help
One step that Pakistani’s who are active online can take to protect themselves from real and malicious accusations of blasphemy online is to download a reliable and effective VPN such as IPVanish or ExpressVPN.
With a VPN connection enabled, everything you do online will be encrypted and all of your internet traffic will be redirected through an external server which helps to hide your identity.
If Pakistani internet users combine a VPN connection with anonymous social media accounts (which are an advisable precaution if you want to speak freely online about any matter, but especially religion) they stand a good chance of not being identified as a blasphemer by the authorities regardless of what they post on sites like Facebook.
With the likelihood of strong sentences for such offenses becoming the norm in Pakistan it is a very advisable step for all Pakistani’ to take online.