13 June 2017

Pakistan Issues First Death Sentence for Digital Blasphemy

On Saturday, Taimoor Raza was sentenced to death in Bahawalpur, a city in southern Punjab, Pakistan, for alleged blasphemy. While the accused was yet another in a long list of victims of the country’s blasphemy law, who have either been arrested or were casualties of mob violence, Raza is the first to be sentenced to death for blasphemy on social media.

Raza, a Shia Muslim, has been accused of insulting the wives of Prophet Muhammad, among other prominent personalities of Sunni Islam.

According to Section 298-A of Pakistan’s Penal Code, defiling “the sacred name of any wife (Ummul Mumineen), or members of the family (Ahle-bait), of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), or any of the righteous Caliphs (Khulafa-e-Rashideen)” carries a maximum punishment of three years in prison.

However, Raza has simultaneously been charged with breaching section 295-C of the Penal Code, which sanctions death for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad. The second charge has been added to “maximize the penalty” for the accused.

That there are laws that sanction death for expressing views in the 21st century is an abomination in itself. But the fact that codification of these barbaric laws has penetrated the digital realm should be cause for severe backlash.

Last year Pakistan passed its cybercrime law, which upheld punishments for Penal Code crimes in the digital sphere as well, ensuring that blasphemy committed online would get the death sentence. However, the Penal Code being upheld hasn’t prevented calls for a section of the cybercrime law to be dedicated to blasphemy, to forestall the “crime” from being interpreted leniently.

Following the passage of the cybercrime law, the state has formally been at war with online dissent, most of which is dedicated to violently suppressing critique of religion. [The Diplomat] Read more