Facebook arguments rarely lead to anything other than a pointless exchange of insults, but this time, a Pakistani man, Taimoor Raza, has been sentenced to death.
Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country, may have just set a dangerous precedent for actually punishing people for Facebook posts.
A Pakistani anti-terrorism court has sentenced Taimoor Raza to death for allegedly committing blasphemy on Facebook, according to the Guardian.
Taimoor Raza, 30, was unlucky enough to get into a heated Facebook debate against a man who turned out to be a Pakistani counter-terrorism department official, who reported Raza’s allegedly blasphemous claims.
This rather bizarre case proves that you never know who might be arguing with you on the other side of the screen. But in this case, the situation is particularly risky, as the Pakistani government has intensified its crackdown on blasphemy on Facebook lately.
A court in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, unprecedentedly sentenced Taimoor Raza to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. This is the harshest verdict in history for such a crime.
Taimoor Raza’s unfortunate debate with the counter-terrorism agent took place last year, but the anti-terrorism court sentenced the 30-year-old Pakistani man to death only now.
Many social media users have called on Amnesty International to come to Taimoor Raza’s defence, and while there is no word as yet from Amnesty International on Raza’s death penalty sentence, the international organization has previously been vocal on the issue of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and how they related to Taimoor Raza, who had already been arrested.
Releasing a report in December of 2016, Amnesty International described Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as “abuse.”
While Facebook has long maintained that it is a “platform for free speech,” Pakistan has taken it upon themselves to twist the social media site to its own ends. Nadia Rahman, a Pakistan campaigner for Amnesty International, said that Pakistani authorities are twisting “vague and broad laws” to make “freedom of expression” a criminal act.
“Convicting and sentencing someone to death for allegedly posting blasphemous material online is a violation of international human rights law and sets a dangerous precedent.”
With regard to Taimoor Raza in particular, Amnesty’s representative was of the opinion that “he and all others accused of ‘blasphemy’ must be released immediately.”
Taimoor Raza hadn’t realized what kind of trouble he was about to get when he got into a Facebook debate about Islam. It turned out to be a heated debate with Raza and other 14 people getting arrested for it.
While all of the arrested parties had been accused of blasphemy, Taimoor Raza was the only one of the 15 to be sentenced to death.
Mob vigilante justice is spiraling out of control in Pakistan, where even baseless accusations of blasphemy for posts on Facebook and other social media platforms can get people in trouble.
Speaking to the Guardian, Taimoor Raza’s brother, Waseem Abbas, revealed what, exactly, his brother wrote on Facebook that brought the life-changing sentence.
Abbas, who says his family is “poor but literate” and is part of the country’s minority Shia Muslim community, revealed that Taimoor Raza got into “a sectarian debate” about the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook with the counter-terrorism agent, whose name is, ironically, Muhammad Usman.
According to Taimoor Raza’s lawyer, the Pakistani man was initially charged for making “derogatory remarks about other religious personalities,” but later he was charged for “derogatory acts against Prophet Muhammad.”
Sentencing Taimoor Raza to death could set a dangerous precedent in the country, where the government has intensified the crackdown on perceived dissent on Facebook.
Many now believe that Facebook, and social media as a whole, has basically become a platform for the Pakistani government to identify dissidents and punish them for their religious and political views.
Pakistani authorities have even asked both Facebook and Twitter users to help them identify Pakistanis sharing blasphemous content, as well as encouraging Pakistanis to report fellow citizens.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and its crackdown on blasphemy on social media opened the door for Pakistanis to wrongly frame people. Thus, if someone in Pakistan doesn’t like their fellow citizen, they could engage with them in a provocative Facebook debate and report them to authorities by wrongly accusing them of blasphemy.
It is also no less alarming that the Pakistani government is using anti-terrorism courts rather than regular courts in its crackdown on blasphemy. The confusion between terrorism and religion gives the Pakistani government more leeway to sentence Pakistanis to death.
Not only blasphemy on Facebook can lead to trouble – and possibly a death sentence – but also opposition to the government. Authorities recently detained dozens of social media users for posting “anti-military” content, triggering fears that Pakistan has become a dictatorship state.
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