Man sentenced to death as Pakistan's war against blasphemy intensifies


Today’s digital world is governed by social media. People meet their friends, date, network and even conduct their business on social media. However, social media also has a dark side. 30-year-old Pakistani national Taimoor Raza discovered that negative side after his arrest and recent death row sentencing.

Raza was detained in April 2016 for showing passersby at a bus terminal videos that were inflammatory, at least according to officials. Apparently, one of those present reported him to the authorities and he was then arrested. According to the public prosecutor of Raza’s case, Raza’s arrest was because the material he was showing off was derogatory to other religions. In Pakistan, this charge carries a sentence of about two years. However, as investigators combed through Raza’s phone, confiscated at the time of his arrest, they not only found evidence Raza propagated blasphemous material on Facebook against the Prophet Muhammad and his companions but also that he perpetuated hate crimes. The combination of the two offenses earned Raza the death penalty sentence from the Punjab counterterrorism court and has the option to appeal the ruling.

Matters do not look positive for Raza should he choose to appeal the decision. At present Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is leading a crackdown against blasphemous acts in the Muslim-majority nation. In Pakistan, blasphemy against the prophet or any other sacred beliefs of the Islam religion is a capital offense, punishable by death. Many individuals have been killed because of blasphemy because the laws against it are very strict. The international community has condemned Raza’s sentencing, labeling it the harshest cybercrime in the country yet. Taimoor Raza is the first person to be sentenced to death for making blasphemous comments on social media. Earlier this year, the Pakistani government started a crackdown on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Critics have also opposed Raza’s sentence because they argue it promotes further discrimination in the already divided Islamic state. Amnesty International said the sentencing of Raza promotes minority oppression because Raza is from a minority Muslim community called the Shiite. The stringent stance of the Pakistani government also presents a dangerous situation in the Middle Eastern nation. It shows a situation where many innocents could die for merely being accused of blasphemy.

An example of a time when this happened is in the case of Mashal Khan. Khan was killed in his university dorm two months ago after engaging in a religious debate in which one person accused him of being blasphemous. Officials did not release what Khan did or said when they finally declared him innocent of the charges. Officials simply said that someone had targeted Khan and spun the blasphemy story to legitimize the killing. Khan’s case proved Pakistan’s situation was unstable, with people ready to kill if someone is even accused of blasphemy. It also showed how that situation could be used to camouflage the killing of innocent people.