MULTAN, Pakistan – A minority Shiite Muslim was sentenced to death in Pakistan for sharing blasphemous content about Islam on social media, a government prosecutor said.
Judge Shabbir Ahmed announced the sentence for 30-year-old Taimoor Raza on Saturday in Bahawalpur in eastern Punjab province, according to Shafiq Qureshi. Raza was arrested last year for allegedly posting derogatory content about Sunni Muslim religious leaders and the wives of the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook.
Qureshi said Bahawalpur's counter-terrorism force arrested Raza in April last year following a complaint that he was showing onlookers objectionable material on his cell phone at a bus terminal. He added that Raza had previously posted other blasphemous material on Facebook.
Pakistan is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country and the rivalry between Shiite and Sunni Muslims dates back to the seventh century when they had a disagreement who should be the heir to Islam's Prophet Mohammed.
Under Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting God, Islam or other religious personalities can be sentenced to death.
Pakistan last year arrested 15 people, 10 Muslims and five non-Muslims, on blasphemy charges, according to a report issued by the independent rights group Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
The country has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy, but the mere accusation is enough to ignite mob violence or lynching in the deeply conservative country. Right groups say the harsh blasphemy laws are often used to settle personal scores.
Earlier this year, a student in the country's conservative northwestern province was attacked and killed by a stick-wielding mob who accused him of blasphemy. There was no evidence of blasphemy, and his death generated widespread protests.
In January 2011, a provincial governor was shot and killed by his police guard who accused him of blasphemy after he criticized the law and defended a Christian woman sentenced to death under the law.
In recent months, the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif launched a campaign to rid social media of any content considered insulting to Islam, at least any posted by Pakistanis.
The government petitioned Facebook and Twitter to identify Pakistanis worldwide posting material considered offensive to Islam so that Pakistani authorities can prosecute them or pursue their extradition on charges of blasphemy, tantamount to a death sentence.