A FACEBOOK USER in Pakistan has been sentenced to death for blasphemy in a government crackdown.
Taimoor Raza, 30, becomes the first such case as the Pakistani government looks to stamp out any kind of insult to the Prophet Muhammad on social media.
Offensive language about the Prophet in other media is well documented as having led to dozens of death row inmates in the country.
"An anti-terrorism court of Bahawalpur has awarded him the death sentence," Shafiq Qureshi, a public prosecutor in the city of Bahawalpur told Reuters. "It is the first-ever death sentence in a case that involves social media."
The trial took place in jail amid high security, in part to avoid mob justice, but also as the comments were linked to anti-terrorism charges.
The insults covered Prophet Muhammad, his wives and companions, reports Al Jazeera, which warns that while this is the first case of a conviction in the country based on social media content, obtained from his phone, it is part of a rising tide of blasphemy convictions, both officially and through mob rule.
The crackdown started with an SMS message sent to millions of Pakistanis last week inviting them to report blasphemy, said Human Rights Watch.
It transpired that the comments were made in a conversation about Islam between Raza and a man who turned out to be a government undercover counter-terrorism agent in a sting operation that caught 15 people last year.
Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, said to The Guardian: "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.
"Such sentences will embolden those who want to wrongly frame people," he said, noting with concern that Saturday's sentence was handed down by an anti-terrorism court, not a regular court. "The confusion between national security and religion is very alarming,"
Earlier this year, it was reported that a man in Saudi Arabia had been sentenced to death for his comments about the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter. Go further back and there are stories of jail sentences and blocks on social media in countries such as Egypt and Kuwait.
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