According to the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA), which has been investigating the cases since 2017, two men, Rana Nouman Rafaqat and Abdul Waheed, were charged with spreading sacrilegious ideas on social media using fake profiles. A third man, Nasir Ahmad, allegedly uploaded blasphemous content on YouTube. A fourth man, Professor Anwaar Ahmed, was also accused of spreading blasphemy within his classroom.
The four accused were arrested in September 2017 under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and they pleaded not guilty to those charges. The First Information Report (FIR) registered in March 2017 reads: “There are several unknown people/groups disseminating/spreading blasphemous material through [the] internet using social media i.e. Facebook, Twitter, websites, etc. through alleged profiles/pages/handles/sites, etc. … and several others wilfully defiled and outraged religious feelings, belief by using derogatory words/remarks/graphic designs/images/sketches/visual representations in respect of the sacred names.”
Pakistan’s anti-terrorism court (ATC) appears focused on blasphemy offences, and this is Pakistan’s first case where the accused are convicted for expressing blasphemous ideas on social media. The ATC judge, Judge Abbas, condemned those three men with the death penalty as punishment for this crime.
As a court official revealed to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA), Judge Abbas also penalized a fourth man (a college instructor) with a fine and a 10-year jail term for promulgating blasphemous views while lecturing to his students. A video clip of the offending lecture was posted on social media and subsequently went viral.
Over the last three years of proceedings, the prosecution produced 19 witnesses to testify against the accused. However, the court would not admit any witnesses that had any blood relations to the accused.
The four men convicted of blasphemy have the opportunity to appeal the ATC’s decisions in two higher courts. They can petition the court to overturn their conviction or to plead for mercy from the president.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws date back to a colonial legacy made by former military ruler Ziaul Haq in the 1980s, who envisioned death as the maximum sentence for insulting the Prophet.
Since 1980, approximately 80 people were victims of extrajudicial mob killings before their trials could complete the court process. More than 1,296 cases of blasphemy were filed in Pakistan between 2011 and 2015. Even though the laws are treated as sacred, experts say there is no specific definition of “blasphemy” in Islamic jurisprudence, nor is there agreement on its punishment.
After the murder of Tahir Naseem, a Pakistani-American shot dead inside a Peshawar courtroom in 2020 while he was on trial for blasphemy, the United States urged Pakistan to reconsider it’s blasphemy laws. Now Pakistan has a renewed focus on these laws.
According to the US Commission for International Religious Freedom, Pakistan has dozens of convicts on death row or serving life imprisonment for committing blasphemy.