Pakistani Man Sentenced to Death for Sharing "Blasphemous" Content

Pakistani authorities have sentenced a man to death over accusations of sharing blasphemous content on a Whatsapp group.

An anti-terrorism court in Peshawar, located in northwestern Pakistan, imposed a death and imprisonment sentence on the defendant, Syed Muhammad Zeeshan. He was convicted under the country’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act and Anti-Terrorist Act on March 24.

He was also sentenced to 23 years and a hefty fine of 1.2 million Pakistani rupees (equivalent to about 4,324 US dollars) for violating sections of the Pakistani Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorist Act.

His case became prominent when Muhammad Saeed, a resident of the Punjabi city of Talagang, filed a complaint against Zeeshan to the counter-terrorism wing of Pakistan’s Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) in Islamabad. The complainant accused Zeeshan of sharing “blasphemous” content, including malicious content against holy figures in Islam.

Ibrar Hussain, Saeed’s lawyer, was quoted by news media that “the FIA had confiscated Zeeshan’s cellphone, and its forensic examination proved him guilty.

After Saeed filed his complaint, Zeeshan was arrested by Pakistani authorities in 2021 and detained at the Peshawar Central Prison, where he remained until his trial. The convict has the right to appeal against the Peshawar court’s conviction order, as the court declared the death sentence would be subject to the decision of an appeal.

Blasphemy remains a highly contentious and sensitive subject in the Muslim-majority nation of over 231 million people. Last February, the Pakistani government briefly banned Wikipedia for allegedly “blasphemous” content, although authorities failed to specify what content was the reason for the ban. The ban was lifted after three days.

In the same month, a Pakistani man jailed over blasphemy charges was dragged outside of prison by a mob before he was beaten to death. Following the event, the chief of the Warburton police station, where the lynching victim was detained, and the deputy superintendent were suspended for failing to stop the mob.

The world was shocked upon hearing the news of Priyantha Kumara, a Buddhist Sri Lankan factory manager, lynched and beaten to death in December 2021 by an extremist Muslim mob in Punjab. Hundreds of Pakistanis were convicted for participating in the lynching.

Concerns have also been raised over Pakistan’s growing intolerance and extremism when the country further tightened its strict rules against blasphemy by increasing fines and punishment for those convicted.

Many human rights organizations have expressed their worries that the stricter rules would increase the prospect of Muslims reporting against their fellow Muslims and negatively affect religious minorities, such as Hindus and Christians, who are already caught in the crossfire.

According to the National Commission of Justice and Peace in Pakistan, a human rights organization, around 774 Muslims and 760 members of religious minorities in Pakistan have been accused of blasphemy in the past 20 years.

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