A 30-year-old man charged with posting blasphemous content (i.e., disparaging remarks about the Prophet Muhammad and his wives) on Facebook was sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in Bahawalpur on Sunday, June 11. It is the first time a death sentence has been handed down for blasphemy on social media and he will be allowed to appeal the sentence in Lahore High Court and, if necessary, Pakistan's Supreme Court. Another man was recently charged with a similar crime and was reportedly refused bail. The arrests and sentencing have been criticized by international human rights organizations.
Blasphemy is an extremely contentious issue in parts of Pakistan. Insulting the Prophet Muhammad is punishable by death, and incidents of suspected blasphemers being killed by right-wing vigilantes are common. According to media reports, nearly 70 people have been killed in connection with blasphemy allegations since 1990.
Several violent incidents related to blasphemy allegations have occurred in the past two months. One boy was reportedly killed on May 4 when police attempted to disperse a mob demanding police turn over a man arrested on suspicion of sending blasphemous content via WhatsApp in Balochistan province. Earlier, a man in Chitral (northern Pakistan) was attacked by a mob on April 21 over accusations of blasphemy. Police fired tear gas and live rounds at the mob, resulting in the injury of eight protesters, after they attacked the local police officers and demanded that the suspected blasphemer be punished. Six police officers were also injured during the clashes.
Individuals in Pakistan are advised to refrain from making sensitive political or religious statements, and adhere to all instructions issued by local authorities. Individuals are also advised to exercise extreme caution and to avoid all demonstrations and gatherings.