An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has sentenced to death three men for disseminating anti-Islam content and videos over social media.
The single-judge tribunal in Islamabad found the suspects guilty of “inciting hatred and contempt on religious, sectarian or ethnic basis to stir up violence,” according to a copy of Friday’s ruling.
A fourth defendant accused in the same case, a college professor in the Pakistani capital, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on charges he used derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad in one of his lectures that was later uploaded online.
All of the convicted defendants have the right to appeal their sentences.
Friday’s convictions are not the first time someone in Pakistan has been handed the death penalty for allegedly blaspheming on social media.
Surging Blasphemy Cases Raise Concern in Pakistan With more than 40 cases filed in August alone, one man in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwam says charges leveled at his 61-year-old father puts his entire family in danger
In 2017, a counterterrorism court in the eastern city of Lahore sentenced a man to death who it said committed blasphemy on Facebook.
Rights groups argue that convicting and sentencing someone to death for allegedly posting blasphemous material online is a violation of international human rights law.
Critics say blasphemy laws in Pakistan are often misused to settle personal disputes against minorities and even members of the majority Muslim population.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive subject in Pakistan, where insulting the Prophet Muhammad carries the death penalty. Even mere accusations of blasphemy have incited mass protests and mob lynchings.
In December 2020, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom published a report that found the country with the most cases of state enforced blasphemy laws was Pakistan, with 184 cases identified between 2014-2018.
The U.S. designated Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.”
The Pakistani government rejected the designation as “arbitrary” and the outcome of a “selective assessment.” Islamabad said the U.S. findings contradicted ground realities and raised “serious doubts about the credibility of the exercise."