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Death sentence for Facebook post amid Pakistan crackdown online

A Pakistan government crackdown on freedom of speech online has reached worrying new levels, activists say, after a young man was sentenced to death over a series of Facebook posts.

On Saturday, 30-year-old Taimoor Raza became the first person to receive a death sentence in a Pakistan anti-terrorism court for "using derogatory remarks ... in respect of the Holy Prophet" on social media.

Amnesty International's Pakistan campaigner, Nadia Rahman, said in a statement the conviction set a "dangerous precedent."

"No one one should be hauled before an anti-terrorism court or any other court solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief online," she said.
Human rights advocates said 2017 has seen an unprecedented crackdown by the government on Pakistanis' freedom of speech on the internet and in social media.

In January, the government shut down the websites and blogs of four online activists who regularly campaigned for humans rights and religious freedom, according to Human Rights Watch, right after they were went missing simultaneously.

They were later released. There is no proven involvement of the government in their abductions.
Pakistani demonstrators take part in a protest the killing of journalism student Mashal Khan in Karachi on April 22.
Pakistan Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said in March "nothing can be greater than our religion to us" in stopping blasphemy on the internet.

"If social media platforms do not cooperate with us despite all our efforts, then we will take the strictest of measures against such platforms in the country," he said.

In May, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority sent millions of citizens a text message warning them against sharing blasphemy online.

"The uploading and sharing of blasphemous content on the internet is a punishable action under the law. Such content should be reported for legal action," the alert said.

Usama Khilji, director of the freedom of speech NGO Bolo Bhi, told CNN asking citizens to report each others actions online encouraged "mob justice."

"Asking people to record cases of blasphemy online (means) the state's responsibility is being transferred onto citizens," he said.


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