An anti-terrorism court in northwest Pakistan has convicted and sentenced a Muslim man to death after he was accused of posting blasphemous content in a WhatsApp group.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations can stir mobs and violence.
Syed Muhammad Zeeshan was convicted under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act and Anti-Terrorist Act by the court in Peshawar on Friday.
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“Accused Syed Muhammad Zeeshan, son of Syed Zakaullah in custody has been convicted and sentenced after being found guilty,” the court order said, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
Zeeshan, who is a resident of the northwest city of Mardan, was also fined 1.2 million rupees ($4,300) and handed a total of 23 years imprisonment.
He has the right to appeal.
The case arose after Muhammad Saeed, a resident of Talagang in Punjab province filed an application with the Federal Investigation Agency two years ago accusing Zeeshan of posting blasphemous content in a WhatsApp group, Saeed’s counsel Ibrar Hussain told AFP.
The “FIA had confiscated Zeeshan’s cell-phone and its forensic examination proved him guilty,” he said.
While Pakistan’s laws prohibiting blasphemy can carry a potential death sentence, so far it has never been enforced for the crime.
Although many cases involve Muslims accusing fellow Muslims, rights activists have warned that religious minorities -- particularly Christians -- are often caught in the crossfire, with blasphemy charges used to settle personal scores.
According to the National Commission of Justice and Peace, a human rights and legal aid group in Pakistan, 774 Muslims and 760 members of various minority religious groups were accused of blasphemy in the last 20 years.
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