Islamabad court sentences three to death, professor to 10 years over blasphemy on social media

Urdu update here.

January 8, 2020, ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: An anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Friday handed out severe punishments, including death sentences, to four people accused of engaging in blasphemy on social media and issued permanent arrest warrants for four absconding suspects.

ATC judge Raja Jawad Abbas Hassan ruled that three of the accused men — identified as Nasir Ahmad Sultani, Rana Noman, and Abdul Waheed — were found guilty under Section 295-C and 295-G of the Pakistan Penal Code, while a fourth, Professor Anwar Ahmed, committed the offence under Section 295-A.

Judge Hassan announced the verdict reserved earlier, sentencing the three individuals to death and five years in prison, while condemning Professor Anwar Ahmed to 10 years in jail with hard labour and a fine worth Rs100,000.

The ATC remarked that it was satisfied with the evidence presented by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), as well as the witnesses’ statements. It also issued permanent arrest warrants for four wanted accused named in the case, including Tayyab Sardar, Rao Qaiser Shehzad, Faraz Pervez, and Pervez Iqbal.

Garlands and sweets

The prosecution was able to prove its case, it added, noting that the kind of content the accused had published on social media deserved the punishment handed to them. The four convicts were then shifted to the Central Jail, Rawalpindi — also known as the Adiala Jail.

The ruling marks the first case of blasphemy on social media in Islamabad wherein sentences have been handed down to the accused. Strict security arrangements had been made in the Federal Judicial Complex — which comprises the special courts — before the verdict, with the courtroom vacated before the handcuffed accused individuals were presented.

The judge summoned the four men to the rostrum to read out the verdict to them. Consequently, the plaintiff’s lawyers garlanded each other with flowers, rejoicing the sentencing and distributing sweets before celebrating in front of the media personnel outside the court.

A local media outlet reported that the FIA booked the eight accused in a case on March 19, 2017, and included charges of blasphemy, as well as clauses from the Anti-terrorism Act (ATA), 1997, and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016. Some 40 witnesses reportedly appeared during the hearings of the case.

Hafiz Ehtesham Ahmed and controversial cases

Professor Ahmed had been arrested over an allegedly blasphemous video that was shown during his classroom lecture, whereas Sultani was accused of claiming prophethood. Noman and Waheed, on the other hand, were accused of creating a page called ‘Jurat-e-Tehqeeq’ on social media and spreading material that was claimed to be blasphemous.

Four years ago, Hafiz Ehtesham Ahmed had identified blasphemous content on social media pages and petitioned the FIA to register a case against the aforementioned individuals. Former Islamabad High Court (IHC) judge Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui had also ordered the case be registered.

Hafiz Ehtesham Ahmed, a resident of Rawalpindi and one of the trustees of the Lal Masjid’s Shohada Foundation of Pakistan who has over the past claimed to be the controversial mosque’s spokesperson, has been in the news for filing similar cases, including one calling for a permanent ban on streaming platform Netflix. 

The Foundation had also recently called for cutting diplomatic relations with France and raised concern over a minority community not being termed non-Muslims in the National Commission for Minorities (NCM).

The FIA had subsequently tracked down and arrested the suspects after carrying out forensic tests of the social media accounts in question.

In this regard, Hafiz Ahmed said he was satisfied after the ATC announced the verdict.

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