A Lahore court Friday sentenced a man to five years “rigorous imprisonment” — jail and hard labour — for a blasphemous Facebook post, in what is believed to be one of the first such cases under controversial cybercrime laws.
Sajid Ali was charged with posting blasphemous and derogatory content against revered Islamic figures on social media in 2017.
He has been sentenced to jail for three years under Section 11 (hate crime) of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act and Section 298-A (defiling name of Holy Prophet’s wives, family members or caliphs) of Pakistan Penal Code. The sentences will run concurrently, which means that the convict will be in jail for three years. A fine of Rs20,000 has been imposed on him too.
“There must be an awareness movement on behalf of the government to educate the people with respect to the new cybercrimes,” read the 11-page judgment by Judicial Magistrate Muhammad Aamir Raza Baitu.
Prosecutor Munam Bashir Chaudhry told AFP the case is the first to be tried under a section of the cybercrime laws, which were passed in 2016, pertaining to hate speech.
There have been other cases of prosecution against “online blasphemy” in Pakistan, including one in 2017 that saw a man sentenced to death for sharing what the court said was blasphemous content on social media.
However, none of the previous convictions has come under the cybercrime laws, according to Chaudhry.
Pakistani authorities say they have registered about 500 cases in total under the cybercrime laws since they came into effect.
Critics of the laws say they are open to abuse by government agencies to restrict freedom of expression in a country where activists have long warned of a shrinking space for dissent.