Taimoor Raza, a 30-year-old Shia Muslim from a “poor but literate” family, was sentenced to death in June by an anti-terrorist court in Pakistan. His crime? Allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad on Facebook.

     It occurred during an online debate with a man who turned out to be an undercover counter-terrorism agent. His death sentence, the first to result from a social media posting, is an extreme example of the Pakistani government’s escalating battle to enforce its blasphemy laws, which criminalize insulting Islam.

   In recent months, Pakistan’s interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, has increased pressure on Facebook and Twitter to identify individuals suspected of blasphemy. On 7 July, Facebook’s vice-president of public policy, Joel Kaplan, met with Khan to discuss the government’s demand that Facebook either remove blasphemous content or be blocked in the country.

   Facebook confirmed that it had rejected Pakistan’s demand that new accounts be linked to a mobile phone number – a provision that would make it easier for the government to identify account holders. Currently, opening a Facebook account in Pakistan requires only an email address, while mobile phone users must provide fingerprints to a national database.

    “Until recently, social media afforded a measure of privacy where you could discuss the hypocrisy of people whose behavior was loathsome but who wore the thick garb of piety,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent academic and activist.

     “Now the state is saying that we will track you down wherever you are and however you might want to hide,” Hoodbhoy added. “Pakistan is fast becoming a Saudi-style fascist religious state.”

      Parents are now telling their children to self-censor on Facebook, Hoodbhoy said, especially in light of the lynching in April of Mashal Khan – a university student who was accused of offending Islam.

     Goraya was one of five bloggers abducted for four weeks in January for being critical of the military establishment.

    Pakistan is in the process of rerouting its internet traffic through China, laying a 500-mile fiber optic cable from the China-Pakistan border to Rawalpindi. Some fear the project will lead to a block of Facebook in Pakistan, similar to the one in China. The project is expected to be finished next year.

View Point

Is Pakistan turning into another China by blocking and punishing anything against religion? This is ominous and doesn’t foretell a good future for a multi-ethnic Pakistan.