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Facebook 'blasphemy' posts draw death penalty in Pakistan

Taimoor Raza is the first person to be sentenced to death in Pakistan over social media posts.

Facebook has been the subject of protests in Pakistan because it refuses to censor "blasphemous" content.

Asif Hassan / AFP/Getty Images

A man has been sentenced to death in Pakistan for posting blasphemous comments about the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.

Taimoor Raza is the first person in Pakistan to receive the death penalty in a case relating to social media, public prosecutor Shafiq Qureshi told Reuters.

Raza was reportedly arrested by a counterterrorism officer at a bus stop when he was playing blasphemous material on his phone, which was then confiscated, leading to the discovery of his Facebook posts.

Facebook has repeatedly emphasized its role as a platform for free speech, but the laws governing free speech and human rights in countries around the world can vary dramatically. Human rights organization Amnesty International published a report in December 2016 detailing the ways in which Pakistan's blasphemy laws allow for abuse.

"Convicting and sentencing someone to death for allegedly posting blasphemous material online is a violation of international human rights law and sets a dangerous precedent," said Amnesty International's Pakistan campaigner, Nadia Rahman, in a statement. "The authorities are using vague and broad laws to criminalize freedom of expression. He and all others accused of 'blasphemy' must be released immediately."

Raza will be able to appeal his decision at the High Court, and then, if necessary, at Pakistan's Supreme Court.

"We are deeply saddened and concerned by the death sentence served in Pakistan for a Facebook post," said a company spokeswoman in a statement. "Facebook uses powerful systems to keep people's information secure and tools to keep their accounts safe, and we do not provide any government with direct access to people's data. We will continue to protect our community from unnecessary or overreaching government intervention."