Why Taimoor Raza’s death sentence does not come as a surprise in Pakistan

Published: June 13, 2017

An anti-terrorism court in Bahawalpur gave 30-year-old Taimoor Raza a death sentence for allegedly committing blasphemy on social media. PHOTO: REUTERS

Last week, an anti-terrorism court in Bahawalpur gave 30-year-old Taimoor Raza a death sentence for allegedly blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on social media. The verdict left many stunned since it was the first time a death sentence has been given to someone for their actions online. Yet, despite it being a shocking legal decision, it was not a surprising one. At least not for those of us who have been keeping up with the country’s constantly evolving crackdown on its citizens’ cyberspace activities.

For years now, activists, politicians, and journalists have bemoaned the many ways that Pakistan’s antiquated blasphemy laws can be abused.

Whether it is to settle an old score or to simply squash political dissent, these so-called blasphemy laws don’t do anything to protect God or his Messenger and, to add more injury to insult, these laws do nothing but harm God’s creation. The very creation which He has in His supreme wisdom created with the ability to exercise free will.

When the internet first came into existence, it was hailed as the freest public sphere mankind had ever known. So high were the hopes of nerds and libertarians everywhere that, in 1996, a Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace was penned by John Perry Barlow who hailed the internet as a ‘virus of liberty’ that would take on the ‘governments of the industrial world’.

The internet is now teetering on the edge of its mighty pedestal, only 20 years later. Cyberspace as we know it today is mired in the power plays of politics. Today, corporate giants decide what we see, wear, eat, and love, and governments openly employ algorithms and surveillance methods to barricade citizens from engaging in critical discourse and from taking ownership of their country’s state of affairs.

Almost all of us have numbly accepted to living out our lives in this digitised Orwellian dream. Despite knowing that every click of our keyboard is easily monitored and can/will be used against us in the court of law, we continue clicking. Despite knowing that fake news – or ‘alternative facts’ as they are called in some circles – have the power to rig elections and change the course of modern history, we continue to cling onto 20-year-old promises of a golden digital revolution.

The internet has been one of the best things to happen to Pakistan because it has amplified nonconformist, minority, and dissenting viewpoints of the people. And naturally, this terrifies the majority government that has done everything from banning certain online groups to disappearing dissenters.

This is why the most surprising thing about Raza’s case is that anyone is actually surprised.

Ultimately, the verdict against Raza has as little to do with blasphemous content as Aamir Liaquat has to do with Ramazan. The whole thing is pure political theatre and political fiction designed to send a very specific message. A sort of opium that will keep us sheep happily clicking but on the terms of the shepherd.

So yes, the prime minister’s cyber crackdown is political and Pakistan’s blasphemy laws remain anachronistic hogwash that continue to fail the Pakistani people.

And if you are non-Muslim, anti-establishment, or simply prone to voicing the thoughts in your brain, you best watch your back on the street and your words online.

The case of Raza did not kill free speech in Pakistan, simply because between you and I and our omnipresent Big Brother Nawaz Sharif, the internet’s promise of free speech never even reached Pakistan.

Maria Kari

Maria Kari

The author is a lawyer and freelance journalist. She tweets as @mariakari1414 (twitter.com/mariakari1414)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Uruba Nasir

    Are you serious? just so you could cross the boundaries set by ALLAH SWT without any repercussion, you are trying to disease this ‘Muslim’ ummah with this free speech rubbish..yes human being was created with free will but just so they prove their obedience and loyalty to ALLAH SWT AND THAT IS WHY THERE IS HELL AND PARADISE. you said ‘so called’ blasphemy law, fear ALLAH, fear ALLAH because your words are going to stand witness against you at the day of judgement and if you say that this matter is between you and ALLAH SWT then that must be just between you and ALLAH swt while there you are writing it so you could inspire others too to speak against the rule of ALLAH SWT. you are ready to stop at a red light because this is the man made law but you do not want to obey the divine law, the law of your maker, inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon. Who SWT provided you with free will, you are using that will against HIM SWT and ALLAH says that ‘human being is cruel and ignorant’.Recommend

  • farhan

    kill the blasphemers, we must fight for Prophet(SAW) honour, hell with these liberalsRecommend

  • Rohan

    It’s Pakistan ,what did one expectRecommend

  • Omar K Cheema

    The death sentence is fucked up.
    Nowhere does it say in the Quran that the penalty for blasphemy is death.
    This is totally unislamic, but its a shame that none of the religious figures will protest yet another killing in the name of Islam.

  • numbersnumbers

    Author’s point easily proven by ETs extensive use of “Moderators”!
    Note how there are easily 10 or 20 times as many anonymous comments on Dawn, but ET opinion pieces struggle to have any (passed by moderators)!Recommend

  • Asad

    If he is guilty. He needs to be punished. It’s as simple as that!Recommend

  • Bilal

    Free speech apny baray me karn, dusron k baray nae.Recommend

  • https://insta724.com/ideas/beach beach photos instagram

    Whether it is to settle an old score or to simply squash political dissent, these so-called blasphemy laws don’t do anything to protect God or his Messenger and, to add more injury to insult, these laws do nothing but harm God’s creation. The very creation which He has in His supreme wisdom created with the ability to exercise free will.Recommend

  • Aly

    wow! You just lost the plot!Recommend

  • Feroz

    Well written Maria, however you skirted the legal and moral issue. How was the trial of an ordinary citizen without any link to terrorism allowed to be shifted to an anti terrorism Court. Secondly every religion taught us that God created Man and protects him, never heard of any religion that believes Man has the ability or power to harm God. I rest my case !Recommend

  • Xyz

    Guilty of what? Posting some silliness on social media? I suppose we should behead all people posting on ET who mock others’ religions…be it Hindu or Christian or Ahmadis etc etc. Yes? Let’s build a mountain of headless corpses.Recommend

  • جمی فار لیفٹ والا

    The act of blasphemy is no longer alleged when the court has convicted this person. Besides, if the guy and likes of him do things in private to each other, one can invoke privacy and cyber space related argument. However, when you post something to public, it is just like shouting in the crowd. The blogger is a lawyer, no kidding.
    And the matter of free speech is relative. One just can’t utter nonsense against anyone without repercussions. Free speech does not provide authority to insult any one or any personality dear to any one. I just can’t get the hue and cry. Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.Recommend

  • Rahul

    Congratulations to Pakistan, the next step is to go after people who are thinking Blasphemy!Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    So we should also kill those (Muslins ?) who mock the Christian, Hindu, Jewish or oriental religions worldwide? Recommend

  • Tommy Gunn

    This is disgusting in so many ways and cements Pakistan’s image in the world as a backward, intolerant & extremist society. Then Pakistanis wonder why the world looks down upon them as a radical failed state.Recommend

  • Uruba Nasir

    I didn’t become lost but i diagnosed the disease at its root..i know what they are trying to do! Yes people abuse this law but isnt it the case in every legislation around the world..sometimes an innocent of murder is charged with death sentence, why do you think! Because people are abusing the law..talk about people abusing it but dn’t say anything about the law itself! Recommend

  • http://booknsharemedia.com AudioBooks Lover

    Good decision by the court. If people know court enforces the law, then there will be no mob lynchingsRecommend

  • Saqib Ali Rana

    “your comment is awaiting moderation”. Free space? Recommend

  • Pegasus711

    They should be charged and punished accordingly.Recommend

  • Fizza Malik

    Freedom of speech does not gives us licence to say anything against someone. It never allows one to abuse or bully someone. One should mind thier own business rather than criticizing and disrespecting others. Whether it be a muslim abusing on hindu, christian or jew or they criticizing us. Human is born free but they have to abide by some rules made to maintain peace in world. Spread peace and stop hatred speech.Recommend

  • Fizza Malik

    Hatred speech or speech which dehumanizes others is not a free speech. We should be able to learn and maintain the difference between hatred speech and freedom of speech.Recommend

  • Muhammad

    you should know its a man made law.Recommend

  • Mohammad

    do you really believe Creator of the heavens an the earth needs some man made law to protects His honor?Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Hmm, just what “authority” allows Pakistanis to denigrate religious minorities, verbally abusing Ahmadis, Hindus, Jews, Christians with no consequence???Recommend

  • Jameel ur Rasheed

    Well personally I don’t mind people like who are infested with western value. Just to tell you, when you like a dominant society you have to confirm with the values of that dominant society. In case you cannot, than you try not to strike the very basis of their beliefs and morals. I haven’t read what this guy might gave said, but people like these are used to ridiculing the personalities we hold dear and than cry rivers for consequences they face. It’s something they do deliberately in the name of freedom of expression. Even in your west they don’t tolerate the odd ones. Muslims are increasingly being profiled and targeted for Muslim specific practices like beards and hijabs. And those who intend to stay there, they just have accept the fact. Recommend

  • Jameel ur Rasheed

    Ah! Before going so philosophical I wish you had read the blog. It’s just not the anti Islamic words this guy might have said on his fb, he abused Hazrat Ayesha R.A. who is Hazrat Ayesha R.A. just in case you wanna know! She was wife of the Holy Prophet pbuh and Allah Himself testified for her piety and pureness through multiple revelations in Holy Quran. So if anyone who tries to mock or ridicule a personality we hold dear and who has a divine verdict attached to her sanctity and piety, he will have to pay for that. It’s just how it goes. No rocket science. Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Hmmm, “might have said”???
    Perhaps the authorities should arrest you for blasphemous statements you might have said over the past twenty years!

  • farhan

    really, its silly? sick you are indeed, hurting the sentiments of millions of muslimsRecommend

  • farhan

    mocking a religion is different and people mock islam the most.And no mocking islam has no death penalty so stop being a drama queen. But mocking our most respected person is wrong and hurts the sentiments of millions. Dont compare apples to oranges brotherRecommend

  • Anthony

    No one should be sentenced to death for hurting someone else’s ‘sentiments’. Or are they so insecure in their ‘sentiments’ – which should really be called their ‘conditioning’ – that they can’t tolerate other people’s opinions. It’s really no different from the attitude of school-yard bullies.Recommend

  • Uruba Nasir

    Man made law? It’s the sentence according to sharia’h, not by a man!Recommend

  • Uruba Nasir

    Opinions? It does not be fit mere human beings to give their “opinions” on Prophets and you are not honourable in my sight because a prophet’s honour is nothing in your eyes! Keep your “opinions” to yourself or people like you where you are not going public with it, your opinion is not important in this matter, of any human in fact!Recommend

  • Uruba Nasir

    Do you know what shari’ah is! If you knew, you could not have said it’s unislamic!Recommend