LAHORE: An anti-terrorism court (ATC) has jailed a Shia man for 13 years after he posted what it deemed sectarian hate speech on Facebook, officials said on Monday, with rights activists condemning the ruling as “extremely concerning”.

Saqlain Haider, 32, who ran a small hotel in Chiniot district south of Islamabad, was also fined Rs250,000 rupees for “posting hateful material”, an official of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) told AFP, requesting anonymity.

"The accused has been convicted and fined Rs250,000 for his offense," added SSP Attaur Rahman of CTD.

Abdul Majeed, a senior local counter-terrorism official, confirmed the incident.

“The convict was arrested on October 27 after locals complained about him and he was charged for spreading sectarian hatred under various clauses of the anti-terrorism act,” he told AFP.

Majeed said the accused was released on bail a day later, then arrested and imprisoned on November 21 after the court convicted him.

Bytes for All, a human rights group, said it had not been able to verify the details of Saqlain's case, but added: “We are extremely concerned that an anti-terrorism court has been used to hear a case apparently related to online speech rather than to any violent activities.“

A spokesman pointed out that banned militant groups including the Pakistani Taliban and sectarian groups such Lashkar-i-Jhangvi have a significant social media presence in Pakistan and “appear to be operating freely under the eyes of authorities”.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has blocked hundreds of militant and sectarian websites and social media accounts in the past but they often pop up anew under different names.

Bytes for All said Saqlain Haider's case was the first it knew of in which someone was convicted for posting sectarian material on Facebook, but that blasphemy charges were often brought against social media users.

ATC hands over five-year jail term

In a separate incident in Faisalabad, an ATC on Monday handed down a five-year jail term to a man for airing “hate material” on social media.

According to the prosecution, Rajhana police had booked Zeeshan in two separate cases under sections 9 and 11-W of the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) over publishing material on social media to incite sectarian hatred.

After observing evidences and hearing witnesses, the ATC Judge awarded the accused five years imprisonment in each case.

Zeeshan has also been directed to pay a fine of Rs0.2 million.

Failure to pay the fined amount would result in an additional six-month term for the convict.

Section 9 of the ATA states that a person is deemed guilty of an offence if he “intends to stir up sectarian hatred”, or commits an act which is “likely” to cause hatred.

Section 11-W states that the printing, publishing or dissemination of any material, “whether by audio or video-cassettes or by written, photographic, electronic, digital, wall-chalking, or any method which incites religious, sectarian or ethnic hatred…” is punishable by law.

In July, Dawn reported that a police registered a case under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) against a local prayer leader for posting hate comments on his Facebook page.

In another incident, an ATC sentenced former Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ) Rawalpindi president Mufti Tanveer to six months in prison for hate speech in October.

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