ISLAMABAD: In a first, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) of Islamabad on Friday sentenced three men to death for committing blasphemy in the cyberworld. A fourth convict was awarded 10- year imprisonment.

The ATC also issued perpetual arrest warrants for four absconding accu­sed. They have been accu­sed of running Facebook pages displaying offensive material.

According to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which had investigated the case, Rana Nouman Rafa­qat and Abdul Waheed operated fake profiles and disseminated blasphemous material on social media, while Nasir Ahmad uploa­ded blasphemous videos on a YouTube channel.

The verdict was announced by Islamabad ATC Judge Raja Jawad Abbas, who found the three accused guilty of having committed blasphemy.

The fourth accused, Professor Anwaar Ahmed, who was awarded 10-year jail term and Rs100,000 fine, had been arrested for disseminating controversial and blasphemous views during a lecture at the Islamabad Model College where he was a teacher in the Urdu department. A video clip of the lecture was posted by someone on social media and went viral.

The four convicts were arrested in 2017 in the blasphemy case. According to an FIR registered by the FIA on March 19: “There are several unknown people/groups disseminating/spreading blasphemous material through internet using social media i.e. Facebook, Twitter, websites, etc. through alleged profiles/pages/handles/sites etc… and several others wilfully defiled and outraged religious feelings, belief by using derogatory words/remarks/graphic designs/images/sketches/visual representations in respect of the sacred names.”

The four accused were indicted by the ATC on Sept 12, 2017 and they pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

During the proceedings, spread over the last three years, the prosecution produced 19 witnesses against the accused. On the other hand, the witnesses for the defence were not admitted by the court because they were blood relatives of the accused.

This is Pakistan’s first case in which persons have been convicted for sharing blasphemous content on social media.

The ATC judge held that the prosecution had managed to produce sufficient incriminating evidence establishing recovery of computers, hard disks, mobile phone, SIMs, laptops and surrender of passwords, user names, user IDs by the convicts Abdul Waheed and Rana Nouman connecting them with the posting of blasphemous material on several websites and through e-mails with the name of “Ayaz Nizami” and “Ayan Shah” respectively. The evidence pertaining to recovery of the gadgets was corroborated by the forensic analysis and cyber analysis brought on record through prosecution witnesses.”

“The mammoth increase in crimes connected with or through internet and computers has necessitated a growing need for computer forensics or digital forensics… Data can be recovered even if deleted from a user’s point of view. Techniques for recovery of deleted information are therefore central to digital forensics,” the court order said, adding that if an accused denied that the evidence retrieved from a device belonged to his/her hard disk, fact could be established through the Basic Input/Output System software.

The judge clarified that “the purpose of explaining the above process and authentication of the digital evidence is to determine whether the International best practices and techniques had been adopted in this case by the forensic expert while analyzing the hard-disk of CPU and Laptops, Mobile phones and other gadgets belonging to accused persons Abdul Waheed and Rana Nouman Rafaqat”.

In the light of the evidence the “accused persons Nasir Ahmad, Abdul Waheed and Rana Nouman Rafaqaat are liable to be convicted under Section 295-A, 295-C, PPC and Section 7 (g) of Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 respectively … and sentenced to DEATH”, the court ruled.

The verdict, however, is subject to confirmation by the Islamabad High Court.

Accused Anwaar Ahmad was convicted under Section 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code and sentenced to 10-year rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs100,000. Under ATA, Ahmed was sentenced five-year imprisonment.

The court issued perpetual arrest warrants of absconding accused Faraz Pervaiz, Pervaiz Iqbal, Tayyab Sardar and Rao Qaiser Shehzad Khan.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2021

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