January 9th, 2021

By Rehan Piracha 


An anti-terrorism court in Islamabad on Friday sentenced three to death for sharing and uploading ‘blasphemous’ content on social media.

The court convicted Nasir Ahmed Sultani, Rana Noman, and Abdul Waheed on the charge of committing blasphemy against the Holy Prophet. The fourth co-accused, Prof Anwar Ahmed, a professor of Urdu in Islamabad government college, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on charges of blaspheming religion, and was also fined Rs100,000. The court issued permanent arrest warrants for four other co-accused – Faraz Pervaiz, Pervaiz Iqbal, Tayyab Sardar and Rao Qaiser Shehzad Khan – declared proclaimed offenders in the case.

The blasphemy case

The court, which had conducted proceedings in the blasphemy case for the last four years, reserved judgment on 15th December. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Cyber Crime Circle in Islamabad lodged the first investigation report after conclusion of enquiry into complaint on March 8, 2017. According to the FIR, there were several people and groups disseminating/spreading blasphemous material through the Internet by use of social media including facebook, twitter and other websites, through alleged profiles, pages, handles, sites. Several others in an organized manner willfully defiling and outraging religious feelings, beliefs by using derogatory words, remarks, graphic designed images, sketches, visual representations. The complainant stated that such illegal activities were causing religious disharmony and unrest among different segments of the society, inciting hatred and contempt on religious basis to stir up violence and cause internal disturbance and to create a sense of fear, insecurity in the society. The court indicted the four individuals on September 12, 2017. All the accused had pleaded not guilty to the charges. The prosecution produced 19 witnesses against the accused.

Nasir Ahmed, Abdul Waheed, Rana Nouman Rafaqat and Anwaar Ahmed were arrested and charged with offences under Section 295-A, 295-B, 295-C, 298, 298-A, 298-B, 109-PPC, read with Section 11 of PECA, 2016 and Sections 6(f), 7(b), 8 and 9 of ATA, 1997.

Three sets of accusations

ATC Judge Raja Jawad Abbas Hassan in his judgment noted that ‘there were three separate occurrences having different sets of evidence but a single challan against three different sets of accused persons having three different happenings and occurrences’.

Prof Anwaar Ahmed

The allegation of the prosecution against accused Anwaar Ahmed was that he being head of Urdu Department, Islamabad Collage for Boys, G-6/3, Islamabad, used to deliver lectures containing derogatory remarks against the preaching of Islam. In one of the lecture he criticized the concept of heaven (Jannah), milk, honey, hoor etc, that was recorded by one of the student and subsequently made viral on Internet. In its verdict, the court said the prosecution has successfully established to the hilt its case of delivery of sacrilegious lecture to the students of Islamabad College for Boys, G-6/3, Islamabad by accused Anwaar Ahmad, with an intention to outrage religious feelings of the students and to incite hatred and contempt on religious basis to stir up violence.

Nasir Ahmed

The allegation of the prosecution against accused Nasir Ahmed was that he had uploaded 159 videos with blasphemous content on his YouTube channel. Besides, the judge said that the accused has not denied delivery of sermons uploaded to his YouTube channel by submitting a hand written statement to the court. According to the judgment, the prosecution has proved that the accused has ‘committed blasphemy within the ambit of Section 295-C, PPC.

Abdul Waheed and Rana Nouman Rafaqat

The case of the prosecution against accused Abdul Waheed and Rana Nouman Rafaqat was that accused persons along with several other bloggers with their common intention were involved in posting blasphemous content including a proscribed book and other sacrilegious content against the Holy Prophet. The judge said the prosecution has 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 both the accused persons Abdul Waheed and Rana Nouman connecting them with the posting of blasphemous material on several websites, posts and through emails. The evidence pertaining to recovery of gadgets was corroborated by the forensic analysis and cyber analysis evidence brought on record.

The judgment noted that ‘although the accused have produced evidence in their defence the defence witnesses were blood relatives and their evidence cannot be believed particularly in view of overwhelming, vivid, reliable, strong and trustworthy evidence produced by the prosecution to bring home the guilt associated with the accused’.

Death sentences to be confirmed by IHC

The judge in his verdict said the sentences of death shall be subject to confirmation by the Islamabad High Court, adding that the death sentences shall not be executed until confirmed by the high court. The convicts can file appeals against the convictions and sentences within seven days of the judgment.

In addition, Nasir Ahmad, Abdul Waheed and Rana Nouman Rafaqat, and Anwaar Ahmad were each also sentenced to five years imprisonment with fine of Rs.50,000 under Section 7(g) of Anti-terrorism Act 1997.