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Pakistani jailed for 13 years for Facebook post

AFP , Thursday 3 Mar 2016
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A Pakistani man was sentenced to 13 years in prison Thursday for allegedly posting religiously offensive material on his Facebook page, lawyers in the case said.

Rizwan Haider, 25, was convicted in an anti-terrorism court of three charges including promoting sectarian hatred, after he supposedly published a post referring to Prophet Mohammed.

"This case... was registered against Haider, who is a Shia Muslim by faith, in January for posting objectionable material against the belief of Sunni Muslims," Adeel Chattah, public prosecutor in the case, told AFP.

He was also fined 250,000 rupees ($2,500), Chattah said, adding that he denied the charges and has the right to appeal.

His lawyer dismissed the accusations.

"He only liked it and did not post it on the page," Shameem Zaidi said.

Pakistan tightened its hate crime laws as part of a campaign to combat extremism after a Taliban attack at a school in Peshawar in December 2014 killed 153 people, mostly children.

Authorities have arrested and sentenced several religious clerics, mostly from hardline Sunni sects, for hate speech in recent months.

But Haider's case is one of the few in which a Shia Muslim has been jailed for such a crime.

A Pakistani anti-terrorism court jailed another Shia man for 13 years in November 2015 after he also posted what it deemed sectarian hate speech on Facebook. Rights activists condemned the ruling as "extremely concerning".

Pakistan has been gripped by sectarian violence since the 1980s, with thousands killed in clashes triggered by religious tensions.

Most of the violence is committed by Sunni militants against Shias, who make up roughly 20 percent of Pakistan's 200 million people.

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