An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has handed death sentences to three people for social media posts deemed insulting to Prophet Muhammad under the country’s blasphemy laws.
A fourth accused, a college teacher, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for a “blasphemous” lecture he had delivered in the classroom, court official Istifamul Haq told DPA news agency on Friday.
Judge Raja Jawad announced the decision in the capital Islamabad on the charges filed in 2017, Haq said.
The convicted people can appeal in two higher courts to overturn their conviction or ask for mercy from the president.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, a colonial legacy made more stringent by former military ruler Ziaul Haq in the 1980s, envisage death as the maximum punishment for insulting the Prophet.
Rights activists say laws have been used against the followers of other religions and minority Muslim faiths such as Shia and Ahmadiya in the Sunni-majority country.
Since the 1980s, nearly 80 people have been killed by individuals or angry mobs even before their trials were concluded in courts.
Between 2011 and 2015, the latest period for which consolidated data is available, there were more than 1,296 blasphemy cases filed in Pakistan.
The laws are now treated as sacred, but experts say there is no clear definition of “blasphemy” in Islamic jurisprudence, nor is there agreement on the punishment for it.
There has been a renewed focus on the laws after the United States urged Pakistan to revisit them following the murder of a Pakistani-American man inside a courtroom during his trial for blasphemy last July.
Pakistan has dozens of convicts on death row or serving life imprisonment for committing blasphemy, according to the US Commission for International Religious Freedom.