Pakistani jailed for 13 years for Facebook post

Pakistani students browse their smartphones on a street in Rawalpindi.
Pakistani students browse their smartphones on a street in Rawalpindi.PHOTO: AFP

LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) - A Pakistani man was sentenced to 13 years in prison on 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 Muhammad.

"This case... was registered against Haider, who is a Shi'ite 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 (S$3,300), 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 Taleban 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 Shi'ite Muslim has been jailed for such a crime.

A Pakistani anti-terrorism court jailed another Shi'ite 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 Shi'ites, who make up roughly 20 per cent of Pakistan's 200 million people.