With the ubiquity of social media presence in people's daily lives, the past few years has seen the rise of concern over people's privacy of their social media accounts, as well as concern over how content shared on those accounts could be used against the account holder. In America, this commonly breaks mostly into concerns about prospective employers reviewing social media accounts during the hiring process and how government reviews social media accounts for law enforcement purposes. While there are real concerns to be had in both cases, however, it's useful to be reminded that there are places where it is so much worse. Useful in that it's good to be reminded what privacy advocates are fighting to keep us from. Such as death.
In Pakistan, the government there has reached the unfortunate milestone of sentencing its first ever person to death over content he put on Facebook.
On Saturday, 30-year-old Taimoor Raza became the first person to receive a death sentence in a Pakistan anti-terrorism court for "using derogatory remarks ... in respect of the Holy Prophet" on social media.
Amnesty International's Pakistan campaigner, Nadia Rahman, said in a statement the conviction set a "dangerous precedent."
"No one one should be hauled before an anti-terrorism court or any other court solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief online," she said.
While the rules and laws of countries vary greatly, it should be an uncontroversial stance to state that no person should be sentenced to death over what amounts to speech and thought. Even those confused into thinking that supporting multiculturalism requires the absence of a moral stance on whether criticism of any particular faith ought to come with any punishment whatsoever must be capable of acknowledging that death sentences ought not be on the table for consideration. But, should someone want to argue that point, it should at least be understood that these kinds of laws pretty much have abuse of the law baked into them.
A 2016 report by Amnesty International found the laws are "open to abuse" and anyone who is accused is usually presumed to be guilty, leaving them open to mob retribution. There were 91 blasphemy cases concerning the Prophet or his companions registered between 2011 and 2015, the report said.
Specific blasphemy laws which punished perceived insults to Islam were introduced between 1980 and 1986, during a period of martial law under the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq. They were never removed once martial law ended.
The genesis of these laws should tell you all you need to know about their virtue, which is to say they have none. It also demonstrates the fear that regimes of this kind have in regards to the sort of wide-ranging communications tool that Facebook represents. This all comes down to controlling thought within the citizenry out of fear of a change in social opinion, which would deprive that regime of the power it wields so perniciously. With that in mind, actions taken by governments of this kind deserve the broadest and harshest condemnation, and damn well ought to weigh on foreign policy as well.
Put more simply, if governments, including America's, can't take a stand against death sentences over Facebook posts, it cedes the moral high ground to an astounding degree.