An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) on Friday sentenced three men to death for sharing blasphemous content on social media. A fourth accused in the same case was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

The ATC also issued perpetual arrest warrants for four accused, absconding in the case.

According to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which had investigated the case, Rana Nouman Rafaqat and Abdul Waheed operated fake profiles and disseminated blasphemous material on social media, while Nasir Ahmad had uploaded blasphemous videos to a Youtube channel. On Friday, the verdict was announced by Islamabad ATC Judge Raja Jawad Abbas, who found all three guilty of having committed blasphemy.

A fourth individual, Professor Anwaar Ahmed, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, along with a fine of Rs100,000. He had been arrested for disseminating controversial blasphemous views during a lecture at the Islamabad Model College where he was an Urdu teacher.

All four convicts were initially arrested in 2017 in connection with the blasphemy case. According to the FIR, registered by the FIA on March 19, “There are several unknown people/groups disseminating/spreading blasphemous material through the internet using social media i.e. Facebook, Twitter, websites, etc. through alleged profiles/pages/handles/sites, etc… and several others wilfully defiled and outraging religious feelings; belief by using derogatory words/remarks/graphic designs/images/sketches/visual representations in respect of the sacred names.”

The four individuals were indicted by the ATC on Sep 12, 2017; when they had pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. The ATC had also previously dismissed the bail plea of Professor Anwaar Ahmed in the same case.

During the proceedings, spread over the last three years, the prosecution produced 19 witnesses against the accused. Meanwhile, the witnesses for the defense were not admitted by the court because they were blood relatives of the accused.

This is Pakistan’s first case in which persons have been convicted for sharing blasphemous content on social media.

Human rights groups say blasphemy laws in Pakistan are often misused to persecute minorities or even against Muslims to settle personal rivalries. Such accusations can end up in lynchings or street vigilantism.

Up to 80 people are known to be imprisoned in the country on such charges; half of whom face life in prison or the death penalty; according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.