WASHINGTON, DC — On Tuesday, the Western District of North Carolina issued a historic sentence against a man who had threatened via Twitter to lynch Qasim Rashid, an attorney, politician and former national spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. The perpetrator, Joseph Cecil Vandevere, was convicted by a jury in December of threatening to injure Mr. Rashid through interstate commerce. On Tuesday, Judge Max A. Cogburn sentenced Vandevere to 10 months in prison followed by a year of supervised release. Despite the frequency of violent threats over social media, particularly those targeted at minorities, criminal convictions like this are rare.
“I’m glad for this conviction, because death threats against Muslim politicians and officials remain a painful reality that our nation must never tolerate,” said Mr. Rashid. “While we will continue to lead with compassion in our fight for justice, we hope that this conviction and sentence will be a deterrent to those that use bigoted, violent threats online to try to silence us. Such hate is not satire or hyperbole, it is a dangerous threat of violence. We hope the court’s action sends a warning that there are penalties—including jail time—for violent online hate.”
In March 2018, Vandevere sent Rashid a photograph through Twitter of the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank. Vandevere captioned that image by saying “VIEW YOUR DESTINY.” In a statement provided to the court, Rashid shared how the threat evoked for him the murder of his cousin, who was lynched in Pakistan for being an Ahmadiyya Muslim, a persecuted religious minority.
“While free speech is a bedrock principle in this country, true threats are not protected speech. Too often, we see how social media discourse sinks to bigoted violence and leads to real-life violence,” said Nimra Azmi, a Muslim Advocates staff attorney representing Rashid. “It’s vital that courts, victims of violent threats, and social media companies nationwide pay close attention to this case. Too many marginalized communities live in fear of true threats like these. They must know that they don’t have to live in fear—they have options to seek justice.”
Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.