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Pakistan has some of the harshest laws when it comes to blasphemy - representational image Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

Three men from the Ahmadi sect have been given the death penalty in Pakistan's Punjab province on Wednesday, 11 October for blasphemy. All of them have also been fined Rs 200,000 (£1,440) for their acts. They will face rigorous imprisonment if they fail to pay the penalty.

Pakistan has some of the harshest blasphemy laws in the world that have attracted sharp criticism from rights groups. Minority communities including Islamic sects such as the Ahmadis face frequent persecution in the Muslim-majority country.

A district court judge ruled that the three men, Mubasher Ahmad, Ghulam Ahmed and Ehsan Ahmed, had committed blasphemy by tearing down a poster and banners outside a place of worship in a village near Lahore. They were booked following a complaint by a local shopkeeper.

The accused said the posters carried anti-Ahmadi slogans. The court said the banners had Islamic verses and destroying them was blasphemous.

The three men were arrested in May 2014. A fourth man was shot dead by police in custody a few days after the poster incident.

Though Ahmadis, with an estimated population of about 600,000, consider themselves Muslims, their sect is not officially recognised by the state. Islam is Pakistan's state religion. While an overwhelming majority of Muslims adhere to Sunni Islam, there is a considerable population of Shia as well.