Blasphemy and the press in Pakistan

Rafia Zakaria at CNN:

171121121437-free-press-blasphemy-laws-pakistan-super-169On August 13, a day before Pakistan turned 70, I received a Facebook message from a Pakistan-based journalist and colleague.

"Please help me report this," he said, linking to the Facebook page of a religious leader in Pakistan. In the post, written in Urdu, the leader accuses him of insulting a renowned 11th Century Sunni Muslim saint during an appearance on a privately owned Pakistani television channel.

In response, the leader demanded action from the Pakistani state and made a number of insults directed at the journalist, many of which were seconded by comments from some of the page's 180,000 odd followers.

The post, along with its accusation and incitement to punish, has never been removed.

The journalist at whom the message was directed was right to worry. Journalists, constantly in the public eye, are easy targets for Pakistan's vague and lethal blasphemy laws, which criminalize any statement that is "defamatory" to Islam, religious texts, the holy prophet or anyone associated with him. The laws are a relic of the colonial era, their bite made dramatically worse by military rulers and others seeking to woo the religious right and silence any potential opposition.

Pakistan is ranked seven out of the 12 most dangerous countries in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists' "2017 Impunity Index." Together, these 12 countries account for 80% of the unsolved murders of journalists occurring in the last 10 years.

More here.

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