Pakistani media owner, three others sentenced to 26 years’ imprisonment for blasphemy
The anti-terrorism court in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan convicted four persons to 26 years in prison and a fine of 1.30 million rupees (approx. US$130,000) each for blasphemy.
Those convicted include Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, owner of Geo Television network, Geo TV’s morning show host Shaista Lodhi, actress Veena Malik and her husband Malik Asad. [NOTE: The case stems from a Geo TV broadcast that included a scene loosely based on the marriage of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter.]
The court also ordered the sale the property of the four ‘proclaimed offenders’ under Section 19(10) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, in case of disobedience.
The president of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Mujibur Rehman Shami and the president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Hameed Haroon termed the conviction of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman and associated media persons as unlawful and a threat to press freedom.
In a joint statement they said that under Article 19 of the Constitution the punishment was contrary to the press freedom. They termed the Gilgit-Baltistan (empowerment and self governance) Order 2009 – under which the judicial system has been devised for the area – against the basic concept of human rights granted to the citizens of Pakistan in the Constitution; they added that illegal sentences given to the journalists in Gilgit-Baltistan are dangerous for press freedom throughout the country.
The statement said that even though there are some basic human rights specified in the controversial order, two important human rights stipulated in the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan – according to Articles 10A and 13 – are not taken in consideration in the order.
According to Article 10A, it is the right of every citizen to be given an impartial and complete hearing in a criminal case, while under Article 13 a person cannot be tried more than one time for a single offence. The joint statement specifies that it would be a violation of these two basic human rights if a Pakistani citizen, who is not a resident of Gilgit-Baltistan or is not present there, is punished for an alleged crime by shifting the hearing of a case there.
They also urged the Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to take immediate notice of the situation. The Prime Minister has the power to cancel the punishment awarded by the anti-terrorism court and he must utilise these powers, otherwise such acts would be like a ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over the heads of Pakistani journalists.