Blasphemy charges create climate of fear for Pakistani media | 2017-03-18 |

Blasphemy charges create climate of fear for Pakistani media

Sun Online Desk     18th March, 2017 01:10:10 printer

Blasphemy charges create climate of fear for Pakistani media


Ahmad Waqas Goraya couldn't see anything through the black hood, but he could hear the screams.


A Pakistani blogger with a penchant for criticizing Pakistan's powerful military and taking the government to task, Goraya was kidnapped in January along with four other bloggers.


"I could hear the screams of torture," he said, struggling for words as the memories flooded back. "I don't even want to think about what they did."


But that wasn't the worst of it, he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

More terrifying was the accusation of blasphemy —— punishable by death in Pakistan —— hurled at him and his fellow bloggers. They were held in what Goraya called a "black site" on the edge of Lahore that some say is run by Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency.


In Pakistan, even the suggestion of blasphemy can be tantamount to a death sentence. It has incited extremists to take the law into their own hands and kill alleged perpetrators, often forcing people to flee the country, as Goraya and the other bloggers have.


Pakistan's government heightened concerns earlier this week when it said it had asked Facebook and Twitter to ferret out Pakistanis posting religiously offensive material, promising to seek their extradition if they are out of the country and prosecute them on blasphemy charges if they are in Pakistan.


In one high-profile case six years ago, Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was gunned down by one of his guards, who accused him of blasphemy because he criticized the law and defended a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.


"Right now they have made sure I cannot come back to Pakistan by introducing blasphemy charges," Goraya said.


The blasphemy charges against the bloggers being heard in Islamabad's High Court were filed by Salman Shahid, who has ties to Pakistan's Red Mosque, a hotbed of Islamic militancy where hundreds were killed in 2007 after security forces ended a months-long standoff with militants holed up inside. Asad is Shahid's lawyer.


Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did nothing to allay fears earlier this week when he demanded a review of social media to seek out offensive content, and when his interior minister said the government had reached out to Facebook and Twitter.