Pakistan TV station on high alert following death threats

Geo Television announced it was ramping up security on Tuesday after receiving death threats over allegedly blasphemous content.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan’s biggest television station is scrubbing logos off its vans and limiting staff movements after it was accused of blasphemy for playing a song during an interview with an actress.

Geo Television announced it was ramping up security on Tuesday after receiving death threats over allegedly blasphemous content, said channel president Imran Aslam.

“This is a well-orchestrated campaign,” he said. “This could lead to mob violence.”

The accusations pit Pakistan’s most popular private television channel against increasingly vocal religious conservatives, just as the station was emerging from a bruising battle with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the country’s spy agency.

Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan but is not defined by law – anyone who says their religious feelings have been hurt for any reason can file a case.

Scores of people accused of blasphemy have been lynched by mobs and Mr Aslam said despite on-air apologies, the station had received threats to kill its journalists and their families.

The accusations follow Geo’s high-profile tussle with the ISI, whom it accused of shooting one of its most popular anchors last month.

The station did not support its accusations with evidence and later retracted the allegations. But a national poster campaign was launched proclaiming support for the military and denouncing the station. Cable operators pulled Geo from their content.

That controversy had barely died down when Geo was engulfed by a flood of blasphemy accusations over a show it carried last week.

The cases allege that a traditional song was sung about the marriage of Prophet Mohammed’s daughter while a pair of shoes was raised.

Both elements are traditional in a wedding ceremony but the timing was insulting to Islam, dozens of petitioners have alleged. Others say the song itself was insulting.

On Monday, the Islamabad High Court accepted a petition brought by a lawyer representing a group of clerics affiliated with the radical Red Mosque in the capital.

Judges frequently do not want to hear evidence in blasphemy cases because the repetition of evidence could be a crime.

Moreover, judges acquitting those accused of blasphemy have been attacked.

Clips of Geo’s controversial programme have attracted tens of thousands of views on YouTube, which was blocked in Pakistan in 2012 because of fears that it may show blasphemous content.

Accusations over blasphemy are rocketing, from one in 2011 to at least 68 last year, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

More than 80 people have already been accused of blasphemy this year.

Activists say the accusations are increasingly used to grab property or money, target minorities and settle political scores. Cases can take years to go through the courts.

* Reuters

Published: May 20, 2014 04:00 AM

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