Pakistani court asks news anchors to respond to blasphemy charges

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court on May 19, Monday, asked a group of news anchors, a religious singer, a poet, and others to respond to blasphemy charges following the airing of a controversial song-and-dance routine.

The Islamabad High Court was responding to a petition filed by a group linked to the hardline Red Mosque against the broadcast of an actress’s wedding that was set to a religious song.

The show was aired last week by the Geo News network, which has been caught up in a struggle with the all-powerful military following the shooting of a star journalist who later accused the head of the intelligence services of being behind the attack.

In his petition, advocate Tariq Asad named not only the host of the show, who has already issued a public apology, but also the anchor of a rival programme on the ARY channel for repeating the offending segment in an apparent effort to push for Geo’s closure.

“The hype was created by a host of a rival television channel who repeatedly telecast the song and in my view he is the real culprit,” he told Agence France-Presse, referring to popular news anchor Mubasher Luqman.

The morning show featured Pakistani starlet Veena Malik dancing with her new husband while a group of Sufi musicians sang a devotional song about the wedding of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter to his cousin.

Its broadcast set off a storm of controversy on social media, though similar routines by other channels in the past have largely gone unnoticed.

Some observers accuse the military, which is seeking the closure of Geo News, of being behind the blasphemy campaign.

The blasphemy petition also named Amjad Sabri, the renowned Qawwali (Sufi devotional) singer who featured on the show, the poet who wrote the song, the country’s media regulatory body and the Council of Islamic Ideology, its top religious authority.

Police on Saturday lodged separate charges against the actress, her husband, the head of the Geo group and the host of the show.

A recent report from a US government advisory panel said Pakistan used blasphemy laws more than any other country in the world, listing 14 people on death row and 19 others serving life sentences for insulting Islam.

Rights campaigners say Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used to settle personal disputes.