NEWS | Three More Pakistani Bloggers Face Blasphemy Charges
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NEWS | Three More Pakistani Bloggers Face Blasphemy Charges

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NEWS | Three More Pakistani Bloggers Face Blasphemy Charges

Image Attribute: A file photo of thousands of supporters of a Pakistani religious group Jammat-Ud-Dawa Tehreek-e-Insaf or Movement for Justice take part in a demonstration in Lahore, September 2012 / Source: K.M. CHAUDARY / AP

In Pakistan, three more bloggers were put in the custody of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for a week based on the blasphemy charges on Friday, as directed by an Islamabad-based anti-terrorism court.

Meanwhile Islamabad Police in full riot gear sealed off and surrounded Islamabad’s Red Mosque, long seen as a refuge for Islamic militants in the Pakistani capital, and the home of a religious leader, Maulana Abdul Aziz, preventing his followers from staging their gathering to demand the death penalty for another five bloggers, who were charged earlier with blasphemy. The clerics vowed to try again next week.

Police and government officials said the newest charges were laid against two bloggers from Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi and one from the federal capital. They were arrested earlier this week and remanded in the custody of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism cell for seven days and their laptops have also been seized for forensic analysis.

Though Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws carry the death penalty or imprisonment for life for insulting the Prophet Mohammad, but till date, no one has been executed.

One of the three used the alias, Allama Ayaz Nizami, and had over 12,000 followers online, said a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give details of the cases against the three men.

Earlier in January, the five bloggers who went missing but were later returned unhurt to their families have accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency of orchestrating their disappearance because of their criticism of the military and intelligence agencies.

Before their release, hard-liners raised the accusations of blasphemy. Abdul Aziz’ son-in-law and follower, Salman Shahid, went to court to charge all five bloggers with blasphemy. The five have since fled the country after also receiving death threats.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, as well as Amnesty International, has decried the use of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law against the media in Pakistan. Critics say the blasphemy law is being used to silence Pakistan’s media because even the allegation can be enough to incite hardliners to kill.

Previously, Provincial Governor of Punjab State - Salman Taseer was assassinated by his police guard Mumtaz Qadri, who accused him of blasphemy after he criticized the law and defended a Christian woman sentenced to death under the law. Qadri was hailed as a hero by some Islamist groups, and thousands of hard-line activists protested to show their support for him at the time.

Alongside the court cases, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government launched a campaign to rid social media of any content considered insulting to Islam.

The recent ad campaign quotes Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan which states that every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and the press is free as well, but bolds out parts like “subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law” for the “glory of Islam”, “integrity, security or defense of Pakistan” or anything that could hurt “friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality”.

The government has also petitioned Facebook and Twitter to identify Pakistanis worldwide who are found posting material considered offensive to Islam so that Pakistani authorities can prosecute them or pursue their extradition on charges of blasphemy tantamount to a death sentence.

Based on reporting by BBC, ABC, AFP, and Voice of America