In the same week that a Bollywood star was handed a 26 year jail sentence for allegedly blaspheming the prophet Muhammad on daytime TV in Pakistan, the European Union called for the South Asian country to ditch its stringent and controversial blasphemy laws.
Veena Malik, a popular Pakistani television actress and model who once posed topless on the men's magazine FHM in India, hit out against the sentence handed to her by a Pakistani anti-terrorism court Tuesday. The verdict stemmed from Malik's role in a scene that was vaguely inspired by the wedding for the Prophet Muhammad's daughter, according to the Guardian.
In the scene, Malik and her husband, businessman Asad Bashir Khan, reenact their own nuptials while musicians play a religious song about the Prophet Muhammad's daughter's wedding.
Pakistani police registered several complaints from viewers and a religious group after the episode aired, including from the the Gilgit-Baltistan chapter of the Muslim religious organisation Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, which said that Malikhad had defiled the family of the prophet Muhammad by playing what the local media outlet Dawn labelled "a contemptuous Qawwali" — a type of Muslim devotional music linked with Sufis in Pakistan.
A Pakistani court sentenced Veena Malik to 26 years in jail for blasphemy. The actor starred in a daytime TV episode that was 'loosely based on the marriage of the Prophet Muhammad's daughter.'
Khan, the owner of the media group that broadcast the episode of the show which aired in may, and the show's host, were also given 26-year sentences, ordered to give up their passports and fined 1.3 million rupees (roughly $12,800 dollars).
Malik and Khan reportedly left Pakistan after receiving death threats at the time the blasphemy charges were handed down. The pair later returned to their home in Dubai, but the actor said she plans to return to Pakistan in December to fight the charges, according to Indian media.
"I have faced highs and lows in my life. But I am sure I haven't done anything wrong," she was quoted as saying to Dubai-based outlet Gulf News the day after she was given the verdict.
The case has sparked renewed scrutiny on Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, with Amnesty International calling the sentences "chilling" and an inhibitor to "freedom of expression and the media" in that country.
"It is appalling that someone should be sent to prison for decades over a TV programme," David Griffiths, Amnesty International's Deputy Asia-Pacific Director said in a statement earlier this week. "Although the blasphemy laws are disproportionately used against religious minorities, today's sentencing underlines the fact that no one in Pakistan is safe from being targeted."
The European Parliament chimed in on the controversial laws this week, urging the Pakistani government to review the blasphemy legislation which it said are being "increasingly used to target" minorities in the country. The penalties for breaking the laws can result in severe penalties from fines to lengthy jail terms.
On Thursday, the EU issued a non-binding resolution calling for Pakistan's government to, "carry out a thorough review of the blasphemy laws and their current application … with a review to repealing the laws."
The resolution also, "calls on the government of Pakistan to abolish the death penalty, including for blasphemy or apostasy."
There has been a moratorium on the death penalty in Pakistan since 2008, but unproven allegations of blasphemy often incite violence against the accused, and numerous people have died at the hands of vigilantes for merely being implicated for the act or insulting Islam or the prophet.
Earlier this month, a couple were reportedly beaten, stripped and burned alive by a 1,000-strong mob in Pakistan for allegedly desecrating the Qur'an by setting it on fire.
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