Newsweek article criticizing controversial blasphemy laws is censored

New York, September 4, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the decision of Pakistani censors to order the removal of an article from the September 3 edition of Newsweek as a condition of the magazine’s distribution in the country.

The censored article, titled “Talking is Dangerous,” highlights the prosecution of Shaikh Mohammed Younus, a professor recently sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws for allegedly insulting Islam’s prophet, Mohammad.

“By censoring an article that spotlights threats to free speech in Pakistan, authorities only bolster their country’s reputation for intolerance,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Directly or indirectly, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are increasingly used to curb the press.”

Last week, customs officials blocked distribution of the magazine and referred the matter to the government’s Press Information Department. On September 1, press department officials ordered Newsweek‘s local distributor, Liberty Books, to remove the article before circulating copies of the magazine, according to international wire reports.

Local journalists said that Newsweek, which normally begins circulating on Tuesdays, did not appear until Sunday, September 2, after the article had been ripped out.

Blasphemy laws used to suppress the media
On January 29, police in Peshawar, North West Frontier Province, shut down the offices of The Frontier Post after the newspaper published a letter to the editor titled “Why Muslims Hate Jews,” which included derogatory references to the prophet Mohammad.

Though the newspaper repeatedly apologized for publishing the letter, which management said was included by mistake, seven employees face blasphemy charges. The Frontier Post was forced to suspend publication until June 26, when it was relaunched from the eastern city of Lahore.

On June 3, police in Abbottabad sealed the offices of Mohasib, a local Urdu-language daily, and brought blasphemy charges against journalists at the paper. The charges arose from a May 29 article that contested the view of certain Muslim clerics that a beardless man cannot be a good Muslim and criticized the exploitation of religious faith for personal gain. Jamil Yousaf, the free-lance journalist who wrote the article, also faces blasphemy charges for the piece.

The article removed from Newsweek concluded prophetically that, “In Pakistan these days, free speech is a dangerous thing.”