Four journalists jailed for more than a month on blasphemy charges

New York, July 11, 2001 — CPJ is dismayed that local authorities in Abbottabad have not dropped blasphemy charges brought against journalists from the Urdu-language daily Mohasib, even though officials at both the provincial and federal levels have issued statements noting that these charges are groundless.

On May 29, Mohasib published an article entitled “The Beard and Islam,” which 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.

Following protests by some religious leaders, Abbottabad police sealed the newspaper office and arrested four of Mohasib‘s senior staff: Mohammed Zaman Khan, editor; Mohammed Shahid Chaudhry, managing editor; Shakil Ahmed Tahirkheli, news editor; and Raja Mohammed Haroon, sub-editor.

“This case shows how dangerous the blasphemy laws can be for any Pakistani journalist who tackles the difficult topic of religion,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “These four journalists have been jailed for more than a month and face charges that could result in the death penalty.”

According to local journalists, the Federal Ministry of Religious Affairs and the North West Frontier Province Law Department have each issued statements arguing that the Mohasib article contained nothing that could be considered blasphemous. In early July, following the provincial Law Department’s review of the case, the inspector general of police in North West Frontier Province sent a notice to the senior superintendent of police in Abbottabad, urging local authorities to drop the case registered against Mohasib and to release the jailed editors.

However, district officials have refused to drop the case, citing pressure from religious groups.

A sessions court in Abbottabad is due to hear the journalists’ bail petition on July 17.