London: The 26-year prison term to four persons including the owner of Pakistan's biggest media group under the deeply flawed blasphemy laws will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression, a leading rights group has said.
"This sentence will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Pakistan. It is appalling that someone should be sent to prison for decades over a TV programme," said David Griffiths, Amnesty International's Deputy Asia Pacific Director.
Griffiths said the "judgment shows how Pakistan's deeply flawed blasphemy laws have become another tool to silence media." Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, owner of Geo and Jang group, was handed down the prison term in absentia for allowing the broadcast of a "blasphemous programme" by Geo TV in May.
Actor Veena Malik and her husband Asad Bashir were sentenced for participating in the programme in which a religious song was played while they re-enacted their wedding. TV host Shaista Wahidi was also sentenced for 26 years.
Geo TV has had tense relationships with Pakistani authorities and was temporarily taken off air earlier this year following the blasphemy allegations. It has been locked in a standoff with authorities after its main anchor Hamid Mir in April accused the Inter-Services Intelligence of being behind an assassination attempt on him.
Amnesty said, "There are also serious concerns about the fairness of this trial as the defendants were sentenced in absentia and never had the opportunity to answer the charges in court."
Rahman is based outside Pakistan, while Malik and Bashir fled the country after receiving death threats when the blasphemy allegations were first levelled against them. Amnesty has urged Pakistan to reform the laws as a matter of urgency to provide effective safeguards against their abuse, with a view to their eventual repeal.
Updated Date: Nov 27, 2014 18:13:17 IST