The BBC has apologized for a “provocative” tweet which asked what the “right punishment” should be for blasphemy — in a country where insulting Islam carries the death penalty.
The UK national broadcaster’s Asian Network posted the question from local Pakistani presenter Shazia Awan on the weekend.
The tweet was intended to promote a debate about blasphemy on social media in Pakistan, after it emerged this week that the Muslim nation had asked Facebook and Twitter to help identify people suspected of blasphemy so it can prosecute them or pursue their extradition.
In Pakistan, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or the prophet Muhammad can be sentenced to death. Extremists have also been known to take the law into their own hands and kill alleged blasphemers, often forcing people to flee the country.
What is the right punishment for blasphemy?
— BBC Asian Network (@bbcasiannetwork) March 17, 2017
The tweet immediately sparked fury, with one user asking, “Has the Beeb lost its mind?”
Human rights campaigner and political activist Maryam Namazie tweeted: “Disgraceful that @bbcasiannetwork @shaziaAwan would ask what ‘punishment’ should be for blasphemy. You know people get killed for it.”
The BBC was forced to apologize, with network saying it never intended to imply that blasphemy should be punished and said the tweet was poorly worded.
“Big response to #AsianNetwork @ShaziaAwan Q today,” it tweeted. “Q was in context of Pak asking FB to help fight blasphemy. Appreciate cld have bn clearer.”
In a follow-up tweet, the BBC added: “We never intend to imply Blasphemy should be punished. Provocative question that got it wrong.”
Earlier this week, the interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said an official in Pakistan’s Washington embassy had approached the two social media companies in an effort to identify Pakistanis, either within the country or abroad, who recently shared material deemed offensive to Islam.
He said Pakistani authorities had identified 11 people including bloggers for questioning over alleged blasphemy and would seek the extradition of anyone living abroad.
Pakistani lawyer Tariq Asad recently argued the case against the bloggers charged with blasphemy, and openly called for their deaths. Asad told the AP in an interview that he would kill the bloggers if he had a chance.
In March 2016, thousands of people attended a funeral of Pakistani police officer Mumtaz Qadri, the convicted killer of a former governor Salman Taseer in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
Taseer was gunned down by one of his security guards, who accused him of blasphemy because he criticized the law and defended a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Muhammad.
This article was originally published in news.com.au