Just under a month ago, Pakistan’s largest private television news station was engaged in a dispute with Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, over charges that the ISI was behind an assassination attempt on one of its anchors. For Geo, those probably seem like the good old days, because now the station is engaged in a controversy that has already caused a proliferation of lawsuits and threatens to erupt into massive vigilante violence against Geo employees and buildings. Reuters describes the threats Geo now faces and how the situation came about:
Pakistan’s biggest television station said it was ramping up security on Tuesday after it became the object of dozens of blasphemy accusations for playing a song during an interview with an actress.
Geo Television is scrubbing logos off its vans and limiting staff movements after receiving scores of threats over allegedly blasphemous content, said channel president Imran Aslam.
“This is a well-orchestrated campaign,” he told Reuters. “This could lead to mob violence.”
The cases allege a traditional song was sung about the marriage of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter at the same time a pair of shoes was raised.
Both elements are traditional in a wedding ceremony but the timing was insulting to Islam, dozens of petitioners have alleged. Others allege the song itself was insulting.
Lawsuits arising from the incident are proliferating. The Express Tribune has a partial list of the cases filed recently here.
But the Reuters article points out that under Pakistani law, blasphemy itself is not actually defined clearly:
Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan but is not defined by law; anyone who says their religious feelings have been hurt for any reason can file a case.
But it gets even wilder. It turns out that a rival station is now also accused of blasphemy. Why? Because they repeatedly played snippets of the original program carried on Geo. And Reuters points out that blasphemy cases also are dangerous for judges and attorneys, as well:
Advocate Tariq Asad said his suit named the singers and writers of the song, cable operators, television regulators, a national council of clerics and ARY, a rival television station.
ARY repeatedly broadcast clips of the morning show, alleging it was blasphemous, an action that Asad said was blasphemous in itself.
Judges frequently do not want to hear evidence in blasphemy cases because the repetition of evidence could be a crime. Judges acquitting those accused of blasphemy have been attacked; a defense lawyer representing a professor accused of blasphemy was killed this month.
So just repeating the blasphemous material, even as a judge or attorney citing it in court, is a blasphemous act in itself worthy of vigilante action.
But of course, nothing so outrageous could happen here in the US, could it? Sadly, such a ridiculous state of affairs doesn’t seem that far off here. Note that politicians, even leading candidates for the US Senate, now openly state that “Government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances” and even that such stances are not negotiable in any way. But that’s not just a campaign stance. We have companies now going to the Supreme Court to state their right to ignore laws to which they object on religious grounds.
So if both politicians and companies now openly advocate to ignore laws on religious grounds, how far away are we from these same zealots advocating for prison terms or even death sentences for those who offend their religious sensibilities? After all, we have already seen a bit of the vigilantism that goes along with such attitudes.
Update: It turns out that the incident with ISI hadn’t blown over yet. Breaking news from Dawn:
A committee formed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has suspended the licences of three television channels owned by the Geo TV network.
The committee has also decided that Geo TV offices be immediately sealed.
However, a final decision on the revocation of the licences will be announced following the meeting on May 28, which will also be attended by government representatives.
The committee, which includes members Syed Ismail Shah, Pervez Rathore and Israr Abbasi, was tasked to review the Ministry of Defence’s application filed against Geo TV network for leveling allegations against an intelligence agency of Pakistan.
It will be interesting to see how Geo responds.
Since we’ve been talking about domestic right wing terrorism of late, I wanted to elaborate on a point I made here. Today, the Department of Justice released a list of all the terrorist-related individuals it found guilty in civilian courts since 9/11. And Scott Roeder, who was found guilty of killing George Tiller on January 29, 2010, is not on that list.
There are two reasons why it might be churlish for me to make that observation. First, the list was released in response to a specific request from the Senate Judiciary Committee in the context of debates over civilian versus military trials for Gitmo detainees, which suggests SJC was interested in a certain kind of terrorist (though, at least in Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich’s response, it seems that the request was not specific to international terrorists). Also, in response to that request, DOJ simply provided a list started during the Bush Administration, and the list was explicitly limited to international terrorists.
The National Security Division’s International Terrorism and Terrorism-Related Statistics Chart tracks convictions resulting from international terrorism investigations conducted since September 11, 2001, including investigations of terrorist acts planned or committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States over which Federal criminal jurisdiction exists and those within the United States involving international terrorists and terrorist groups.
In other words, to develop a list of all terrorists–rather than just the terrorists the National Security Division considers terrorists–it would have to cull out the names of Americans who also engaged in terrorism.
So what would it take, then, for DOJ to consider a guy who stalked a doctor for years, who collaborated with a number of other people engaged in intimidation and violence, and ultimately gunned a man down while he was worshiping at church, a terrorist?
If we find evidence that, in addition to harboring pedophiles, Pope Benedict and the American Catholic Bishops have been intimidating women and their doctors, would Scott Roeder be considered a terrorist (recognizing, of course, there is no allegation that the Catholic Church endorses violence of the type Roeder used)? Or would it take a brown man, involved in the plot, for DOJ to consider this terrorism?
The Department of Justice has just sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee answering early questions about how many terrorists have been convicted or plead guilty in civilian courts. Between those convicted of terrorism-related crimes (150) and individuals with ties to international terrorism convicted of other crimes (like obstruction or perjury–the total here is 240), 390 people have been sent to prison using our civilian courts.
As you might recall, there has been some debate over what the “real” number of terrorists convicted in civilian courts is. After the Obama Administration used the same number the Bush Administration had–a number which combines terrorist charges with non-terrorist charges–Republicans squawked.
But as DOJ points out, having other charges available is one of the advantages to the civilian courts:
The second category includes a variety of other statutes (like fraud, firearms offenses, false statements, or obstruction of justice) where the investigation involved an identified link to international terrorism. There have been more than 240 individuals charged in such cases since September 11, 2001. Examples of the international terrorism nexus identified in some of these cases have also been provided for your review.Prosecuting terror-related targets using these latter offenses is often an effective method—and sometimes the only available method—of deterring and disrupting potential terrorist planning and support activities. Indeed, one of the great strengths of the criminal justice system is the broad range of offenses that are available to arrest and convict individuals believed to be linked to terrorism, even if a terrorism offense cannot be established. Of course, an aggressive and wide-ranging terrorism investigation will net individuals with varying degrees of culpability and involvement in terrorist activity, as the NSD chart reflects. Arresting and convicting both major and minor operatives, supporters, and facilitators can have crippling effects on terrorists’ ability to carry out their plans. [my emphasis]
This is a point David Kris made in Congressional testimony last year–there are actually charges you can’t use in a military commission but which you can use in a civilian court (though the Obama Administration appears prepared to press the limits of MCs anyway).
The list of terrorists convicted itself is interesting in its own right. Among other things, it demonstrates the degree to which terrorism is still largely–though not exclusively–targeted at Muslims (though in the first page itself there are individuals tied to the Tamil Tigers and one woman from FARC who was quietly rounded up last year after the Ingrid Betancourt rescue).
Not on this list? Right-wing American terrorists like Scott Roeder.