ISLAMABAD: Never out of controversy, Pakistani starlet Veena Malik has now landed in the eye of a storm. An anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Pakistan sentenced her, along with Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman- the owner of Pakistan's biggest media group, Geo TV, and her actor husband Asad Bashir Khan, to 26 years in prison for broadcasting a show it said was blasphemous.
AFP reports that the morning show broadcast live on Geo TV in May, featured Veena Malik dancing with her new husband while a group of Sufi musicians sang a devotional song about the wedding of the Prophet Muhammad's daughter.
The verdict also found the host of the show- Shaista Wahidi guilty of blasphemy. The ATC which pronounced the judgement is in the city of Gilgit, which is controlled by Pakistan but is also part of the Kashmir region which India claims. Reports suggest, the order is unlikely to be implemented because the Gilgit-Baltistan region is not considered a full-fledged province by Pakistan and verdicts by its courts do not apply to the rest of the country.
The four people convicted were also ordered to pay a fine of 1.3 million rupees ($13,000), sell their properties and surrender their passports, according to a copy of the court order.
"The malicious acts of the proclaimed offenders ignited the sentiments of all the Muslims of the country and hurt the feelings, which cannot be taken lightly and there is need to strictly curb such tendency," the order said.
No lawyer appeared on behalf of any of the accused. However the court had arranged a state lawyer to defend them. Its broadcast set off a storm of controversy on social media, though similar routines by other channels in the past have largely gone unnoticed.
Many observers at the time suspected Pakistan's military establishment of engineering the blasphemy campaign against Geo TV. The channel was then caught up in a struggle with the all-powerful military.
The blasphemy case was registered on May 26 in a police station in Gilgit by a hardline sunni cleric Himayatullah Khan, deputy chief of the anti-shia organisation Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) formerly known as Sipah-e-Sahaba.
Press Trust of India reports that the judge said that all four accused committed profanity. The court in its 40-page verdict also asked the police to arrest the convicts, an official said. He said that the convict can appeal in the regional high court in Gilgit-Baltistan. There are reports that all four of those convicted are out of Pakistan. Rahman resides in the UAE and the other three also went abroad after receiving threats from militant organisations. Both Wahidi and the Geo group tendered apologies after the allegations were levelled but the extremists in the country refused to accept it.
Other blasphemy cases were also registered against them in various cities, including Karachi and Islamabad.
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