A Pakistani academic has tendered an apology for hurting the sentiments of fellow Muslims and religious leaders over her criticism of the country’s blasphemy laws. The video apology from Arfana Mallah, a professor at Sindh University, came on June 27 after several days of protests held by Sunni Islamist parties in the southern city of Hyderabad. A separate complaint was also filed at the Federal Investigation Agency against Mallah for calling blasphemy “a black law” on Facebook. She made the comment after protesting the arrest of her fellow academic Sajjad Soomro on blasphemy charges. “I am really sorry for hurting the sentiments of Muslims due to my comments [about blasphemy laws] and I apologize for it. I am sure that you will accept my apology and forgive me for this mistake,” Mallah said. “I will always be mindful in future.”
In her clarification, the professor also thanked local clerics for giving her the opportunity to explain her position. The groups protesting her comments accepted her apology and clarification, according to English daily Dawn
. The Progressive Academics’ Collective, a body representing Pakistani educationists, had voiced its concern for the safety of Mallah and Soomro. “This is just the latest in an ongoing smear campaign against her and other activists for the past several months. Both cases are extremely troubling and are part of a wider campaign to silence critical voices within academia. We stand in solidarity with both professors,” the group said in a statement on June 11. “Both cases are part of a wider trend to use the charge of blasphemy as a political weapon to silence pro-people and critical voices, as was the case with the late Mashal Khan and with Junaid Hafeez, who is still languishing in prison.” Blasphemy has become a very sensitive matter in Pakistan, where mere allegations can get one killed extrajudicially or lead to a lengthy jail term. In December last year, Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at Multan’s Bahaddin Zakariya University, was sentenced to death for blasphemy. He had been accused of posting derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad on social media. In March last year, Professor Khalid Hameed, head of the English department at Government Sadiq Egerton College, was stabbed to death by a student. Mashal Khan, a journalism student at Bacha Khan University, was lynched by a mob of his classmates in April 2017 over allegations of posting blasphemous content on social media. Catholic minister Shehbaz Bhatti and Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer were both assassinated in 2011, a few days after they publicly denounced the awarding of a death sentence to Asia Bibi under blasphemy laws.
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