A Pakistani TV anchorman has denied allegations of disrespecting a revered Islamic figure in response to an intense social media campaign demanding that the journalist be arrested for blasphemy. The hashtag #ArrestKashifAbbasi was a top-trending Twitter topic in Pakistan on Nov. 12 after a two-year-old clip of the journalist surfaced on the internet. In the clip which went viral on social media, the host of ARY News current affairs show “Off the Record” can be heard making a joke that “anyone bearing the name of Umar can be conspirators.” He was referring to his two guests sharing the same name. Hazrat Umar ibn Al-Khattab was a seventh-century Islamic ruler and a senior companion of the Prophet Muhammad. The clip drew a sharp response from fanatics who called for the arrest of Kashif Abbasi for insulting the second Islamic caliph.
The campaign forced Abbasi to take to Twitter and issue a clarification. “The clip is taken completely out of context. I joked with my guests who both happened to be Umar. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever even think about saying something wrong about Hazrat Umar, who happens to be my role model given his strong character and services to Islam,” Abbasi wrote. He also clarified his stance on his TV show. Former Radio Pakistan news director Murtaza Solangi urged the Federal Investigation Agency to investigate those responsible for running the hate campaign against Abbasi. “What a country has this become,” he said. Father Nasir William, director of the Commission for Social Communications in Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese, called it business as usual. “Despite our repeated complaints, there has been no amendment to the controversial blasphemy laws. There is no discussion or solution in sight,” said the priest, who has been managing the diocesan page of social communication
on Facebook for three years. “We have to be very careful. I never publish a statement without the bishop’s approval. At least Kashif Abbasi clarified his position on TV — religious minorities do not get this chance. They only announce the judgment. We are never invited on shows to share our grievances.” Pakistan's blasphemy laws carry a potential death sentence or life in prison for anyone who insults Islam or holy Islamic figures. Human rights campaigners say that blasphemy laws are often used to persecute religions minorities, dissidents or settle personal score. According to a study published in June by the National Justice and Peace Commission, abuse of blasphemy laws continues due to a lack of concrete measures to prevent it. A total of 16 persons were accused of blasphemy during the year 2018 alone — nine Christians, four Ahmadis, two Muslims and one Hindu.
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