IFJ Condemns “Harsh and Unjustified” Life Term for Pakistan Journalist

The International Federation of Journalists today strongly condemned the life sentence on Munawar Mohsin, sub-editor at the Frontier Post by a court in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) that sentenced the journalist to life imprisonment for blasphemy.

Munawar Mohsin, was convicted of publishing a letter that led to violent protests across the country. Two other defendants, former Frontier Post news editor Aftab Ahmad and computers chief Wajeehul Hassan, were acquitted. An arrest warrant was issued against a fourth man, newspaper managing editor Mahmood Shah Afridi, who has absconded.

“Although Mohsin committed an editorial mistake by publishing a letter that contravenes Shari’ah law, the sentence handed down by the NWFP authorities remains excessively “harsh and unjustified” and should be proportionate to the crime”, said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ. Journalists should be sensitive to religious sentiment but should not be subject to censorship”.

In addition to his jail term, Mohsin was fined 50,000 rupees ($865). The court ruling said: "The accused was responsible for selection of the letter in question and subsequently he sent the same letter for the purpose of printing." The letter was published on 29 January, 2001. It contained remarks about the Prophet Mohammed deemed derogatory. The day after it was printed, a violent mob attacked the offices of the newspaper, set the printing press on fire and damaged other public property, including a cinema.

The Frontier Post quickly carried large advertisements in national dailies apologising for publishing the letter and Mr Afridi also apologised. However, publication of the newspaper was suspended for a few months after the incident. Mohsin had been in detention since the publication of the letter. He now has seven days in which to appeal to the provincial high court. Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan but no convict has ever been executed.

The IFJ is calling on the Pakistan Authorities and particularly on the Chief Minister of the North West Frontier Province, Akram Durrani, to do everything in their power to set Mohsin free. This journalist has suffered enough and he should be freed immediately.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries