Authorities claim that American citizens operating in the U.S. an Ahmadi Web site risk prison sentences up to 10 years.
by Daniela Bovolenta
China is not the only country claiming the right to prosecute offenses committed abroad by foreign citizens guilty of “blasphemy” against the almighty Chinese Communist Party. Now, Pakistan is making the same claim with respect to its own notorious blasphemy laws.
The representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, Amjad Mahmood Khan and Harris Zafar, have received a legal notice from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authorities (PTA), asking them to shut down their Website TrueIslam.com or face jail penalties up to ten years under Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law.
The persecution against the Ahmadis in Pakistan, where the government regards them as part of a “heretical” Muslim sect, is well-documented. However, the Website TrueIslam.com is operated in the U.S. by an American entity, whose legal representatives are American citizens. The PTA’s notice amounts to an attempt to claim that Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law applies to offenses committed abroad by non-Pakistani citizens.
Of course, chances that the U.S. may accept this claim and extradite American citizens to Pakistan are non-existent. But they will be prevented from traveling to Pakistan or other countries friendly to Pakistan where they may be arrested. And they also expressed concerns that their relatives in Pakistan may be targeted.
American attorney Brett Williamson of the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, who is representing TrueIslam.com, slammed on January 11 the PTA’s action as a “a malicious attempt to chill free speech and expression.” On January 14, House Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks (D-New York) tweeted from the Committee’s account that it is “very concerning to see Pakistan using attempts to apply its controversial cybercrime laws—used to stifle expression within PK—to repress Americans’ freedoms of speech and worship well outside of Pakistan’s own borders.”
Pakistan has severe Internet censorship laws, allowing the authorities to block everything that they regard as “immoral or indecent,” or that “incites disaffection” against the government. Contents threatening “the glory of Islam” are also forbidden, and the formula is intended to specifically target the Ahmadis.
It is, however, the first time that Pakistan explicitly claims it has the right to prosecute foreign citizens for acts of “blasphemy” committed abroad, although it has in the past threatened actions against Google and Wikipedia, should they not remove contents about the Ahmadis regarded as “blasphemous.”