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BBC presenter sparks backlash after asking ‘What is the right punishment for blasphemy?’

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 19/03/2017 Hatty Collier
© Provided by Independent Print Limited

A BBC presenter has sparked a backlash after posting a video online asking viewers “what is the right punishment for blasphemy?”

The video, shared on the BBC Asian Network’s official Twitter account, posed the questions to followers after the Pakistan government called on Facebook to assist with a crackdown on blasphemy.

In the 40-second clip, Shazia Awan asked viewers to get in touch and offer their opinions on how blasphemy should be dealt with.

The BBC later apologised and said the question was "poorly worded".

During the video, Ms Awan said: “What is the right punishment for blasphemy? I want to talk about this because Pakistan have asked for the help of Facebook to crack down on blasphemous content on the site.

“Facebook have even agreed to send a team out there for help. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said he supports this crackdown.

“On the party’s official Twitter account, it’s called blasphemy an “unpardonable offence”. Do you agree with this? Is this the right way to handle blasphemy?

“Or do you think that freedom of speech should trump all else?”

But viewers were left angered by the question and accused the BBC of suggesting that blasphemy should be punished in some way.

Under Pakistan’s controversial laws, a person found guilty of blasphemy can be sentenced to death.

Jeffrey Peel tweeted: “Are you serious? You’re funded by British licence payers who cherish freedom of speech.”

Political activist Maryam Namazie wrote: “Disgraceful that @bbcasiannetwork @shaziaAwan would ask what "punishment" should be for blasphemy. You know people get killed for it."

Another angry viewer said: “Your question is appallingly clumsily worded and implies that blasphemy should be punished in some way."

Paul Joseph Watson: “There should be no punishment for “blasphemy”.

Following the backlash BBC Asian Network apologised in a series of tweets.

A statement posted on the account said: “Apologies for poorly worded question from #AsianNetwork yesterday. Question was in context of Pakistan asking Facebook to help. We should have made that clear.

“We never intend to imply blasphemy should be punished. Provocative question that got it wrong.”

The Standard has contacted the BBC for further comment.

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