The borders of freedom: Blasphemy and the press in Pakistan

Updated 8:43 AM ET, Fri November 24, 2017

Rafia Zakaria is the author of "The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan" (Beacon 2015) and Veil (Bloomsbury 2017). She is a columnist for Dawn newspaper in Pakistan, The Baffler and Guardian Books. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. This is the next installment in CNN Opinion's series on the challenges facing the media as it is under attack from critics, governments and changing technology.

(CNN)On August 13, a day before Pakistan turned 70, I received a Facebook message from a Pakistan-based journalist and colleague.

"Please help me report this," he said, linking to the Facebook page of a religious leader in Pakistan. In the post, written in Urdu, the leader accuses him of insulting a renowned 11th Century Sunni Muslim saint during an appearance on a privately owned Pakistani television channel.
In response, the leader demanded action from the Pakistani state and made a number of insults directed at the journalist, many of which were seconded by comments from some of the page's 180,000 odd followers.
The post, along with its accusation and incitement to punish, has never been removed.
The journalist at whom the message was directed was right to worry. Journalists, constantly in the public eye, are easy targets for Pakistan's vague and lethal blasphemy laws, which criminalize any statement that is "defamatory" to Islam, religious texts, the holy prophet or anyone associated with him. The laws are a relic of the colonial era, their bite made dramatically worse by military rulers and others seeking to woo the religious right and silence any potential oppos