BBC Asian Network apologises for asking 'What is the right punishment for blasphemy?'

Jon Sharman
The BBC Asian Network has apologised: PA Wire/PA Images

The BBC's Asian Network has been forced to apologise after asking its Twitter followers: "What is the right punishment for blasphemy?"

Presenter Shazia Awan suggested viewers should weigh in on Pakistan's request for Facebook to crack down on blasphemous content.

She said Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, had called blasphemy an "unpardonable offence" and asked: "Do you agree with this? Is this the right way to handle blasphemy?"

Blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad is punishable by death in Pakistan, which has a number of religious offences listed in its penal code, including "wounding religious feelings", "derogatory remarks" and "defiling the Quran".

A high court judge in Islamabad recently called for a ban on social media sites and for people found to have posted blasphemous content online to be prevented from leaving the country. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui also compared blasphemers to terrorists.

The network tweeted its apology after having initially acknowledged the "big response" to the question. "Appreciate cld [could] have bn [been] clearer," it tweeted.

The station said: "Apologies for poorly worded question from #AsianNetwork yday. Q [question] was in context of Pak [Pakistan] asking FB [Facebook] to help we shd have made that clear.

"We never intend to imply Blasphemy should be punished. Provocative question that got it wrong."

The question was related to a debate about blasphemy on the station.

The UK's own blasphemy laws were only lifted in 2008.

The National Secular Society described the channel's question as "absolutely appalling".