Pakistan media owner sentenced to 26 years for 'blasphemy'

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - A Pakistan court on Tuesday sentenced the owner of the country's biggest media group to 26 years in prison for broadcasting a show it said was blasphemous.

The verdict against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman along with the host of the show and two guests was announced by an anti-terror court in the city of Gilgit, which is controlled by Pakistan but part of the Kashmir region which India also claims.

But the order is unlikely to be implemented because the Gilgit-Baltistan region is not considered a full-fledged province by Pakistan and verdicts by its courts do not apply to the rest of the country.

The four people convicted were also ordered to pay a fine of 1.3 million rupees (S$16,600), sell their properties and surrender their passports, according to a copy of the court order.

"The malicious acts of the proclaimed offenders ignited the sentiments of all the Muslims of the country and hurt the feelings, which cannot be taken lightly and there is need to strictly curb such tendency," the order said.

No lawyer appeared on behalf of any of the accused. However the court had arranged a state lawyer to defend them.

The morning show broadcast live on Geo TV in May featured Pakistani starlet Veena Malik dancing with her new husband while a group of Sufi musicians sang a devotional song about the wedding of the Prophet Muhammad's daughter.

Its broadcast set off a storm of controversy on social media, though similar routines by other channels in the past have largely gone unnoticed.

Many observers at the time suspected Pakistan's military establishment of engineering the blasphemy campaign against Geo TV.

The channel was then caught up in a struggle with the all-powerful military.

The blasphemy case was registered on May 26 in a police station in Gilgit by a hardline sunni cleric Himayatullah Khan, deputy chief of the anti-shia organisation Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat formerly known as Sipah-e-Sahaba.