Pakistan's leading arts college has sparked an uproar in Pakistan. A series of paintings depicting Muslim clerics in scenes with strong homosexual overtones has led to the inevitable threats of violence by muslim extremists..
The National College of Arts in Lahore shut down its Journal of Contemporary Art and Culture, which published the paintings, pulled all its issues out of bookstores and dissolved its editorial board. The controversial pictures were a series of
paintings by artist Muhammad Ali.
A court is now considering whether the paintings' artist, the journal's board and the school's head can be charged with blasphemy.
Two works were claimed to have insulted Islam by mixing images of Muslim clerics with suggestions of homosexuality. One titled Call for Prayer shows a cleric and a shirtless young boy sitting beside each other on a cot. The cleric fingers
rosary beads as he gazes at the boy, who stretches backward with his hands clasped behind his head.
A second painting shows the same cleric reclining in front of a Muslim shrine, holding a book by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho in one hand as he lights a cigarette for a young boy with the other. A second young boy, who is naked with his legs
strategically crossed to cover his genitals, sits at the cleric's feet. The painting has caused particular uproar because verses from the Quran, appear on the shrine.
Mumtaz Mangat, a lawyer who petitioned the courts to impose blasphemy charges, argued the first image implied the cleric had fun with the boy before conducting the traditional Muslim call for prayer.
Jamaat-ud-Dawa, widely believed to be a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, issued a statement after the paintings were published demanding the college issue a public apology and withdraw all issues of the journal.
College staff members also began receiving anonymous text messages threatening violence, said a member of the journal's editorial board.
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's ambassador to the US, is under police investigation for alleged blasphemy after making the case on television for the law to be re-examined and for the death penalty to be removed
The UN's Human Rights Committee has told Pakistan to end its blasphemy laws and do more to protect religious minorities.
It criticised the Pakistani government's wider record on free expression, including its use of religiously biased content in textbooks and curricula in public schools and madrassas. Defamation is a criminal offence in Pakistan, and there have
been legal crackdowns on the media.
It said Pakistan should review its laws relating to freedom of expression and repeal all blasphemy laws or amend them in compliance with the strict requirements of the covenant. Article 19 of Pakistan's constitution gives citizens the right to
free expression, but allows for reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the 'glory of Islam'. Pakistan has also limited free speech for its broadcast media.
The committee asked Pakistan to report within a year to explain how it is implementing its recommendations on freedom of religion, conscience and belief.