Pakistan was Friday reviewing a decision to ban an Indian Bollywood comedy poking fun at Osama bin Laden, which censors said was a threat to security and offensive to Muslims.
Pakistani censors banned Tere bin Laden (Without you, Laden) shortly before it was due to open at cinemas nationwide this month.The film is a spoof about a Pakistani reporter who wants to migrate to the United States and hopes that an interview with a bin Laden look-alike can get him the visa he has long been denied.
Pakistani pop singer Ali Zafar plays the starring role, but the board of censors said the film could incite revenge attacks in a country already suffering Islamist militant bombings weekly if not daily.
Censors said the film ridiculed Pakistani society, was offensive to Muslims, portrays bin Laden as a "coward and ridiculous", contained vulgar language and could fan hostility among "fanatic and fundamentalist elements" in Pakistan. The nuclear-armed country has struggled to contain Islamist violence.
Bombs and attacks blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants have killed more than 3,500 people since government troops besieged a radical mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.
But the film's promoters appealed the ban as a violation of freedom of expression, forcing government officials to review the decision.
"I'm astonished they did this," said promoter Nadeem Mandviwala.
"There are many TV programmes in Pakistan criticising the president, prime minister and everybody else in a comic way. Our society has become tolerant."
Government officials on Friday attended a private screening of the film in order to decide whether to uphold the ban or release it for public consumption, said Abdul Sattar Khokhar, acting chairman of the Central Board of Film Censors. A decision was expected later Friday, he said.
"This movie is anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan and there is a security threat," Khokhar told AFP, in comments indicating that the ban was likely to be upheld.
Pakistan has a relatively free media, but authorities in May briefly shut down YouTube and Facebook over blasphemous content on the Internet. Internet links to material considered offensive are still blocked.
The Tere bin Laden controversy comes after a number of Gulf states banned a hard-hitting Bollywood film that claims to tell the true story behind violence in the Muslim-majority region.