“Blasphemous" QR Code on Sparks Protests and Vandalism in Pakistan

On July 1,  Pakistan Police arrested 27 Samsung employees at a mobile store after a mob turned violent at the Star City mall in Karachi. Protests began after a WiFi device was installed at the mall, which allegedly made blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. In retaliation, a violent crowd gathered at the spot and damaged signboards and goods.

Hundreds of protesters rallied and vandalized a Samsung store in a prominent mall in Karachi. They burned the mall property, wrecked the electronics store, and some even attacked Samsung's staff. The said outrage is due to a WiFi device allegedly posting anti-Islam content. The police arrived to control the crowd, and they arrested all the employees of the store. 

The frenzied crowd was also objecting to the QR code on the billboard of the mobile company, which they believed was blasphemous and insulted their religion. Angry with this QR code, the mob raised slogans after the arson. There have been many posts on social media as well regarding the matter.

In several videos circulating on social media, rioters can be seen with sticks in their hands, vandalizing electronics stores and toppling Samsung signboards.

The Karachi Police, understanding the gravity of the situation, have switched off all WiFi devices in the mall. The police have also confiscated the primary device from which alleged blasphemy against Islam was spread.

The police officials are not sure what exactly was "blasphemous" about the QR Code/WiFi device but are currently investigating it. They are working with the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency's cybercrime wing throughout the case to find out who was responsible for setting up these devices. The arrested employees are being interrogated while in custody.

A local news outlet alleged that the Pakistani religious right-wing organization, Tehreek-e-Labbaik had orchestrated the protests. However, the organization had denied such claims.

Samsung, the South Korean conglomerate that has almost a quarter of Pakistan's handset market share, issued a statement. In a tweet on the company's Pakistani handle, they stated, "Samsung Pakistan reiterates its objectivity on all matters of religious significance and aims to ensure that the company's vision and operations are known to be unbiased and respectful towards religion."

"With reference to the recent developments in Karachi, Samsung Electronics stands firm on its stance that the company has utmost respect for all religious sentiments and beliefs and holds the religion of Islam in utmost respect."

The company also said they have "started [an] internal investigation into the matter."

This is not the first time a multinational company has been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. In December last year, a Pakistani man alleged that Pepsico had printed a QR code with the name of Prophet Muhammad on its 7UP bottles.

The man threatened to burn down the transporting vehicle if the company did not remove the blasphemous QR code from the soft-drink bottles.

Blasphemy is considered an extreme offense punishable by death in Pakistan, and those accused of it are easy targets for radical Islamist groups. Many have fallen victims to the country's stringent blasphemy laws.

Last week, a bike mechanic belonging to the Christian minority was sentenced to death for blasphemy. The victim claimed that he was falsely accused.

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