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The Pakistan killings are not about blasphemy


Guardian, Nick Cohen

After Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses, religious “scholars” doubted whether the Ayatollah Khomeini had the right to order his murder. They had no liberal qualms about executing a writer for subjecting religion to imaginative scrutiny. They believed that blasphemers and apostates must die as their religion insisted. But only if they were citizens of an Islamic state. As Rushdie was living in London in 1989, a free man in a free country, the clerics concluded that religious law did not apply to him.

The Rushdie controversy was the Dreyfus affair of the late 20th century. It established today’s dividing lines between the secular and the authoritarian, between those who were willing to defend freedom of thought and inquiry and those who wanted to censor and self-censor to keep fanatics happy. We can gauge how low we have sunk by remembering that at the start of the battle 23 years ago there was a tiny regard for the forms of legality, even among those who were otherwise happy to condemn free thinkers to death. However brutal they were, they respected their version of due process.

The Islamist murders first of Salmaan Taseer and then of Shahbaz Bhatti show that what tiny scruples blood-soaked men possessed vanished long ago. The best way to describe the terror which is reducing Pakistani liberals to silence is to enumerate what the assassins did not allege. They did not say that Taseer and Bhatti must die because they were apostates – or, to put that “crime” in plain language, because they were adults who decided they no longer believed in the Muslim god. Taseer had not renounced Islam. Bhatti could not renounce it as he was the bravest Christian in Pakistan, who campaigned for equal rights for persecuted minorities with the dignity and physical courage of a modern Martin Luther King.

Nor did their assassins claim that their targets had committed the capital crime of blasphemy. Taseer and Bhatti had not said that the Koran, like the Talmud and the New Testament, was the work of men not god. They did not denounce Muhammad’s morality or offer any criticism of his life and teaching. If you wanted to reduce the whirling, brilliant narrative of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses to a single sentence, you could say that it was in part a “blasphemous” account of the early history of Islam. Taseer and Bhatti attempted nothing so brave. They confined themselves to making the modest point that Pakistan’s death penalty for blasphemy was excessive and barbaric, and that was enough to condemn them. Their killers murdered them for the previously unknown crime of advocating law reform: blew them away for the new offence of blaspheming against blasphemy.

One Pakistani journalist I spoke to described his fellow liberals as members of a persecuted minority, who now knew that if they spoke out, they would be shot down. Salmaan Taseer’s daughter, Shehrbano, wrote a heartbreaking piece for the Guardian in which she despaired of a “spineless” Pakistani elite that was too frightened to praise her father or condemn his murderers.

In the networked world, censorship by the authoritarian state or clerical paramilitaries is meant to matter less. Technology enthusiasts can point to Twitter revolutions as proof of how emancipatory democratic ideas seep into apparently closed societies. But the ideas that Pakistanis need from America, Europe or “the west” to help fight armed theocracy are not there for surfers to find.

Fear plays its part in keeping western opinion quiet as well. It is hard to credit, but liberal society responded pretty well to the threat to Rushdie in 1989. Penguin refused to withdraw the Satanic Verses. Booksellers ignored threats and bombs and carried on selling it. But once the global wave of terror had passed, no one wanted to put themselves through what Rushdie and Penguin had been through, and a silence descended. Even the supposedly militant “new atheists,” whom genteel commentators damn for their vulgarity, steer clear of religions that might kill them. Close readers of Richard Dawkins will notice that almost all his examples of clerical folly are drawn from the Catholic and American evangelical churches, whose congregations are unlikely to firebomb his publishers.

The fear is still present. Last month, four men were convicted of slashing the face and fracturing the skull of Gary Smith, a London teacher who had made the mistake of taking the windy official pronouncements about “promoting diversity” seriously and taught Muslim girls about Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. Political violence comes from the British National Party, English Defence League and various splinter groups from the IRA, as well as Islamists, and that is before you raise your gaze and examine the assorted gun-totting crazies who inhabit the fringe of American politics.

The difference between Islamism and the rest is that liberals are happy to denounce white extremists, while covering up militant Islam with the wet blanket of political correctness. They do not confine themselves to saying that, of course, society must protect people from being murdered for their religion, as Slobodan Milosevic murdered the Bosnian Muslims, and punish employers who refuse jobs to members of creeds they dislike, as Protestant employers in Northern Ireland once refused to hire Catholics. They maintain it is illicit to criticise religious ideas. Thus, along with the admittedly faint fear of violence, western writers who want to provide arguments against religious misogyny, homophobia, racism and censorship must also live with the fear that their contemporaries will accuse them of orientalism or Islamophobia.

The world may pay a price for the monumental blunder of treating religious ideologies – which are beliefs that men and women ought to be free to accept or reject – as if they were ethnicities, which no man or woman can change. Not the smallest reason why the Arab revolution is such an optimistic event is that al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood have been left as gawping bystanders. Their isolation cannot last. Eventually, if Arab states move towards democracy, there will be a confrontation with political Islam. Arab liberals, like Pakistani liberals, will search the net for guidance. They will discover that far from offering strategies that might help, timorous western liberals have convinced themselves that it is “racist” to criticise raging fanatics who no longer even bother to pretend that they are anything other than liberalism’s mortal enemies.

 
 

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Repeal or Amendment, Death or Life??


Dear Friends,
My apologies for being silent in last two weeks. I was probably sulking and down in the mouth, but read and observed what the world had to say. Asia Bibi today emerged as a sign of injustice in the first place, but also as a woman who brought the world’s attention to some strictest and scariest blasphemy laws in practice here in Pakistan. Skipping the details here that how a sip of water turned out to be a crime, it reminds me of all those cases where people from minority groups were charged under the blasphemy law. The only difference is that Asia has been sentenced and that too to death under 295 C of Pakistan Penal Code for defaming Hole Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

Human rights organisations and civil society have raised their voices sympathizing with 45-year Asia, a mother of five kids, whose crime will never be proven. This case has provoked international concern after Pope Benedict XVI on November 17 also asked for the release of Asia Bibi to the Government of Pakistan. Governor Punjab Salman Taseer’s meeting with Asia Bibi in the prison was definitely a bold and courageous step, who  promised to take the appeal for clemency forward to the President Zardari. It brought wrath of many religious organisation like Sunni Tehrik and Aalmi Tanzim Ahle Sunnat (ATAS) who in their protests denounced all Asia sympathisers. This reaction was anticipated in a country where religion is misused in most of the cases as a shield to protect their false and inhuman version of religion.

Not so contrary to what usually happens, in Asia’s case a maulvi, religious cleric, has lived up to our expectations and rushed to file a complaint against Asia. It is true that he was not present on the spot so he can be thrown out of the category of “witnesses”, but that we cannot out of sheer respect for him as a maulvi. Even the police forgets legal formalities and investigation formalities when a maulvi complains. So did it happen and later a death sentence of a woman confirmed that how strong the edifice of law is.

What I have observed in all these years that it always appears as a nexus of maulvies, police and some local people who are dealing with feuds either on land or property. Above all, it has always been a general hatred and disgusts towards those who lack freedom and rights.  But who will decide if she or for that mater anyone has committed blasphemy?

Sherry Rehman, former Minister of Information and PPP legislator has submitted a private bill to amend this blasphemy law. Bravo, a bold step which will stir a strong reaction and can put her life in danger too. I have only got the details available and the proposal of reducing death sentence to 10-year imprisonment, and recommendation of substituting life imprisonment under 295 B, PPC, with a five-year prison are the highlights of the Bill.

Despite having wished for a repeal of this law, the realistic step could just be demanding for amendments with not so high hopes. The proposal of adding a new section 203 A to the PPC, in my view, would be of great help in reducing such allegations against people with no social standing. Under this section, if ever implemented,  anyone for making false accusations under the sections of 295 A, 295 B and 295 C of the PPC shall be punished in accordance with similar punishments prescribed in the section.

The Bill proposed amendment in section 190 of the Criminal Procedure Code 1898, by adding a new subsection containing the words, “all offences falling within section 295 A, 295 B and 295 C of PPC shall exclusively be taken cognizance by the Court of Sessions and tried by the High Court”.

Another amendment proposed in section 201 of CrPC says that if a complaint is made in writing to a magistrate under sections 295 A, 295 B and 295 C of PPC, he will not take cognizance of it and will forward it to the proper sessions court. In the case that the complaint is not made in writing, such Magistrate shall direct the complainant to the proper Sessions Court.

Among the several other amendments in schedule II of the CrPC, this one deals with the issue of authority of the police. In case of offences under 295 A, 295 B and 295 C which deal with use of derogatory remarks against a holy personage, defiling a copy of the holy book and the use of derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) respectively, the police will not arrest the accused without a warrant and such cases will be tried in High Courts only.

All these proposed amendments address the critical part of the law, but I have not found anything so far on the issue of investigation. How investigation should take place in such cases where it is hard to determine the crime. This weakness has encouraged people to settle their accounts behind this law. The world is waiting for the President to take decision on this case, and every passing day is making the decision tough. Because those who oppose any amendment in blasphemy laws are still in majority and here any crime becomes a cause of jihad when it comes on religion.

I want to keep my hopes high and extend my support to Sherry Rehman who took this bold step in the midst of danger and opposition. If Asia Bibi’s pain and misery can change this law for others, I would call it a story of success, bravery and compassion.

The PPP will always be remembered in the constitutional history of Pakistan if it succeeds in amending the blasphemy laws which cannot be a piece of cake as we all know. The party has the courage and spirit to address controversial issues and this move by one of its legislators explains a lot. It will be a great service to Pakistanis if such laws if not repealed then amended at least to bring justice in the country.

Below are the stories:

PAKISTAN, Nov 12: Outcry over death sentence for ‘blasphemy’ mother who offered farmhands water

A Pakistani court has sentenced to death a Christian mother of five for blasphemy, the first such conviction of a woman and sparking protests from rights groups. Asia Bibi, 45, was sentenced on Monday by a local court in Nankana district in Pakistan’s central province Punjab, about 75km west of the country’s cultural capital of Lahore. Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for blasphemy, but the case spotlights the Muslim country’s controversial laws on the subject which rights activists say encourages Islamist extremism in a nation
wracked by Taliban attacks.

Ms Bibi’s case dates back to June 2009 when she was asked to fetch water while out working in the fields. But a group of Muslim women labourers objected, saying that as a
non-Muslim, she should not touch the water bowl. A few days later the women went to a local cleric and alleged that Ms Bibi made made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed. The cleric went to local police, who opened an investigation. She was arrested in Ittanwalai village and prosecuted under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which carries the death penalty.

Sentencing her to hang, Judge Naveed Iqbal “totally ruled out” any chance that Ms Bibi was falsely implicated and said there were “no mitigating circumstances”, according to a copy of the verdict. Ms Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih, 51, said that he would appeal her
death sentence, which needs to be upheld by the Lahore high court, the highest court in Punjab, before it can be carried out. “The case is baseless and we will file an appeal,” he said.

The couple have two sons and three daughters. Rights activists and minority pressure groups said it was the first time that a woman had been sentenced to hang in Pakistan for
blasphemy, although a Muslim couple were jailed for life last year. Human rights activists want the controversial legislation repealed, saying it is exploited for personal enmity and encourages Islamist extremism.

“The blasphemy law is absolutely obscene and it needs to be repealed in totality,” Human Rights Watch spokesman Ali Dayan Hasan said. “It is primarily used against vulnerable groups that face social and political discrimination. Heading that category are religious
minorities and heterodox Muslim sects,” he said. About three per cent of Pakistan’s population of 167 million is estimated to be non-Muslim.

Last July, two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous pamphlet critical of the Prophet Mohammed were shot dead outside a court in Punjab. Pastor Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and his brother Sajjad, were killed as they left a court hearing in Faisalabad city, where hundreds of Muslim protesters had demanded they be sentenced to death.

The news are available at:
http://www.smh.com.au/world/outcry-over-death-sentence-for-blasphemy-mother-who-offered-farmhands-water-20101112-17pri.html

Asia Bibi likely to be pardoned by President Asif Ali Zardari

A Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan may be saved by a presidential pardon and the case – which last week drew a plea for clemency from the Pope – is expected to reignite the debate about repealing the Draconian law. Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minority Affairs, said Monday he is convinced that Asia Bibi, accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed and sentenced to hang, “is innocent.” Mr. Bhatti is to submit a report to President Asif Ali Zardari on the case this week.

Ms. Bibi’s case provoked international concern and even criticism inside Pakistan, where sensitive Islamic issues rarely lead to dissension or debate. Mr. Zardari is now expected to overturn her sentence and officials indicated Monday that a pardon is likely within the next couple of weeks. While Ms. Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of five, looks set to gain her freedom after languishing in jail for a year-and-a-half, it will take a huge effort to change the blasphemy law itself.

“Asia Bibi’s release will not stop the injustice. That won’t end until this heinous law is repealed,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. “The blasphemy law has become an instrument of coercion used to terrorize minorities.”

Pakistan is said to have among the most stringent blasphemy laws of any Muslim country. Minorities make up fewer than 5 per cent of the 180 million population of Pakistan. Christians are not the only targets of the laws. Ahmedis, a minority Islamic sect, are regularly singled out. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan there were more than 41 reported cases of blasphemy last year. The death sentence for blasphemy has never been carried out, but those convicted or put on trial spend years in jail, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

The blasphemy accusation itself is often enough for vigilantes to take matters into their own hands. Last week, a 22-year-old man was shot and killed outside his home in Lahore after being granted bail on a blasphemy charge. A poor labourer, Ms. Bibi was working in the fields with some Muslim women when a quarrel erupted in June last year. She had fetched water for them, but some refused because she, as a Christian, had touched it. In the ensuing row, she is accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed. The man who filed the complaint, a local mullah, wasn’t present when the incident happened. Immediately jailed, Ms. Bibi was convicted and sentenced to hang earlier this month.

Her family was forced by subsequent threats by locals to move to another village. Ms. Bibi’s 10-year-old daughter, Esha, who is disabled, made a tearful appeal over the weekend, telling local media, “I just want to see my mother.” Mr. Zardari’s top representative in the Punjab province, Salman Taseer, said: “The President has made it clear that she [Asia Bibi] will not be punished. He will grant her a pardon.

“This is a disgraceful case, it is a disgraceful law. It has to be repealed,” he added. Repealing it will not be easy. The blasphemy law, on the statute books since British colonial times, was turned into a potent weapon in the 1980s by the fundamentalist dictator General Zia ul Haq. He brought in the charge of insulting the Prophet Mohammed and the death penalty for blasphemy.

General Pervez Musharraf vowed to get rid of the blasphemy law when he took power in 1999, but was soon forced to back down, under threat of street protests, even with full force of the army behind him. Mr. Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party, which leads the ruling coalition in Islamabad but doesn’t command a majority in parliament, has made a commitment to abolish the blasphemy law. But it has made no concerted effort to do so since coming to office in early 2008.

The main opposition party, the mildly Islamic Pakistan Muslim League-N, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, has been ambivalent, stopping well short of calling for a change in the law. “Laws made by a sovereign country should be respected,” said Sadiq ul-Farooq, a spokesman for Mr. Sharif’s party. “The law of the land should be followed but we don’t want injustices.”

Pakistan; Islamists and lawyers protest against pardon to Asia Bibi

Islamabad: November 23, 2010. (PCP) As Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, takes U-Turn on blasphemy law in a statement to news agencies that “Pakistan will not repeal blasphemy law but revise to stop misuse of this law”.

Meanwhile, the Muslims gathered outside Sheikhupura District Jail on rumors that Asia Bibi is pardoned and going to be released. The lawyers of Sheikhupura District and Nankana Districts boycotted courts today against pardon to Asia Bibi, who was handed over Death Sentence by District and Session Judge Sheikhupura on charges of 295-B and C of PPC of blasphemy.

The Pakistani print media also highlighted statements of Muslim religious organizations not to pardon Asia Bibi and threatened government of Pakistan on any blasphemy law repeal or revision.

The insiders in Pakistan Government to PCP that some ally partners in government have opposed any move to repeal blasphemy law or to Pardon Asia Bibi. The Jamiat Ulma Islam JUI(F) which is ally of PPP led government have informed President Asif Zardari that pardon of Asia Bibi will spark unrest in Pakistan and it will not support government on this issue. The Jamat-e-Islami Pakistan JI is also against pardon to Asia Bibi.

The government also used Shahbaz Bhatti, one of selected Christian minister in government to issue this statement ““(Repeal) is not being considered though we are considering changing it so that misuse of the law should be stopped, Bhatti told Reuters”.

There were reports of meetings of Islamist organizations in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and other cities of Punjab province of Pakistan to launch protest against government if Asia Bibi is pardoned. It is feared that Muslims in these cities will take out protest processions after Friday Prayers.

Blasphemy Laws being Misused: Asma Jahangir

ISLAMABAD: President of the Supreme Court Bar Association Asma Jahangir has said that the blasphemy laws are being misused in the country. Her remarks come at a time when the Lahore High Court has sentenced the Christian mother of five, Aasia Bibi to death for blasphemy, under the controversial section 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code.

Talking to media in London she said that the death penalty should be abolished from the country. She also said that such cases should be heard by the High Court. Asma Jahangir further said that changes should be made in the rules of death penalties. She expressed her discontent with the performance of the government and said that the Army Chief should not have been given extension.

Petition

Holland: November 22, 2010. (PC) Parvez Iqbal, President, Pakistan Christian Congress Holland chapter files a petition to the Secretary General EU to grant Asylum to Asia Bibi, her husband and five children immediately as life of Asia Bibi is on high risk in jail and police custody. After mentioning the facts about Asia Bibi case and few previous examples, Mr. Iqbal has appealed to EU as under:-Mr. Iqbal has also asked for an appointment to meet personally to secretary EU to submit more details with regard to his contentions and copy of this appeal.

” As mentioned above due to lack of our trust on Government and Police of Islamic Republic of Pakistan with few above noted live examples we are fearing death of Asia Bibi and keeping in mind the greatest life risk of Asia Bibi both in and out side police custody, this is humble appeal to take immediate administrative actions on humanitarian grounds and on Women rights Universal rules to pull out Asia Bibi, her husband and 5 children out of Pakistan and grant asylum before any more lines written in history of Pakistan and list of deaths of Blasphemy Laws added with name of Asia Bibi.”

H.E. Welle Klaus.

The EU Secretary General.

Your Excellency,

Asia Bibi an innocent Christian woman arrested under the blasphemy on June 19, 2009, the unjust and unequal society of Pakistan has been awarded death sentence (by hanging till death) by the Additional Sessions Judge, Sheikupura Pakistan on November, 08 2010. The malevolent Blasphemy Law of Pakistan is live threat to minorities living in Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The Christian NGO,s, Human and women Right organizations, and many more shouted against injustice and historic judgment by the Additional Sessions Court of Sheikupura when first time in history Pakistan under Blasphemy Laws, an innocent Christian women mother of 5 children have been ordered to hanged till death.

On Monday, November 15, her husband filed appeal in Lahore High Court which is still not yet judged.

Pope Benedict XVI on November 17, 2010, also asked for the release of Asia Bibi to the Government of Pakistan and stated that I feel close to Asia Bibi and her family and I ask she be release as soon as possible. The Pontiff also prayed for other minorities who are in similar condition of Asia Bibi.

Pakistan Christian Congress along with Christian nation in Pakistan, as well as out side Pakistan don’t trust Pakistan Peoples Party (ruling party of Pakistani Government) and also lack in trust on detention and jail system in Pakistani. Because there are chain of incidents where innocent male and female Christian victims were killed in police detention and jail. Only few of them are mentioned here under for ready reference.

Bantu Masih, a victim of blasphemy was killed in a Police Station in Lahore, Naimat Ahmar was killed by poisoning in Lahore District Jail Lahore, Manzoor Masih was gunned down when appearing in Lahore High Court during hearing of blasphemy sentence, Justice Iqbal Bhatti of Lahore High Court was shot dead who acquitted blasphemy victims, Pastor Emmanuel and Rashid were gunned down when appearing in District Courts Faisalabad and Robert Danish was killed in Jail.

In a very recent incidents two Young brothers of 30 and 32 gunned down in police custody in court premises while they were brought to court for hearing and young boy killed after release on bail last week. This is not only but there are many young boys and girls who were taken into custody under blasphemy Laws and were transferred to unknown places and nobody knows if they are alive or no more. Their families are doing their last to approach concerned officials to know where about of their love ones but no one to answer them. For example Asghar Masih Gill of Sialkot was taken to custody and now no body knows where he is. Ashee Maryam of Faisalabad District is also in same situation under blasphemy laws. This line contains many other references but considering your time I pushed full stop button here.

There are hundreds of youth and elder Christian male and female escaped from their home land leaving behind everything only to save their lives.

Mr. Nazir S. Bhatti, President Pakistan Christian Congress, had already appealed Government of Pakistan to adopt necessary measures for safety and security of Asia Bibi in Jail and police custody. Mr. Bhatti in his appeal on media requested EU and us for her safety and asylum.

Your Excellency,

As mentioned above due to lack of our trust on Government and Police of Islamic Republic of Pakistan with few above noted live examples we are fearing death of Asia Bibi. Keeping in mind the greatest life risk of Asia Bibi both in and out side police custody, this is my humble appeal to take immediate administrative actions on humanitarian grounds and on Women rights Universal rules to pull out Asia Bibi, her husband and 5 children out of Pakistan and grant asylum before any more lines written in history of Pakistan and list of Blasphemy addeed with name of Asia Bibi.

Your Excellency, in the end I express my deep thanks for your precious time. kind attention and our hopes are strong for your sympathetic consideration please.

Yours sincerely,

Parvez Iqbal,

President,

PCC Holland Chapter



 
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Posted by on November 27, 2010 in Blasphemy

 

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