Archive for the ‘ Freedoms ’ Category

Free Rimsha Masih Now and End The Blasphemy Law Witch Hunts in Pakistan

The latest victim of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, is an 11 year old girl suffering from Downs Syndrome. Rimshah Masih screamed pitifully as she was brutally snatched from her mother by an angry mob intent on killing her. Burnt religious texts had been mischievously planted in a bag she was carrying. We call on the Pakistani Government to take action to stop the ongoing discrimination, persecution and hatred towards minorities living there. We call on the Britisha Government the EU and the Un to intervene on behalf of this poor child and to bring about her freedom.

To bring an end to hatred towards minority faiths in conservative Pakistan and to defend otherwise helpless victims like Rimsha please sign the petition below: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/freerimshamasih

This petition will be sent to the Pakistan Government at the highest levels.

“Whilst the Burmese’s treatment of the Rohingya is indeed appalling and deserves condemnation, our minorities are living in their very own Burma right here in Pakistan.

“As the rest of the country goes about its way, having just celebrated another joyous Eid, spare a thought for a little girl with special needs, languishing in a juvenile jail.

“She is probably all alone, and scared. With her condition, she very well might not even know the reason she is in there.

“But ask her neighbours, some who are frothing at the teeth to have a go at her, and they will tell you that she deserves to die.

“Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old Pakistani girl of the Christian faith, who reportedly suffers from Down Syndrome, was arrested on allegations that she had desecrated the Holy Quran.

“The girl and her mother were severely beaten by an enraged mob that had converged outside their house, while the rest of her family managed to flee. If the police had not intervened, there is no telling what else could have happened….”

Please sign the petition and help free Rimsha and Aasia Bibi and put an end to Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws.

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Pakistan Police Arrest Christian Girl After Angry Neighbors Accuse Her of Burning the Quran

By Munir Ahmed, Zarar Khan and Matthew Lee for The Associated Press

A Christian girl was sent to a Pakistani prison after being accused by her furious Muslim neighbors of burning pages of the Islamic holy book, the Quran, in violation of the country’s strict blasphemy laws.

A police official said Monday there was little evidence that pages of the book had been burned and that the case would likely be dropped. But hundreds of angry neighbors gathered outside the girl’s home last week demanding action in a case raising new concerns about religious extremism in this conservative Muslim country.

Some human rights officials and media reports said the girl was mentally handicapped. Police gave conflicting reports of her age as 11 and 16.

Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad or defiling the holy book, or Quran, can face life in prison or even execution. Critics say the laws are often misused to harass non-Muslims or target individuals.

Police put the girl in jail for 14 days on Thursday after neighbors said they believed a Christian girl had burned pages of a Quran, gathering outside her house in a poor outlying district of Islamabad, said police officer Zabi Ullah. He suggested she was being held for her protection.

“About 500 to 600 people had gathered outside her house in Islamabad and they were very emotional, angry and they might have harmed her if we had not quickly reacted,” Ullah said.

Almost everyone in the girl’s neighborhood insisted she had burned the Quran’s pages, even though police said they had found no evidence of it. One police official, Qasim Niazi, said when the girl was brought to the police station, she had a shopping bag that contained various religious and Arabic-language papers that had been partly burned, but there was no Quran.

Some residents claimed they actually saw burnt pages of Quran — either at the local mosque or at the girl’s house. Few people in Pakistan actually speak or read Arabic, so often assume that anything they see with Arabic script is believed to be from the Quran, sometimes the only Arabic-language book people have seen.

But one police officer familiar with the girl’s case said the matter would likely be dropped once the investigation is completed and the atmosphere is defused, saying there was “nothing much to the case.” He did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the case.

A spokesperson for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Farhatullah Babar, said the president has taken “serious note” of reports of the girl’s arrest and has asked the Interior Ministry to look into the case.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the case “deeply disturbing”.

“We urge the government of Pakistan to protect not just its religious minority citizens but also women and girls,” she said.

The Associated Press is withholding the girl’s name; the AP does not generally identify juveniles under 18 who are accused of crimes.

The case demonstrates the deep emotion that suspected blasphemy cases can evoke in a country where religion Many critics say the blasphemy laws are often abused.

“It has been exploited by individuals to settle personal scores, to grab land, to violate the rights of non-Muslims, to basically harass them,” said the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Zora Yusuf.

Those convicted of blasphemy can spend years in prison and often face mob justice by extremists when they finally do get out. In July, thousands of people dragged a man accused of desecrating the Quran from a police station in the central city of Bahawalpur, beat him to death and then set his body on fire.

Attempts to revoke or alter the blasphemy laws have been met with violent opposition. Last year, two prominent political figures who spoke out against the laws were killed in attacks that basically ended any attempts at reform.

The girl’s jailing terrified her Christian neighbors, many of whom left their homes in fear after the incident. One resident said Muslims used to object to the noise when Christians sang songs during their services. After the girl was accused he said senior members of the Muslim community pressured landlords to evict Christian tenants.

But Muslim residents insisted they treated their neighbors with respect, and said Christians needed to respect Islamic traditions and culture.

“Their priest should tell them that they should respect the call for prayer. They should respect the mosque and the Quran,” said Haji Pervez, one of several Muslims gathered at the local mosque less than 100 yards (meters) from the grey concrete house where the Christian girl lived.

“This is what should have happened. We are standing in the house of God. This incident has happened and it is true. It was not good.”

“Even a 3-year-old, 4-year-old child knows: “This is Muslim. This is Christian. This is our religion,” said shopkeeper Mohammed Ilyas.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The case of this young Christian girl is reminiscent of the case of Aasia Bibi and many other lesser known unfortunate people who have been arrested under Pakistan’s ridiculous blasphemy laws. These laws are draconian and have no place in the country’s judicial system serving only to intimidate Pakistan’s religious minorities and giving the zealots an official tool to harass the country’s Christians, Hindus and other minorities. As we have done before, we call on the government of Pakistan to do the right thing and strike these absurd laws from the books and free the individuals who have been imprisoned under these laws.

For Surjeet Singh, Life Unfolds a Guessing Game

As Reported by The Hindustan Times

“Pehchanon ji ye kaun hai” (guess who this is), is what Surjeet Singh often hears, as he relaxes on a cot in the sweltering summer heat on a farm in this Punjab village. Surjeet, 69, now plays this ‘guessing game’ several times a day, ever since he arrived in his native village last week, after more than 30 years of incarceration in Pakistan.
“There are several people from villages and other places coming to meet me despite the heat. Sometimes, my family members ask me to guess who a particular person is. Most of them look so different and older, just like me. It is hard to guess every time and then I try to identify them by their names. I can re-collect some names though,” Surjeet Singh told IANS with several people sitting around him.

“Ye budhi kaun hai (who is this old woman)?” was a question Surjeet popped in Punjabi to his relatives as an elderly woman came to meet him. He was told that she was a relative and he gave her a warm hug.

Surjeet wears a pair of white kurta-payjama and slippers as he wanders through his daily life and receives scores of visitors or meets them around his village. He returned home Thursday to a tumultuous and teary welcome from family and friends.

Among the visitors Saturday was Gurbaksh Ram, a fellow prisoner in Pakistan who returned to India in June 2006.

“I was with Bapuji in the Lahore jail for several years. I was released in June 2006 after, spending over 20 years in Pakistani jails. When I read about his return, I wanted to meet him,” Gurbaksh told IANS.

Among the visitors were two Sikh gentlemen who asked if he could recognise them.

“I am Bhai Singh and he is Vikar Singh,” one of them said. Surjeet had a hearty laugh as he hugged the taller Vikar Singh and remarked: “Ehh taan baba baneya phirda hai (he has become an old man).”

Besides the people who knew him from over three decades back, there are others who come to him with hope to hear about their own missing ones.

“Some people get their files and photographs of missing family members who are believed to be in Pakistani jails. They show him (Surjeet) the photos to know if he has met that person in Lahore jail,” one of his relatives said.

“He is very happy to be back in his country and among his family members and friends. Even though we were forced to sell our old house (where Surjeet lived) and land, this new house is lucky for us as it has brought him back,” Surjeet’s wife Harbans Kaur said.

“In the (Pakistani) jail, he had some facilities like regular power supply which is not available here. He is back now and my tension is over. I will put the entire responsibility on him. He will take charge of things,” Harbans Kaur, who supported her children in adversity after Surjeet went missing in 1982, said with a smile.

Surjeet languished in Pakistani jails for over 30 years after being arrested on charges of spying there. He was sentenced to death but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.

Surjeet was released from Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail early Thursday and made the road journey in a prison van to Wagah, on the Pakistan side of the border, before walking into India at the famous checkpost.

Imran Khan’s Strategy: End Corruption

By Azeem Ibrahim for The Express Tribune

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Imran Khan has pledged in his political manifesto to eliminate major corruption in Pakistan within his first 90 days as prime minister. This is a tall order and was being derided by Nawaz Sharif yesterday as impractical and naive.

Despite his tenure in office, Sharif has failed to understand the different modes and echelons of corruption in Pakistan. Khan intends to target specific government level corruption which is most damaging in a series of enforceable reforms based on forceful transparency and assertive accountability.

Imran Khan is right to see the fight against corruption as a priority and instead of criticism he should be receiving national support for the huge task ahead. Corruption in Pakistan is widespread, systemic and deeply entrenched at all levels of society and government and is a substantial obstacle to the country’s development.

With losses due to corruption in Pakistan being estimated at Rs8500 billion, it has been described as “plunder” in a country where people still lack the most basic needs. Pakistan’s main anti-corruption body, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NAB) admitted in 2008 that Rs200 billion are wasted through corrupt practices at higher government levels with more billions locally. Petty corruption in the form of bribery is prevalent in law enforcement, procurement and the provision of public services; widespread financial and political corruption, nepotism and the misuse of power are rife.

Transparency International (TI), a Berlin-based organisation that puts out an annual Corruptions Perception Index (CPI), attributes corruption to autocratic governments, sprawling government bureaucracies of under-paid, under-trained civil servants and a lack of media freedom to keep track of fat government contracts and easy money. TI ranked Pakistan 139th among 180 countries in its 2009 CPI.

Pakistan has undertaken anti-corruption proceedings over the years but has avoided scrutiny of senior officials. The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) issued by the former President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, on October 5, 2009, granted amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats who were accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering and even murder. A list of 8041 individuals who benefited from NRO included 34 politicians, further reducing public trust in leadership and encouraging the spread of corrupt practice at federal, provincial and local government level. It was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on December 16, 2009, throwing the country into a continuing political crisis.

Pakistan’s citizens expect to pay bribes to obtain services such as electricity, health care and education and in dealings with the police. In the absence of a democratic and effective taxation authority, bribery can be seen as a form of illegal taxation in a country where the national budget is inadequate for the delivery of social services. This is damaging to the social fabric of society but it is low-level petty corruption nevertheless.

It is the illegal use of power by politicians and bureaucrats that deserves immediate attention and urgent scrutiny in Pakistan and Imran Khan recognises the need to put an end to these predatory practices that waste resources that should be invested for the good of the country.

Just one example of the direct impact of increased corruption is the rise in the prices of food commodities which according to the latest official data of Federal Bureau of Statistics, have increased up to 120 per cent in one year.

Lack of transparency and accountability have allowed the awarding of government contracts and licenses to one’s family, relatives or to corporations where one is a shareholder, allowing for private greed to overrule the public good. This type of corruption at a governmental level can be tackled relatively easily by enacting conflict of interest and transparency legislation – and enforcing it aggressively.

Imran Khan has already set an example and proposed that all politicians should also declare their assets.

A short blog like this is not the most effective medium to convey Imran Khan’s strategy in its entirety, but I can assure the naysayers that a comprehensive and effective policy is being developed alongside a strategic implementation plan. This is a powerful first step in clearing up corruption in Pakistan, vital for Pakistan’s survival as a democracy and hopefully the shape of government to come.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteAlthough we do not agree with all the policies and proposals put forward by Imran Khan, we believe he represents the best hope for Pakistan and its world leading corrupt crony style feudal system of psudo-democratic and hyper military state. All other contenders are either too corrupt or too untrustworthy, unlike Khan, a hero for winning the 1992 Cricket World Cup as well as singlehandedly establishing a free state of the art cancer hospital for the country thru own money and largely through donations from the nation.

Let’s hope regardless of the outcome in the next elections, Pakistan finally gains a leader worthy of fixing all the ills of this nation and perhaps Kaptaan Imran Khan is the only hope.

Rural Tinkerer Builds The First Airplane Made in Afghanistan

By Tom A Peter for The Christian Science Monitor

Afghanistan’s rural Ghazni Province usually appears on the news radar only to herald a tragedy: Five Polish soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb days before Christmas. A group of armed men accused a widow and her daughter of adultery in November and stoned the pair before shooting them in front of their home.

In other words, it’s not the sort of place you’d expect to find a hobbyist aviator in his backyard building what he describes as the first airplane ever designed and constructed in Afghanistan.

Yet, over the past three years Ghazni-native Sabir Shah managed to fashion a one-man “microlight,” aircraft at his family home using instructions from the Internet and parts from the local market.

While impressive compared with a Wright Brothers’ creation, the plane is far from a marvel of modern aviation. But Mr. Shah hopes it’s enough to inspire government support or private investment in Afghan aviation.

So far though, aside from modest, but passing interest from a few government officials, he’s received little attention. Most Afghans, including his own family, have called him crazy and told him to get a regular job. Still, Shah remains determined to create a business building airplanes for Afghanistan.

“I believe that if you want something, you can get it,” he says.

Shah is an unlikely candidate to be Afghanistan’s aviation advocate. A high school graduate with no pilot training nor aeronautical engineering background, he’d never even traveled by airplane when he started building one.

For Afghans wishing to learn how to fly, the options are extremely limited. The country has a fledging air force, but there are no other practical opportunities for pilot training. The Ministry of Transportation and Aviation offers flight classes, but ministry officials admit that few students actually take the courses because Afghan airlines almost exclusively hire foreign pilots with better training and more experience.

After high school, Shah considered going on to college. Yet even though public universities are free, his family couldn’t afford losing the extra pair of hands.
Given his circumstances it’s easy to understand why people were skeptical when Shah announced his plans to build a microlight airplane after seeing one featured on a documentary and doing a bit of Internet research.

“I didn’t have money and there was no one to help me,” says Shah. “Everyone was saying, ‘Have you studied about airplanes? Do you know anything about airplanes?’ I would say, ‘I have got some recommendations from the Internet.’ Nobody believed I could build it.”

Undeterred, Shah continued his research and worked a series of odd jobs to save up money for parts and equipment. As he progressed, friends and family donated money. An uncle in Australia gave him a vital $2,000 donation and even Afghan Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili contributed $1,000 when he learned of the project.

After three years, Shah had constructed a microlight airplane using a propeller he made himself, a small Toyota car engine, a homemade fiberglass body, a wing made of a metal frame and cloth, and some spare gauges he bought at the market for his instrument panel. The project cost Shah a total of $12,000, a small fortune here.

When it came time for his first test flight, the Afghan Ministry of Defense agreed to use a military helicopter to transport Shah and his plane to an airfield north of Kabul. The trip was the first time Shah had ever traveled by air. “I was frightened a little when I was looking down,” he says, recalling the trip.

Before Shah climbed into the pilot seat, a retired Afghan pilot who’d flown jets for the Soviets and now managed the airport gave him a few pointers. Otherwise, he was relying on manuals he’d collected on other microlight aircraft.

As his plane sped down the runway, his fear momentarily faded. The flight lasted less than a minute before he set it down on the runway again.

In a total of four takeoffs, his longest and last flight traveled about a quarter of a mile – nothing compared with professional tests, but 11 times farther than the original Wright Brothers’ flight. However, that final flight ended when he crash-landed just off the runway. Though he walked away from the crash, the plane was damaged beyond repair.

Considering that it’s been 64 years since a pilot first broke the sound barrier and 25 years since a plane circumnavigated the globe without stopping or refueling, Shah’s achievement may seem hardly worth mentioning. But his accomplishment is much less about the actual plane he built and more about his creativity and inventiveness in a country where innovation and ingenuity are in short supply after three decades of war.

“Innovation doesn’t mean anything in this country,” says Daoud Sultanzoy, a former member of parliament from Ghanzi, who has been a pilot since 1973 and is now starting his own airline. “We always look at the past and behind us instead of looking forward…. He’s a young man who must have used his own know-how to build his own airplane, which should be encouraged.”

Despite the challenges, Shah says he’ll keep working. If he can find a scholarship to study abroad he will, but he doesn’t know how to look for such an opportunity and doubts it will happen. For now, he hopes his initial success will attract investors as he endeavors to start his next project, an eight- to 10-seater airplane that he hopes can be used for domestic travel in Afghanistan.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteWhat an amazing story of ingeunity and ambition that Sabir Shah demonstrates that should make all Afghans and Pakistanis proud. Just imagine what amazing talents could be nurtured with several billion dollars in seed money in start-ups in Kabul instead of all the money lost on wars~

Say Hello! to Pakistan’s Glamour Side

As Reported by The Associated Press

Pakistan is better known for bombs than bombshells, militant compounds than opulent estates. A few enterprising Pakistanis hope to alter that perception with the launch of a local version of the well-known celebrity magazine Hello!.

They plan to profile Pakistan’s rich and famous: the dashing cricket players, voluptuous Bollywood stars and powerful politicians who dominate conversation in the country’s ritziest private clubs and lowliest tea stalls. They also hope to discover musicians, fashion designers and other new talents who have yet to become household names.

“The side of Pakistan that is projected time and time again is negative,” said Zahraa Saifullah, CEO of Hello! Pakistan. “There is a glamorous side of Pakistan, and we want to tap into that.”

But celebrating the lives of Pakistan’s most prosperous citizens is not without its critics in a country where much of the population lives in poverty. Advertising one’s prosperity could be risky as well since kidnappings for ransom are on the rise and attracting attention from Islamist militants can mean death.

Wajahat Khan, a consulting editor at Hello! Pakistan, said they were cognizant of the sensitivity of publishing a glamour magazine in a conservative Muslim country where many people are struggling and planned to be “socially responsible and culturally aware.”

“We are trying to be happy in a war zone,” Khan said Saturday at a news conference with Saifullah and other members of the magazine’s editorial staff. “We are trying to celebrate what is still alive in a difficult country.”

Khan said they would do everything they could to protect the security of the people they profile, but he wasn’t overly concerned.

“I don’t think terrorist networks are going to be reading Hello! anytime soon,” he said.

Pakistan already has a series of local publications that chronicle the lives of the wellheeled in major cities like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, especially as they hop between lavish parties. But the producers of Hello! Pakistan hope the magazine’s international brand and greater depth will attract followers.

Hello! was launched in 1988 by the publisher of Spain’s Hola! magazine and is now published in 150 countries. It’s well-known for its extensive coverage of Britain’s royal family and once paid $14 million in a joint deal with People magazine for exclusive pictures of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s newborn twins.

The market for English-language publications in Pakistan is fairly small. Most monthly and weekly magazines sell no more than 3,000 copies, said Khan, the consulting editor. But they hope to tap into the large Pakistani expatriate markets in the United Kingdom and the Middle East as well.

Hello! Pakistan will be published once a month and will cost about $5.50, twice as much as what many poor Pakistanis earn in a day. The first issue will be published in mid-April and will focus on the Pakistani fashion scene.

Saifullah, who grew up watching her mother and grandmother read Hello! as she hopped between London and Karachi, said it took her two years to convince the magazine to publish a local version in Pakistan.

“They were concerned about whether Pakistan was ready for a magazine like this,” she said.

But Saifullah thinks the timing is perfect to showcase Pakistan’s too often hidden treasures, citing Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who recently became the first Pakistani filmmaker to win an Oscar for a documentary about the plight of female victims of acid attacks in the country.

“We want to tap into the aesthetically beautiful, the athletic, the fashionable,” said Saifullah. “There is so much going on on a daily basis that nobody ever covers. It’s totally unexplored.”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Pakistan is much more than bombings, extremism, and terror. The launch of this magazine in Pakistan not only helps illustrate to the outside world of a modern 21st century Pakistan but also stands as a bulwark to the Talibanization of Pakistan by the extremists.

In wake of Trayvon Martin’s Death, America is Soul-searching

By Yamiche Alcindor, Marisol Bello and Larry Copeland to USA Today

Spurred by social media and community rallies, the shooting death of a 17-year-old Florida youth has become the latest flashpoint over how young black men are perceived in the United States.

Trayvon Martin’s death Feb. 26 at the hands of a Neighborhood Watch leader in this small, gated Florida community has rippled through many corners of the nation’s justice and political system and raised questions about the relationship between the black community and police in small towns.

In the past 48 hours, the case has:

•Sparked an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI and the Florida state attorney’s office.

Brought calls for changes in a Florida self-defense law that says a person being attacked has no duty to retreat and may return force;

Trayvon Martin was talking on his cell phone when he was shot and killed in February.
•Ignited protests, including a “Million Hoodie March” in New York City planned today, and a rally Thursday in Sanford led by civil rights activist Al Sharpton;

•Amassed more than 600,000 signatures in an online petition calling for charges to be filed against George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch captain who said he shot Martin.

Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged with a crime.

The case has resonated for many who say Martin died because of stereotypes of young black men as violent criminals. The shooting is already being compared with high-profile and historic civil rights cases — for instance, a doctored photograph has circulated throughout many social media sites that compares Martin to Emmett Till, a young man lynched by white men in 1950s Mississippi.

“It’s not about these individual acts of racism,” said Mark Neal, a professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University. “It’s about the way that black males are framed in the larger culture … as being violent, criminal and threats to safety and property.”

The tragic case played out in Sanford, population 54,000, about 30 minutes north of Orlando, when Martin left his father’s home to buy candy and iced tea for his little brother at a nearby 7-Eleven.

He was on his way back in the rain when Zimmerman, 28, spotted him. Zimmerman was armed as he patroled the area in his car in response to several break-ins in the community.

Zimmerman called 911 to report a suspicious person, according to the call released by Sanford emergency dispatch. Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, Zimmerman followed Martin, according to the 911 recording.

The two men fought and Trayvon Martin was left dead. Zimmerman told the Sanford police that he shot the teen in self-defense because he was fearful for his life. The police have said there is no evidence to contradict Zimmerman’s claims. Police say Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head.

Zimmerman has not spoken publicly. In a statement, his father, Robert, said, “The portrayal of George Zimmerman in the media, as well as the series of events that led to the tragic shooting are false and extremely misleading. … George is a Spanish-speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever.”

The fatal shooting touched a chord of community outrage in Sanford on Tuesday night. The killing was “a senseless murder as far as we are concerned,” Seminole County NAACP President Clayton Turner told a capacity crowd at the start of a town-hall-style meeting at Allen Chapel AME Church.

Clayton said the Sanford city manager and mayor were unable to attend because they had been “summoned” to Washington by Attorney General Eric Holder.

“The line has been drawn in the sand,” Clayton said. “We as people of color are going to stand our ground. We are going to do it in a non-violent way, and we are going to prevail.”

Before his son’s death, Tracy Martin warned son Trayvon that being a black man in America could be dangerous.

“I’ve always let him know we as African Americans get stereotyped,” Tracy Martin told USA TODAY. “I told him that society is cruel.”

Those warning messages have echoed in Tracy Martin’s head since his son died.

Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said Tuesday that the young man was on the phone with his girlfriend when Zimmerman followed and approached him. He said the 16-year-old girl told a harrowing story that he says shows Martin did not attack Zimmerman.

The girl, whose family asked the attorney not to reveal her identity, told Crump that she and Martin were talking on the phone when he left the store, a bag of Skittles in his pocket. Crump said as Martin walked home, he told the girl, “This dude is following me.”

Crump said the girl told him that she told Martin to run. Martin ran, which coincided with Zimmerman’s comments to 911 in which he said the suspicious man was running, Crump said.

“Then she hears (Martin) say, ‘Why are you following me?’ and another voice say, ‘What are you doing in the neighborhood?’ ” Crump said.

Police actions questioned

The girl told Crump she then thought she could hear Trayvon was pushed and she heard a brief altercation, then the line went dead.

“This claim that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor is preposterous,” the attorney said.

Crump has questioned Sanford police actions after the shooting, noting that police did not run a blood-alcohol test or a background check on Zimmerman, but they ran both on Martin after he died. He said police took Zimmerman’s word without conducting a thorough investigation.

Tracy Martin says he wants Zimmerman arrested and tried in court.

“My child was profiled,” the father said. “He was stereotyped. We aren’t letting our son die in vain.”

The decision not to arrest Zimmerman was made by the responding officer who released the gunman after he claimed to have acted in self-defense, Sanford officials said Tuesday.

It was only after a growing public outcry expressing a lack of confidence in the police department’s actions that city leaders called on the Justice Department to review the shooting, City Manager Norton Bonaparte and Mayor Jeff Triplett said.

“We have a lot of strife in our community right now,” Triplett said at a Capitol Hill briefing where he and Bonaparte appeared with Rep. Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat. “If we’ve made an error, I want someone to tell me. There will be no stone that won’t be overturned.”

Triplett said the Justice investigation would review all aspects of the case, including the police response and the decision not to arrest Zimmerman.

Bonaparte acknowledged Zimmerman was part of a network of local Neighborhood Watch groups trained by the Sanford Police Department and urged “not to engage” possible suspects or people they encounter. Brown said she was “not satisfied” with the initial handling of the case, agreeing that Zimmerman was not tested for possible substance abuse immediately after the incident and lamenting that proper steps were not taken to preserve possible evidence at the scene.

“People need to feel that the system is fair,” Brown said. “It just wasn’t handled right.”

In conversations with the Sanford police chief, Triplett said he believes the Florida law known as the “stand your ground” statute, which provides a broader interpretation of self-defense, played a role in the decision not to arrest and charge Zimmerman.

The law allows the use of force if the person “reasonably believes” it is necessary to protect the person’s own life, or the life of another or to prevent a forcible felony.

In the wake of Martin’s death, the law is getting a second look. State Sen. Oscar Braynon, who represents Miami Gardens where the teen lived with his mother, called for hearings or a select committee to clarify what constitutes self-defense under the law. He said that since the law was enacted in 2005, the number of justified homicides in the state has skyrocketed. In 2005, there were 43 such cases; in 2009, the last complete year available, there were 105, Braynon said.

“I think there is vigilante justice happening and I think people are getting shot,” he said. “This is an unintended consequence of the law.”

Social media’s role

Public activism has played a pivotal role in bringing national attention to the case and ultimately leading to a top-to-bottom review of what happened that day. A wellspring of social media grew by the day and became relentless, demanding that the spotlight return to Sanford. It’s the only way to galvanize people in such cases, says Neal, the Duke professor.

“If folks aren’t on Twitter tweeting stories and giving particular testimonies; if you don’t have artists doing videos on YouTube talking about what Trayvon might have experienced … I don’t think we get a moment where suddenly the Justice Department is saying we need to investigate this case,” Neal says.

Change.org spokeswoman Brianna Cayo Cotter said the petition calling for prosecution of Zimmerman was drawing the second-highest amount of traffic to the site since a petition was launched for Kyleigh’s Law, a measure passed in New Jersey in 2010 that requires drivers younger than 18 with permits or probationary licenses to display special decals on their vehicles. Kyleigh D’Alessio was 16 when she died in a 2006 car crash.

“We are seeing unprecedented traffic on our website,” Cayo Cotter said.

The attention is also focusing on the town of Sanford, which has a history of racial tensions.

“This case more than anything reminds me of Jena — of a small Southern town that played by its own rules,” Sharpton said. “Sanford authorities thought they could contain it. … Once it becomes national, they can’t contain and control the story and the outcome.”

The Jena 6 were black teens initially charged in 2006 with attempted murder for beating a white schoolmate in the town of Jena, La. After a national outcry, community rallies and online petitions, the charges were reduced.

Theo Shaw, 23, one of the Jena 6 who is preparing to attend law school in the fall, says, “This is another incident in which there is a presumption that a young black man has been guilty of something.”

Contributing: Melanie Eversley in New York; Kevin Johnson in Washington; Carolyn Pesce in McLean, Va.; Associated Press

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