Archive for the ‘ Shahbaz Bhatti ’ Category

Christian Woman Sentenced to Death in Pakistan

By Waqar Hussain for The AFP

 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 Thursday.

Asia Bibi, 45, was sentenced Monday by a local court in Nankana district in Pakistan’s central province Punjab, about 75 kilometres (47 miles) 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.

Asia’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 Asia 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 Asia was falsely implicated and said there were “no mitigating circumstances”, according to a copy of the verdict seen by AFP.

Husband Ashiq Masih, 51, told AFP that he would appeal her death sentence, which needs to be upheld by the Lahore high court, the highest tribunal 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Human rights activists want the controversial legislation repealed, saying it is exploited for personal enmity and encourages Islamist extremism. “The blasphemy law is absolutely obscene and it needs to be repealed in totality,” Human Rights Watch spokesman Ali Dayan Hasan told AFP.

“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.

Asked about Asia’s case at a press conference in Islamabad on Thursday, visiting Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he was unaware of the details but would raise the matter with Pakistan’s minorities minister.

“The Italian position has always been against the death penalty,” he told reporters. He said he raised the problems faced by Christian minorities during his talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

“I believe they should not misuse the law of blasphemy to discriminate against religious minorities and this is a point I share with my colleague — this is a key point for me.”

Around three percent 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.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NotePakistan’s blasphemy laws are absolutely egregious and need to be repealed. Not only are minorities such as Christians and Hindus in Pakistan subjected to these outrageously unjust laws, but Muslim minorities such as the Ahmadis and Ismailis are also time and time again subjected to and singled out for unfair treatment under the guise of these BS laws. The white color in Pakistan’s flag is supposed to represent the minorities within this Islamic republic. Until and unless these blasphemy laws are repealed and Pakistan’s constitution is amended, the religious minorities within Pakistan will never get a fair shake, regardless of how much they are represented in the flag.

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2 Pakistani Christians Killed At Courthouse

By Chris Brummitt for The Associated Press

Gunmen killed two Pakistani Christian brothers accused of blasphemy against Islam as they left court on Monday, a government minister and police said.

The men were chained together when the attack took place in the eastern city of Faislabad as they were being taken back into custody after their court appearance.

They were arrested a month ago after leaflets allegedly bearing their names and featuring derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad were found in the town, said Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minority affairs. He said mosques in Faislabad had called for the men to be attacked.

Bhatti said he suspected the men were falsely accused of blasphemy by people with a grudge against them. Their families had maintained their innocence, he said.

The brothers were killed by two gunmen as they left court, said police officer Rana Ahmed Hasan. A police officer accompanying the men was wounded, he said, adding the killers escaped.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been often criticized by religious minorities and human rights activists.

In its latest report on religious freedom in Pakistan, the U.S. State Department said the laws are often abused to settle local disputes and discriminate against minorities.

Muslims make up an estimated 97 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people, most of them Sunni.

Bhatti said he believed the brothers were innocent.

“I personally don’t think that anyone who wrote derogatory things against Muhammad would put their names on the bottom,” he said. “This was just to settle a personal issue.”

Bhatti has long campaigned against the blasphemy laws, which were introduced President Gen. Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s to win the support of hard-line religious groups.

Repealing them now would likely meet opposition from the same groups, something that could cause unrest.

A Pakistani American Celebrates July 4

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Thousands of Pakistani Americans celebrate the July 4 Independence Day holiday with their friends and families across the United States today. As different as Pakistan and the United States may be as countries and societies, one thing they both have in common is that both countries were founded on religious reasons. Unfortunately, that is where their similiarites end as the religious freedom experience in these present day countries varies greatly.

The earliest settlers of these United States were in fact Europeans who felt persecuted in the old countries of Europe for their religious beliefs. Many of these Puritans came to America in search of religious freedom.  Their hope was to escape the religious persecution they were facing in their countries and so the United States was founded on religious grounds.

Pakistan too is a country that sees the basis of its founding for a religious purpose. The nationalist movement for an independent India from British rule also caused communal conflicts between the Hindus and Muslims as there were calls by many Muslim leaders for a separate country for the Muslims of India since many felt being a minority in a Hindu dominated country would come at the expense of their rights. So a separate country for the Muslims of India and for their right to practice their religion gained momentum and indeed on August 14, 1947, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan became independent, a country founded on religious freedom for the Muslims of India.

This is not to deny the fact that Muslims still exist in India and are free to practice their religion under a Hindu dominated country. In fact, there are more Muslims in India than there are in present day Pakistan. However, many Muslims at the time of partition felt that they would be freer to practice Islam in a Muslim country rather than a Hindu one. It is an open debate whether people in Pakistan today have more freedom to practice their religion. If you are a member of either a minority Muslim group as Shiite or if you happen to be a Christian, Hindu, Sikh or Jew In Pakistan today, you have far less freedom of religion than a comparable religious group in present day India. There is absolutely a very low level of tolerance in Pakistan today for other religions or ways of life different than the majority group.

The promise of religious freedom that saw the founding of both Pakistan and the United States has seen the two countries go separate ways in realizing the dream of each countries forefathers. While the American Founding Fathers dream of a nation that respects freedom of religion and honors a separation between church and state held true, Pakistan unfortunately  has become a country that has become intolerant of other religions. Many religious minorities such as Christians, Hindus, and even Muslim Ahmadis are routinely persecuted or attacked by Muslims who see these groups as infidels and heathens and not merely as human beings with different religious beliefs. The influx of Taliban and religious extremists inside Pakistan has further made life difficult for anyone who is not a devout Sunni Muslim. On many occasions, the police does not investigate or prosecute attacks on religious minorities by various extremist groups leading to a constant fear of their lives and properties.

As Pakistani as well as Muslim Americans across the United States today celebrate the the July 4 holiday, they are keenly aware  that their brethren back in their original countries are not as free to practice their religion, speak their minds, and or protest peacefully as they are able to do in the United States. For this nation indeed guarantees freedom and liberty for all and not just a certain religious or ethnic group.

That is why Pakistani Americans such as myself and Muslim Americans across the US are appreciative of the fact that in this, our adopted country, our religious and civic freedoms are safe guarded in that greatest of living documents, the US Constitution. I have long felt that after the three great religious books of the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran, the US Constitution is the next best thing that man ever wrote down on paper. The Founding Fathers of America were indeed some of the greatest minds in history for crafting a document that continues to make the United States the freest country in the world and one that stayed true to its founding of liberty and freedom for all. Happy Birthday America, May you have many more!

–Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American plans to celebrate the July 4 Independence Day with family and friends at a picnic with fireworks and by watching a parade.

Pakistan Set to Ban More Web Blasphemy and Monitor Yahoo!, Google, Amazon, Bing…

By Rik Myslewski for The Register

Pakistan announced Friday that it will monitor Yahoo, Google, MSN, Hotmail, YouTube, Amazon, and Bing, and will block links and content that it deems anti-Islamic.

“If any particular link with offensive content appears on these websites, the [link] shall be blocked immediately without disturbing the main website,” Pakistan Telecommunication Authority spokesman Khurram Mehran told the Associated Press.

In addition to the link-blockage of the seven named high-traffic sites, Pakistan web-watchers have also completely blocked 17 lesser sites, including, for example, Islam Exposed, which includes links to blaspheming articles such as “Muhammad, A Symbol Of Terrorism” along with over-the-top posts such as “Joe Lieberman Spews Excrement!”.

The monitoring and blockage comes in response to a court order, as did Pakistan’s recent ban on Facebook due to its hosting of an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” page — a page that was subsequently taken down, although Facebook officials claimed to have had no part in its removal.

The complete banning of Facebook was lifted after censorship official Najibullah Malik was satisfied that the site had lifted all all “sacrilegious material”.

In addition to the Facebook ban, Pakistan last month blocked, then unblocked YouTube for depictions of the prophet Muhammad, a practice that many Muslims find blasphemous.

“We decided that this kind of information was going to hurt people’s feelings. We have directed the [Pakistan Telecommunications Authority] to block all and any sites that display those caricatures,” Malik told The Guardian at the time of the YouTube ban.

The Guardian, reporting on internal controversy surrounding the YouTube ban, quoted one Pakistani tweeter as tweeting: “Way to go assholes. Why don’t you just cut us off from the internet and get it over and done with.”

Despite lifting the Facebook and YouTube bans, Pakistan hasn’t given up its censorship efforts. “At least 800 individual web pages and URLs have been blocked since the government’s orders to shut Facebook and YouTube,” Wahaj us Siraj, a spokesman for the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK), told AFP.

In perhaps the most bizarre development in the country’s campaign to remove blasphemy from its interwebs, Pakistan’s Deputy Attorney General recently launched a criminal investigation against Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for his role in the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” dust-up.

Although no charges have been filed in the case, the Pakistani newspaper The News International reports that the law that prompted the Zuckerberg investigation, Section 295-C of the penal code, carries with it penalties of “death, or imprisonment for life”.

Not all Pakistanis, of course, are in support of their government’s draconian crackdown on what Section 295-C refers to as “Use of derogatory remark etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet … either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly.”

“It’s absurd,” journalist and filmmaker Hasan Zaidi told The Guardian. “They haven’t thought this through. The logical conclusion is that we should shut our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears and ban the entire internet, even email.”

Nadeem Paracha of Pakistan’s Dawn news service wrote in his “Smokers’ Corner” column: “By continuing to tolerate a psychotic faith-based fringe for so long, we have actually helped it metamorphose into an unrestrained monster that has zero tolerance for what we think or do.” The problem, Paracha told The Guardian, is that “Anything to do with Allah, or the prophet, and everyone keeps quiet.”

And it must also be noted that the more extreme members of the Muslim world aren’t alone in taking angry offense at what they perceive as “blasphemy”. Remember, for example, the hue-and-cry that resulted from artist Chris Ofili’s elephant dung–encrusted The Holy Virgin Mary, or the attacks on the US National Endowment for the Arts over works such as Andres Serrano’s photograph, Piss Christ. But, to be fair, we must also note that neither Ofili nor Serrano were subject to a possible government-sanctioned death sentence.

–Editor’s note for Pakistanis for Peace- A true  democracy should  protect freedom of speech, no matter how hateful and unpleasant. Banning and censoring content on the interent is the action of communist states, dictatorships, monarchies or theocratic nations like Iran, not a democracy that Pakistan aims to be. There are certainly bigger problems in Pakistan than people visiting websites that are disparaging to Islam.  This is a clear indication of the power in the society still held by the mullahs~

Pakistani minister promises to revise blasphemy law despite death threats

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 Islamabad, Pakistan- The minister for minority affairs of Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti,  promised to work to amend the blasphemy laws used to target non-Muslims in Pakistan such as Christians and Hindus and said he was ready to die fighting for this cause.

A Member of Parliament and head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), Shahbaz Bhatti was visiting Washington DC at the invitation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which awarded him a first-of-a-kind medal for championing the rights of minorities in Islamic Pakistan.

A Catholic member of President Asif Ali Zardari’s administration as a federal minister for minority affairs, he took over the job last year when it was made a cabinet level position in Zardari’s cabinet.

Bhatti said he has received threats for his work on numerous occasions. Earlier this month, Pakistan’s religious affairs minister was wounded in an assassination attempt in Islamabad that left his driver dead.

“I personally stand for religious freedom, even if I will pay the price of my life,” Bhatti said. “I live for this principle and I want to die for this principle.”

Pakistan’s law against blaspheming Islam carries the death penalty. While no one has ever been sent to the executed for the crime, activists say the law is used to exploit others out of personal vendettas by some in the Muslim community against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhist minorities in Pakistan.

A 25-year-old Christian jailed on blasphemy allegations earlier this week died in prison. Authorities said he committed suicide but civil rights activists suspect that he was tortured by the police.

The death came several weeks after an angry mob killed seven Christians in an arson attack that destroyed about 40 houses in the town of Gojra in central Punjab province.

Christians and other religious minorities have a long history of persecution and discrimination in all walks of life in Pakistan by the Muslim majority. This is a sad reality and a country such as Pakistan that was founded for religious freedoms for the Muslims of India in 1947, has to do a much better job at protecting the 3 to 5% of the population that does not share the Islamic faith.

Unfair, subjective and antiquated laws such as Pakistan’s blasphemy laws need to be urgently amended so that the non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan do not live in fear of an upset neighbor calling the authorities and falsely claiming an individual blasphemed the religion of Islam. Furthermore, if an individual is indeed ever guilty of blasphemy, the death penalty is a rather harsh punishment for simply stating one’s opinions, no matter how offensive to the faithful.

Although he may face strong resistance by some of the extremist and ultra religious members of Parliament in Pakistan, many moderate and enlightened Pakistanis support the minister for minority affairs and hope that he is successful in amending this archaic law.

Christian Pakistani Children

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reported by Manzer Munir for www.PakistanisforPeace.com

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