Posts Tagged ‘ Freedom of Speech ’

Pakistani journalist given U.S. Asylum Tells of Threats, Disappearances in Baluchistan

By Pamela Constable for The Washington Post

Siraj Ahmed Malik, an ambitious young Pakistani journalist, was enjoying a stint last fall on a fellowship at the University of Arizona when he started getting chilling messages from home.

One after another, his friends and colleagues were disappearing, he learned, and their bodies were turning up with bullet holes and burn marks. A doctor’s son from his home town was arrested and vanished. A fellow reporter was kidnapped, and his corpse was found near a river. A student leader was detained, and his bullet-riddled body dumped on a highway. A writer whose stories Malik had edited was shot and killed.

“These were kids I had played cricket with, people I had interviewed, younger reporters I had taught,” Malik, 28, said in an interview last week in Arlington County, where he now lives. The final straw came in early June, when one of his mentors, a poet and scholar, was gunned down in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, Malik’s native province.

On Aug. 19, Malik applied for political asylum in the United States. In his petition, he said that his work as a journalist and ethnic activist in Baluchistan, where he had exposed military abuses, made him likely to be arrested, tortured, abducted and “ultimately killed by the government” if he returned.

Two weeks ago, his petition was granted. It was a highly unusual decision by U.S. immigration officials, given Pakistan’s status: a strategic partner in Washington’s war against Islamic terrorism; a longtime recipient of U.S. aid; and a democracy with an elected civilian government and vibrant national news media.

“I never wanted to leave my country, but I don’t want to become a martyr, either,” said Malik, a soft-spoken but steely man who spends his days hunched over a laptop at coffee shops in Clarendon, checking with sources back home to update his online newspaper, whose name means “Baluch Truth.”

“What’s going on in Baluchistan is like the dirty war in Argentina,” he said. “I need to be telling the story, but I can’t afford to become the story.”

Baluchistan is the Wild West of Pakistan — a remote desert province, larger than France, that is home to a mix of radical Islamic groups, rival ethnic and refugee gangs, rebellious armed tribes, and security agencies that have long been reported to kidnap, torture and kill dissidents with impunity.

Living under constant threat

Yet this ongoing violence and skulduggery receives scant international attention. Foreign journalists are banned from visiting the region alone, while headlines about Pakistan are dominated by a separate, high-stakes border conflict in which American drones and Pakistani troops are battling the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

As a result, a handful of local journalists such as Malik have been left to investigate and report the news without big-city patrons or visiting foreign delegations to give them cover.

“The threat of disappearance was always lurking in the back of our minds,” Malik wrote in his asylum petition. “My friends, colleagues and I lived with the knowledge that yesterday it was him that disappeared; today it is someone else; tomorrow it could easily be me.”

As Malik recounted over coffee, pressure and threats from unidentified intelligence agents were a daily hazard. According to his asylum file, agents accosted him in airports and hotels, detained and questioned him, and repeatedly threatened to “teach me a lesson.”

Malik acknowledges that as an advocate for the Baluch nationalist cause, his journalism is hardly neutral. The ethnic minority movement, which seeks autonomy from the central government, includes armed groups. Malik claims that he does not condone them, but he describes their stance as a “defensive” response to official abuse.

Still, his case for protection was bolstered by reports from human rights groups and letters from university officials in Arizona, who called him “nothing short of brave.” In a July report, Human Rights Watch described a “practice of enforced disappearances” of Baluch leaders and intellectuals, often by security agencies, and listed 45 abductions or killings since 2009.

Activists including Malik assert that more than 5,000 Baluch have vanished in the past decade, but the issue has never been seriously addressed, while the government has both co-opted and persecuted Baluch tribal chiefs. In 2007, Pakistan’s military president fired the head of the Supreme Court, who sought to probe the disappearances. In 2008, a civilian government took office and an investigative commission was established, but little action has been taken.

“The authorities have no answers because there is no accountability,” said one Pakistani diplomat, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. He suggested that Malik had exaggerated his fear of persecution as a “ploy” to remain in the United States, but he also called disappearances “the tip of the iceberg” in a society where security forces hold sway behind the scenes. Even a chief justice, he added, “knows there are lines he cannot cross.”

Driven to speak out

Najam Sethi, a newspaper publisher and titan of Pakistan’s liberal media establishment, was Malik’s boss from 2006 to 2010, when he worked as a correspondent in Quetta. For the past few months, Sethi has been on his own sabbatical at the New America Foundation in Washington, partly to escape the pressure he faces at home.

At a public forum here last week, Sethi described Pakistan’s news media as free to snipe at politicians and expose financial scandals but said it remains cautious about reporting on military and intelligence institutions, partly out of respect and partly out of fear.

“The media are scared, because there is no one to protect them,” Sethi said.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 40 Pakistani journalists have been killed since 1992. In May, a well-known investigative reporter, Saleem Shahzad, was abducted and found murdered. Shahzad had received threats after writing about al-Qaeda infiltration of the military, and a senior U.S. military official said his killing had been “sanctioned” by the government.

Asked about Malik, Sethi said he thought his former staffer had been too aggressive and outspoken. As Malik’s editor, he said, he had intervened several times with military authorities to protect him. “I wish he hadn’t gone so far,” Sethi said. “He crossed too many red lines.”

Malik, however, said he felt “betrayed” by such liberal media leaders, saying they have avoided speaking out against oppression in Baluchistan. He recounted how Baluch groups had been galvanized by the 2006 army slaying of the legendary tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti.

“For us, the killing of Bugti was Pakistan’s 9/11,” Malik said. After that, he said, he stepped up his exposure of the violence and abuses. His activities drew increasing attention from government agents, who, he said, called him a “traitor” and threatened to kill him if he did not stop.

Instead, Malik persisted. In early 2010, he attended a conference in India and denounced the disappearances. From his fellowship perch in Arizona last winter, and then while working briefly at the Center for Public Integrity in Washington in the spring, he wrote and spoke out at every opportunity.

But as the deaths of other Baluch journalists and friends began to mount, Malik said last week, he began to hesitate about returning.

“Baluchistan needs a messenger to the world,” he said, itching to get back to his reporting. “Here in the United States, I don’t have an office or money, but at least I can stay alive and get the message out.”

Advertisements

5 Arrested in Plot to attack Prophet Cartoon Paper

By Jan M Olsen for The Associated Press


COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Five men planning to shoot as many people as possible in a building housing the newsroom of a paper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad were arrested Wednesday in an operation that halted an imminent attack, intelligence officials said.

Denmark’s intelligence service said that after months of surveillance they had arrested four men in two raids in suburbs of the capital, Copenhagen, and seized a submachine gun, a silencer and ammunition. Swedish police said they arrested a 37-year-old Swedish citizen of Tunisian origin living in Stockholm.

“An imminent terror attack has been foiled,” said Jakob Scharf, head of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, or PET. He described some the suspects as “militant Islamists with relations to international terror networks” and said that more arrests were possible.

PET said it seized a 44-year-old Tunisian, a 29-year-old Lebanese-born man and a 30-year-old who were living in Sweden and had entered Denmark late Tuesday or early Wednesday. The fourth person detained was a 26-year-old Iraqi asylum-seeker living in Copenhagen.

The Danish intelligence service said the group had been planning to enter the building where the Jyllands-Posten daily has its Copenhagen newsdesk and had wanted “to kill as many of the people present as possible.” The four men face preliminary charges of attempting to carry out an act of terrorism. They will face a custody hearing Thursday.

“I am shocked that a group of people have concrete plans to commit a serious terrorist attack in this country,” Danish Prime Minister Loekke Rasmussen told reporters. “I want to stress that regardless of today’s event it remains my conviction that terrorism must not lead us to change our open society and our values, especially democracy and free speech.”

Danish and Swedish police, who appeared at a joint new conference with Loekke Rasmussen in Copenhagen, said they had been tailing the suspects for several months.

Anders Danielsson, the head of Sweden’s security police, said they had followed a car rented by the suspects from Stockholm to the Danish border.

“We knew that there were weapons in the car,” he said.

Zubair Butt Hussain, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Denmark, called the plan “extremely worrying.”

The organization “absolutely condemns any act of terrorism regardless of the motives and motivations that may lie behind,” Hussain said.

There have been at least four plots to attack Jyllands-Posten or Kurt Westergaard, the artist who drew the most contentious of 12 cartoons, which were published by the daily in 2005 as a challenge to perceived self-censorship.

“The foiled plot is a direct attack on democracy and freedom of press,” Westergaard told the German tabloid Bild. “We may not and won’t let anyone forbid us to criticize radical Islamism. We may not be intimidated when it comes to our values.”

In January, a Somali man broke into Westergaard’s home wielding an ax and a knife but the artist escaped unharmed by locking himself in a safe-room in the house. In 2008, two Tunisians with Danish residence permits were arrested for plotting to kill him.

In September, a man was wounded when a letter bomb he was preparing exploded in a Copenhagen hotel. Police said it was intended for the daily, which has also been targeted in a number of thwarted terror plots in Norway and the United States.

U.S. citizen Tahawwur Rana faces trial in Chicago in February in connection with the 2008 terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai and a planned attack on the Jyllands-Posten.

The cartoons also provoked massive and violent protests in 2006 in Muslim countries where demonstrators considered the drawings as having profoundly insulted Islam. Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

In 2008, the Danish Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, was targeted by a car bomb that killed six people outside the mission.

The attacks and threats have caused concern and unprecedented security measures in Denmark, a country that prides itself on personal freedom and openness.

The JPPOL media group building, which includes Jyllands-Posten, is protected by metal fences and guards at all entrances. Mail is scanned and newspaper staff need identity cards to enter the buildings and the various floors.

Lars Munch, JPPOL chief executive, said his workers were worried.

“It is appalling for our group, for our employees and their families to see their workplace threatened,” Munch said.

Scharf said “there was no need to raise the terror threat alert level” in Denmark, although Danish Justice Minister Lars Barfoed described the plot as “terrifying.”

“The group’s plan to kill as many as possible is very frightening and is probably the most serious terror attempt in Denmark,” Barfoed said.

The head of Sweden’s security police, Anders Danielsson, said that “it has been possible to avert a serious terror crime in Denmark through efficient and close cooperation between PET and the (Swedish) security police.” Danielsson said the suspects who are residents in Sweden are also being investigated for suspected terror crimes in that country.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteMuslims across the Islamic world, not just the ones who live in the western world, need to shed the notion that God Almighty needs them to go around taking revenge upon people on his behalf who said something blasphemous against him or any of his prophets, be they Muhammad, Jesus or others. Peace by upon them all.

We as a religion should be mature enough to  appreciate that people will not only not see eye to eye with our religious views many time, but that they can still have freedom of speech in their countries and the right, no matter how offensive, in ridiculing our, their own or anyone else’s faith. One just has to be mature enough to handle criticism of the most extreme measures.

If We Scrap Religious Freedom, Terrorists Win

By Sloan R Piva for South Coast Today

I must remind readers that this is the United States of America.

In the United States of America, the supreme law is the Constitution. The Constitution is the framework for the organization of the United States government. Within the Constitution, the first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, specify the inalienable rights afforded to all American citizens.

Among those rights is the freedom of speech, which allows me to write this letter. Freedom of the press allows publications like The Standard-Times to communicate news, and opinions like this, to communities. And of course there is freedom of religion, which protects each individual American citizen’s right to free exercise of religion.

This means that any American citizen, including the men and women behind the Islamic center in New York City, may practice their religion anywhere on American soil without prejudice or interference.

To interfere with these freedoms is to defy the laws of the land, shamelessly shunning the doctrines assembled by the nation’s forefathers.

America was attacked nine years ago by cowardly and radical religious zealots. It was a devastating tragedy that affected all of us. But the proposed mosque simply cannot be regarded as a “radical Islamic” center. To say that a small, radical percentage of a religion’s members represents the entire religion is unfair. To disallow American Muslims a place of worship, on any available land in the country we share, is unjust.

If Americans truly think it is acceptable to negate the Constitution because of 9/11, then the terrorists have already won. If the nation is divided, and the freedoms associated with our flag are abolished, then we too have become radical.

On Tuesday night, Aug. 24, a 21-year old white man attacked and stabbed a cabbie in New York after asking if he was Muslim. Maybe he thought he was following in the endless line of so-called Americans suddenly claiming that certain religions are allowed in certain places in this so-called “free country.” Ever think so-called debates like this send the younger generation mixed messages about religious tolerance in America?

And shame on the citizens attacking the president for supporting the freedoms of the land which he serves. It would be much more troubling if the president of the United States of America denounced the Constitution and dictated who is allowed where and what religions can be practiced.

To me, that sounds a bit like Nazi Germany. I’m so glad that we do not have a leader enforcing “no Muslims here!” because a group of radicals committed a horrendous crime against our nation. The answer is not to now disallow our citizens their rights. Just because the planners of the Islamic center are Muslim does not make them radical terrorists. Such an assumption would be ignorance and bigotry.

To combat a related issue, the president’s middle name is completely irrelevant to any debate regarding any subject! Here are the main facts: He was born in America, and he is our president. Stating his whole name in support of some ridiculous conspiracy theory is petty, naive, and downright un-American.

My grandfather’s name was John. My mother’s stepfather, whom I also call Grandpa, is named Lee. Does that mean that, because they share the same common first names of John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, my grandfathers are presidential assassins? By the same theory that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim that supports terrorism, I suppose my grandfathers John and Lee are killers.

What about non-Muslim terrorists like Timothy McVeigh? He was Irish, and he came from an Irish Catholic family. Does that mean that Catholic churches are disallowed in the area of the Oklahoma City bombing, and Irishmen in the area may not practice their beliefs? No, because he did not act on behalf of all Irish-Americans, and his terrorist motives were not the motives shared by his family’s religion.

Again, this is the United States of America. It’s a land of freedoms. Go against those inherited freedoms, you’re un-American. Attack the president of the United States with slanderous fallacies, you’re out of line. I applaud my fellow Americans who have taken the right and just stance on these issues, and shake my head in shame at the bigots who are just as hypocritical as the cowardly and radical religious zealots.

-Ms Piva is a resident of Dartmouth and this is her letter to the editor for a local paper in Massachusetts.

The Facebook Creed? Racism’s Bad, Bashing Religion Is Good

By Tommy De Seno for FoxNews.com

Recently, in a column for the Fox Forum called “Muhammad Cartoons vs. Piss Christ” I compared the insult Muslims feel when they see a drawing of Muhammad to the hurt Christians felt when an artist photographed a crucifix in a jar of urine, called it “Piss Christ” and received a tax-funded monetary award from the National Endowment of the Arts.

The point I tried to make is that just because the First Amendment allows you to say something doesn’t mean you should say it. Freedom comes with responsibility, which includes tactfulness when discussing the revered symbols of another’s religion.

Sure you are free to hurl insults – but remember the purpose of criticism is persuasion, and no one has ever been persuaded by first being insulted. Criticism can be made of Islam and Christianity without denigrating either’s most sacred symbols.

As Americans we should fight like hell for the right to draw a picture of Muhammad, but then choose not to.

This issue is hot today because some folks short on good criticism and long on juvenile insult declared May 20 “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” I wonder why they didn’t include “Everyone Piss On a Crucifix Day,” too? That they didn’t do just that, suggests that this is not a pro-First Amendment movement, but a purely an anti-Muslim movement.

So here’s my question: Why does Facebook allow a page whose purpose is to spread hate for a religion? After all, Facebook used to ban activity for no other reason than the author was home-schooled (and that’s some weird priorities right there).

A Facebook spokesperson defended the company’s decision to not ban the “Draw Muhammad” page to FoxNews.com earlier this week:

“Groups that express an opinion on a state, institution, or set of beliefs — even if that opinion is outrageous or offensive to some — do not by themselves violate our policies.”  

But compare that to this quote from an interview with a Facebook spokesman last year with Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper. Things were different when the topic was not anti-religion pages, but about pages that include racism:

“However, there is no place for content that is threatening, abusive, hateful, or racially or ethnically objectionable on the site and Facebook will remove any such content that violates our Terms of Use when it is reported… We have already removed a number of groups that violated these terms and we are continuing to be vigilant, immediately removing further postings when we become aware of them.”  

I see the Facebook matrix: “Racism is bad, but bashing religion is good.”

Facebook also said this to FoxNews.com about the “Draw Muhammad” page:

“When a group created to express an opinion devolves into threats or hate speech, we will remove the threatening or hateful comments and may even remove the group itself.” 

Hey Facebook – have you seen the two pages today? They are both a cesspool of hateful anti-religious commentary, devoid of useful criticism and swimming with the worst of distance-induced Internet hatred and nastiness.

If these pages don’t violate Facebook’s rules against hate speech, you can’t violate them.

Both pages have been taken over by anti-religious zealots whose purpose is to stir up anger for the sake of eliciting an even angrier response – all heat and no light. The folks posting the hate have the advantage of hiding whatever it is they hold sacred, so that no one can employ their own tactics against them. Cowards.

Both pages are filled with drawings, manipulated photos and commentary showing all religious leaders in acts of bestiality, pedophilia and outrages claims to calamities in history that religion couldn’t possibly be held accountable for.

Even if you’ve read hateful speech, you’ve still probably never read such blind, ignorant rage as is existent on these pages. Both pages should be taken down immediately, but they won’t be.

Facebook has obliterated civilized discourse.

%d bloggers like this: