Posts Tagged ‘ Human Rights Watch ’

Car bomb kills 37 in Pakistan

As Reported By Adil Jawad for The Associated Pres

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A car bomb exploded outside a mosque on Sunday, killing 37 people and wounding another 141 in a Shiite Muslim dominated neighborhood in the southern Pakistan city of Karachi — the third mass casualty attack on the minority sect in the country this year.

No one has taken responsibility for the bombing, but Shiite Muslims have been increasingly targeted by Sunni militant groups in Karachi, Pakistan’s economic hub and site of years of political, sectarian and ethnic violence, as well as other parts of the country.

The bomb exploded outside a Shiite mosque as people were leaving evening prayers in Pakistan’s largest city. Initial reports suggested the bomb was rigged to a motorcycle, but a top police official, Shabbir Sheikh, said later that an estimated 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives was planted in a car.

Col. Pervez Ahmad, an official with a Pakistani paramilitary force called the Rangers, said a chemical used in the blast caught fire and spread the destruction beyond the blast site. Several buildings nearby were engulfed in flames.

Men and women wailed and ambulances rushed to the scene where residents tried to find victims buried in the rubble of collapsed buildings. The blast left a crater that was 2 meters (yards) wide and more than 1 meter (4 feet) deep.

“I was at home when I heard a huge blast. When I came out, I saw there was dust all around in the streets. Then I saw flames,” said Syed Irfat Ali, a resident who described how people were crying and trying to run to safety.

A top government official, Taha Farooqi, said at least 37 people were confirmed dead and 141 more were wounded.

Sunni militant groups have stepped up attacks in the past year against Shiite Muslims who make up about 20 percent of Pakistan’s population of 180 million people. Sunni militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban view Shiites as heretics.

Tahira Begum, a relative of a blast victim, demanded the government take strict action against the attackers.

“Where is the government?” she asked during an interview with local Aaj News TV. “Terrorists roam free. No one dares to catch them.”

It was the third large-scale attack against members of the minority sect so far this year. Two brazen attacks against a Shiite Hazara community in southwestern city of Quetta killed nearly 200 people since Jan 10.

Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the bombings, which ripped through a billiard club and a market in areas populated by Hazaras, an ethnic group that migrated from Afghanistan more than a century ago. Most Hazaras are Shiites.

Pakistan’s intelligence agencies helped nurture Sunni militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the 1980s and 1990s to counter a perceived threat from neighboring Iran, which is mostly Shiite. Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 2001, but the group continues to attack Shiites.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 Shiites were killed last year in targeted attacks across the country, the worst year on record for anti-Shiite violence in Pakistan. The human rights group said more than 125 were killed in Baluchistan province. Most of them belonged to the Hazara community.

Human rights groups have accused the government of not doing enough to protect Shiites, and many Pakistanis question how these attacks can happen with such regularity.

A resident who lived in the area where the bomb went off Sunday said there had been another blast nearby just a few months ago.

“The government has totally failed to provide security to common people in this country,” Hyder Zaidi said.

After the Jan. 10 bombing in Quetta, the Hazara community held protests, which spread to other parts of the country. The protesters refused to bury their dead for several days while demanding a military-led crackdown against the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group. Pakistan’s president dismissed the provincial government and assigned a governor to run Baluchistan province.

No operation was launched against the militant group until another bombing in February killed 89 people.

The government then ordered a police operation and has said some members of the group have been arrested. One of the founders of the group, Malik Ishaq, was among those detained and officials said he could be questioned to determine if his group is linked to the latest violence against Shiites.

The repeated attacks have left many Shiites outraged at the government. After the last blast in Quetta, Shiites in Karachi and other cities also demonstrated in support for their brethren in Quetta. Shiites in Karachi set fire to tires and blocked off streets leading to the airport. Many Karachi residents planned to strike on Monday as a form of protest following Sunday’s attack in their city.

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Pakistan Most-Deadly Nation for Journalists

As Reported by The Wall Street Journal

Seven journalists died in Pakistan during the year in direct relation to their work, out of a total of 43 journalist killed worldwide in the year, the report said.

There were no deaths in India, after one killing in 2010. In 2008, four Indian journalists died either while covering the conflict in Kashmir or through target killings due to their investigations of criminal activities.

In combat zones such as Libya, where five journalists died in 2011 — the joint second-highest number with Iraq – the killings tend to be random, with reporters caught in the broader fighting. But Pakistan continues to suffer largely from target killings.

These deaths occur when a reporter has unearthed details about militancy or a business deal and is targeted to stop this information getting out. Five of the seven deaths in Pakistan were targeted killings and all remain unsolved, the CPJ said.

In the past five years, 29 journalists have died carrying out their work in Pakistan. Five journalists died in India during the same period.

The best-known case in Pakistan this year involved Saleem Shahzad, a reporter for Asia Times Online, who died in May after writing a report which alleged al Qaeda had infiltrated Pakistan’s navy.

Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, said Mr. Shahzad before his death had complained of receiving threats from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate military spy agency. ISI officials deny the threats and any involvement in his killing. The case is unsolved.

“Long-term CPJ research shows Pakistan to be among the worst countries in the world in bringing the killers of journalists to justice,” the report said.

Five journalists also died in Iraq from both insurgent attacks and targeted killings, illustrating an entrenched level of violence there as the last U.S. forces pulled out the country at the weekend.

Three journalists died in Mexico, including the first case of a reporter killed for work on social media, the report said. Many of the dead had taken on Mexico’s powerful drug traffickers in their reports.

The Arab Spring revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa led to the first cases of journalist deaths in Syria and Tunisia since the CPJ began recording fatalities in 1992, the report said. The committee independently confirms that journalists died while covering their beats.

Pakistan’s Bitter, Little-Known Ethnic Rebellion

By Carlotta Gall for The New Times

A slim figure in a dark suit, Brahumdagh Bugti, 30, could pass for a banker in the streets of this sedate Swiss city. But in truth he is a resistance leader in exile, a player in an increasingly ugly independence war within Pakistan.

He has been on the run since 2006, when he narrowly escaped a Pakistani Army operation that killed his grandfather and dozens of his tribesmen in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. And since then, the government’s attempt to stamp out an uprising by the Baluch ethnic minority has only intensified, according to human rights organizations and Pakistani politicians.

The Baluch insurgency, which has gone on intermittently for decades, is often called Pakistan’s Dirty War, because of the rising numbers of people who have disappeared or have been killed on both sides. But it has received little attention internationally, in part because most eyes are turned toward the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas.

Mr. Bugti insists that he is a political leader only, and that he is not taking a role in the armed uprising against the government. He was caught up in a deadly struggle between his grandfather, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a former minister and a leader of the Bugti tribe, and Pakistan’s military leader at the time, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, over control of Baluchistan’s rich natural resources and the establishment of military bases in the province.

Baluch nationalists have never accepted being part of Pakistan and have fought in five uprisings since the country’s formation in 1948. Their demands range from greater control over Baluchistan’s gas and natural resources, fairer distribution of wealth (Baluchistan suffers from the lowest health, education and living standards in the country), to outright independence.

When the Pakistani Army shelled their ancestral home in Dera Bugti in December 2005, Mr. Bugti took to the hills with his grandfather, who was 80 and partly disabled, and they camped for months in mountain caves. Then, in August 2006, the military caught up with them. “I escaped, but he could not,” Mr. Bugti said.

From a hide-out two miles away, he watched the military assault, a furious three-day bombardment by attack jets, helicopter gunships and airborne troops. On the evening of the third day, the government triumphantly announced that Nawab Bugti had been killed. Thirty-two tribesmen died with him, Mr. Bugti said. The day after learning of his grandfather’s death, Mr. Bugti gathered his closest tribal leaders, and they urged him to leave and save himself, he said.

Pakistan and neighboring Iran were hostile to the Baluch, and the only place to go was Afghanistan, though it was consumed by the war with the Taliban. It took 19 days, on foot, to trek from a mountain base near Sibi to the Afghan border. But he had an armed tribal force and scouts with him and made the escape without incident, crossing into Afghanistan along a mountain trail, he said.

Although he had few contacts there, tribal links and traditions of hospitality assured him a welcome. He sent for his wife, his two children — a third was born in Afghanistan — and his mother, and after an elaborate dance to confuse government watchers, they crossed the border to join him days later.

Yet Afghanistan was not a safe haven. The family moved about 18 times over the next 18 months, and despite never going outside, he said, they became the target of repeated suicide bomb attacks by the Taliban and Qaeda militants, who they believe were sent by the Pakistani military. At least one bomb attack, in the upscale residential Kabul neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan, was specifically aimed at Mr. Bugti, a Western diplomat and an Afghan intelligence official said.

The Pakistani government has branded Mr. Bugti a terrorist, the leader of the militant Baluch Republican Army, and has made no secret of its desire to kill or capture him. It has repeatedly demanded that Afghanistan hand him over and has accused India of supporting Baluch rebels through its consulates in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s remonstrations over Mr. Bugti became so insistent that the United States and other NATO members urged Afghanistan to move Mr. Bugti elsewhere, Western diplomats and Afghan officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the politics involved. In October 2010, he and his family arrived in Switzerland and sought political asylum.

Though Mr. Bugti says he supports only peaceful political activism rather than armed resistance, he does share the rebels’ demand for independence for the Baluch. “I support the political struggle and the idea for liberation because the Baluch people demand it,” he said.

He formed a political party shortly after his grandfather’s death, distancing himself from the established parties. The manner of his grandfather’s death, his call for political opposition to the government and his youth have won him broad support beyond his own Bugti tribe, among the educated Baluch middle class and student movements and appointed representatives in every district.

“We got a very good response from all the Baluch,” he said.

It proved to him that people in Baluchistan still hoped and believed in political change, he said. Yet government retribution was swift. Eight members of his political party in Baluchistan have been killed, five members of its central committee are missing since its formation in 2007 and the top leaders have been forced into exile. Even the party’s 76-year-old secretary general, Bashir Azeem, was detained for two months in 2009 and tortured — including being beaten and hung upside down, in a case documented by Human Rights Watch.

It is part of an increasingly deadly government crackdown on political and student nationalist leaders in the province over the last 18 months, politicians and human rights officials say. “They are trying to kill the activists, anyone who is speaking out,” Mr. Bugti said.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented a rising number of abuses by the Pakistani security forces in Baluchistan. Amnesty International describes the use of “kill and dump” tactics, under which activists, teachers, journalists and lawyers, even teenagers, have been detained and their bullet-ridden bodies dumped on roadsides at a rate of about 20 a month in recent months.

Human Rights Watch says hundreds of people have disappeared since 2005 in Baluchistan, and it has documented 45 cases of enforced disappearances and torture by Pakistani security forces in the province in 2009 and 2010. Human Rights Watch has also reported a growing trend of retaliation by armed rebels on non-Baluch settlers, including the targeted killings of 22 teachers.

Despite the end of General Musharraf’s rule and Pakistan’s return to a democratic government in 2008, military repression of the Baluch has only increased, Mr. Bugti and others say. Members of the civilian government say they have no power over the military, and the army is obsessed with crushing an uprising that it sees as an effort by India to undermine Pakistani sovereignty.

Mr. Bugti has called on the United States to end aid to the Pakistani Army, which, he said, was diverting resources from intended counterterrorism goals and using them to suppress the Baluch. “If the U.S. stopped the military and financial assistance, they could not continue their operations for long,” he said.

The increased violence has pushed the Baluch far beyond their original demands for greater autonomy and recognition of their rights and toward an armed independence movement. “Ninety-nine percent of the Baluch now want liberation,” Mr. Bugti said.

“The people are more angry and they will go to the side of those using violence, because if you close all the peaceful ways of struggle, and you kidnap the peaceful, political activists, and torture them to death and throw their bodies on roadsides, then definitely they will go and join the armed resistance groups,” he said.

He sees little hope of change from within Pakistan and seeks intervention by the United Nations and Western nations. “We have to struggle hard, maybe for 1 year, 2 years, 20 years,” he said. “We have to hope.”

Gadhafi’s vow: Will fight to ‘last drop of blood’

By Maggie Michael and Sarah El Deeb for The Associated Press

A defiant Moammar Gadhafi vowed to fight to his “last drop of blood” and roared at supporters to strike back against Libyan protesters to defend his embattled regime Tuesday, signaling an escalation of the crackdown that has thrown the capital into scenes of mayhem, wild shooting and bodies in the streets.

The speech by the Libyan leader — who shouted and pounded his fists on the podium — was an all-out call for his backers to impose control over the capital and take back other cities. After a week of upheaval, protesters backed by defecting army units have claimed control over almost the entire eastern half of Libya’s 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) Mediterranean coast, including several oil-producing areas.

“You men and women who love Gadhafi … get out of your homes and fill the streets,” he said. “Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs.”

Celebratory gunfire by Gadhafi supporters rang out in the capital of Tripoli after the leader’s speech, while in protester-held Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, people threw shoes at a screen showing his address, venting their contempt.

State TV showed a crowd of Gadhafi supporters in Tripoli’s Green Square, raising his portrait and waving flags as they swayed to music after the address. Residents contacted by The Associated Press said no anti-government protesters ventured out of their homes after dark, and gun-toting guards manned checkpoints with occasional bursts of gunfire heard throughout the city.

International alarm rose over the crisis, which sent oil prices soaring to the highest level in more than two years on Tuesday and sparked a scramble by European and other countries to get their citizens out of the North African nation. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting that ended with a statement condemning the crackdown, expressing “grave concern” and calling for an “immediate end to the violence” and steps to address the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel called Gadhafi’s speech “very, very appalling,” saying it “amounted to him declaring war on his own people.” Libya’s own deputy ambassador at the U.N., who now calls for Gadhafi’s ouster, has urged the world body to enforce a no-fly zone over the country to protect protesters.

“This violence is completely unacceptable,” added Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Pakistan Army Propaganda Drama Set for TV

By Khurram hahzad for The Associated Press

Pakistan’s Taliban-fighting soldiers are set for celebrity status with the launch of a multi-million-dollar glossy television drama hailing army victories over militants.

Emotive tales of 11 “brave Pakistanis” battling an Islamist insurgency that is plaguing Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, will air on the small screen in an army-funded drama that casts the anti-terror fight in a positive light.

Focused on the heroism of soldiers fighting a key air and ground offensive in the northwestern Swat valley in 2009, one tale looks at the deeds of soldier Hawaldar Naeem Asghar who died fighting an insurgent checkpoint.

Asghar, portrayed as a hardworking soldier from peasant roots, sacrifices his life to overcome Taliban dug in to a hilltop, during operations in the town of Mingora to flush militants from the picturesque valley.

Throwing grenades from his bunker without success, Asghar is depicted abandoning cover and climbing the hill, tossing more explosives on his way as bullets rain down from the rebels’ post.

The checkpoint is destroyed, but Asghar is killed.

“Hawaldar Asghar’s story is a common man’s story. It’s a message to the public that everybody can play a role in the fight against extremism,” says Sajjad Saji, one of the drama serial’s writers.

“It is filmed to encourage the common people in this war,” he adds.

Urged by its key but critical ally the United States to launch further operations in the lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, the army wants to show the sacrifices it has already endured in the war on terror.

“The basic purpose is to reveal the deeds of bravery of our soldiers, officers and civilians who are at the front of this war…. This drama shows the human face of the war,” says Major General Athar Abbas, head of the army’s publicity wing.

“The nation should own these stories of bravery and sacrifice, they should be proud of our sons and daughters of the land who created these true stories with their blood and defended the motherland.”

One of the filmmakers, who would not be named, said the high-end production was a “multi-million-dollar” effort, but refused to put a precise figure on costs.

The production, peppered with special effects, was filmed amid rugged verdant hills and forests close to the Swat valley — scene of major operations by Pakistan’s military in 2009 to rid the area of rampant militancy.

“We travelled extensively to film this serial. A crew of more than 35 people with trucks of luggage roamed in the forests and hills for months to show the reality,” said Khawar Azhar, the show’s executive producer.

The former tourism hotspot of Swat slipped out of government control after a radical cleric led an uprising in July 2007, beheading opponents, burning schools and fighting to enforce a harsh brand of Islamic law.

Pakistan launched a blistering air and ground offensive in the valley after militants marched out of Swat and advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of the capital Islamabad in April 2009.

After heavy fighting that displaced an estimated two million people, the military declared the region back under army control last summer and efforts have begun to revive the local economy amid sporadic outbreaks of violence.

Television productions are one of the tools adopted by the military’s publicity wing to polish its image and boost recruitment and morale at a key juncture in anti-Taliban efforts and with religious conservatism on the rise.

Accused by US-based Human Rights Watch of carrying out collective punishments on relatives of militants since it re-established control over the Swat valley, the army knows the importance of securing local hearts and minds.

More than 4,000 people have been killed in Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked attacks since government forces launched an attack against militants in a mosque in Islamabad in 2007.

The television drama depicts the bitter divide between Pakistan’s opposing cultures as the moderate middle class fights religious extremism in a country fractured by deep regional political divided.

In other episodes the film makers show the victims of Taliban power — one girl is subject to brutal gang rape by militants, while in another a young boy is brain-washed into becoming a suicide bomber.

Blasphemy Trials in Pakistan Reveal a Broken Justice System

By Karin Brulliard and Shaiq Hussain for The Washington Post

With its single dirt road, friendly residents and abundance of drowsing donkeys, this village hardly seems a hotbed of religious radicalism.

Nevertheless, four years ago, dozens of angry townspeople marched and chanted, “Death to the blasphemer!” Their demands were answered. Two years later, court records show, a teenaged Muslim named Muhammad Shafique was sentenced to hang for cursing the Prophet Muhammad and tossing pages of the Koran onto “cow dung and urine.”

Today, an air of regret permeates Kulluwal. Shafique’s accusers fled town, and their relatives now say the allegations were lies. Many residents call the case a setup fueled by political and personal rivalries. But as Shafique waits on death row, his appeal stuck in Pakistan’s glacial courts, no one is quite sure what to do.

“The situation at that time was emotional. It was the responsibility of the police to sift through the facts and find the truth,” said Chaudhry Safraz Ahmed, 42, a community leader whose father was one of Shafique’s accusers. “That did not happen. And Shafique is behind bars.”

Pakistan is in the midst of a heated debate over its ban on blasphemy following the sentencing to death last month of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi. The pope condemned that sentence, which has not yet been carried out. Human rights organizations, meanwhile, have demanded the repeal of a law that they say is used to harass religious and sectarian minorities in this Sunni Muslim-majority nation.

But blasphemy cases, about half of which involve Muslim suspects such as Shafique, also point to a more fundamental problem with grave implications for the nation’s U.S.-backed fight against militancy: Pakistan’s broken justice system, corrupt and lacking in expertise, often rewards vendettas and encourages radicalism.

In this system, religious extremism is less an epidemic than a menacing shadow – just as it is across Pakistan, an unstable democracy where Islamist threats often eclipse the majority’s more peaceful views.

The law against blasphemy – which encompasses vaguely worded prohibitions on insults against Islam – gives radicals a tool with which to bully those who don’t share their hardline religious views. Legal experts say lawyers, witnesses and authorities are frequently intimidated into helping to enforce the law, leading to injustices that bolster militants’ anti-government arguments.

“These are the kind of provisions that allow space for extremists to act with impunity,” Ali Dayan Hasan, a Pakistan-based representative for Human Rights Watch, said of the blasphemy law. “This country is, in that sense, at a crossroads where it is time for people to stand up.”

Just what happened on the evening of March 17, 2006, in this agrarian corner of Punjab province remains in dispute. It took a court in the nearby city of Sialkot 73 hearings over 27 months to gather enough testimony for a verdict. Lawyers’ strikes, witnesses’ absences and a funeral caused delays. In the end, the key evidence against Shafique, now 22, was witness accounts and soiled scraps of pages from a Koran, which the judge deemed impossible to fake.

“The question arises whether . . . a Muslim can think to smear the pages of the Holy Book with cow dung and urine just to create an evidence to involve his opponents,” the judge wrote in 2008. “Not an iota of evidence has been produced by the accused in this regard.”

But Shafique’s family, along with many others in Kulluwal, cite two reasons for such a plot. Shafique, an aspiring electrician, had accused his brother’s wife of adultery. And her alleged paramour had powerful allies, among them a town politician with his own motive: Shafique’s brother was challenging him in a village election.

Whatever the case, word of Shafique’s alleged rampage spread, and a crowd beat him viciously, residents recalled. Qari Qadir, the village imam, said he declined requests to announce the offense over his mosque’s loudspeaker, fearing a “serious situation.” Instead, he led a march the next day at which protesters demanded that police file charges.

“Everybody was against him,” said Ahmed, the community leader. “The police thought it could become a law-and-order situation if they did not take action.”

According to court records, two main accusers – the politician and Ahmed’s father – did not testify. Four young men who did gave nearly identical statements about seeing Shafique curse the prophet and rip the Koran.

Shafique testified that the charges were personal and political, and that he “heatedly” loved Allah.

The court sentenced Shafique to join about 7,600 others in Pakistan on death row, about 60 of whom are convicted blasphemers, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The country has not executed anyone since 2008, and blasphemy cases are often overturned on appeal.

But for many, that potential reprieve is little help. Suspects are often murdered in prison or after release, a fact one Pakistani court used to justify the blasphemy law – in prison, it reasoned, suspects are protected from public rage.

Blasphemy was outlawed during British colonial rule but made a capital crime in the 1980s under the Islamist military rule of Mohammed Zia ul-Haq. Now, the law is being scrutinized; a bill in parliament would shorten sentences, require evidence that the crime was committed intentionally and introduce punishment for false accusation.

But while recent international attention has galvanized opponents of the current law, it has also roused defenders. Conservative religious parties have threatened mayhem if the law is changed, an idea they deem a Western conspiracy. One cleric in northwest Pakistan went further, promising $6,000 to anyone who kills Bibi, the Christian woman.

Amid this debate, Mirza Shahid Baig, Shafique’s lawyer, sticks to technical arguments. The wrong police investigated, he said, and there was no serious look at Shafique’s side of the story.

“I am a very true lover of the holy prophet, but this case was totally false,” Baig said one recent afternoon at his dusty basement office in the bustling city of Lahore. “Whether the law is correct or not correct according to the morality, this is not my job.” In Kulluwal, most everyone seems to agree that a blasphemer deserves death. But they are certain Shafique was not one.

The investigators and witnesses who testified against him have all left town, and no one else recalls seeing Shafique’s alleged rampage. Ahmed said his father is ready to recant in court.

“This is a baseless charge,” said Ahmed, calmly sipping tea with Shafique’s parents on a recent day. “The issue is religious, so it had an influence on the police. It interfered with the investigation.”

Another resident, Mohammed Ibrahim, is the brother of the politician who accused Shafique and the father of one youth who testified. Ibrahim said his son has since told him he was pressured to lie, and that his brother forced police to file charges.

“He thought of himself as important, as someone who could not be challenged politically,” Ibrahim said of his brother, who, he added, has moved to Canada. To some Kulluwal residents, the whole affair proves elders should resolve disputes, not courts.

Shafique, meanwhile, writes letters to his family from solitary confinement. In one recent missive, he said that prison guards avoid touching him. He understands, he wrote, for he reserves no sympathy for blasphemers.

“My heart weeps for the innocent ones,” he wrote. “But I have no words of sympathy for the sinners . . . I would have killed them myself if I could.”

Pakistani-Americans, Human Rights Groups Seek Blasphemy Laws Review

As reported by Dawn

Pakistanis living in the United States have joined human rights groups in urging the government to release Aasia Bibi and reconsider the laws that discriminate against minorities.

“We condemn the abuse of the blasphemy law and request President Asif Ali Zardari not to accede to the threats made by certain religious groups and award imminent clemency to Aasia Bibi,” said the Pakistani-American Public Affairs Committee, an umbrella organisation representing a dozen groups. In a recent meeting of its executive board, the Christian League of Pakistan in America also “strongly condemned the victimisation of innocent people under the blasphemy law”, reminding the government that “the entire world is awaiting a sane decision in the Aasia Bibi case”.

The organisation noted that President Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Human rights activist Asma Jehanghir and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer have all concluded that Aasia Bibi is innocent.

These and other Pakistani leaders also have realised that the blasphemy law discriminates against religious minorities, said a statement issued by the Christian League in Philadelphia.

“This law encourages certain elements which institutionalise intolerance in the name of religion and spread social persecution and legal discrimination,” observed the Pakistani American Public Affairs Committee. “As it stands, this law with its ambiguity
harms Pakistan and its’ citizens.”

The group warned that such news emanating from Pakistan “hinders its stature in rest of the world, which in turn negatively impacts its economic stability and trade practices”. The committee referred to a study by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, which reported that a total of 964 people had been charged under these laws from 1986 to 2009. Out of them, 479 were Muslims, 340 Qadianis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus, and 10 of other religions.

The report also noted that although none of those charged under the laws has been executed; 32 people charged with blasphemy have been extra-judicially killed.

PAPAC noted that last July, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Sharif while overturning a blasphemy case, said that “the treatment meted out to the woman was an insult to humanity and the government; and that civil organisations should be vigilant enough to help such people”.

The group urged the larger society in Pakistan to educate the masses of the virtue of tolerance.

“Pakistanis must start a meaningful and focused dialogue to look at how the blasphemy laws are being abused and thus violating the basic premise of their creation – to protect minorities.”

PAPAC also asked Pakistan’s legislators to amend and remove ambiguity and legal discrimination from Section 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code which covers the blasphemy provisions.

Meanwhile, a leading US human rights group called on Pakistan’s government to abolish the blasphemy law and other discriminatory legislation.

The government should also take legal action against militant groups responsible for threats and violence against minorities and other vulnerable groups, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

Referring to Aasia Bibi’s conviction, the group noted that she had already “suffered greatly and should never have been put behind bars”.

Amnesty International, USA, also issued a statement on Friday, seeking Aasia Bibi’s release and revision of the law under which this mother of five was convicted this month.

“Critics say that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are used to persecute Christian and other minorities,” the group observed.

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