Pakistan’s blasphemy law is a licence to kill with impunity

The murder of Christian couple Shama and Shahzad Masih because of a blasphemy accusation against them came as the world was already condemning Asia Bibi’s death sentence.

It may be seen as just another incident by the Pakistani government, but it cannot be dismissed so easily by the rest of the world – it raised the alarm and levels of aprehension are high.

While the damage to the country’s image cannot be undone, but further damage can be avoided if the government is seen to be taking the matter seriously.

This incident has not just exposed Pakistan’s treatment of its non-Muslim citizens, but also the prevailing hatred against them. Extremism and hate of religious minorities, especially Christians, has permeated Pakistani society and is devouring it from the inside

Blasphemy law debate

The blasphemy law has become a bane for society and there is no chance of it being amended or repealed in the foreseeable future. How many more people will the state sacrifice by tolerating frenzied mobs using religion to settle personal scores or vent their anger against a group of people they are brainwashed to hate. After the lynching of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan, everybody is talking about reforming the law, so that it is not misused against innocent people. If the handling of previous blasphemy cases is any evidence, the law should be repealed. The argument to scrap the law gains strength seeing the prolonged inaction of successive governments against the religious right promoting discrimination and intolerance. Peace groups operating in Pakistan have demanded on Friday in a joint communiqué that the government take stern action against the criminals and their accomplices who had burnt the Christian couple to death in the kin. This punishment according to the peace advocates will set a precedent while creating an environment to contemplate and debate the law. The lives of many innocent people, both from the minorities and the Muslim community, languishing in jail are at stake. It is yet to be seen how the Supreme Court handles Aasia Bibi’s case. Even if she is freed from prison, her survival will entirely depend on the security the government provides her. Aasia’s case is a litmus test for the courts and the government. Governor Punjab Salman Taseer and Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti had sacrificed their lives to make Aasia’s case their litmus test to establish to the ignorant and bigoted sections of the populace and the government about the inhuman aspects of the blasphemy law. The killer of Salman Taseer is leading a comfortable life in jail having become a faith healer who is free to advocate and justify killings in the name of religion. Already one blasphemy accused has been killed on his instigation and another injured in jail.

Ireland set to call referendum on blasphemy laws

Frances FitzgeraldAtheists and secular campaigners have welcomed the Irish government’s decision to hold a referendum that may abolish Ireland’s blasphemy laws.

The Republic’s justice minister, Frances Fitzgerald, will bring a proposal to the weekly Irish cabinet meeting in Dublin on Tuesday for a referendum early next year. The proposal is expected to be ratified by the cabinet.

No date has yet been set for the vote. It could be held on the same day as a separate referendum on gay marriage.

Pakistani Christian Woman Sentenced to Hang for Blasphemous Comments

Pakistani Christian Women

A Christian woman in Pakistan has been sentenced to hang for making blasphemous comments about Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a Muslim woman. While working as a berry picker in 2009, Asia Bibi got into a quarrel with a group of Muslim women, who did not want her to drink their water because she is Christian and thus ‘unclean.’ A few hours after the incident took place, one of the women reported 46-year-old Bibi, who is the mother of five, to a local cleric, alleging she had made unforgivable comments about the Prophet during their quarrel.

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Pakistan police arrests Christian blasphemy accused from hiding

Lahore: Pakistani police said on Saturday they have arrested a Christian man who went into hiding after being accused of committing blasphemy.

Qaisar Ayub was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore and is being held in a police station in Talagang town, around 300 kilometres (186 miles) southeast, where a case was registered against him three years ago.

“We are investigating the accused over blasphemy charges filed against him in 2011,” local police official Khurram Hussain told AFP, adding Ayub was shifted to Talagang days after he was arrested in his native Lahore.

Ayub, who in his 40s, was accused of posting blasphemous messages on a Christian website that he was moderating.

“In 2011, a local resident of Talagang filed an application with the police accusing Ayub of using derogatory language against the prophet of Islam on his website”, Hussain said.

The policeman said the accused, a computer science graduate, went into hiding after the case was filed against him.

“The accused was declared absconder by a session court in Talagang in 2012 and since then the police has been searching for the accused”, Hussain said.

Mobeen Ahmed, another senior police official, confirmed his arrest.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob retribution.

Those who take part in violent attacks are rarely if ever prosecuted — a fact not lost upon the relatives of the deceased.

On November 4, a Christian bonded labourer and his pregnant wife were beaten by a mob of 1,500 people then thrown on top of a lit furnace in a crazed reaction to rumours they had thrown pages of the Koran into the garbage.

The horrific incident sparked outrage and protests across Pakistan. Police have arrested more than 40 suspects. 

The Scandal of Ambassador Zeid

Islamic Prince of Jordan to be new U.N Commissioner of Human Rights.

Will freedom of expression be protected?

Why the new United Nations human rights advocate is the wrong man for the job.

June 16, the 193 member states of the United Nations General Assembly unanimously approved Prince Zeid Raad Zeid al-Hussein of Jordan as the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, charged with spearheading the U.N.’s human rights activities.

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Pakistan Mob Kills Woman And 2 Girls Over ‘Blasphemous’ Facebook Post, Police Say

ISLAMABAD, July 28 (Reuters) – A Pakistani mob killed a woman member of a religious sect and two of her granddaughters after a sect member was accused of posting blasphemous material on Facebook, police said Monday, the latest instance of growing violence against minorities.

Indonesia: Religious Minorities Targets of Rising Violence

(Jakarta) – The Indonesian government is failing to protect the country’s religious minorities from growing religious intolerance and violence, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should respond much more decisively and adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for attacks on religious minority communities.

The 107-page report, “In Religion’s Name: Abuses against Religious Minorities in Indonesia,” documents the government’s failure to confront militant groups whose thuggish harassment and assaults on houses of worship and members of religious minorities has become increasingly aggressive. Those targeted include Ahmadiyahs, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Indonesian monitoring groups have noted a steady increase in such attacks, one group finding 264 violent incidents over the past year.

“The Indonesian government’s failure to take decisive action to protect religious minorities from threats and violence is undermining its claims to being a rights-respecting democracy,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “National leadership is essential. Yudhoyono needs to insist that national laws be enforced, announce that every violent attack will be prosecuted, and map out a comprehensive strategy to combat rising religious intolerance.”

Human Rights Watch conducted research in 10 provinces on the Indonesian islands of Java, Madura, Sumatra, and Timor, and interviewed more than 115 people of various religious beliefs. These included 71 victims of violence and abuses, as well as religious leaders, police officers, militant group leaders, lawyers, and civil society activists.

Local officials too often have responded to acts of arson and other violence by blaming the victims, Human Rights Watch said. Most perpetrators have received little or no punishment. In two cases, local officials refused to implement Supreme Court decisions granting minority groups the right to build houses of worship. While some national officials have spoken out in defense of religious minorities, others – including the minister of religion, Suryadharma Ali – have themselves made discriminatory statements.

Yudhoyono has failed to use powers at his disposal to defend religious minority communities and has not effectively disciplined cabinet members when they have encouraged abuses, Human Rights Watch said. Ali made discriminatory remarks about the Ahmadiyah and Shia in a March 2011 speech at a political convention, claiming: “We have to ban the Ahmadiyah. It is obvious that Ahmadiyah is against Islam.”In September 2012, he proposed that Shia convert to Sunni Islam. Ali was not sanctioned for either comment.

“The government has shown a deadly indifference to the growing plight of Indonesia’s religious minorities, who reasonably expect their government’s protection,” Adams said.

Islamist militant groups, such as the Islamic People’s Forum (Forum Umat Islam) and the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam), have been implicated in attacks and arson on houses of worship and homes of members of minority religions. Such groups seek to justify violence by espousing an interpretation of Sunni Islam that labels most non-Muslims as “infidels,” and Muslims who do not adhere to Sunni orthodoxy as “blasphemers.”

Indonesian government officials and security forces have often facilitated harassment and intimidation of religious minorities by militant Islamist groups, Human Rights Watch said. That includes making blatantly discriminatory statements, refusing to issue building permits for religious minorities’ houses of worship, and pressuring congregations to relocate.

Such actions are in part made possible by discriminatory laws and regulations, including a blasphemy law that officially recognizes only six religions, and house of worship decrees that give local majority populations significant leverage over religious minority communities. Sunni Muslim communities in areas of eastern Indonesia where Christians are a majority have also been victims of such regulations and in a few instances have had difficulty obtaining permission to build mosques.

Indonesian government institutions have also played a role in the violation of the rights and freedoms of the country’s religious minorities, Human Rights Watch said. Those institutions, which include the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem) under the Attorney General’s Office, and the semi-official Indonesian Ulema Council, have eroded religious freedom by issuing decrees and fatwas (religious rulings) against members of religious minorities and using their position of authority to press for the prosecution of “blasphemers.”

The increasing violence against religious minorities – and the government’s failure to take decisive steps against it – violates guarantees of religious freedom in the Indonesian constitution and international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2005, provides that “persons belonging to…minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion.”

The Jakarta-based Setara Institute, which monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, reported a rise in violent attacks on religious minorities, from 244 in 2011, to 264 in 2012. The Wahid Institute, another Jakarta-based rights monitoring group, documented 92 violations of religious freedom and 184 incidents of religious intolerance in 2011, up from 64 violations and 134 incidents of intolerance in 2010.

“Yudhoyono should endorse religious freedom as a fundamental principle of his administration and ensure that government officials are not promoting abuses against religious minorities,” Adams said. “Indonesia’s donors should take up the failure to defend religious freedom as a matter of urgency.”

Accounts from “In Religion’s Name”

They dragged me out of the water. They held my hands and cut my belt with a machete. They cut my shirt, pants and undershirt, leaving me in my underwear. They took 2.5 million rupiah [US$270] and my Blackberry [cell phone]. They tried to take off my underwear and cut my penis. I was laying in the fetal position. I tried to protect my face but my left eye was stabbed. Then I heard them say, ‘He is dead, he is dead.

– Ahmad Masihuddin, a 25-year-old Ahmadi, injured in a mob attack in Cikeusik, western Java, on February 6, 2011, after police present at the scene failed to intervene. Three of his friends were killed.

My husband chose Catholic as his official religion. But he’s practicing his Kejawen faith [a native Javanese spiritual belief system]. If we insisted to marry with our own religions, we won’t have birth certificates for our children, at least, without my husband’s name. The stripe in our ID cards creates another stigma in Indonesia.

– Dewi Kanti, a 36-year-old writer and batik maker from western Java, describing the discrimination created by Indonesia’s policy of only recognizing six official religions, marginalizing hundreds of traditional belief systems, like hers, as “mystical beliefs” which make it difficult for their followers to marry, apply for birth certificates, and receive other government services.

A motorcyclist came down the road and tried to hit me. When I looked down, I saw that I was bleeding. The police were 100 meters away. The attackers also had friends nearby. They attacked and beat the Reverend Luspida Simanjuntak until she was down on the ground. The police put me and the reverend on a police motorcycle. The thugs pulled her off the motorcycle and hit her three times with a wooden stick.

– Asia Lumbantoruan, an elder in the Batak Christian HKBP Ciketing church in Bekasi, on how young Muslims on motorbikes stabbed him on September 4, 2010. Two attackers were subsequently each sentenced to three to seven-and-a-half months in prison.

“How could we ask Muslims to sign for the permit? The closest Muslim family lives around 500 meters from our church. The next one is about two kilometers. How could we find 60 [signatories]? That decree might work in urban areas. But it’s impossible to implement inside a plantation.”

– Abjon Sitinjak, a 49-year-old farmer, whose Pentecostal church congregation in Kuantan Singingi, Riau, faces bureaucratic obstruction in their efforts to rebuild their burnt-down church due to a legal requirement that such building applications include 60 signatures from Muslim neighbors who support the construction of a non-Muslim place of worship.