Tuesday, November 30, 2010

ROVER’S DIARY: Much ado about blasphemy

Daily Times, Pakistan
November 30, 2010

ROVER’S DIARY: Much ado about blasphemy — Babar Ayaz

Babar AyazA cursory view of the whole debate about the Blasphemy Law shows that there are many saner and more intellectually sound Muslims who do not support the existing draconian law. Except for a small extremist coterie of bigots, many politicians are all for removing Section 295-B and C

Way back on March 6, 1927, Bertrand Russell delivered a lecture to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall. It was subsequently published in pamphlet form that same year. This essay achieved fame when Paul Edward published a compilation of Russell’s essays on religion, titled Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays. In his lecture, he talked about his agnostic views about God and questioned certain Christian values.

The blasphemy and blasphemous libel laws were part of the British common law at that time. The laws had existed since the 17th century and were punishable by the common law courts. This law was not invoked against Russell by the Church or the British government, although a police case was registered against one rationalist, Harry Boulter, in 1908. He repeated the offence in 1909 and was jailed for six months for speaking against religion.

The last person sent to prison for blasphemy in Britain was John William Gott in December 1921. He had three previous convictions for blasphemy when he was prosecuted for publishing two pamphlets titled Rib Ticklers, or Questions for Parsons and God and Gott. While Russell’s intellectual criticism of Christ and God was tolerated by British society, Gott’s satire of the biblical story of Jesus was found punishable. He was sentenced to nine months hard labour. As he was suffering from some incurable illness, he died shortly after he was released. The case became the subject of public outrage.

There were outbursts by religious lobbies against the subsequent writing and art work, which they considered were blasphemous but the law was not invoked and freedom of expression was respected. The debate about this law gained currency when British author Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, was published in 1988. Strong reaction against Rushdie in Muslim countries and an Iranian fatwa sanctioning that he should be killed “stimulated debate on this topic”, with some arguing that the same protection should be extended to all religions, while others claimed the UK’s ancient blasphemy laws were an anachronism and should be abolished. Despite much discussion surrounding the controversy, the law was not amended. The law was however abolished in 2008. The lobbying for the abolition was done by the National Secular Society and was signed by leading figures including Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who urged that the laws be abandoned.

In 2006, a Dalit intellectual Kancha Ilaiah, who is Head of the Political Science Department of Osmania University in Hyderabad (India) wrote Why I am not Hindu. He wrote with “passionate anger, laced with sarcasm on the caste system and Indian society”. The book criticises the Hindu gods and goddesses and provides socio-economic context to the Dalitbhujan gods and goddesses. There was indeed a strong reaction against the book from extremist Hindu organisations, but it was supported by many Hindu intellectuals and civil society activists. As Hinduism does not have the concept of blasphemy, such laws are absent in their tradition. Today, Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code punishes “hate speech, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of any citizen with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging religious feelings.” The law is not religion-specific.

There is enough literature written by Jews against Judaism. The Jewish right has always condemned such moves but has not been able to get them tried under any law. More recently, David Dvorkin published his paper Why I am not a Jew in the US. Nobody demanded that he should be tried and no attempt on his life was made. In any case, he could not have been tried in the US because freedom of expression is an inalienable right of the people under the First Amendment.

However, in 1995, a book was published in the US, Why I am not a Muslim. The writer used a pen name, Ibn Warraq, fearing the strong reaction from Muslim extremists. The question thus arises is why, in our Muslim society, is free thinking not challenged by rational argument by the Muslim theologists? Why do we need one of the most extensive and repressive blasphemy laws?

A cursory view of the whole debate about the Blasphemy Law shows that there are many saner and more intellectually sound Muslims who do not support the existing draconian law. Except for a small extremist coterie of bigots, many politicians are all for removing Section 295-B and C. To my pleasant surprise, even Rana Sanaullah, who is generally considered to be a fundamentalist, agreed to change in the law on a TV talk show recently.

Gutsy MNA Sherry Rehman is moving a bill in the National Assembly suggesting some changes in the Blasphemy Law. Her approach is pragmatic as she is of the view that the bill, demanding the abolition of the law, would not be possible at this juncture. Several sections of Pakistan’s Criminal Code comprise blasphemy laws. Section 295 forbids damaging or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object. Section 295-A forbids outraging religious feelings. Section 295-B forbids defiling the Quran. Section 295-C forbids defaming Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Except for Section 295-C, the provisions of 295 require that an offence be a consequence of the accused person’s intent. Defiling the Quran merits imprisonment for life. Defaming Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) merits death with or without a fine.

The issue is that even according to Islamic history and tradition, the Prophet (PBUH) himself did not give the death sentence to anybody who opposed and even harmed him. Then are these bigots, who have endorsed section 295-C, justified to fight for it? These additions were made in Section 295 by General Ziaul Haq without any parliamentary sanction and thus should be deleted. Sherry’s proposed change is too soft because the courts are intimidated by Islamic extremists to give a verdict against the accused on technical grounds, as it did in the Aasia Bibi case.

Islamic teachings clearly say that Muslims should respect other people’s religions and should not hurt their feelings. This principle is precisely enunciated in 295-A, so the matter should rest there (unfortunately, all those Muslim invaders who destroyed temples and churches are revered in our Islamic history). So the problem is much more deep-rooted than the laws alone; there are psychological, historical, social and political reasons for the Muslims to be over-sensitive about the blasphemy issue. And, in this society where freedom of expression is limited, any intellectual discourse about these factors is risky.

The writer can be reached at ayazbabar@gmail.com

Editorial: In Jakarta, Signs of Creeping Intolerance

Jakarta Globe, Indonesia
Editorial: In Jakarta, Signs of Creeping Intolerance
November 30, 2010

Indonesia has always prided itself in its social and political tolerance toward all citizens, no matter what their faith or background. Now, radical organizations are pushing these boundaries and sowing distrust and hatred. (JG Photo)
Indonesia has always prided itself in its social and political tolerance toward all citizens, no matter what their faith or background. Now, radical organizations are pushing these boundaries and sowing distrust and hatred. (JG Photo)
The results of a survey by a nongovernmental organization on rising religious intolerance in Greater Jakarta make for chilling reading. More than half of those surveyed said they would not accept people of different faiths within their neighborhoods.

Conducted by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace , the survey also found residents of Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi to be easily swayed economically, socially and politically.

The survey, conducted from Oct. 20 to Nov. 10 , had 1,200 randomly sampled respondents.

It is truly alarming that nearly 50 percent said tolerance of different faiths and ethnic groups was limited to social relations.

This meant they would not accept a person of a different faith in their family and would not consent to the building of a house of worship in their community.

It should also be of concern that 41.9 percent said economic injustice was the main cause of terrorism.

This showed that for much of the population, there was no correlation between radical organizations and terrorism.

Greater Jakarta represents a microcosm of the entire country.

If Jakarta, the most cosmopolitan city in the country, is growing increasingly intolerant, the rest of the country may well follow suit.

With half the country’s population now urbanized, more and more people of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds will find themselves living side by side.

If the trend toward growing intolerance continues, the prospects of ethnic friction becomes much greater.

Indonesia has always prided itself in its social and political tolerance toward all citizens, no matter what their faith or background. Now, radical organizations are pushing these boundaries and sowing distrust and hatred.

People are routinely attacked because they have different beliefs.

Take the case of the Ahmadiyah, a minority Muslim sect that has been the target of violence and persecution in the past few years, especially in West Java and Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara.

The group, which had lived for decades in peace with its mainstream Muslim neighbors, suddenly became the target of violence after the reform era.

This trend must be arrested immediately if we are to keep the social fabric from being torn to shreds.

The government must enforce the law fairly and impartially against those who incite and exert violence on others.

We must bring back the philosophy of living peacefully and harmoniously with peoples of all faiths.

Allowing certain groups to hijack religion for narrow political goals will lead to the disintegration of the nation.

Everyone should be reminded that our country’s founder had set down a powerful motto for this nation: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which means Unity in Diversity.

Copyright 2010 The Jakarta Globe

Most Lombok Ahmadiyah Converted: Indonesian Official

Jakarta Globe, Indonesia
Most Lombok Ahmadiyah Converted: Indonesian Official
Fitri | November 30, 2010

Mataram. Hundreds of members of the Ahmadiyah sect in the Central Lombok district of Lombok Island have returned to the fold of mainstream Islam, while only five families, or 21 people, remained followers of the faith, a local official said Monday.

Gabriel Mbulu, a member of the Central Lombok office of the Ministry for Religious Affairs, said that of the 500 Ahmadiyah followers once reported living in the district, only 21 remained part of the sect.

“From the 500, there are only 21 who do not want to return to Islam, besides those who left for Sulawesi. Hundreds have returned to true Islam,” Gabriel said.

The five families were still at a temporary shelter in the former general hospital in Praya after being driven from their homes, he added.

He said the Ministry also continued to call on people not to resort to violence when dealing with members of Ahmadiyah, a sect that is ostracized by mainstream Muslims because of their belief that their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is the Messiah.

He was referring to the violence that has repeatedly hit the Ahmadiyah community in Gerungan village in West Lombok since 2006, leading to hundreds of sect members seeking shelter in Mataram.

Nursalim, head of the Central Lombok Ahmadiyah group, speaking from the group’s shelter in Praya, said there were actually 31 people still at the shelter.

But he denied the claim that hundreds of Ahmadiyah members had reverted to mainstream Islam, saying that they simply became “inactive.”

“I have never heard of that,” he said of the claim of a mass conversion.

Nursalim said hundreds of Ahmadiyah members were forced to flee their homes in Central Lombok because of violence against them in 2006, about the same time their fellow Ahmadi were attacked in West Lombok.

He also said that, although the government initially provided relief aid for the Ahmadiyah refugees, the aid was halted without notice in 2007.

“Now we no longer even receive medicine,” he said.

But for Sionah, a mother of three who has been in the former hospital since 2006, nothing would make her convert from her faith.

“I remain confident as an Ahmadi, wherever I am,” Sonah said.

She said she had already been evicted from her home twice, first from her home in Sambielen in North Lombok amid violence against the sect in 2002.

She said she then moved to Praya in Central Lombok, but was forced to flee again during the attacks in 2006.

Ahmadiyah communities have been the target of attacks by hard-line Muslims in several regions, mostly in Lombok and West Java, in recent years.

Members of the sect also claim to face official discrimination, including difficulty obtaining jobs and processing official paperwork.

Ahmadiyah representatives have dismissed claims by their mainstream Muslim opponents that the group does not believe Muhammad was the last prophet and does not consider the Koran its holy book.

Copyright 2010 The Jakarta Globe

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Ilam Din fiasco and lies about Jinnah

Daily Times, Pakistan
November 29, 2010

VIEW: The Ilam Din fiasco and lies about Jinnah — Yasser Latif Hamdani

Yasser Latif HamdaniJinnah’s record as a legislator tells us a different story altogether. He was an indefatigable defender of civil liberties. He stood for Bhagat Singh’s freedom and condemned the British government in the harshest language when no one else would

In the recent debate over the blasphemy law, a group of Jamaat-e-Islami-backed right-wing authors have come up with an extraordinary lie. It is extraordinary because it calls into question the professional integrity of the one man in South Asian history who has been described as incorruptible and honest to the bone by even his most vociferous critics and fiercest rivals, i.e. Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The lie goes something like this: ‘Ghazi’ Ilam Din ‘Shaheed’ killed blasphemer Hindu Raj Pal and was represented by Quaid-e-Azam at the trial who advised him to deny his involvement in the murder. ‘Ghazi’ and ‘Shaheed’ Ilam Din refused and said that he would never lie about the fact that he killed Raja Pal. Quaid-e-Azam lost the case and Ilam Din was hanged.

To start with, the story is entirely wrong. First of all, Jinnah was not the trial lawyer. Second, Ilam Din had entered the not guilty plea through his trial lawyer who was a lawyer from Lahore named Farrukh Hussain. The trial court ruled against Ilam Din. The trial lawyer appealed in the Lahore High Court and got Jinnah to appear as the lawyer in appeal. So there is no way Jinnah could have influenced Ilam Din to change his plea when the plea was already entered at the trial court level. Nor was Ilam Din exactly the ‘matchless warrior’ that Iqbal declared him to be — while simultaneously refusing to lead his funeral prayers. Indeed Ilam Din later filed a mercy petition to the King Emperor asking for a pardon.

The relevant case — in which Jinnah appeared — cited as Ilam Din vs. Emperor AIR 1930 Lahore 157 — makes interesting reading. It was a division bench judgement with Justice Broadway and Justice Johnstone presiding. Jinnah’s contention was that the evidence produced before the trial court was insufficient and the prosecution story was dubious. To quote the judgement, “He urged that Kidar Nath was not a reliable witness because (1) he was an employee of the deceased and, therefore, interested. (2) He had not stated in the First Information Report (a) that Bhagat Ram (the other witness) was with him, and (b) that the appellant had stated that he had avenged the Prophet. As to Bhagat Ram it was contended he, as an employee, was interested, and as to the rest that there were variations in some of the details.”

The court rejected this contention. The judgement continues that “Mr Jinnah finally contended that the sentence of death was not called for and urged as extenuating circumstances, that the appellant is only 19 or 20 years of age and that his act was prompted by feelings of veneration for the founder of his religion and anger at one who had scurrilously attacked him.” The court rejected this contention as well referring to Amir vs. Emperor, which was the same court’s decision a few years earlier. Interestingly, the curious reference to 19 or 20 years deserves some attention. Why did Jinnah as one of the leading lawyers refer specifically to an argument that had been exploded by the same court only two years earlier? That only Mr Jinnah can answer and I do not wish to speculate. Perhaps he was trying to argue what Clarence Darrow had argued successfully a few years ago in the famous Leopold and Loeb case involving two 19-year old college students who had committed the ‘perfect crime’. Clarence Darrow’s defence converted a death sentence to a life sentence.

Another corollary of the argument forwarded by our right-wing commentators is that since Jinnah defended Ilam Din in this murder trial, he favoured the ‘death sentence for blasphemy’. It is an odd derivative even for average intellects that most Pakistani ultra-rightwingers and Islamists possess. First of all, it is quite clear that Jinnah did not defend the actions of Ilam Din. He had attacked the evidence on legal grounds. Second, it is clear that there was no confession and Jinnah did not ask Ilam Din to change his plea. Third, when the court rejected Jinnah’s contentions, Jinnah’s argument was simply that a death sentence was too harsh for a man of 19 or 20, with the obvious implication that sentence should be changed to life imprisonment.

We can only conjecture as to what Jinnah’s reasons as a lawyer and politician to agree to be the lawyer for the appellant before the high court were. In any event, a lawyer’s duty is to accord an accused the best possible defence. Just because a lawyer agrees to defend an accused does not mean that the lawyer concurs with the crime. One is reminded of the famous Boston Massacre in 1770 when British soldiers opened fire and killed five civilians who were protesting against them. The British soldiers hired John Adams as a lawyer, who got five of the accused acquitted, arguing that a sentry’s post is his castle. Does that mean that John Adams was in favour of British rule in the US? If so, it is rather ironic that he was the prime mover and the guiding spirit behind the American declaration of independence. Similarly, when Clarence Darrow defended Leopold and Loeb, was he in any way suggesting that the crime that those two young men had committed was justified?

Jinnah’s record as a legislator tells us a different story altogether. He was an indefatigable defender of civil liberties. He stood for Bhagat Singh’s freedom and condemned the British government in the harshest language when no one else would. In the debate on 295-A of the Indian Penal Code, a much more sane and reasonable law than our 295-B and 295-C, Jinnah had sounded a warning against the misuse of such laws in curbing academic freedoms and bona fide criticisms. I have quoted that statement in my previous two articles.

There cannot be any question that Jinnah the legislator would have balked at the idea that his defence of a murder convict is now being used by some people to justify a law that is ten times more oppressive and draconian than the one he had cautioned against. To this day, I have only found him alone to have had the courage to state in the Assembly on September 11, 1929: “If my constituency is so backward as to disapprove of a measure like this then I say, the clearest duty on my part would be to say to my constituency, ‘you had better ask somebody else to represent you’.”

The writer is a lawyer. He also blogs at http://pakteahouse.wordpress.com and can be reached at yasser.hamdani@gmail.com

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lombok Ahmadiyah Families Lodge Complaint Over Lost Homes

Jakarta Globe, Indonesia
Lombok Ahmadiyah Families Lodge Complaint Over Lost Homes
Fitri | November 28, 2010

Indonesia. Members of the beleaguered Ahmadiyah Islamic sect have filed a police report over the destruction of their homes on Friday by residents of Gegerung village in West Lombok district.

The village’s Ahmadiyah community was first driven out by angry residents in 2006, and has since been forced to live at a temporary shelter in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara’s capital.

On Nov. 19, the authorities evicted 12 families who had since returned, following threats against them by the residents, and a week later, the villagers made good on their word and destroyed 22 homes that had been abandoned by the fleeing families.

Police failed to prevent the destruction or arrest anyone, despite having deployed 100 personnel to the area.

On Saturday, six Ahmadis reported the case to the West Lombok Police, citing Rp 735 million ($80,000) in damages.

They said that while they had long accepted their persecution as a test, they would not stand for any criminal acts.

“Our people can no longer go back to their homes that were attacked by the mob, for almost none of them are now fit for habitation,” said Nasiruddin Ahmadi, one of the complainants.

He added he hoped the police would follow up the case and bring to justice those responsible for the destruction.

West Lombok Police’s operations head, Comr. Deky Subagio, pledged his office would investigate the case just like any other. He added that police had long attempted to secure the situation in Gegerung. “But it was difficult to prevent the villagers destroying the homes because most of them were kids,” he said.

Deky also denied reports that police had not tried to prevent the destruction. “We did our best to contain the situation, and we’re continuing to take all measures to secure the area,” he said.

He called on the Ahmadis staying at the transit shelter in Mataram to hold off any planned return to Gegerung until the animosity had died down.

There are now 183 Ahmadis, or 72 families, staying at the shelter, up from the initial 133 people who were driven out of Gegerung during the 2006 incident.

Copyright 2010 The Jakarta Globe

As the Flames of Intolerance Flare, Indonesians Are Reminded of Their Nation’s Origins in Diversity

Jakarta Globe, Indonesia
As the Flames of Intolerance Flare, Indonesians Are Reminded of Their Nation’s Origins in Diversity
Nivell Rayda & Fitri | November 28, 2010

Indonesia. A hundred police officers armed with assault rifles and pistols were not enough to dissuade Tuti (not her real name) from walking barefoot for a kilometer, her 3-year-old son on her back, to the village of Gegerung in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, on Friday.

Once she arrived, the 25-year-old mother joined hundreds of people from her village in ransacking and demolishing dozens of houses belonging to members of the Ahmadiyah minority sect.

“Infidels,” she screamed as she pelted one of the homes with rocks. “Get out of our village.”

The mob destroyed 22 homes, with one burned to the ground after villagers emptied a canister of kerosene in it and lit it on fire.

As Tuti watched the house burn, she and the other villagers thanked God for the suffering of those they deemed heretics.

Need for a National Strategy

The seemingly never-ending string of attacks on minority religious groups — at least a hundred against Ahmadiyah alone over the past decade, according to one activist — prompted the International Crisis Group in a recent report to call on Indonesia to adopt a comprehensive national strategy to promote religious tolerance and curb rising sectarian violence.

“There needs to be a long-term vision and strategy. Local officials have been addressing the incidents on a case-by-case basis,” said Jim Della-Giacomathe, the ICG Southeast Asia project director.

“And most of the time, they surrender to those with the loudest voice. If this keeps happening, mob rule prevails.”

Della-Giacoma’s statement highlights an important observation regarding the government’s response so far to the apparent increase in religious intolerance in the country: that the core of the problem isn’t being addressed.

In Bekasi, which the ICG report says is a clear example of the tensions brought about by clashing fundamentalisms, 10 people have been arrested for an attack that saw one churchgoer hospitalized with a stab wound and a female reverend badly injured.

Among those arrested was the local leader of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a group that has led calls for Christians to leave the area.

West Lombok Police operations head, Comr. Deky Subagio, has promised that his office will investigate the attack on the Ahmadiyah homes on Friday just like any other case.

Despite local police promises such as these, attacks continue.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, vice president of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said if the core of the problem was not addressed soon, sectarian conflicts would be unavoidable.

“There are elements within the minorities that are discontented with the government’s inaction and are becoming fed up with continuously playing the victim,” he said. “These elements may even have become radicalized themselves.”

Largely Local?

Bonar notes that the areas prone to religious conflict often have weak law enforcement or government leaders who are easily pressured by majority religious groups.

For instance, in Kuningan, West Java, where mainstream Muslims in July attempted to seal off an Ahmadiyah mosque, the local government has been reluctant to acknowledge marriages involving members of the minority sect.

In West Nusa Tenggara, the local government has also refused to issue mandatory identification cards to followers of the sect, and last month raided homes belonging to Ahmadiyah members, urging them to move out of Gegerung village.

The government announced plans to relocate the remaining members of the community to a remote island in the Sumba Strait, some 40 kilometers off the main island of Lombok, saying it was the will of other religious communities and residen ts.

In Bekasi and Depok, where a string of attacks and forced closures of Protestant churches has taken place, local administrations have defended their position of siding with the demands of hard-line groups against minorities by saying they needed to keep the peace.

“The political support of religious elites is essential even for political parties that are not based in Islam,” Bonar said.

“Religious elites need to expand their political influence; in return politicians enjoy great support from faithful followers of certain religious leaders.”

Decentralized, Disconnected

Analysts trace part of the problem to decentralization.

“Decentralization has brought more autonomy and self-government, but unfortunately the interpretation and implementation of religious freedom and tolerance, in practice, is also left with the local leaders, who sometimes have a narrow view on the subject,” said Siti Zuhro, a political analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Zuhro said that during the iron-fisted rule of former President Suharto there was no tolerance shown for religious frictions, and any statements that had the potential to stir up social, religious and racial tensions were greatly limited.

“Today, the situation is different. Hate speech is protected by the citizens’ constitutional rights of freedom of expression,” she said. “But this is a slippery slope.”

Bonar said that although President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had made a number of speeches expressing support for religious freedom and the need to protect minority groups, his words had never been translated into definitive action by local governments.

“There is a discrepancy between the central government’s commitment and the policies and practices at the local level,” he said.

“Decentralization has left the central government to rely heavily on how local officials can translate its directives.

“But while the central government claims that the job of protecting minorities rests with local governments, the local governments tell minority groups that they have to consult with the central government.”

Confusing Commands

Even at the national level, Yudhoyono’s statements on religious freedom sometimes stand in stark contrast to the words and actions of his ministers.

Ulil Abshar Abdalla, a member of the president’s Democratic Party, pointed out that Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali “has made comments that oppose religious freedom and have a dangerous potential to fuel further violence.”

The minister has repeatedly called for Ahmadiyah to disband, and has showed support for the 1965 law on blasphemy that many observers say has legitimized acts of violence against minority sects and groups.

He also supports the 2006 joint ministerial decree on houses of worship, which requires the consent of the surrounding community for building churches, temples and mosques. Critics say the regulation is discriminatory.

Rohadi Abdul Fatah, the director of Islam and Shariah law at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, denied that anyone had turned a blind eye to the problem of intolerance.

“Our officials always work according to the law and official procedure,” he said. “We never harm other groups, for example by prohibiting them from using public facilities or burning their places of worship. That is totally against human rights and the law.”

Regarding Ahmadiyah, he said the ministry did not tolerate the sect, but that did not mean the ministry was failing to provide members protection.

“We keep trying to persuade Ahmadiyah through education and dialogue to return to the right path of Islam,” he said. “We don’t tolerate anyone who harms them even though their belief is not acceptable in Islam.”

Democratic Pitfall

So what should a government that listens to its people do when a number of surveys indicate a worrying increase in religious intolerance among Muslims in the country?

A survey released in September by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society found that among 1,200 adult Muslim men and women surveyed nationwide, 57.8 percent said they were against the construction of churches and other non-Muslim places of worship — the highest rate the study center has recorded since 2001.

More than a quarter, or 27.6 percent, said they minded if non-Muslims taught their children, up from 21.4 percent in 2008.

“The government should not bow down to political pressure from a religious elite that voices intolerance,” Ulil said. “The government should protect minorities and not only cater to the demands of the majority.

“We should re-educate these opportunistic bureaucrats and political parties about ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ [‘Unity in Diversity’], the principle taught by our founding fathers.”

Firdaus Mubarik, an Ahmadiyah activist, said he hoped the government would listen to minority voices as well.

“The government should remain neutral on religious issues and bridge differences between religious groups,” he said.

“If the government continues turning a blind eye to the problem, hard-line Muslim groups will soon target other minorities.”

An Ahmadiyah member holding a burned Koran in Ciampea, West Java, after a mob set fire to a mosque and houses belonging to members of the minority sect. Pluralism advocates are warning of the dangers posed by failing to sufficiently address rising intolerance. Reuters Photo/Dadang Tri

Copyright 2010 The Jakarta Globe

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Several injured, arrested at Sunni Ittehad Council rally

Daily Dawn, Pakistan
Several injured, arrested at Sunni Ittehad Council rally
November 27, 2010
The workers of Sunni Tehreek (ST) arriving on board Khyber Mail were arrested at Rawalpindi Railways station. — File Photo
The workers of Sunni Tehreek (ST) arriving on board Khyber Mail were arrested at Rawalpindi Railways station. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Over a hundred local leaders and activists of Sunni Ittehad Council were arrested on Saturday. Police stopped the rally near ‘Soha Rawalpindi, where the activists had held a sit-in protest and were determined to move forward.

Police in twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi jump-started into action since Saturday morning in a bid to stem Council’s Long March from Islamabad to Lahore. Hazrart Bari Imam Shrine was sealed.

The workers of Sunni Tehreek (ST) arriving on board Khyber Mail were arrested at Rawalpindi Railways station.

According to Cantt Police Station, at least 50 people were taken into custody. Meanwhile, Sunni Council spokesman claimed over 200 of their workers were nabbed.

In view of security apprehensions, the government was in top gear since yesterday to stanch Islamabad-Lahore Long March announced by Sunni Ittehad as the march to ‘Save Pakistan’.

Islamabad’s exits and entry points especially those roads leading to Bari Imam Darbar were heavily guarded with baton-wielding police contingents armed with tear-gas shells and armored personnel carrier (APC).

Police were given duties outside madaris in support of Sunni Tehreek. Also, some local leaders were browbeaten into staying back.

Police took 19 Tehreek workers including a local leader during an operation in Jhelum.

According to Rawalpindi officials, over 100 people have been taken into custody. – Agencies

Chief of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) Sahibzada Fazal Karim on Saturday said the SIC will not allow the repeal of the blasphemy laws. He said terrorism had distorted Pakistan’s image across the globe, adding that those persuading people for suicide bombings were not loyal to Pakistan.

Hundreds of SIC activists started a nearly 200-mile long march on Saturday in a protest against Taliban attacks on the country’s religious sites.

Authorities warned that militants could attack the procession which was being led by Sahibzada Fazal Karim.

Police escorted the convoy out of Islamabad, where the journey had started.

The participants, travelling on foot and in cars, plan to rally in Lahore, where 47 people died in a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in July.

While addressing the participants of the long march at Islamabad’s Bari Imam shrine, Karim said the government had not accepted the SIC’s demand for legislation to curb terrorism and called for an All Parties Conference on the issue.

He further demanded the release of the arrested SIC activists.

The local administration had imposed Section 144 in Rawalpindi and several activists from various religious seminaries had been arrested.

Following intelligence reports of possible terror attacks, the Punjab government had banned the long march to avert any untoward incident.

©2010 DAWN Media Group. All rights reserved

Friday, November 26, 2010

An instrument of abuse?

Dawn.com Blog
An instrument of abuse?
by ANNIE on 11 26th, 2010 |

ProtestersThe death sentence handed down to Pakistani Christian woman Aasia Bibi by a court in Punjab province’s Nankana district has once again brought attention to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. And while the 45-year-old mother of five awaits a review of the verdict against her, questions are being raised regarding the intent behind and utility of the said laws.

While the Constitution of Pakistan criminalises “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage” the religious sentiments of “any” community, the blasphemy laws, in the form of additions to Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), proceed to recommend much more exacting penalties, including death, if the accused is found to be either disrespectful toward or critical of the Quran, Prophet Mohammad, Islam’s caliphs and other important figures mentioned in the statutes. These particular laws therefore do not stand up for religions other than Islam thereby rendering defenceless other religious communities. Moreover, the laws’ provisions pertaining to the Ahmedi community in many ways constrain them from practicing their religion. Forbidden from calling themselves, or “posing” as, Muslims, the legislation makes abundantly clear, albeit circuitously, that their faith should not be what it is.

It was in the early 1980s and during the regime of former military dictator Ziaul Haq that committing blasphemy was made a penal offence under the PPC. In its current state, the law prescribes a jail term for anyone found disrespectful toward the Quran and death penalty for anyone found to be reproachful of Prophet Mohammad. Oddly enough, while the question of intent is not considered when it comes to the latter offence, it continues to remain punishable by nothing short of the death penalty. The blasphemy laws also prescribe a fine and a prison term with regard to penal offences associated with the Ahmedi community.

Having survived for nearly three decades in its current and extreme form, the blasphemy laws have so far escaped all reform due to opposition from religio-political groups. At the same time, other, essentially secular, political groups have been succumbing to these hardline forces mostly out of fear of losing clout in regions with conservative leanings and where religious organisations seem to enjoy a considerable degree of influence. Even at this point, with the international community ramping up pressure on the government to pardon Aasia and to eventually repeal the blasphemy laws, certain otherwise antagonistic clerics from the Barelvi and Deobandi schools of thought have come together to caution President Asif Ali Zardari over going ahead with the pardon saying the move may lead to “untoward repercussions”.

While the sentencing of Aasia has led to much international uproar, hers is just one of the many cases which have led to blasphemy convictions by the courts. Moreover, many of the blasphemy accused – mostly from the unprotected religious minority groups – have been targeted and sometimes killed by lynch mobs. The still recent killing of two Christian brothers in Faisalabad, the case of Zaibunnisa who remained incarcerated for 14 long years on blasphemy allegations and the violence that targeted Christians in Gojra in 2009 are just some of the recently reported instances which clearly depict how such laws have effectively abandoned the country’s religious minorities and emboldened extremists.

These and similar other incidents have inevitably led to questions pertaining to the rationale behind the laws as well as to their outcome in terms of greater social good. And while the laws are frequently used to blackmail and victimise Pakistan’s miniscule religious minorities, they also come in handy by those wanting to settle personal scores, sort business rivalries and tackle land disputes with other Muslims. Rights groups have continually demanded that the laws be repealed and have referred to the statutes as fundamentally unjust and discriminatory in nature.

Moreover, legal experts and analysts have frequently termed the text of the laws as vague and even flawed in ways that make it a ready instrument of abuse. Incompatible with the universally accepted human rights charter, the laws and their application also stand in clear violation of the Constitution of Pakistan which guarantees every citizen the “right to profess, practice and propagate” his/her religion and in fact forbids the state from making “any law which takes away” the citizens’ fundamental rights.

Given the fact that the blasphemy laws have only served to fuel disharmony and strife in society, a thorough review of the legislation, followed by significant changes to it, can be the first small step toward countering the culture of exploitation that has become all-too-synonymous with these laws.

Qurat ul ain Siddiqui is the Desk Editor at Dawn.com
Qurat ul ain Siddiqui is the Desk Editor at Dawn.com

©2010 DAWN Media Group. All rights reserved

Govt monitors Ahmadiyah religious practices

Fri, 11/26/2010
10:20 AM

Govt monitors Ahmadiyah religious practices
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

MATARAM: The government continues to provide counseling to the Ahmadiyah sect and ensuring that Ahmadis are not disseminating their teachings, says an official.

Didiek Darmanto, head of West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) prosecutor’s office also heading the religion and sect monitoring body, warned people against resorting to violence in dealing with the issue.

“The prosecutor’s office helps monitor Ahmadiyah in NTB based on joint decrees by three ministries,” he said at a media conference on Wednesday.

“We hope people do not resort to street justice.”

Considered heretical, minority Ahmadiyah followers have been refused from the Muslim community including those in West Lombok, NTB.

After having been forced to take shelter, around 12 families last week returned home to their village, only to be evicted again by local residents.

They are part of 35 families taking shelter at Wisma Transito in Mataram after being evicted from their village in February 2006.

They had been forced to return to their homes because they had been staying at the Wisma Transito shelter without any certainty of their fate.

“The prosecutor’s office only monitors religious activities by Ahmadiyah. The social impact and the placing of Ahmadiyah followers are the domain of both West Lombok and NTB offices,” Didiek said. — JP

Villagers in Lombok Ransack, Destroy Ahmadiyah Homes

Jakarta Globe, Indonesia
Villagers in Lombok Ransack, Destroy Ahmadiyah Homes
Fitri R | November 26, 2010

A gang of youths in Gegerung village, West Lombok district, on Friday destroying an empty home belonging to the Ahmadiyah community, which was forced to seek refuge in Mataram after a 2006 pogrom. (JG Photo/Fitri)
A gang of youths in Gegerung village, West Lombok district, on Friday destroying an empty home belonging to the Ahmadiyah community, which was forced to seek refuge in Mataram after a 2006 pogrom. (JG Photo/Fitri)
Mataram. Villagers in West Lombok district on Friday destroyed 22 homes belonging to Ahmadiyah families in the latest wave of violence there aimed at the minority Muslim sect.

Exactly a week earlier, local officials drove 12 Ahmadiyah families out of Gegerung village following growing opposition from the rest of the village.

No injuries were reported in the latest incident as the homes had all been abandoned following evictions in 2006 that saw 133 Ahmadiyah followers forced to take refuge at a temporary shelter in Mataram, the West Nusa Tenggara capital, where they remain to this day.

Friday’s incident saw a mob of several hundred villagers, including women and children, tear down 21 homes and burn one other to the ground.

The chain of events leading up to the rioting began earlier, during a meeting led by district head Zaini Arony after Friday prayers.

Zaini called on the villagers not to resort to violence following last week’s animosity, assuring them his administration would resolve the long-standing issue.

Following the meeting, however, angry villagers began arming themselves with machetes, crowbars and swords in preparation to raid the empty homes.

“If you don’t come out of your homes, we’ll tear and burn them down. So come out or we’ll come and get you!” the mob yelled while pelting the empty houses with rocks. “Destroy the Ahmadis who bring shame to Islam!”

About 100 armed police officers managed to hold back the crowd for some time. However, they later scattered as the violence intensified.

The mob ransacked the houses and then went on to completely demolish them. The authorities claimed they had successfully prevented further damage by seizing a jerrycan of gasoline from the rioters.

Syahudin, Gegerung’s village chief, said he had lost all control of the situation.

“It was impossible to get under control,” he said. “They even drove me away from the scene when I tried to stop them.”

The crowd finally dispersed after the army sent in soldiers to secure the area.

West Lombok Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Agus Supriyanto said his officers were now investigating the motivation for the attack, but had not yet made any arrests.

“Our next step will be to secure the Ahmadiyah neighborhood until the situation calms down,” he added. The police had made a similar pledge following the evictions on Nov. 19.

Agus rebuffed accusations his men had allowed the villagers to run amok, saying they were taking “the persuasive approach, given that most of the mob were youths and children.”

In his town hall address before the violence, Zaini offered the villagers four options to ending the animosity with the Ahmadis.

The first, he said, was to strictly enforce a 2005 bylaw that banned members of the sect from West Lombok.

The second option was a controversial plan to relocate all Ahmadiyah families in the district to remote Teluk Sepi, in Lombok’s south, which has been widely criticized by rights activists.

“Given that they’re not accepted here, I feel it’s my humanitarian duty to find someplace else for them,” Zaini said. “But they haven’t agreed yet and instead keep asking about the facilities to be built for them there.”

The third option was to relocate them to Kalimantan or Sulawesi, while the fourth was to compensate them for the property lost in Gegerung and let them start new lives elsewhere.

Zaini said his administration had already set aside Rp 710 million for the compensation deal, but the families wanted Rp 1.5 billion.

Sarim Ahmad, one of those forced to flee Gegerung on Nov. 19, said he hoped the authorities would come up with a better solution that would not foster more hatred against the community.

“We’ll go anywhere, as long as there’s legal certainty for us and our families,” he said at the shelter in Mataram. “To date, we’re not accepted as citizens of this country because the authorities continue to deny us ID cards.”

Copyright 2010 The Jakarta Globe

Babar Awan says no one can change blasphemy law

The News - Internet Edition
Friday, November 26, 2010,
Zilhajj 19, 1431 A.H.
 Babar Awan says no one can change blasphemy law

Friday, November 26, 2010
By Ansar Abbasi

Babar AwanISLAMABAD: Law Minister Babar Awan has categorically said that no one should think of repealing the blasphemy law. “In my presence as the Law Minister, no one should think of finishing this law,” he said while declaring himself to be a “Shaheen” (eagle). He was talking to a senior member of the Jang Group on Thursday.

The minister came out with these unequivocal remarks in the wake of the latest media debate over the blasphemy laws, which started once again by the recent award of a death sentence to a Christian woman on blasphemy charges.

The categorical stance by Minister Awan, arguably one of the closest aides of President Zardari and one with a role in many controversies, is in direct contradiction to that taken by Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who while being critical of the same law is all out to secure the release of Aasia Masih, sentenced to death by a district and sessions court of Nankana Sahib in the Punjab. Taseer has already declared that the convict was innocent and according to observers his view is shared by many commentators who in a majority of cases may not even have gone through the details of the evidence and judgment.

While appreciating the comment that any effort to amend or repeal the blasphemy law would lead to chaos, the Babar Awan emphasised that in his presence as law minister no one would be allowed to change or repeal the law.

“In order to remove ambiguity pl (please) also write 2moro (tomorrow) that I told U (The Jang Group) (that) in my presence as Law Minister no one should think of finishing this law,” this is what the law minister precisely said in his written statement. On this, the law minister was asked if he should be quoted, he said, “Sure.” Babar Awan added that he was servant of servants of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

He said, “I’m khadim of khadmaan-e-Rasool.” He prayed that candle of ishq-e-Rasool (love for Prophet (PBUH)) is lit in every heart. The law minister, instead, said that all religious nobles must be respected in order to save world from crisis like the publication of caricature.

It is not clear if the law minister has the blessings of President Asif Ali Zardari, who is under pressure to pardon the convict Aasia Masih but it shows serious cracks within the ruling elite about its policy on the blasphemy law.

Babar Awan claims to be a religious scholar; he gives lectures on Islam but at the time faces serious accusation of corruption in the Harris Steel Mill case of Bank of Punjab scandal. Additionally, he continues to claim to be a PhD and uses the prefix of Dr with his name despite the fact that the Monticello University, which awarded him the fake degree, has already been declared unauthorized both by the American and Pakistani authorities to have been entitled to issue such a degree at any stage.

Babar Awan is also generally believed as the man responsible for the government’s confrontational mode with the judiciary. All controversies notwithstanding, on the issue of blasphemy laws he has opted to detach himself from all those who are demanding the repeal of these laws.

URL: www.thenews.com.pk/26-11-2010/Top-Story/2293.htm

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The blasphemy law

Daily Dawn, Pakistan
The blasphemy law
I.A Rehman
November 25, 2010

Blasphemy LawsTHE worldwide outrage caused by the awarding of the death sentence to Aasia Bibi on a blasphemy charge was bound to happen sooner or later, in view of Pakistan’s inability to scrutinise a law that satisfies neither human rights advocates nor many authentic authorities on Islam. It is time this shortcoming was seriously addressed.

The matter has been complicated by two factors. First, the conservative opinion has not taken the reaction in the West, especially the Pope’s plea for mercy, in a proper spirit. Just as the people of Pakistan have a right to protest at violations of the Palestinian people’s human rights, western observers have a right to express concern at what they think amounts to human rights abuse in Pakistan.

Secondly, the idea of presidential intervention is counter-productive. Reprieve for a convict or two will not solve the problem. Future victims of the controversial legislation may have no defender at home or abroad. A critical appraisal of Section 295-C has become imperative, particularly because the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) provision does not even enjoy the unanimous support of Islamic scholars.

This will become abundantly clear from the history of the addition of Section 295-C to the Penal Code. As the Penal Code did not have any specific provision for blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (PBUH), advocate Ismail Qureshi moved the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) in 1984 that to prescribe the death penalty for blasphemy. The petition did not go unchallenged. One objection raised by the counsel for the federation (under Gen Zia) was that the petition was not maintainable. Another issue was that since legislation fell under the jurisdiction of parliament, could the FSC issue a direction to the federation? The court reserved judgment.

Meanwhile, a bill was moved in the National Assembly seeking the insertion of Section 295-C in the PPC. It provided for the death penalty for blasphemy against the Prophet (PBUH).

According to Mr Ismail Qureshi, the law minister did not support the bill on the ground that the Quran did not prescribe a penalty for this offence. “Besides, an unexpected situation arose,” says Mr Ismail Qureshi, “when many Islamic-minded members of the Assembly did not wholly agree with the bill because they thought imprisonment for life was sufficient punishment for blasphemy.” Anyhow the bill was passed though the law ministry added life imprisonment as an alternative punishment. Discussion on the bill was cut short because its supporters insisted that the issue was not debatable.

Mr Qureshi again moved the FSC, this time for deletion of the alternative punishment from Section 295-C. He admits that “some ulema argued that blasphemy was a forgivable offence and some even said that the ruler could award a lesser punishment than death”.

The FSC ruled in October 1990 that the alternative punishment should be deleted as it was repugnant to Islam. The court further directed the federation to add a provision to the effect that any act of blasphemy upon other prophets should also be punishable with death. The government was told to amend Section 295-C by April 30, 1991. The federation filed an appeal against the FSC verdict but it was withdrawn.

Fears that Section 295-C could be abused were expressed from the very outset, by Mr Ismail Qureshi himself. He wrote: “In my opinion, this Section 295-C needs to be further amended because it is necessary to bring it in accord with Quran and Sunnah (emphasis added). In the present form it could create ambiguity and legal complications.” He then emphasised that proof of intent was necessary to secure conviction (a point also made by the FSC) and that the sentence of death should be based on ‘tazkiat-ul-shahood’ (unimpeachable evidence).

To give effect to a part of the FSC verdict (relating to the deletion of the alternative punishment) the Nawaz Sharif government moved the Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Bill 1991. In its report on the bill the Senate Standing Committee, headed by PML-N leader Senator Zafarul Haq, expressed reservations about the definition of the offence. It said:

“The Standing Committee on Law and Justice after detailed deliberations decided to recommend the proposed deletion of ‘or imprisonment of life’ from Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. The members, however, observed that there was a need for a more specific definition of the offence under Section 295 PPC which the members were of the considered opinion was in the present form very generalised. The committee suggests that the matter may be referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology for suggesting a more specific definition of the offence falling under Section 295 PPC As well as for its opinion as to whether during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) or during the period of Khulafa-i-Rashideen or afterwards in any of the Muslim countries, what was the punishment awarded to the offenders for committing offence falling under Section 295 PPC” (Gazette Extraordinary, Feb 22, 1992).

It was only during the early days of Benazir Bhutto’s second government that the amendment bill was finally adopted. Again the government was in a hurry to push the bill because the house was about to be prorogued.

The fears of abuse of Section 295-C started coming true soon afterwards. A surge in blasphemy accusations, mostly against Christians and Ahmadis in the beginning, invited the comment that this law had generated offences that previously were rare.

Three unsavoury facts were established: a) in many cases the law was invoked to deal with a business rival, to grab property or to settle a personal score; b) that filing FIRs against vulnerable persons had been adopted as a lucrative business by quite a few clerics; and c) that the conservative elements subjected courts to unbearable strains by laying siege to them. Subsequently it was found that trial courts were generally afraid of acquitting even an illiterate child accused of writing blasphemous notes or a man about whom a certificate of his mental disorder was on record.

Further, it was found that a blasphemy accused was safe neither in prison nor at a police station, nor even outside the Lahore High Court. Those acquitted by high courts could not live in Pakistan and a judge who had acquitted a child was killed after retirement.

Over the last few years the use of Section 295-C has become a weapon in the hands of sectarian warlords. While cases against non-Muslim citizens are still filed, in a good number of cases the accused are Muslims, including prayer leaders. It is not that governments have not been uncomfortable with 295-C. The governments of Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf all toyed with the idea of making some procedural changes but to no effect. Any further dilly-dallying will only compound the government’s difficulties.

While the argument for a repeal of the admittedly flawed text of the law is unexceptionable, this may take a long time. What is urgently needed is a serious effort to ensure that only those who deliberately commit an offence are punished and courts are protected against mob threats.

©2010 DAWN Media Group. All rights reserved
URL: www.dawn.com/2010/11/25/the-blasphemy-law-by-i-a-rehman.html

Chenab Nagar Ahmedis terrified of ‘hate campaigns’

Daily Times, Pakistan
November 25, 2010

Chenab Nagar Ahmedis terrified of ‘hate campaigns’

MTKN hoardingBy Afnan Khan

LAHORE: Thousands of Ahmedis of Chenab Nagar (formerly Rabwah) are living in a curfew-like situation while awaiting another disaster, as extremists keep pressurising them by running “hate campaigns” through anti-Ahmedi conferences, distribution of provocative material and inviting participants from terror-ridden areas like Waziristan, in their events.

The over 66,000 people living in this small town have been subjected to persecution and deadly attacks since the 1970s when the then parliament of former premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto initiated a move to declare them non-Muslims.

However, the situation worsened after the killing of over 85 Ahmedis in a terrorist attack on their worship places on May 28 in Lahore this year. Community representatives in the area told Daily Times that extremist clerics were boosting their hate campaign against the community and their insecurity had reached to a record high because the so-called anti- Ahmedi conferences now comprised a large number of participants and seminary students from terror-ridden areas like Waziristan and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

They also added that the strength of these religious seminaries was increasing, as the participants from KP and southern Punjab were promoting extremist religious ideologies they were receiving from these special conferences in Chenab Nagar and its surrounding cities, including Chiniot, Jhang, Faisalabad and Sargodha.

The community members told Daily Times that the extremist seminaries were also purchasing more and more property in the surrounding localities and such a situation had made it very difficult for the Ahmedis to move around, as target killings, violence and persecution were increasing by the day.

“We used to live in harmony and respect with the members of other communities in the surrounding areas, but now it has become very suffocating for us and our children, especially after the recent terrorist attacks on our worship places in Lahore. They (extremists) are allowed by government and local authorities to launch a hate and violence spree against us in broad daylight as posters, stickers and pamphlets against us are being distributed everywhere and there is nobody to stop them,” Usman Ahmed, a resident of Chenab Nagar, stated.

He added that the government was equally responsible for what the Ahmedis were going through across the country, as they had never taken any concrete steps to end this vicious cycle of hatred in the name of religion.

“People from all classes and walks of life are living in Chenab Nagar and are waiting for another bolt from the blue after the terrorist attacks in Lahore because the hatred against us is in full swing and at the worst degree right under the nose of the authorities,” he said.

The residents also said that the teachers in schools had started singling out Ahmedi students, and a number of potential students were even being denied admissions in various government schools and institutions of the area. They said that 2010 was the most violent and tragic year for Ahmedis in the country as the number of those who had been killed this year was 99.

“This single indicator along with the increasing number of violent cases, presence of so many religious seminaries in the area and the full-throttle hate campaign against us is enough to realise that terrorists wanted to wipe us from the face of the Earth and our government’s silence over the situation is criminal,” Amir, another resident of Chenab Nagar, said.

Residents of the area said that there were several hardliner seminaries in the area but those most actively against the Ahmedis and posed a direct threat to them included Jamia Usmania, Muslim Colony, Madrassa Masjid Khatam-e-Nabuwat, Muslim Colony, Madrassa Jamia Ahrar Kot, Wasawa and Jamia Masjid, Nalka Adda.

However, the chief of Jamia Usmania, Qari Shabbir Usmani, told Daily Times that the allegations levelled against the seminaries, including Jamia Usmania, were “a bunch of lies made up by the Ahmedis”.

He said that they organised conferences only to sensitise people that the Ahmedis were non-Muslims and nobody should consider them a Muslim, adding that they neither distributed any hate material against them nor convinced anybody to kill Ahmedis or use violence against them. Qari Shabbir added that if they were really doing something illegal against the Ahmedis, then they must have faced action by the government or law enforcement agencies by now, and since they had not received any complaints, it proved their (seminaries) point. However, he alleged that the Ahmedis themselves were terrorists and if law enforcement agencies peeped into their colonies, they would find several terrorists and weapons hidden inside the residential areas. He added that Ahmedis were the real enemies of Islam and they were not only conspiring against the state but also blasphemed against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his followers. The Punjab government spokesman could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.

URL: www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2010\11\25\story_25-11-2010_pg7_25

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Religious parties threaten protest in blasphemy case

Daily Dawn, Pakistan
Religious parties threaten protest in blasphemy case
From the Newspaper
November 24, 2010
Activists of Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat stage demonstration in support of their demands outside press club Lahore on Wednesday. - Online Photo
Activists of Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat stage demonstration in support of their demands outside press club Lahore on Wednesday. — Online Photo

LAHORE: Religious parties have warned the Pakistan People’s Party government, especially Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, of a rigorous protest drive if they try to release the woman convicted of blasphemy.

The Aalmi Tanzeem Ahle Sunnat staged a demonstration outside the Lahore Press Club on Tuesday where participants chanted slogans against Taseer for promising to use his influence to seek presidential pardon for Asia, who was sentenced to death by a sessions court judge on blasphemy charges.

Addressing the demonstrators, Pir Afzal Qadri demanded the Supreme Court take notice of the governor’s interference into the judicial system and disqualifying him to hold the public office as, what Qadri said, Taseer had proved himself to be an enemy of the religion by declaring the blasphemy law as ‘black law’ and the verdict a “cruel judgment”.

Other speakers demanded that President Zardari should refrain from hurting feelings of the Ummah by granting pardon to the convict otherwise a protest drive would be launched against the government.

They announced observing Friday (Nov 26) as a protest day against the governor’s statement and his intention to seek relief for the convict.

Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) amir Munawwar Hasan has also condemned the campaign launched by the governor and the country’s secular lobby for the release of Asia, and said the nation would foil every conspiracy to abolish the blasphemy law.

In a statement, he said any such attempt would prove to be the last nail in the coffin of the PPP government.

He said the JI would consult other political and religious parties to chalk out a joint line of action against the secular lobby’s designs.

Besides some foreign powers, the secular lobby and the foreign-funded NGOs having ‘anti-Islam’ and ‘anti-Pakistan’ agenda were pressurising the government into releasing the convict in a blatant interference in the country’s judicial system and its internal affairs, he alleged.

He said none of the human rights or women’s rights bodies had made any protest when a US court sentenced Dr Aafia Siddiqui to 86 years in jail without any proof and no ruler, including the governor, felt any sympathy for her.

However, on the conviction of Asia, Taseer promptly reached the jail to ensure “justice” to a blasphemer and even President Zardari hinted at releasing her, the JI chief lamented.

©2010 DAWN Media Group. All rights reserved

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pakistan will not repeal blasphemy law: minister

Daily Dawn, Pakistan
Pakistan will not repeal blasphemy law: minister
November 23, 2010
Protesters hold up placards while demanding the release of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, at a rally in Lahore November 21, 2010. - Reuters
Protesters hold up placards while demanding the release of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, at a rally in Lahore November 21, 2010. — Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will not repeal its controversial blasphemy law but may amend it to prevent abuse because scrapping the legislation could fuel militancy, a government minister said on Tuesday.

The law, which carries the death penalty for insulting Islam or its Prophet Mohammad, has come under the spotlight this month after a court sentenced a Christian mother of four, Asia Bibi, to death in a case stemming from a village dispute.

Widespread media attention on the case has led to renewed appeals by human rights groups for the repeal of the law but Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti said that would not happen.

“(Repeal) is not being considered though we are considering changing it so that misuse of the law should be stopped,” Bhatti told Reuters.

The law enjoys widespread support in Pakistan, which is more than 95 per cent Muslim, and politicians are loathe to be seen as soft on the defense of the religion.

Blasphemy convictions are common although the death sentence has never been carried out. Most convictions are thrown out on appeal, but angry mobs have killed many people accused of blasphemy.

Bhatti said consultations with Islamic clerics and representatives of religious minorities on amending the law would soon be held.

He said repealing it was not being considered because that could provoke religious parties and militants who want to topple the pro-US civilian government.

“We have to analyse what the reaction of those having intolerant attitudes will be,” Bibi [Bhatti] said. “At this point our aim is to stop its misuse.”

Critics say the law can be misused by people making false accusations against rivals.

Liberal and secular groups say the law discriminates against religious minorities who make up roughly 4 per cent of Pakistan’s 170 million population. Most members of minorities are Christian.

Bhatti said an initial inquiry into the case of the Christian mother suggested she had not committed blasphemy but was falsely accused after a quarrel.

Bibi, the first woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, has appealed to President Asif Ali Zardari to pardon her.

“It will take few more days. We are looking into different things, not just pardon. She could get relief from the courts,” Bhatti said.

Authorities were providing Bibi with security in jail and her family had also moved for safety reasons, he said.

New York-based Human Right Watch has said the blasphemy law and government’s failure to address religious persecution by extremist groups effectively enable atrocities against minorities. – Reuters

©2010 DAWN Media Group. All rights reserved

COMMENT: No to blasphemy laws

Daily Times, Pakistan
November 23, 2010

COMMENT: No to blasphemy laws — Marvi Sirmed

Marvi SirmedOne is amazed at the audacity of the advocates of blasphemy laws, who think of themselves as vigilant guards of not only the Almighty, but religious personages as well, thereby creating an illusion that God and the Prophet (PBUH) might not be able to deal with the blasphemer

It is nothing much, just one more conviction under the Blasphemy Law of Pakistan. This time, it is a woman. Aasia Bibi gets her fate written by an Additional Sessions Court in Nankana Sahib, District Sheikhupura. We have, it seems, successfully saved the honour of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

A simplistic, popular argument in favour of the faulty black laws of blasphemy has been that, as committed Muslims, we cannot let blasphemers get off scot-free. And since the law of the land asks for capital punishment for the crime of blasphemy, it is obligatory to pursue such cases with public vigilance. To an ordinary thinking mind, this increasing insecurity about the honour of Islam, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and Holy Quran looks ridiculously misplaced. Ever since the blasphemy laws were promulgated in the Indo-Pak subcontinent, they seem to have instigated violence against religious minorities.

Blasphemy accusations were regularly levelled against the Sufi mystics before and during Mughal India. In most of these cases, orthodox schools of religious thought used blasphemy as a pretext for settling other scores. One can see it in the case of Sufi saint Sarmad Shaheed who was beheaded by Aurangzeb, Baba Bulleh Shah who was thrown out of his native Kasur on charges of blasphemy, and even Rahman Baba who was accused of being an atheist and had to defend the conspiracies to oust him from his village, Hazar Khwani, in Mohmand district of the then Peshawar province.

It, however, remained largely an activity of the royal courts to invoke blasphemy against Sufis or political opponents. The scourge of popular vigilantism entered Indian society after the 1860s Blasphemy Law inclusion in the India penal code. There was no looking back after this, especially after Pakistan came into being. The first major case of blasphemy that got public attention and a permanent imprint on the Muslim mind was that of Ilam Din (called Ghazi and Shaheed simultaneously). Ilam Din, as the legend goes, was an ordinary Muslim son of a carpenter and irregular mosque-goer. It was the oratory of the clerics Maulana Ahmed Saeed Dehlvi and Amir-e-Shariat in a protest meeting against the publication of a profane book against Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that instigated the carpenter’s son to get up, hold up the dagger and stab the publisher to death. This act of murder without any conviction by a court of law (the matter was still sub judice) was hailed by all and sundry, including the entire range of Muslim political leaders. Ilam Din is still revered for this “valour”, “act of piety for sheer love of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)” and for being “a matchless warrior”, as Dr Sir Allama Iqbal was quoted as saying at Ilam Din’s funeral in the Encyclopaedia of World Muslims.

After Pakistan came into being, we had to rely on the excessive use of Islamic symbolism to justify our existence as a separate entity from parent India, and to avoid a further breakdown through the generous provision of religious adhesive to an otherwise multi-ethnic, multi-cultural federation. The Islamisation of laws was an easy tool to adopt that outlook. It was no later than the early 1950s that pogroms against the Hindu population started in Khulna and other parts of East Pakistan, but also the fierce attacks on Ahmedis and Christians in West Pakistan. The existing Blasphemy Law provided an easy solution for pushing minorities against the wall. What is most troublesome is that even in those days popular vigilantism was allowed to let go unchecked, rather it was patronised.

Aasia Bibi’s case is not the only shame Pakistan has had to suffer; we have many such cases to our credit, especially after 1992 when 295-C was further amended to make death the obligatory blasphemy sentence. A cursory look at the data amply shows a sudden surge in blasphemy cases post-1992.

Section 295 of the Pakistan penal code prohibits “injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class”. Section 295-A forbids “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”. Section 295-B puts a bar on “defiling, etc, of the Holy Quran”. Section 295-C forbids the “use of derogatory remarks, etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)”. There is an additional Section 298 that forbids “uttering words, etc, with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings”. Three more sections, Section 298-A (use of derogatory remarks, etc, in respect of holy personages), 298-B (misuse of epithets, descriptions and titles, etc, reserved for certain holy personages or places) and Section 298-C (person of the Ahmedi group, etc, calling himself a Muslim or preaching or propagating his faith) make a further mockery of every principle of justice and equality in a modern state.

The basic problem with these sections is that none of them qualifies and determines the variables like “deliberate” and “malicious” attempts of profanity/defamation. In the backdrop of this ambiguity, the absolute unwanted character of these legislative provisions has not only suppressed the religious minorities manifold, but also given rise to uncontrollable public vigilantism and violence in society.

According to a recent report by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a total of 964 people had been charged under the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan from 1986 to 2009. Out of these, NCJP says, 479 were Muslims, 340 Ahmedis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus, and 10 others. It may be noted that none of the blasphemy convicts have been executed so far, but 32 people charged with blasphemy have been extra-judicially killed. No serious enquiry into their murders has yet been seen. Many of these murders have either been committed in the custody of police or in front of authorities. But powerful religious groups manage to go scot-free in every murder, thereby strengthening the view that the life of minority citizens has no value and depends on their conduct under sheer suppression by a furious majority.

One is amazed at the audacity of the advocates of blasphemy laws, who think of themselves as vigilant guards of not only the Almighty, but religious personages as well, thereby creating an illusion that God and the Prophet (PBUH) might not be able to deal with the blasphemer and would need the help of Tehrik-e-Khatam-e-Nabuwat and the like. In my view, they themselves are the biggest blasphemers.

It needs to be strongly voiced in every public sphere today that Pakistan, with a majority Muslim population, does not need blasphemy laws. The presence of these laws hints at Muslim insecurity as well of lack of confidence in our own selves. Let us not make laws for the already powerful majority. A blasphemy law without a strong blasphemy libel law is merely a tool of suppression. It is not 295-C that is the problem, it is the way we have written our statute and the way we are shaping our worldview that has become the problem. Root it out before it roots us out. Pakistan cannot afford any more shame.

The writer is a rights activist and independent blogger. She can be reached at marvi@marvisirmed.com

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