Monday, January 31, 2011

International community must intervene for the release of 85 Ahmadi refugees mistreated in Thailand

Asian Human Rights Commission — Statement
PAKISTAN/THAILAND: International community must intervene for the release of 85 Ahmadi refugees mistreated in Thailand
January 31, 2011

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
PAKISTAN/THAILAND: International community must intervene for the release of 85 Ahmadi refugees mistreated in Thailand

A group of 85 persons have been in detention in Bangkok since December 14, 2010 despite the fact that they are already registered as asylum seekers with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangkok. Of the 85 persons, 17 of them have reportedly had their applications accepted and have been granted refugee status. The group includes 38 women and girls, among whom there is at least one pregnant woman. It also includes at least 38 children, including 26 aged under 10 years. There is also a number of babies and elderly one of whom is 60 and is suffering high blood pressure and another person with a heart condition.…

The group belongs to the Ahmadiya community who fled from Pakistan to take shelter in Bangkok, Thailand, after undergoing continuous persecution and killings, particularly after the attacks of Muslim extremists on their two Mosques in May 2010 in which more than 100 persons were killed. They left their country to register as refugees with the UNHCR and seek asylum.

Sadly instead of the compassion and humanitarian assistance they urgently need they have instead suffered serious violations of their human rights. This may be seen in the treatment of those in the detention centre. The hygiene and sanitation conditions are appalling. Medical and nutrition facilities are almost non-existent. The detainees are being fed by the local Thai community and the sick children have little medical care. Women have been assaulted and the one who was pregnant was taken to hospital for delivery in handcuffs and heavy chains and kept in such restraint throughout her delivery. On return to the detention centre she was kept in chains and locked up in a toilet for a whole night.

They were all genuine refugees as defined in the UNHCR 1951 convention. They also had the right to flee to another country under article 14 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights. On registration they were all issued with a protection certificate as a proof of identity for the Thai Government to allow them to remain in the country until their asylum application was determined. However, in total disregard of the UNHCR convention and the international Code of Conduct, the Thai Police raided the lodgings of the refugees and arrested them, heavily fining them for overstaying in the country. Following this they were placed in a detention centre indefinitely.

It is extremely perturbing that the Thai government took this action against the members of a law abiding peaceful community who had fled from Pakistan where they were constantly being prosecuted under the blasphemy laws, the mandatory punishment for which is death.

All those arrested possessed protection certificates issued by the UNHCR which were supposed to be honoured by the Thai Government, even if it is not a signatory to the UNHCR 1951 convention. It is a situation that needs to be taken up seriously with the Thai government by the world community. How can the Thai Government, as a full member of the UN and the current president of the UNHRC, fail to cooperate with, support and honour the work of a UN organisation it has allowed to operate from its country.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is appalled by this situation urges the chairperson of United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the Swedish Parliament and the European Union to raise the issue with the Government of Thailand and take appropriate action for the immediate release and care of the detainees in Bangkok.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

FPI Thugs Hound Ahmadiyah in South Sulawesi

Jakarta Globe, Indonesia
FPI Thugs Hound Ahmadiyah in South Sulawesi
Rahmat | January 31, 2010

Members of the Ahmadiyah community in Makassar, including 36 women and children, being forcibly evacuated from their provincial office by police on Saturday. (Antara Photo/Yusran Uccang)
Members of the Ahmadiyah community in Makassar, including 36 women and children, being forcibly evacuated from their provincial office by police on Saturday. (Antara Photo/Yusran Uccang)
Makassar. Dozens of members of the Ahmadiyah sect were forcibly moved by police on Saturday after Muslim hard-liners blockaded their provincial office in South Sulawesi’s capital.

The Ahmadiyah center had since Friday been the subject of demonstrations by members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who demanded that the sect disband within 24 hours or risk the group’s wrath.

The protest came as Ahmadiyah members were holding an annual prayer gathering called Jalzah Salanah.

After hours of protests on Friday, the mob returned on Saturday evening, led by local FPI head Habib Reza, and repeated their demands for the Ahmadiyah to disband, calling members of the minority Islamic sect kafir (nonbelievers) and deviants.

They also attempted to break into the center but were held back by a 100-strong riot squad sent to the scene by the Makassar Police.

Fearing the protest would turn violent, South Sulawesi Police Chief Insp. Gen. Johny Waenal Usman ordered his officers to evacuate the Ahmadis sheltered inside the center.

However, the Ahmadis refused to leave and barricaded the doors from the inside, prompting extensive negotiations.

Finally, at 10 p.m., the group of four men, 25 women and 11 infants agreed to be bused back to their homes in police vans.

The FPI mob, however, demanded to be let inside to ensure no one was hiding in the center, which the police consented to.

Once inside, Habib and several of his followers seized items including accounts ledgers, miniDV video tapes and compact discs. They also tore down a signboard that read “ Jamaah Ahmadiyah ” (“Ahmadiyah Congregation”) — all without police intervention.

The FPI’s vigilantism and the police’s perceived complicity were lambasted by religious freedom advocates.

Qasim Mathar, a commissioner with the provincial branch of the Interreligious Communication Forum (FKUB), called the acts regrettable.

“The police failed to protect citizens of this country,” he said. “This is unacceptable because it now gives certain groups the notion that they hold sway over the police. The police should have gotten tough and ordered the FPI to leave the scene.”

Qasim also took the FPI to task for “always committing violence against humanity.”

He said the group’s intimidation of others to follow its extreme religious interpretations was in truth forbidden and would only sully the image of Islam.

The FPI has previously said that its demands for the Ahmadiyah to disband are based on a 2005 edict issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and a 2008 joint ministerial decree that deems Ahmadiyah a deviant Islamic sect and restricts its religious activities.

Mainstream Muslims reject the Ahmadis’ belief that the sect’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet. Mirza established the Ahmadiyah movement in Qadian, northern India, in 1889.

Qasim said the MUI’s rulings were not legally binding, while the joint ministerial decree could not be used as a basis to disband the Ahmadiyah.

“Even if it was signed by 10 ministers, it would still not give anyone the legal standing to do this,” said Qasim, who is also the director of postgraduate programs at Makassar’s Islamic State University.

“To dissolve an organization, there are certain procedures to follow.”

On Sunday, a day after the forced evacuation, the Ahmadiyah center appeared empty, while its ground-floor office and second-floor mosque were in a state of disorder.

According to Ismail Hasani, from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, there were about 50 recorded cases of violence or intimidation against the Ahmadiyah community last year.

Copyright 2010 The Jakarta Globe

Don’t dare touch blasphemy law

The daily Nation, Pakistan
 Monday, January 31, 2011
Don’t dare touch blasphemy law
Published January 31, 2011

Don't dare touch blasphemy law - TNRM Rally in Lahore
LAHORE — Leaders of religious parties from all schools of thought, joined by the bigwigs of PML-N, PML-Q, PML-Zia and PTI, at a mammoth rally in the provincial metropolis on The Mall on Sunday vowed to render any sacrifice for protecting the blasphemy law, saying that no Muslim would compromise on the honour of Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Thousands of people participated in the rally organised by Tuhaffaz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz (TNRM) from Nasir Bagh to the Faisal Chowk where the top leadership of the mainstream political and religious parties addressed highly-charged participants. The participants were carrying flags of different religious parties, placards and banners inscribed with writings in favour of blasphemy law and against Pope Benedict, the US and European Parliament.

Highly-charged participants continued waving flags inscribed with Kalima Tayyaba throughout the proceedings of the rally. They were also beatings effigies of Pope Benedict, Sherry Rehman, Fauzia Wahab, Shahbaz Bhatti and Aasia Bibi with sticks.

The demonstrators chanted slogans ‘Mumtaz Qadri Ko Raha Karo, Gustakh-e-Rasool Ki Saza Sar Tun Se Judda, Ghulami-e-Rasool Main Maut Be Qabool Hai’.

Law enforcement agencies made unprecedented security arrangements to avoid any untoward happening during the mammoth rally. The Police closed down The Mall, from Nasir Bagh to the Governor’s House, for traffic a couple of hours before the start of the rally. Though it was weekend holiday, massive traffic jams were witnessed on the adjoining arteries due to closure of The Mall. The Police allowed entry to the participants after thorough search and that too only from Masjad-e-Shuhada and Nasir Bagh. Besides policemen in uniform, plain-clothed men were also deputed to keep a close eye on the participants. Trained shooters were also deputed on almost all multi storey buildings on both sides of the Mall, from Nasir Bagh to Faisal Chowk.

Addressing the rally, JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman urged the religious parties to continue maintaining unity in their ranks and make concerted and serious efforts for protecting blasphemy law.

Referring to the ongoing Tuhaffaz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Tehreek, he said the flood of people would not stop before reaching the destination of protecting the blasphemy law. He said the Tehreek would be further strengthened and a big rally would be organised in Peshawar on February 20.

He declared that demonstrations would be held on every Friday till February 20. He said at the moment, the nation only had one-point agenda of protecting Namoos-e-Risalat.

“Unemployment, price hike, loadshedding and lawlessness have made the life of common man miserable. But the people have shown more concerns on Namoos-e-Risalat than all other issues”, the JUI-F Chief said, adding, the people would never allow the rulers to make any amendment in the blasphemy law. He urged the rulers to take a clear stance on blasphemy law instead of misguiding the nation by giving vague clarifications.

Referring to the participation of such a huge number of people in the rally, he said the nation had conveyed a strong message to Pope Benedict, the US and European Parliament. He said the people had made it clear that they would not let the present regime to implement the US agenda in the country.

“They (western countries) made attempts to damage Islamic values and culture, imposed ban on construction of minarets, published blasphemous caricatures of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and subjected Muslims to inhuman treatment,” he regretted.

Referring to the fresh upsurge in Arab countries, Fazl stated that the US would fail to save its puppets and the same would happen in Pakistan. He said the people would have to decide whether they accepted slavery of Allah and His Prophet (PBUH) or that of the US’ like our rulers.

Referring to the incident of killing of three people by US national in Lahore, he warned the rulers against setting culprit Raymond Davis free without judicial trial. He said the people would take the law into their hands if rulers adopted any illegal course to free the US diplomat. He counselled Governor Latif Khosa to visit jail to meet Mumtaz Qadri.

“Salmaan Taseer met Asia Bibi in the jail. Khosa should visit the jail to meet Mumtaz Qadri,” he said, adding, Khosa was in the Governor House only due to Mumtaz Qadri.

Ameer Jama’at-e-Islami Syed Munawar Hasan said the movement for protecting Namoos-e-Risalat and free the country from US slavery would be further reinforced and taken to its logical ending. He said the Muslim World was facing a wave of revolution and the Pakistani rulers could not escape this for a longer period. He said the world had changed after 9/11 and all should realise this reality.

“The US is implementing its agenda in the wake of change after 9/11. She wants to damage Islamic values and culture, change law and revise syllabus in Islamic countries and snub voices from mosques,” he stated, adding that the Muslims should realise and stand to fight the war of civilisations. He said that the US and western countries were hatching conspiracies to take the Muslims away from their religion.

The JI Ameer further said the nation accepted the challenge against the US and her agents.

Warning the present rulers of dire consequences, he said that they (rulers) and the assemblies would cease to exist if attempts were made to amend the blasphemy law.

He said it was only due to the cowardice of the rulers that the Americans were killing innocent Pakistanis on streets. He said there had been terrorist activities in the Punjab capital in the past when vehicles carrying arms were recovered from the Americans but they were later released. It was for the President, the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister to explain the whereabouts of those Americans, he added.

Convener TNRM Sahibzada Abual Khair Zubair said the rulers were not fulfilling demands and trying to keep people away from the movement by creating confusions. He urged the political parties having representation in the parliament to take up the issue at the highest platform. He congratulated the participants for fulfilling their commitment to protect Namoos-e-Risalat.

Ameer Jama’at-ud-Dawa Hafiz Muhammad Saeed urged the rulers to work for an international legislation to curb desecration of Prophets all over the world. He said the rulers who had taken oath on the Holy Quran should decide to sever diplomatic relations with the countries where blasphemous caricatures had been published. He said Pope Benedict’s demand for repealing the blasphemy laws was aimed at fanning lawlessness and anarchy in the country.

JUI leader Abdul Ghafoor Haidri said the rulers were paying no heed to the protests by the nation for the last couple of months. He said the TNRM earlier made four demands - dissolution of committee headed by Shahbaz Bhatti, withdrawal of bill submitted by Sherry Rehman, action against Salmaan Taseer for violating his oath and uttering against the law of land and statement of Prime Minister on the floor of the National Assembly that blasphemy law would not be amended. He said delay on the part of the government led to the killing of Salmaan Taseer. He urged the rulers to fulfil demands to avert any future eventuality.

Allama Sajid Naqvi said the government was not taking clear stance on blasphemy law only due to the US pressure. He stressed upon continuing the struggle to protect blasphemy law. He said no one could be allowed to commit blasphemy.

Abdul Qadir Ropri urged the rulers to withdraw the bill presented by Sherry Rehman to stop another Mumtaz Qadri from coming into action. He said efforts would be made for freeing Mumtaz Qadri.

Ashraf Jalali said the nation had decided to punish blasphemers. He said Mumtaz Qadri had fulfilled his commitment for Hurmat-e-Rasool by killing Salmaan Taseer and he should be freed.

Addressing the rally, Senator Sajid Mir said the nation had recorded a strong protest against attacks on blasphemy law. He said the blasphemer deserved only one punishment and that was death. He said people from all schools of thought had consensus on blasphemy law.

Vowing to protect Namoos-e-Risalat, central leader PML-Q Ch Pervaiz Elahi said his party would be the first to quit the assembly if it dared to make any attempt to amend the blasphemy law.

“We have not adopted double standards like the rulers and our children and assets are of no values before Namoos-e-Risalat. Overwhelming participation in today’s rally proves that the nation is united to protect Namoos-e-Risalat. No amendment in blasphemy law is acceptable as Muslims value Namoos-e-Risalat more than their lives, children and assets,” he said, adding that his party would leave no stone unturned to protect the blasphemy law inside and outside the parliament.

Ilyas Ghuman termed Javaid Ghamdi an accursed and outcast but no speaker responded to his remarks.

PML-Zia Chief Ejazul Haq said a long march should be launched after giving a deadline to the government.

PML-N leader Kh Saad Rafiq said the PML-N had clear stance on blasphemy law.

“Blasphemy law should not be amended. Efforts should also be made to stop wrong use of blasphemy law,” he said.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Vice-President Ijaz Chaudhry pledged that his party would not allow any change in the law. He demanded public hanging of Raymond Davis, the US citizen who shot dead three Pakistanis on Thursday.

Secular politicians jump on blasphemy bandwagon

Express Tribune, Pakistan
Secular politicians jump on blasphemy bandwagon
Rana Tanveer
January 31, 2011
At the Tehrik-i-Namoos Risalat rally held on The Mall yesterday, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam's Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi shares a private moment with Maulana Ghafoor Haideri. PHOTO: EXPRESS/WASEEM NIAZ
At the Tehrik-i-Namoos Risalat rally held on The Mall yesterday, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi shares a private moment with Maulana Ghafoor Haideri. PHOTO: EXPRESS/WASEEM NIAZ
LAHORE: The Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam will quit the National Assembly if it amends the blasphemy laws, said party leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi at a Tehrik-i-Namoos-i-Risalat rally here on Sunday.

“We curse the assembly that would dare to amend the anti-blasphemy laws,” Elahi said. “Our party would be the first to quit such an assembly.”

The former chief minister added that he and his party colleagues were deeply committed to the cause. “Our children and our worldly belongings are of no consequence in the defence of Namoos-i-Risalat,” he said.

Elahi was one of several political leaders from non-religious parties to attend the Tehrik-i-Namoos-i-Risalat rally. Analysts say that these politicians are trying to gain religious sympathies and to cash in on anti-government feeling following the assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer.

Apart from pressing their own credentials in protecting the sanctity of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), the speakers railed against Raymond Davis, the American consulate employee currently in police custody for the killing of two Pakistanis. They told the government that he must be treated “according to the law” and not be handed over to the United States.

“The American gunned down two innocents but the government is trying to exonerate him,” said Maulana Fazlur Rehman, president of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F). “This matter must be left to the courts to decide. If there is an executive intervention to stop the courts from exercising their jurisdiction, no one will respect the courts.”

He said his party would not let “American agents” continue their rule in Pakistan. He said that there would be another rally in Peshawar on the same issue on February 20.

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-S chief Maulana Samiul Haq, who was introduced before his speech as a backer of the Taliban, told the rally that their primary demand of the government should not be that it pledge to leave the blasphemy laws alone, but that it pledge to remove all Americans and their supporters from the country. He urged the protesters to continue their “independence movement”, otherwise the killing of Pakistanis in drone attacks and firing incidents by foreigners would continue.

Syed Munawar Hasan, ameer of Jamaat-i-Islami, said that the law should “take its natural course” and penalise the accused American. He said some Americans had previously been arrested in the city with weapons but were let off.

Ijazul Haq, leader of the PML-Zia, said the blasphemy laws were not made by a dictator, his father Gen Ziaul Haq, but were “the laws of Allah” and as such could not be amended. He said the religious parties should give the government a deadline by which it would pledge not to amend the laws in any way, otherwise they should plan a long march towards Islamabad.

JUI-F leader Hafiz Hussain Ahmed referred to Davis as an employee of Blackwater, the American mercenaries. “During interrogation he confessed that he was on a special mission and was operating on instructions. The government should make public his mission and instructions and why he riddled our brothers with bullets.”

He claimed that the US government was offering visas in return for Davis’ release. He said if the government bowed to American demands and let him off, they would besiege the US embassy and the Presidency in Islamabad.

Also invited to the rally were Muhammad Waseem and Imran, brothers of Faheem and Faizan Haider, the two men that Davis killed. Repeated announcements were made from the stage to welcome them and express solidarity with them.

“The blood of the martyrs Faheem and Faizan will not go to waste. We will contest their case before the court. The government must stop its conspiracy to portray this as a case of self-defence, otherwise neither the city government nor the provincial government will be able to continue,” said an organiser in an announcement from the stage.

PML-Nawaz MNA Khawaja Saad Rafiq, representing his party chief, said the PML-N would not accept any foreign pressure for the release of Davis. He said “the American diplomat” had killed two people and one of his colleagues had crushed another under his vehicle, and they would be dealt with according to the law. He said US Ambassador Cameron Munter had telephoned Nawaz Sharif to ask for help to secure Davis’ release, but Sharif had refused. He also led the crowd in shouting the slogan: “Amrika ka jo yaar hay, ghaddar hay ghaddar hay” [Whoever is America’s friend is a traitor].

Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan general secretary Qari Zawar Bahadur said that the government should close the US embassy in Islamabad in protest at the incident. He said all “Blackwater operatives” must be forced out of Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2011.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Raging FPI Mob Disrupts Annual Ahmadiyah Prayers in Makassar

Jakarta Globe, Indonesia
Raging FPI Mob Disrupts Annual Ahmadiyah Prayers in Makassar
Rahmat | January 29, 2010

Makassar. Dozens of protesters from the Islamic Defenders Front surrounded an Ahmadiyah center in Makassar on Friday, demanding that the sect disband.

Clad in white, members of hard-line group, also known as the FPI, arrived on motorcycles and tried to storm the center where around 50 Ahmadis were holding an annual prayer gathering called Jalzah Salanah.

More than 50 armed officers from the Mamajang Police and Makassar Police prevented the demonstrators from entering the center.

The FPI, however, continued to chant and yell threats at the panicked Ahmadiyah members, who hid inside a mosque in the center on Jalan Antang and locked the gates.

“We give you 24 hours to disband and bring down that sign that reads Jamaah Ahmadiyah,” Habib Reza, leader of the FPI in South Sulawesi, shouted during Friday’s rally.

“If you don’t do this, we will come back on Saturday and forcibly tear it down,” he added.

Habib cited a 2005 edict issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and a 2008 state decree that deemed the Ahmadiyah a deviant Islamic sect and restricted its religious activities.

Mainstream Muslims reject the Ahmadis’ belief that sect founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is the last prophet, which runs counter to Islamic tenets reserving that distinction for the Prophet Muhammad. [**]

“All of you are atheists! Come back to Islam,” Habib said, as the crowd chanted “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great.”

“If you refuse to disband yourselves, you are welcome to enter any other religion. Do not use the name of Islam,” Habib said.

Police officers later attempted to ease tensions by offering to mediate between FPI and Ahmadiyah leaders.

However, Habib said he would only speak to the head of the South Sulawesi Ahmadiyah community if he agreed to “immediately disband” the sect that day.

After the protest, the hard-liners dispersed at around 6:30 p.m. and promised to return to the Ahmadiyah center the next day.

But after evening prayers, the protesters flocked to the site again and held speeches for another 20 minutes.

According to Ismail Hasani, from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, there were about 50 recorded cases of violence or intimidation against the Ahmadiyah last year.

The statement is erroneous. Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian did not make any such claim of being last prophet. Please visit for further info.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Punjab governor rules out change in blasphemy law

The News - Internet Edition
Friday, January 28, 2011,
Safar 23, 1432 A.H.
Punjab governor rules out change in blasphemy law

By our correspondent
Friday, January 28, 2011

LAHORE: Punjab Governor Sardar Latif Khosa has ruled out an amendment to the blasphemy law and asserted that no such plan is under consideration.

Talking to the media after meeting JI Ameer Syed Munawwar Hasan at Mansoorah on Thursday, Khosa dispelled the impression that the PPP was amending the blasphemy law. He said the government had no such plan and asserted that the PPP would defend the Namoos-e-Risalat till the last drop of blood.

He clarified that the fact-finding committee, constituted by President Asif Ali Zardari, was merely aimed at stopping the path of any bill by any member on the private member’s day in the National Assembly.

The governor said he had come to meet the JI leadership in pursuance of the PPP’s policy of national reconciliation, adding that he had also invited Syed Munawwar Hasan to visit the Governor’s House.

Munawwar Hasan demanded the government to take notice of statements by the US government and Pope Benedict XVI on granting pardon to Asia Bibi and the government must dispel ‘misunderstandings’ in this regard.

He also demanded expulsion of representative of the Vatican City from Pakistan. Senior Minister Raja Riaz Ahmed and PPP cabinet members from the Punjab, including Ashraf Khan Sohna, Farooq Yusuf Ghurki and JI leader Liaquat Baloch were also present.

Meanwhile, PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi has said that the party will participate in the January 30 rally as it does not use the blasphemy issue as a political tool like the PML-N and won’t let anyone change a word in the blasphemy laws.

According to a press statement on Thursday, he said the PML-Q was not afraid of fake cases being registered against its workers and leaders by the Punjab government. He said the PML-Q trusted the judiciary completely and had come out clean from all the politically-motivated cases.

He said the PML-Q would not refrain from taking any step to guard the sanctity of the blasphemy laws. He said the issue of blasphemy was close to the heart of not just the Pakistani people but the Muslim Ummah as a whole and the PML-Q understood the significance and sanctity of the blasphemy law.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rally Rages Outside Bogor Court Trial on Ahmadiyah Village Attack

Jakarta Globe, Indonesia
Rally Rages Outside Bogor Court Trial on Ahmadiyah Village Attack
Elisabeth Oktofani | January 27, 2011

Bogor. Over 1,000 Muslim hard-liners surrounded a district court in Bogor on Wednesday, demanding the immediate release of three youths standing trial for an attack on an Ahmadiyah community last year.

Dede Novi, 18, Aldi Afriansyah, 23, and Akbar Ramanda, 17, are accused of destroying property and inciting violence during an October riot in Cisalada village, according to indictment documents.

The three were said to be part of a mob that burned down houses, schools and a mosque at the Bogor village, home to 600 members of the Ahmadiyah, a minority Islamic sect deemed deviant by mainstream Muslims for their different beliefs on the Prophet Muhammad.

The crowds that came out in support of the defendants on Wednesday, however, slammed these accusations.

Though police had barred them from entering the courtroom, the protesters reportedly “became incensed” when the defendants’ lawyer told them about a witness who said Dede had set the At-Taufiq Mosque and an Ahmadiyah Koran on fire.

Ari Saputra, a resident in Cisalada, testified on Wednesday that Dede could have thrown a Molotov cocktail at the mosque.

“I cannot be sure that he really was the one who threw the Molotov cocktail, but I saw that he was part of the group,” Ari told the court, led by Judge Astriwati.

Dede, however, denied throwing the fire bomb, but admitted at the hearing that he was part of the group which set the village mosque on fire.

A second witness, Mubarik Ahmad, a Cisalada resident and an Ahmadi, said he saw the three defendants break into and torch the mosque.

“I saw them. They were among hundreds who came to our village that night and attacked. They were brutal,” Mubarik said. “They threw stones at the mosque, broke its windows and set it on fire. Others came on motorbikes and made noises with their horns.

“They burned and destroyed so much property in our village,” he added. “That evening, our only concern was how to stay alive.”

After being informed of Mubarik’s statements, the angry crowds outside the courtroom began to yell out that the witness was a liar.

Protesters also tried to attack Mubarik as he left the courtroom under tight police guard.

Amid Wednesday’s unrest, hundreds of security personnel were deployed to Cisalada and the Cibinong District Court, where the trial was held.

The three defendants are accused of violating the Criminal Code, particularly Article 406 on the destruction of property and Article 170 on assault.

Article 406 carries a maximum sentence of two years and eight months in jail, while Article 170 carries a punishment of up to five years and six months.

Agus Sulaiman, one of the protesters, said the people of Bogor would “never accept the presence of the Ahmadiyah.”

“What is worse is that they built an Ahmadiyah information center in our village,” said Agus, a resident of Ciampea subdistrict.

“If they don’t stop this, we will stop them. We will burn their properties,” he said. “They call themselves followers of Islam. This is what we cannot accept.”

Agus said many conservative Muslims in the area detested the sect for believing that Ahmadiyah founder Mirza Gulam Ahmad was the last prophet.

This runs counter to mainstream Islamic beliefs which reserve that distinction for the Prophet Muhammad.

Copyright 2010 The Jakarta Globe

Crowd bullies Ahmadi at trial, disrupts courtroom

Thu, 01/27/2011
11:02 AM
Crowd bullies Ahmadi at trial, disrupts courtroom
Hans David Tampubolon, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
An elderly man was harassed by a rowdy mob on Wednesday as he testified in court about the destruction the property of Ahmadiyah followers in Ciampea, Bogor.

Mubarik Ahmadari came to the Cibinong District Court in Bogor on Wednesday to testify about the attack against his fellow Ahmadiyah members in October.

The 70-year-old man was greeted by more than 1,000 anti-Ahmadiyah protesters. Members of the crowd claimed to be residents of Ciampea who came to support the alleged arsonists on trial: Dede Novi, Aldi and Akbar.

The protesters jammed the courtroom. Many had to stand outside. Throughout the trial, unruly protesters in the courtroom were heard yelling, demanding that the judges drop all charges against the suspects and that the government disband Ahmadiyah.

Despite the clamor, Mubarik remained calm and told the court a version of events that was vociferously rejected by onlookers. He seemed unfazed by the constant din of mockery and hate-filled comments directed at him.

However, even after giving his testimony, Mubarik found that his day was not over yet.

As Mubarik finished his testimony he went to exit the courtroom. Protesters blocked his path. Some stood at the doors. Others tried to grab him.

Police officers were there to protect the witness from what looked to be a potential savage beating at the angry rabble’s hands. After a brief scuffle, officers safely escorted Mubarik out of the courtroom.

Mubarik was one of four witnesses heard in Wednesday’s court session.

Around 20 people attacked Cisalada village in Ciampea in October, vandalizing and setting fire to the community’s mosque and the homes and vehicles of Ahmadiyah followers.

Hendardi, a human rights activist from the Setara Institute, said what happened to Mubarik was evidence that intolerance had become a dangerous disease in Indonesia.

“The fact that a man could be terrorized at a court of law is a horrific occurrence in the life of our nation,” Hendardi told The Jakarta Post over the telephone on Wednesday.

“This shows how the state is completely helpless in ensuring the basic human rights of its citizens,” he added.

Hendardi said that if the state continued to fail to impose strict punishment on violent fundamentalists, then violent acts, such as the those perpetrated on Mubarik and other Ahmadiyah followers, would continue.

Followers of Ahmadiyah have come under attack in recent years from Islamic hardliners who believe that the sect follows a heretical version Islam.

While the earliest recorded attacks against Ahmadis date to the early 1950s, it was not until 2005 that violence intensified dramatically.

In 2010 alone there were 10 recorded attacks against Ahmadis throughout the archipelago.

The government drew criticism from human rights activists for symbolically condoning violence against Ahmadis after Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said that it would be better if the Ahmadiyah sect was “disbanded”. Suryadharma is also the chairman of the United Development Party (PPP), an Islamic-based political party.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kidnapping for ransom a boon for militants

Daily Dawn, Pakistan
Kidnapping for ransom a boon for militants
From the Newspaper
January 26, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Jan 25: Kidnapping for ransom has always been a well-paying crime but the entry of militants has made this more profitable, which is why the incidence of the case is continuously rising.

Senior investigating officers of police claim that militants are involved in kidnapping cases in all corners of Pakistan.

“They are directly involved in kidnapping in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, especially in Karachi, and Islamabad,” one police officer tells Dawn.

Senior police officers say that money is the main reason for the increased incidence of kidnapping though the militants have also started using it as a tactic to pressure law enforcement and intelligence agencies; in a number of cases they refuse to accept money in exchange for the hostage and ask for the release of their arrested accomplices.

“A third reason is also to spread fear,” says a senior policeman.

However, a new trend is the links the militants and the criminal gangs are forming with each other at different levels. These had first been established when kidnappings were carried out by the two groups together. By now it is routine practice for the kidnapping to be carried out by the local criminals of the area the hostage lives in either out of choice or because they have been asked to do so by militants.

In cases where the objective is to collect ransom, the local criminals continue to keep the hostage in their custody. The hostages are said to be kept in hideouts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Central Punjab.

“But at times, especially when the militants want to spread fear, the hostage is kept in their custody,” says a police officer, adding that the Tehrik-i-Taliban militants have an exclusive committee (Shura) which decides the fate of the victims – exchange for ransom, exchange for militants in state custody or spread fear.

With the entry of militants, religion also tends to play a role in the kidnappings from the act to the negotiations to the release. In some cases, militants have picked up hostages, assuming that they were Ahmedi or Shia. The later realisation that the victims were Sunni compelled the militants to accept a reduced ransom. Some years ago a businessman from Islamabad was kidnapped only to be released when he and his kidnappers were intercepted at a checkpost as they were exiting Islamabad.

During interrogations, the kidnappers revealed that they had kidnapped the businessman because they thought he was a Qadiani. A similar perception about a law enforcement personnel’s faith also led to him being kidnapped.

Dawn has learnt that in many cases, religio-political leaders or religious leaders have helped at the negotiation stage. In such cases, the police react according to the politicians, who negotiate with the militants over the ransom, they added.

For instance, even the negotiations over the release of a Polish engineer, Piotr (Peter) Stanczak, were carried out with the help of a religio-political leader. But as the militants demanded the release of their accomplices arrested in connection with suicide attacks in Islamabad, the two sides could reach no agreement. It was after this that the kidnappers killed the engineer.

In some cases, however, as a last resort, prisoners have been exchanged for hostages. This is what happened in the case of foreign engineers from an East Asian country.

As their captors refused to accept ransom money, the government had no choice but to release militants in exchange.

The ‘business’ has spread so far that separate groups of militants have been formed who ‘specialise’ in kidnappings – they select victims, collect information such as financial wherewithal, carry out the reconnaissance of the area. This information is passed on to the militants who then carry out the kidnapping themselves or pass it to other criminal gangs.

“In some kidnapping cases, the hostages’ families were even informed of their bank balances when the ransom was being negotiated,” an officer adds.

One such group is said to be headed by Mullah Sabir and Mullah Rahim which operates from South Waziristan.

Before they used to work independently but later they started kidnapping for ransom for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, said an official.

©2010 DAWN Media Group. All rights reserved

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rights group slams Pakistan for abuses

The daily Nation, Pakistan
 Thursday, January 25, 2011
Rights group slams Pakistan for abuses
Published January 25, 2011

NEW YORK — Pakistan came under sharp criticism for human rights abuses in 2010 while India escaped any direct rebuke for its atrocities in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country in a new report released by a prominent rights group on Monday.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the Taliban and other religious extremists in Pakistan increased their deadly attacks against civilians and public spaces during the past year, while the Pakistani government response was marred by serious human rights violations.

In doing so, HRW placed Pakistan on the list of most abusive countries. Others on the list are: Belarus, China, Colombia, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. The only negative reference to India came indirectly when the report chided democracies around the world are ignoring abuses by repressive regimes and opting for improved relations rather than condemning rights violations and curtailing aid. It said President Barack Obama’s “famed eloquence … has sometimes eluded him when it comes to defending human rights.” This was especially noticeable in contacts with countries that are important to US interests, such as China, India, Indonesia, Egypt and Bahrain, the group said.

The 649-page 2011 report, Human Rights Watch’s 21st annual review of human rights practices around the globe, summarises major human rights trends in more than 90 states and territories worldwide. Suicide bombings, armed attacks, and killings by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates targeted nearly every sector of Pakistani society, including religious minorities and journalists, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

The country’s largest cities bore the brunt of these attacks. Two attacks in late May 2010 against the Ahmadiyya religious community in Lahore killed nearly 100 people, it noted. On July 1, a suicide bombing at Data Darbar, shrine of the patron saint of Lahore, killed 40 people. Militant attacks targeting civilians in conflict areas amounted to war crimes.

“Taliban atrocities aren’t happening in a vacuum, but instead often with covert support from elements in the intelligence services and law enforcement agencies,” Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The Pakistan government needs to use all lawful means to hold those responsible to account.” The government’s response to militant attacks instead has routinely violated basic rights, Human Rights Watch said. Thousands of Taliban suspects have been held in unlawful military detention without charge, many of them in two military facilities in Swat, one in the Khyber agency of the tribal areas, and at least one more in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Altaf’s statement and remembering the 1953 martial law in Punjab

The News - Internet Edition
Tuesday, January 25, 2011,
Safar 20, 1432 A.H.
Top Story
Altaf’s statement and remembering the 1953 martial law in Punjab

By Sabir Shah
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

LAHORE: Apropos the fresh statement of MQM Chief Altaf Hussain that Martial Law should be imposed in Punjab to curb crimes and apprehend the criminals; annals of history reveal that the last time this province had come under military rule alone was in March 1953 when the then Governor General Ghulam Muhammad had handed over administration to Lt General Azam Khan to oversee the suppression of anti-Ahmadiyya violence.

Following increased violence against the Ahmadiyya Community and the ever-surging incidents of torture, murder attempts and arson, Governor General Ghulam Muhammad had to request the Army to intervene and quell the aggression.

This was the time when known criminals of Lahore were given a very tough time by General Azam Khan and all such elements were arrested and tried by speedy courts for their alleged involvement in the unlawful activities.

On March 6 1953, after a mosque and houses of Ahmedis were set ablaze in Rawalpindi by an unruly mob, Ghulam Muhammad finally ran out of patience and was left with no other option but to impose a Martial Law in Punjab on the same day to control the popular wave of civil disobedience.

Earlier in February 1953, a few Ahmedi preachers were murdered all over Punjab, their leaders were handcuffed and newspapers like “Daily Alfazal” and “Farooq” were banned for supporting this sect.

The 69-day-long army deployment in Punjab between March 6 and May 14 1953 also saw the Jama’at-e-Islami Chief Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi and then Secretary General of the Awami Muslim League Maulana Abdul Sattar Khan Niazi getting arrested and convicted to death for spearheading and inciting the riots, though the sentences of both these top religious clerics were subsequently commuted to life terms due to last-minute intervention of a few brother Islamic countries.

While Maulana Abdul Sattar Niazi was given death by a military court on May 7 1953, Maudoodi was convicted four days later on May 11 of the same year for writing ‘provocative’ material against the Ahmedis.

Both Maudoodi and Niazi had threatened to take direct action after February 22 1953, if their demand to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslim were not met by Governor General Ghulam Muhammad’s regime.

Although General Azam Khan (1908-1994) had served as the Governor of East Pakistan during Field Martial Ayub Khan’s regime, he is also known to have strongly supported the presidential candidacy of Fatima Jinnah, instead of siding with his boss in army.

The Lahore riots of 1953 had also created political difficulties for Governor General Ghulam Muhammad, as he had to dismiss the then Punjab Chief Minister Mian Mumtaz Daultana in March 1953 on charges of patronizing the religious elements leading the anti-Ahmadi violence.

A month later on April 17 of the same year, Ghulam Muhammad dissolved the cabinet of country’s first Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin and had sent the premier packing. Pakistan’s then Ambassador to the United States Mohammad Ali Bogra was asked to replace Khwaja Nazimuddin as the next prime minister.

Violations of Religious Freedom in Indonesia Rise in 2010

Jakarta Globe, Indonesia
Violations of Religious Freedom in Indonesia Rise in 2010
Ulma Haryanto | January 25, 2011

Youths chanting in front of a burning house belonging to an Ahmadiyah follower in Ciampea, West Java, late last year. A total of 216 cases of violations of religious freedom across Indonesia were recorded in 2010, up just a little from the 200 cases recorded in 2009, a human rights watchdog says. (Reuters Photo)
Youths chanting in front of a burning house belonging to an Ahmadiyah follower in Ciampea, West Java, late last year. A total of 216 cases of violations of religious freedom across Indonesia were recorded in 2010, up just a little from the 200 cases recorded in 2009, a human rights watchdog says. (Reuters Photo)
Jakarta. A total of 216 cases of violations of religious freedom across Indonesia were recorded last year, up just a little from the 200 cases recorded in 2009, according to a human rights watchdog.

In a media briefing on Monday, the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy pointed out that West Java, with 91 cases registered last year alone, continued to top the list as the region where the highest number of violations occurred.

East Java stands at second place with 28 violations last year, followed by Jakarta with 16 cases.

Setara’s Ismail Hasani said the highest number of violations in all of last year — 75 — were targeted at Christian congregations, followed by 50 violations aimed at the Ahmadiyah, a minority Muslim sect.

“A total of 59 houses of worship were attacked or suffered security disturbances last year. Of those 59, 43 were Christian houses of worship and 9 were Ahmadiyah mosques,” Ismail told reporters.

The number of incidents, he said, peaked in August 2010.

“Even though we did not detect any significant trigger for August last year, we believe the number of incidents coincides with statements and speeches that condone attacks — a violation in itself — by state figures and leaders,” Ismail continued.

Those behind the violations were divided by Setara into two categories: government and non-government. The police, the institute said, with 56 cases topped the list of those responsible for or condoning violations, followed by district heads in 19 and subdistrict chiefs in 17 cases.

“The Indonesian Council of Ulema [MUI] took second place among the non-state actors with 22 violations, followed by the Islamic Defenders Front [FPI] with 17,” Ismail added.

Setara chairman and founder Hendardi called on the state to guarantee the rights of the people and to eradicate violence and religious intolerance.

“This has been the fourth year we published a report like this. We see it as a tool to demand from the state, over and over again, to protect religious freedom, which is the people’s constitutional right,” he said.

Setara deputy chairman Bonar Tigor Naipospos added that the central government had only responded to two incidents after they escalated into physical conflict: the Ahmadiyah attack in Kuningan, West Java, in July and the attack of leaders of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi in September.

“The central government only reacted to situations that had already gotten out of hand — smaller incidents were left for regional governments to deal with, which do not have the capacity to solve such problems,” Bonar said. He added that 40 percent of the cases in 2010 were conflicts that had been going on for years.

Contrary to recent statements made by Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, Nasaruddin Umar, director general for Islamic Affairs at the ministry, said there had been religious conflicts in 2010, although he said these were part of local political struggles.

“Causes or issues presented in religious terms always attract many followers,” he said.

Copyright 2010 The Jakarta Globe

Indonesia Clerics Alleging Ahmadiyah Ties Protest Candidates

Jakarta Globe, Indonesia
Indonesia Clerics Alleging Ahmadiyah Ties Protest Candidates
Yuli Krisna | January 25, 2011

Bandung. In yet another blow to the beleaguered Ahmadiyah community, a group of Islamic clerics in Garut, West Java, have formally objected to the three candidates for district secretary on the grounds that they may be from the sect.

In a hearing at the district legislature on Monday, dozens of clerics and community elders said the three men nominated for the post by the district head — Iman Ali Rahman, Hermanto and Indriana Soemarto — were “suspected of following Ahmadiyah teachings.”

Ahmad Hidayat, one of the clerics, said this was grounds for the district head to “repeal all the nominations made earlier.”

Legislative speaker Irfan Suryanagara pointed out that there were no provisions forbidding members of the minority Islamic sect from seeking office.

“All citizens are guaranteed equal legal standing. That’s the law,” he said.

However, he conceded to demands that candidates be questioned about their backgrounds.

“If they’re believed to be from a certain element of society, we have to look into whether the allegations are true,” he said.

District head Aceng Fikri labeled the allegations by the clerics questionable, but he declined to comment on whether he would nominate an Ahmadiyah follower to his administration.

“I’m not going to comment on it because I’m bound to be accused of discrimination,” he told the Jakarta Globe.

He stressed none of the candidates were Ahmadis.

“They’ve been accused of being Ahmadiyah, but there’s nothing to indicate this, so we could be dealing with a baseless accusation here,” he said.

He added that one of the candidates, Iman, had even gone so far as to sign a sworn statement before a group of clerics to deny he was an Ahmadi.

He said all three candidates had met the requirements to become district secretary, a post second in command to the district head and his deputy.

“For that reason, I refuse to withdraw their candidacies and will stick with my decision,” Aceng said.

Members of the Ahmadiyah continue to face acts of discrimination and outright oppression by mainstream and hard-line Muslims across much of the country, including West Java.

In October, a mob of 200 looted homes and burned down a mosque and school belonging to an Ahmadiyah community in Bogor.

Similar attacks have also occurred recently in Cianjur, Sukabumi, Garut, Tasikmalaya, Ciamis and Kuningan, while in West Nusa Tenggara, an Ahmadiyah community purged from its village in 2006 has been forced to live in a “temporary” shelter and denied permission to return home.

Governor Wants Lombok Tolerant, but Ahmadiyah-Free

Jakarta Globe, Indonesia
Governor Wants Lombok Tolerant, but Ahmadiyah-Free
Nivell Rayda | January 25, 2011

Senggigi beach on Indonesia's Lombok. The island's governor wants to turn Lombok into a top holiday destination, but only if the minority Ahmadiyah leave the island. (Reuters Photo)
Senggigi beach on Indonesia's Lombok. The island's governor wants to turn Lombok into a top holiday destination, but only if the minority Ahmadiyah leave the island. (Reuters Photo)
Lombok, Indonesia. West Nusa Tenggara’s governor dreams of turning Lombok into a top holiday destination, rich in culture and known for interreligious harmony — but only if a minority Muslim sect is out of the picture.

Zainul Majdi says that he did not see why the Ahmadiyah should be part of the island’s plans to follow in the footsteps of neighboring Bali, a noted tourist hotspot.

Ahmadis, Zainul said, would be better off moving out of the province entirely or agreeing to a proposal to relocate to a remote island in West Nusa Tenggara.

The governor said the sect — maligned by mainstream Muslims for believing that Ahmadiyah founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a prophet, in opposition to Islamic tenets — did not fit into his drive to ramp up Lombok’s tourist appeal.

Zainul, a politician from the conservative Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), said he planned to promote dozens of traditional festivals to draw in more visitors.

The main highlight, he says, is Perang Topat, or rice cake war, a festival observed by both Hindus and Muslims in Lombok.

It is celebrated after Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, at the Lingsar Temple, a Hindu shrine in West Lombok.

The governor said he was eager to promote the rice cake festival as an example of the province’s cultural diversity and religious tolerance.

However, such tolerance was called into question by some residents in Mataram, who said the Ahmadiyah members had suffered through mob attacks, the closure of their mosques or eviction from their homes.

“The relationship between Muslims and Hindus is harmonious. Conservative Muslims also live side by side with other Islamic communities which still conform to animistic beliefs. How can Muslims be so violent toward the Ahmadiyah?” said Gusti, a Hindu driver in Mataram.

But Zainul, who referred to the sect as “my Ahmadiyah brothers,” said the only solution to tensions was to “get them out of the province” or move them to the remote village of Teluk Sepi in southern Lombok.

“Ahmadiyah had never been a problem. It was only after they formed their own community, maintaining their exclusivity and proselytizing their faith did friction with surrounding areas occur,” he said.

Copyright 2010 The Jakarta Globe

Monday, January 24, 2011

Extremist Intimidation Chills Pakistan Secular Society

National Public Radio, USA
Extremist Intimidation Chills Pakistan Secular Society
by Julie McCarthy
 Listen to the Story or Download. 07:46

Pakistani police guards carry the coffin of the assassinated governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, during the funeral procession in Lahore on Jan. 5. - Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani police guards carry the coffin of the assassinated governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, during the funeral procession in Lahore on Jan. 5. - Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
January 24, 2011

In Pakistan, a battle has been joined by those who want a tolerant Islamic state against those who want a fundamentalist religious regime.

The killing in Pakistan earlier this month of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer has cheered the religious right while chilling secular Pakistanis and exposing deep fissures in the society.

The governor was gunned down in Islamabad by a bodyguard angered at his bid to relax the country’s blasphemy laws. The assassination of Taseer, an audacious advocate for modernism, revealed the conservative attitudes about Islam that are sweeping through Pakistan.

A Growing Rift

A growing and dangerous dichotomy is evident in the Old City of Lahore that teems with shop owners and vendors. Outdoor stalls sit cheek by jowl in the city of 6 million.

In the aftermath of the governor’s killing, Zafar Iqbol, 65, who owns a fabric shop in the Mehood Cloth Market, says he “fears for the future.”

“We feel utterly helpless,” he says. “The market here is under the dominion of elements who have affiliations with religious parties. They come along and they insist that we shut things down, and of course we’re afraid not to, so we do close things down and we lose our business.”

A few of the men who run the market traders association hoist themselves onto the counter of Iqbol’s stall and lean in to listen, causing the owner obvious discomfort.

Members of the Association to Protect the Dignity of the Holy Prophet, or Tahafuz-e-Namwoos Risalat, join the Sunni Itehad Council in a protest march to denounce the Pope. The Vatican called for the abolition of Pakistan's blasphemy laws after a Christian woman accused of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad was sentenced to death. - Julie McCarthy/NPR
Members of the Association to Protect the Dignity of the Holy Prophet, or Tahafuz-e-Namwoos Risalat, join the Sunni Itehad Council in a protest march to denounce the Pope. The Vatican called for the abolition of Pakistan's blasphemy laws after a Christian woman accused of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad was sentenced to death. - Julie McCarthy/NPR
While Iqbol mourns the loss of the governor, his unannounced visitors feel anything but sorrow. Mohammad Ilyas, the vice president of the traders association, says the slain governor maligned Islam when he said Pakistan’s strict laws on blasphemy had become a tool to oppress religious minorities.

“It was totally wrong on the part of the governor to say that the blasphemy laws of Pakistan should be changed. The governor not only criticized the law of the land, but he went out of his way to protect Asia Bibi,” a Christian woman who was sentenced to death last year on the charge of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad.

When asked whether Taseer deserved to die, Ilyas, 65, says, “Definitely, because he interfered with the religion of this country. If he hadn’t interfered, he would not have been killed.”

Making An Assassin A Hero

Banners draped in the streets of the Punjab capital, Lahore, call the governor’s confessed killer, Mumtaz Qadri, a hero. The 23-year-old police commando assigned to guard the governor said Taseer was an apostate for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

Evidence that fundamentalism is becoming mainstream was found in the young lawyers who showered the assassin with rose petals as he entered court in Islamabad one day after the shooting. It signaled that religious fundamentalism was not the purview of the poor Pakistani masses but reaches far into the educated class as well.

Demonstrations saluting Qadri have continued throughout the country, a disturbing signal for Washington, which is hoping for greater stability from its nuclear armed ally.

Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jahangir says each time democracy begins to take hold in Pakistan, the extreme right wages an offensive that is more lethal than the one before.

“And there is a reason behind it. They do not want a democratic dispensation here. It doesn’t suit them. They don’t figure in there. They get marginalized there. So the murder of the governor was a part of that larger plan as well,” she says.

Parliamentarian Sherry Rehman also is facing death threats for proposing amendments to the blasphemy law, as had the governor. Rehman says “sane” voices have been silenced.

Historian Mubarak Ali estimates that the religious right now makes up some 30 percent of Pakistani society and says radical clerics have been emboldened by the mainstream parties, including President Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan Peoples Party. - Julie McCarthy/NPR
Historian Mubarak Ali estimates that the religious right now makes up some 30 percent of Pakistani society and says radical clerics have been emboldened by the mainstream parties, including President Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan Peoples Party. - Julie McCarthy/NPR
“And none of them are seeking to offend sensibilities of any religion, let alone Muslims themselves,” she says.

Rehman’s Pakistan Peoples Party, the party of President Asif Ali Zardari, has disowned any reform of the blasphemy laws and has been conspicuously quiet amid the uproar. Historian Mubarak Ali says all of the mainstream parties have emboldened the religious right by kowtowing to the radical clerics who are roiling the streets.

“Instead of fighting, instead of challenging — they just surrendered,” he says. “And now these clerics, they are so powerful, they are so bold, that now they are threatening everybody.”

‘No Other Alternative’

Farid Piracha, the deputy secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s largest religious party, says “if there [were] justice in Pakistan,” there would be no eruptions on the streets.

The party’s Islamic revivalist message has pushed Pakistan toward conservatism while preaching the dangers of a perceived U.S. war on Islam.

The radical right is gathering strength in Pakistan conflating religious dogma with the policies of the United States. Piracha says they cannot be separated.

“There is damage of more than 30,000 innocent people during the so-called war against terrorism. So, one cannot believe that America is not against Islam. America’s total military actions are against the Muslim states,” he says.

U.S. drone attacks and the war in Afghanistan have provoked a popular outcry among Pakistanis, which radical Islamists exploit. Historian Ali says extremists have expanded their constituency by emerging as the only alternative voice in a country where millions feel under threat by everything from the faltering economy to the lack of security.

“They say that dictatorships didn’t give them anything. Democracy didn’t give them anything,” he says. “So, they are exhorted that Islam is going to solve their problems, give them dignity in the society and rule of law. Because there is no other alternative, they believed it.”

The extremists also benefit from the legacy of Zia al Haq, the 1980s dictator who undertook the Islamization of the schools that indoctrinated a generation in religious orthodoxy.

“As a result of this education,” Ali says, “they have very closed minds.”

Speaking Out

As religious passions stifle liberal voices, one group refuses to be repressed — the Ajoka Theater.

Ajoka Theater founder Madeeha Guahar on stage following a performance in Islamabad of a play about blasphemy. In the antisecular atmosphere following the Punjab governor's assassination, the staging of the play is a rare example of secular society standing up against the intimidation of religious extremists. - Julie McCarthy/NPR
Ajoka Theater founder Madeeha Guahar on stage following a performance in Islamabad of a play about blasphemy. In the antisecular atmosphere following the Punjab governor’s assassination, the staging of the play is a rare example of secular society standing up against the intimidation of religious extremists. - Julie McCarthy/NPR
It’s been in the forefront of the struggle for a secular democratic Pakistan. This past week, it staged a disturbing production about blasphemy and dedicated it to the slain governor.

It’s a study in brutality, with white-robed clerics in league with black-clad followers haranguing their victims as they hang them.

“That this play was shown in Islamabad is an act of courage,” says audience member Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist and essayist. “This is a country that stands at the very verge of religious fascism.”

Hoodbhoy says he fears for the theater company.

“I don’t know when they might be targeted,” he says.

The theater founder and director of the play, Madeeha Guahar, says Ajoka will continue performing and take the risk.

Hounded Indonesia Muslim Group Still in Dire Straits

Jakarta Globe, Indonesia
Hounded Indonesia Muslim Group Still in Dire Straits
Nicholaus Prasetya | January 24, 2011

Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara. Last year, Faizah used the money she had painstakingly saved over the course of four years to rebuild the home that had been destroyed in a 2006 mob attack.

Last year, though, the village of this mother of four came under attack again, with Faizah and her neighbors being forced to flee.

A former resident of Gegerung village in West Lombok, Faizah is a member of Ahmadiyah, a minority Muslim sect deemed deviant and constantly harassed by mainstream Muslim groups.

On Nov. 26, more than a hundred people ransacked the village, with police standing by idly.

Speaking to the Jakarta Globe at a temporary shelter that houses around 500 displaced Ahmadiyah members in Mataram, the provincial capital, Faizah said that although her home was spared in the November incident, people did loot her possessions — and continue to do so.

“I am too afraid to return home,” she said. “I have been told there are still people taking away tiles from the roof of my home, stealing the wooden beams, taking everything I have. I believe all that’s left is just the skeleton of my former home.”

November’s violence was the third attack against the Ahmadiyah group in West Nusa Tenggara in recent years. Like most residents of Gegerung, Faizah and her family moved there from Selong village in neighboring East Lombok, where hard-line groups reduced their houses to rubble. Nobody was prosecuted for the attack, and the local administration did not compensate for losses.

In fact, amid intensifying calls to ban the sect, the central government issued a decree in 2008 that prohibited its members from practicing their faith in public and from spreading its beliefs.

“Before the [2006] incident, we lived harmoniously with [non-Ahmadiyah] residents,” Faizah said. “We prayed at the same mosques. They visited us like neighbors do. Some of them borrowed soap and kitchen utensils. There was never any tension.”

She accused firebrand clerics for fueling hatred toward the Ahmadiyah and intolerance in the district.

“There was this one man, Syafii. He used to borrow money from us. We were very nice to him and treated him like a family member. But when the attackers came, he joined them in destroying our homes,” Faizah said. “I guess the provocateurs brought out the worst in him.”

The only protection the government offered the displaced Ahmadiyah members was to relocate them to the Transito building complex in Mataram — an abandoned facility once used to temporarily house migrant workers.

More than 500 homeless Ahmadiyah members were cramped into the 600-square-meter facility. Four years on, the government seems to have forgotten about the displaced as they now live with hardly any running water, proper sanitation, electricity or financial assistance.

What was supposed to be a temporary solution seems to have become permanent. There have been no signs from the local administration that the Ahmadiyah members will be allowed to return to Gegerung.

Zubaidah, 52, another displaced Ahmadiyah member, agreed to show the 3-meter by 4-meter booth she shares with her two daughters, their husbands and her six grandchildren. The structure is in the corner of one of the 150-square-meter rooms in the run-down facility.

Up to 10 families occupy a single room, each with its own booth, partitioned off with bamboo poles, cardboard and pieces of fabric.

With such limited space, children are forced to play in the small hallways and toddlers are left to lie on the dirty tile floor as their mothers prepare meals in a small, makeshift kitchen outside.

Each family has its own kitchenette constructed of bamboo and a corrugated iron roof. The kitchenettes are dark, blackened by the fumes of kerosene stoves. Some poorer families cook with wood.

“Five years we have been neglected. In five years, government officials have never set foot in this place to check our condition or to listen to our problems,” Zubaidah said.

“Just once, in 2009, did they come — to erect a booth for the legislative and presidential elections, so that those of us who still had valid ID cards could vote.”

Those whose ID cards have expired have great difficulties in getting them extended because of their disputed residency status.

The grim conditions at the shelter have left some families willing to return to their village, despite knowing that police and the government have refused to vouch for their safety.

“The conditions at the shelter are unbearable to some, so many have reluctantly ventured to other cities and provinces,” said Jauzi Djafar, spokesman of the West Nusa Tenggara chapter of the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI).

Jauzi added that the local government has refused to grant the displaced Ahmadiyah members ID cards, even though such cards are compulsory in Indonesia.

Without an ID card it is almost impossible for the Ahmadiyah members — having lost virtually all their belongings in the attacks — to apply for jobs, obtain a driver’s license or a passport for the hajj pilgrimage.

“Mataram refuses to give the displaced ID cards because officially they are residents of West Lombok district,” Jauzi said. “But the district argues they should apply for Mataram residency because they have been living here for years.”

All the displaced can do is work at local plantations or — like Faizah — make a living as a small-scale vendor.

Copyright 2010 The Jakarta Globe

Sunday, January 23, 2011

26 shots that sent Pakistan over the edge

The Washington Post > Print Edition > Sunday Outlook
26 shots that sent Pakistan over the edge
Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Demonstrators rallied this month in Islamabad after Pope Benedict XVI called for Pakistan to get rid of its blasphemy law. (Photos By Muhammed Muheisen)
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN has reported from South Asia for more than a decade

At a fashionable plaza in this serene Pakistani capital, a few dozen people gather in the evenings at the spot where provincial governor Salman Taseer was gunned down on Jan. 4. More than the man, their candlelight vigils mourn the open debate and religious compassion that have been lost with the assassination of the outspoken liberal politician.

Fifteen miles away, in a working-class alley of Rawalpindi, thousands of people flock each day to the home of Mumtaz Qadri, the elite police guard who killed Taseer. Qadri is in jail now, but the site has become a shrine to what many Pakistanis see as his heroic act against a blasphemer who insulted their prophet. Someone has even put up posters of Qadri riding a white horse to heaven.

In the days since Taseer’s death, Pakistan has become a different country. The veneer of Western democracy has been ripped away, the liberal elite has been cowed into silence, and the civilian government has beaten a hasty retreat from morality, authority and law. Islamic extremist groups, once dismissed as unable to win more than a few seats in Parliament, are filling the streets, with bearded acolytes waving flags and chanting like giddy crowds at a post-game victory rally.

Suddenly, a crucial U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism seems incapable of stopping a tide of intolerant and violent Islam at home - raising doubts about Pakistan’s ability to play a constructive role in the war against the Taliban or to help the United States extricate its forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s northern neighbor.

Qadri, who happily confessed to murdering the politician he was assigned to protect, has little chance of being convicted. Instead of suffering ostracism, he was greeted with handshakes and garlands by courthouse lawyers, who offered to defend him pro bono. The provincial court system, notorious for freeing radical Islamic leaders, is unlikely to condemn a national religious hero.

“There is no justice in our country for the common man, but Qadri’s act against a blasphemer has made all Muslims feel stronger,” a shopkeeper in Rawalpindi told me. “They can punish him, but what will they do with a million Qadris who have been born now?”

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, whose ruling coalition recently recovered from near-collapse, has reassured the restive Muslim masses that not a word of Pakistan’s blasphemy law will be changed. One of the harshest such statutes in the Muslim world, it makes any purported slur against the prophet Muhammad - even a misinterpreted remark or a discarded Koran - grounds for execution.

Taseer had proposed softening the law. Another legislator who did the same has received death threats. The police, whose ranks produced the killer, seem duped or complicit. The army, caught between fighting the Taliban and courting public opinion, has remained prudently silent.

Pakistani commentators have expressed shock at the public lionization of Qadri and the demonization of Taseer, who did nothing worse than criticize the blasphemy law and commiserate with a Christian peasant woman who was sentenced to death under it. The atmosphere is so charged now that most clerics refused to officiate at Taseer’s funeral, and the Christian woman’s prison warden said he may not be able to protect her even from the guards.

For the past several years, a few voices have warned against the growth of religious hatred in Pakistan. Columnist Kamila Hyat described a “Talibanization of minds” creeping across the country, emboldening extremist groups and censoring debate. Physicist and activist Pervez Hoodbhuy decried the quashing of critical thought in Pakistani schools and the rote Koranic learning that shapes many young minds.

But in Friday sermons and at many levels of Pakistani society, one hears warnings about creeping Westernization, secular culture and forceful aggression against Islam by America and its allies. When Pope Benedict XVI called for a repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy law this month, some Muslim clerics decried it as part of the foreign conspiracy and said the pope was inviting attacks on minority Christians in Pakistan.

Some observers here say it is unfair to tar millions of Pakistani Muslims as extremists just because they feel strongly enough about the sacred nature of the prophet Muhammad to justify killing someone who insults him. What is needed, they say, is stronger national leaders who will uphold the laws - against blasphemy and murder alike. “This is an Islamic republic, and people feel very strongly about the blasphemy issue,” said Hamid Mir, a leading television journalist here. “We have to respect that, but we also have to respect the law and the constitution, or we will be lost.”

Others argue that a mind-set that finds spiritual justification for shooting a government official 26 times will also accept the public flogging of drunks, the beheading of policemen and the stoning of unmarried lovers - all hallmarks of the Taliban forces that swept through Pakistan’s scenic Swat Valley two years ago.

Pakistan’s army, a close partner of the U.S. military, ultimately drove the Taliban out of Swat after cementing public opinion in its favor. Now Washington is prodding army leaders here to extend their campaign to other insurgent-infested tribal areas.

But public opinion in Pakistan today is not what it was a year ago, and no one wants to risk igniting popular wrath. Not the nuclear-armed security establishment, which still sees Islamic militants as a useful tool to harass arch-rival India. Not the weak, unpopular government, saddled by a secular past and still reeling from the slaying of its most charismatic leader, Benazir Bhutto, three years ago.

In recent days I have listened to Islamic activists rant about the sanctity of the prophet and the evil of those who offend him or dare to question any tents of Islam. They even have a label for such dangerous subversives, which translates roughly as “ought to be killed.”

But there is one conversation that haunts me in particular, an encounter I had with a young man on a flight between Islamabad and Karachi. He was neatly dressed and beardless, a recent science graduate on his way to a job interview. As I read through the morning papers and discarded them on the floor, I noticed him squirming.

“Madam, could you please pick up the papers?” he finally said. “The name of our prophet is on the front page, and it must not be on the ground.”

I complied, and we spoke cordially about our respective religions. But when I asked about Taseer’s murder, his tone changed. “They say he blasphemed against our prophet,” the young man said solemnly. “If this is true, then it would be my duty as a Muslim to kill him, too.”

Pamela Constable, a Washington Post foreign correspondent, is the author of the forthcoming “Playing With Fire: Why Pakistan’s Democracy Is Losing Ground to Islamic Extremists.”

©2011 The Washington Post Company
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