Friday, 31 October 2014

We want justice

We want justice
By – Shamim Masih
ISLAMABAD: Lahore High Court – LHC judges have saved their skin and confirmed the death sentence of Asiya Bibi. Unfortunately, in high profile case of Asiya Bibi, the radical groups are also tracking her case and their presences in the court have shown that they were willing to keep Asiya’s death sentence confirmed. I am just hypothesizing but I am sure that Justice Anwar ul Haq while deciding Asiya’s case at the LHC must be thinking about Salman Taseer (late) and Shahbaz Bhatti (late) and their own security.
Asiya Bibi was first sentenced to death in 2010, and now LHC uphold her death sentence. The mother of 5 was accused of blaspheming against Prophet Mohammad following an argument with two Muslim co-workers during an incident in 2009 in one of her parent village.  There are dozen of the people waiting for their fate in different jails of the country and many from the religious minorities were sentenced to death under 295-C PPC. The constitution of the country is;
Injuring or defiling place of worship, with Intent to insult the religion of any class:
Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction damage or defilement as an insult to their religion. Shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting Its religion or religious beliefs:
Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the 'religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Pakistan, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both.

Defiling, etc., of Holy Qur'an:
Whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur'an or of an extract there from or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.
Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet:
Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.
 Pakistani courts; under any circumstances are very strict to announce death sentence to the accused of blasphemy from the people of religious minorities. And none of the judge from the senior court dares to remove the decision of low court. Likewise, we have seen with Asiya bibi’s case, LHC uphold her death sentence. If so, what about the section 295 A, which says, Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the 'religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Pakistan, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both.   
During last few years, there are many incidents accrued of this kind; in Shinti nagar, hundred of the Holy Bibles were burnt by mob, during Gojra riots two churches and seven members of a family were burnt alive, Shanti nagar, a Christian village with its churches was burnt, in Mardan, hundred years old church with its old sings, pastor’s house and a school were turned to ash and in Joseph Colony hundreds of the houses and two churches were burnt.  Alas! No is being punished by the court. Many Muslims involved in riots were arrested and were released after one another. It is clearly seen here that JUDGES decision seem biased here. When constitution says whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of the citizen of Pakistan … insults the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished. Unfortunately the law is being imposed on minorities but rest of majority is not punished.
Was Pakistan being made for this day? Unfortunately; religious mind set segment is ruling in the country and have forgotten that this country was not partitioned from India to become a Muslim state. Primarily founder of the nation Muhammad Ali Jinnah have conceived it as democratic state for Muslims and all other minorities, for they could live together in peace and harmony and can worship freely. Non Muslims of the region have struggled for this country so that they could be forever protected and treated as equal citizens.
I think there is chance apex court can overturn the death sentence of the blasphemy cases, despite pressure on judges from radical groups that are determined to see her executed. In many cases, especially blasphemy cases, court decisions are influenced, either by ideology or threats, by local radical groups. In this regard, at least President Barack Obama, Pope and other western can play a positive role to convince Pakistani government to ensure justice in blasphemy cases facing death sentence.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Time to revisit blasphemy law

SLMP taking up Asiya case to Supreme Court
By – Shamim Masih
Sohail Johnson sharing his plane
ISLAMABAD: The time has come that minority parliamentarians need to take stand; it is time to reopen the debate on blasphemy law in Pakistan, said Sohail Johnson, chairman Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan – SLMP. After the decision of a special division bench of LHC, upholding the death sentence of Asiyab Bibi, my heart leapt out to see her kids and after sitting with the Aashiq Masih and her kids, I decided to take this case and now SLMP is going to file an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, announced Sohail Johnson.     
According to the details, a farm worker, mother of 5, is kept away from her children for five years and four month. Yes, Asiya Bibi, she dared to drink water in the cup of her co-workers in the field. Asiya become the victim of the prejudice and greed and was accused of committing blasphemy. She has been in jail since June 19, 2009. She was awarded death sentence by the additional District and Sessions Judge Justice Muhammad Naveed Iqbal, despite lack of evidence on November, 2010. On 16th October, 2014, a special division bench of the Lahore High Court dismissed the appeal condemned Christian woman Asiya Bibi and upholds her death sentence on the blasphemy charges.
Ashiq Masih, husband of the poor lady, was bitterly weeping when I met him. He said, it was ray of hope but the rejection of the appeal has shattered his confidence on Pakistani courts. He confidently said that judges were under pressure. He is still not in the position to control his nerves and how his children will survive, who were hoping their mother to come back at home. But still he is hopeful and will go for the next judicial avenue Supreme Court of Pakistan to appeal.
Ashiq Masih talking about the case details
According to her husband, the counsel, was weak and couldn’t convince the judge. He said he will choose the best lawyer of the town in the apex court. He blamed that Asma and Mafia are the real sisters and they falsely implicated Asiya Bibi in the blasphemy case because they felt disgraced and dishonored on the basis of altercation and hard words extended to them by her when they denied drinking water brought by her for them.
Ashiq Masih was also critical of the role of some Christian non- government organizationsin this regard. He said some of them have worked to worsen the situation. A number of lawyers and non-government organizations are in the race to take credit but not doing anything practical. A human rights champion reportedly has supported just Rs. 3000/- ever since but have been gathering millions of the funds on her name, he added.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Christian struggle to keep faith

By – Shamim Masih
ISLAMABAD: Yaqoob Masih, 50, begins his day before sunrise. He has been a Rawalpindi Development Authority – RDA employee for the last around 15 years. He and his wife rarely help make plenty of to cover their residence and to deal with livings for their 5 children.
Yaqoob Masih - a sanitary worker
Pushing an overloaded wheelbarrow and gasping for breath, this individual rings a single doorbell following one more to recover almost any crap during the day. He separates plastic bottles, card boards, material bits and other recyclable stuff in various chambers and bags dangling from his trolley.
He has not enrolled his children in school, the eldest one is free to look after the younger ones while both parents are away at work. He feels extremely guilty about not being able to send his children to school.  He said with a melancholy look on his tired face that sometimes I am asked to work on Sundays due to shortage of sanitary workers but he cannot afford to leave his job.
Pakistan came into being as a homeland for Muslims, at the time of partition, most of the Hindus fled to India. A small remnant stayed in here, hoping to continue to live peacefully as before. But the Christians remained here by their own will. But now they become isolated and neglected in Muslims’ country. Coming mainly from the lowest strata of the social order, they have been increasingly marginalized and isolated, their privileges withdrawn. A devastating below was struck when the government nationalized many of the Christian colleges and schools in early 70s. Thus Christians were left with few opportunities for education or progress in the modern world.
A minority in a Muslim homeland, they’re demonized and barred from equal opportunities. Although no official statistics are available but half of the Christian in Pakistan are below the age of 20s and most of them have no access to an education. The pressure of extreme poverty forces many families to send their children to work to bring in any small amount of money to feed the family. Children, some even below the age of 10, work with their parents in the brick kilns and other of their parents jobs. Pakistani Christians of this segment are open to severe exploitation, and many end up unemployed, become drug addicts or are abused in the sex trade and start illegal alcohol selling. Many Christians live in villages or in city slums, where they live together largely for their own security. Thus the environment becomes extremely unsafe and socially hazardous. The growing menace of drug abuse had rendered the streets of slums extremely vulnerable for growing children.
Yaqoob Masih carrying garbage, while a girl is waiting for her turn
Minorities should not be limited to sanitary duties; they deserve to be given equal rights and proportionate employment in various government and semi-government departments. They have been facing forced conversions, arson attacks, enforced displacements, blasphemy allegations, attacks on worship places and killings at the hands of religious extremists for many years. And still Pakistani children are taught that Jews are tightfisted moneylenders and Christian’s vengeful conquerors – all in textbooks approved by the administration. There are blasphemy laws, which carry a penalty of life imprisonment and even death – often without evidence or penalty for false accusations. We now have military generals who are Christian. Still, minority religions face inordinate dangers.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Protection and Promotion of Rights of Expression

By – Shamim Masih
ISLAMABAD: It is heard since August, 2011 that a National Commission will be established for the protection of the rights of the minorities in Pakistan to promote interfaith harmony among different sects. But nothing is seen in practical. Now we heard the echo to establishment of the Minority Rights Commission. Before establishing these commissions, let’s consider the working and output of the Ministry of National Harmony or Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Pakistan.
First of all, the State and the Constitution should provide the basics of faith to its citizens. Minorities should be given equal rights and not to be made victims of discrimination at any level. Unfortunately the gap between Muslims and the minorities groups had widened to a great extent. Various religious groups are living in their respective pigeon holes and it is a dangerous trend. We need to develop Minority Rights Commission for interfaith harmony but it is impossible without justice and equality in the society as peace should not be promoted without it. Constitution of the country was not based on inter-faith harmony.
During the last three decades, religious minorities are desperately disheartened due the prevailing situation in the country. Especially Sunni Muslims and other extremist group are targeting religious minorities Christians, Hindu and Ahmadis’. And this ratio has been incredibly increased during the recent years. Targeting and burning the Christians’ colonies is become habitual. Thus Pakistan has become one of the most obsessive countries in the world. According to the figures presented during United Nations Human Rights Council 25th session; between year 2012-13, more than 700 people were killed and more than 1100 injured because of religion – related violence. At least 16 people are facing the death penalty in Pakistan for blasphemy, and 20 are serving life sentences.
In that report presented to United Nations; Pakistan was declared one of the most hostile nations for religious minorities in the world and countries to violate many of its citizens’ right to freedom of religion or belief. You will hear on every other day that someone being charged of blasphemy and there are the judges on duty to award death sentence to such people when the charges are proven. Everyone is aware in the country that the blasphemy law has often been used for settling personal scores.
Let me give you the short history of the blasphemy law; this law was enacted by the British to protect the religious sentiments of the Muslims minorities in the subcontinent against the Hindu majority. After the partition, when Muslims have become majority, the law should have been abolished. But it was made more stringent, life imprisonment was replaced with the mandatory death penalty in the section 295-C.
There is need to promote interfaith harmony, but state minister for interfaith harmony is only seen in papers. It is only sharing about Hajj issues in Pakistan. Establishment of “Minority Rights Commissions at National and Provincial’ level is seen but in papers only.  Fact is situation worsening for religious minorities day by day, because disharmony is based in the Constitution of Pakistan. There is need to bring amendment in the constitution along with revising the educational syllabus to highlight the role of minorities groups in the struggle for Pakistan. Our history has been twisted badly and the innocent minds were never provided with correct information. But now the time has come that new generation should be provided real facts through education and legislation.
In our country, protection and promotion of rights expression is dare need of the day. We are lacking of leadership that will come to reduce these issues in the country. We have to take collective efforts and rise to resolve the issues of the minorities of the country. Unfortunately our local Christian political leadership is not taking up these issues seriously and collectively. Some political leaders are using their resources to get seats in the main stream political parties. This electoral system and influential have divided our Christian people in the name of politics and religion. Thus the situation has become alarming for religious minorities. Home, life and property, the synagogues are not secure and series of incidents conducted.
Yes! We are facing terrorism, energy crises, and unemployment collectively as a nation but there are some forces within state, threatening all religious minorities of the country. Yes! We want to live with brotherhood, sympathy, peace and social harmony. But there are some barbaric discriminatory law reeks of medieval mentality. We need to start behave like rational human being with ability to critically analyze things rather than behaving like savage and barbaric animals.