Sunday, 22 March 2015

Justice without discrimination, we demand

Justice without discrimination, we demand
By – Shamim Masih
Saint John's Church, Yohanabad, Lahore
Islamabad: Over the last three decades, Pakistan has transitioned from a developing to an unstable and fragile state. Pakistan is confronted with terrorism which has emanated from the events in this region over the last thirty years. Although democracy successfully returned to Pakistan in 2008 after nine years of military rule, Pakistan continues to grapple with economic decline, weakening of the social capital and increasingly violent socio-political conflicts. The weakness of mechanisms to address conflict without violence are compounded by human rights abuses and widening division on the basis of ethnicity, gender and religion. Weakening cohesion between different segments of the society, conflicts over resource distribution, humanitarian assistance and representation often spiral into violence. Relationship between the government and its constituency lack trust, accountability and transparency.
Discussing with officials during the incident
Pakistanis have been attacked in Masjids, Churches, Imam Baragahs, market places and schools. Our children and women were killed irrespective of their religion. Islamist militants in Pakistan have frequently attacked Christians and other religious minorities over the last decade. But the recent bomb attack on two churches in Youhanabad has left Christians terrified and afraid; many in the aftermath ran from the incident site and locked themselves in their homes. Other full of fury and rage rampaged through the streets, and a few of them took the law into their own hands murdering two cohorts of the attack who they alleged were believed to be involved in the terrorist attack. The two men were burned alive in an act that emulated the manner in which many Christians and other blasphemy law victims have been murdered by the extremists in the past years. Now government has arrested many of them, I take them as victims now. They will suffer and nobody will help them in any sense. NGOs and others so called activist is regularly going there for photo session but nobody will realize their pain.   
We Pakistani are already living in critical zone; always live under constant different threats, we cannot move freely in parks, markets and we are not safe in worship places even. We always face short of different services, occasionally our internet and mobile service is struck off due to security reasons. And Christians of the country are impoverished segment of the nation. It was contrary to their usual reaction. Any Christian around the world supports their arrest and the arrest of any protesters that caused damage the public and private property. We believe that rule of law is paramount to order and control. Local Christian leadership has given the names of those who were involved in this incident and some mob destruction of property. Christians normally do not react in this manner. However there are examples of reaction seen many times, protesters even have razed every blockage on their way and destroyed the public and private property. But don’t want to drag the names of the people who have been working for the humanity. There are rumor that authority has registered the names of some of those people as well. Very obviously; we believe, its inhuman and degrading treatment, but where it comes from?
I believe, law breakers must be brought to justice but can someone give me the names of the perpetrators of Gojra incident where eight family members including two children were burnt alive, how about the people involved in burning 2000 Christian’s houses including 13 churches in Shanti nager, Shangla Hill and in Joseph Colony Lahore, where 178 Christian house including two churches. What about the protesters, who destroyed the twin city and looted shops and ATM machines around the country when Banazir Bhutto was killed in Rawalpindi. How about the mob that went to French Embassy when there was hue and cry about sketches? In the recent year, how many were punished while attacking the parliament house and even Supreme Court of Pakistan? And most recently how many were punished when Christian couple was burnt alive in Kot Radha Kishan. Justice should be given to all without discrimination.
The government of Punjab and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar claimed to take strict action against the perpetrators of the violence. Mr. Nisar and CM Punjab are answerable to the Christian community to provide justice without any discrimination. We do not condone such violence and hatred said Wilson Chaudhry, chairman British Pakistani Christian Association. We wholeheartedly support the arrests and prosecution of any Christians involved in the murder. But we condemn the excessive force by police who are quite randomly capturing Pakistani Christians in a crack-down that is deemed bias. We call the government to protect all those arrested while they go through legal process, he added. Pakistani media have wholly focused on the murder of “more valuable lives of Muslims”. Their skewed reports on the attack have fuelled the great hatred towards Christians in Pakistan.
The Supreme Court has ordered to protect the worship places of religious minorities. But sadly interior ministry doesn’t seem interested to do so. Ch. Nisar claimed that due to the shortage of the staff, ministry is unable to provide security to all worship places in the country. However police officer told us (agreed not mention his name) thousands of the police officials are fixed in and around Raywind Mohal and the same are deputed in Raywind for the religious services of Sunni Muslims.
It’s another Sunday, Church leaders have called for their parishioners to attend their churches despite threats that their churches will be bombed. It will continue and continue….  Let’s pray for Pakistani Christians, let’s stand with each other, and let’s hold one another. Many of us are tired of government and are looking to build sustainable communities. Governments are their intelligence services and their lack of respect for human rights are wreaking havoc and promoting fundamentalism around the world and especially here in Pakistan.  

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Racist will remain alive and well groom in Pakistan

Racist will remain alive and well groom in Pakistan
IHC saved Qadri’s skin
By – Shamim Masih
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court – IHC on March 09, 2015, verdict on Mumtaz Qardi case upholding his conviction under section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code – PPC on killing the former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. A two member bench comprising Justice Noorul Haq Qureshi and Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui dismissed the appeal. The ruling by IHC was a surprise in two ways; A): many had expected the killer’s sentence might be reduced amid growing threats to la
wyers and judges hearing blasphemy-related cases. B): Many believe that IHC has saved Qadri skin while upholding the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri under section 302 and 7ATA void.
The bench had reserve the judgment on February 11 after advocate general Islamabad Mian Abdul Rauf, the prosecutor in the case, and Qadri’s counsels, including former Lahore High Court - LHC chief justice Khawaja Sharif and retired Justice Mian Nazeer – concluded their arguments. I am quite surprised that when people like former chief justice LHC and justice retired Mian Nazeer will remain in back of the racialist like Mumtaz Qardi, how can this society be changed. Certainly racists will alive and well groom in Pakistan. I can’t say anything against Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui because he is sitting judge. However he is reportedly the same person, who has been seen kissing and garlanding the killer of Salman Taseer. The blasphemy law has been extensively misused not only to target the minorities but also by Muslims against Muslims to settle personal score. Even former Federal Religious Affairs Minister Ejazul Haq admitted in November 2005 that the blasphemy law was being misused and expressed the government’s desire to bring amendments to it. Hundreds of the innocent people had been imprisoned, forced to flee the country or killed by extremists under the pretext of punishing blasphemers. One of known Christian Gulshan Masih from the capital was forced to flee when he was accused of blasphemy. According to the sources FIR 96/12 was registered against him because he has been supporting the Shahbaz Bhatti case, which was killed, right out of his residence in I-8 Sector in Islamabad. Bhatti was killed for supporting Asia Bibi and Salman Taseer was killed for supporting Asia bibi as well. Sources confirm that he is now seeking asylum in some other European country, probably Denmark. Gulshan has reportedly been supporting the construction of the Church in Central Jail Adyala, Rawalpindi.
Within minutes of the verdict, a celebration was seen in IHC premises where supporters distributed sweetmeats and they shared their joy. Their happiness was shared by those who defended Mumtaz Qadri in the court. When the IHC uphold the murder cases against Qadri for killing former governor Salman Taseer, his lawyers were happy that the terrorism charges against Qadri had been dropped. Qadri was employed to provide security to Taseer, killed the latter in January 2011 in Kohsar Market, Islamabad, where hundreds of the people saved their lives hiding when shot him. He was convicted by the anti terrorism court – ATC in October the same year, under both section 7 of the Anti Terrorism Act and under section 302 of Pakistan Penal code respectively. IHC division bench set aside his conviction under section 7 of the ATA but uphold the death sentence under 302 of the PPC. I don’t know the definition of 7ATA, but certainly it was reported that hundreds of the people have saved their live in hiding themselves when Qadri was firing in the day light. This means that Qadri is guilty of murder but not terrorism. Some of them even made impromptu, fiery speeches and chanted slogans in favor of Taseer’s killer. I am not expert in covering crime cases but certainly facing the same situation in the country know that Qadri team could appeal that his trail had been unfair one – the trail had been carried out in ATC although now Qadri is no longer charged with a terrorist act. Qadri’s lawyers can request the court to retrial as the ATC cannot try ordinary murder cases. They actually played technically, if ATA remain in the case, it may be transferred to the military court. The future will be that the team will go to the Supreme Court to appeal that this conviction and death sentence had been uphold. I don’t know the government lawyers of Salman Taseer’s family would appeal the decision or challenging the order. Legal experts also pointed out the loopholes that will work to Qadri’s advantage with this judgment. They said that the conviction under only the PPC (no the terrorism law) means that Qadri was now guilty of a compoundable offence. They pointed out the Qadri could go free if the Taseer family pardoned him or go for life imprisonment and after few years he will be free. A senior law officer of the federal government, on the condition of anonymity, predicted that there were few changes of the government going into appeal. Normally lawyers are reluctant to appear in theses. I am afraid and keeping in view of the present situation can predict that courts will drop ATA charges against Shahbaz Bhatti case in one day or other.                     
Most of my past articles and story intimate that the only hope for religious minorities in Pakistan is for all religious faiths including the Sunni majority learn to accept each other in harmonious tolerance regardless of religious differences. AND in most cases I would agree to mutual tolerance; however the problem I have is that Islamic revered writings specifically encourages violence up to and including death to all unbelievers (define as kafir in Islam) who refuse to subject and submit their beliefs to Islamic Supremacy. On a personal level then I am not going to tolerate a religious faith that will not tolerate my faith just because I refuse to shut up about Jesus Christ being the Son of God. I have always been writing that we want to bring change not only in the constitution but also want to change the mindset. It not Islam we are against but the Islamophobia. At least the justice system should be transparent and fair so that deprived portion in the society can live without fear from either sides. Minorities are always live under constant fear either be killed by extremists under the pretext of punishing blasphemers or in the courts.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Status of religious freedom in Pakistan

Status of religious freedom in Pakistan
By – Shamim Masih
Christian Colony Badami Bagh Lahore
ISLAMABAD: On the third death anniversary of my mother, we arranged a prayer meeting in our house, where only our family member participated. As we were praying, somebody knocked at the door like he wants to break it up at once. I went outside and found that our landlord was there, at once, he started shouting, why are you people praying at home, it is not church etc, etc. I humbly clarify him that I know it is not church and we didn’t invited other people to pray, it’s our family prayer meeting as it is my mother’s death anniversary. So we gathered to tribute her. He strictly cautioned me not to do this again in the house. All the services should be performed in the Churches. This is just one example, there are many like this. Restriction on building new churches, registering new church based organization etc. even in Islamabad; there are only two properly constructed churches, while there thousands of the mosques and midrsas (seminary). Reportedly, it is mentioned in the map of Islamabad, there should one church in each sector of the capital. But CDA don’t allow you build church in the capital.    
Despite the first democratic transfer of the power in the country’s history, from one civilian government to another the exceedingly poor religious freedom environment worsened. Recent and previous rulers engaged in and tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief. Despite democratic institutions, Pakistan’s legal environment is particularly repressive due to its blasphemy laws and other religiously discriminatory legislation and constitutional provisions. Authorities failed to protect citizens, minority and majority alike, from the sectarian and religiously –motivated violence and courts have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence. There are many examples to it; I will just quote one, two years past when hundreds of the Christian houses in Joseph Colony were burnt. During this particular case, only Sawan Masih was sentenced to death but rest of the perpetrators were set free to go for others.
Unfortunately Pakistani religious minorities are facing the worst situation in the world for religious freedom. In the past few years, conditions hit an all time low due to chronic sectarian violence targeting not only Shia’s Muslims but also Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus. Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy laws and anti-Ahmdi laws are widely used to violate the religious freedoms and foster a climate of impunity. During 2014, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCRIF) again recommends that Pakistan be designated as a “country of particular concern” (CPC).
Muslims not only from Pakistan but from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Syria and everywhere else have done enough to deserve hatred. They have been killing innocent children, attacked schools, burnt Christian villages, torn down Hindu temples, mutilated journalists, shunned scientific laws and flogged enough bloggers for free thinking to deserve this acrimony all around the world. Many of them claim that version of Islam is peaceful, a version that promotes brotherhood and peace. Unfortunately, that version of Islam is only found in books now.
Pakistani Christians live under the fear of religion, our churches, our kids and our lives are not secure. Converting to another religion is out of the question. Honestly speaking, at this very moment, Pakistan is not fit for Shia Muslim or non-Muslims alike. We are not against Islam but against this Mullasim (Islamophobia).