Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pakistani Activist Rashid Rehman shot dead; he fought for blasphemy suspects // Rights activists remember Rashid Rehman // FAISAL KUTTY - A travesty of justice in Pakistan

LAHORE, Pakistan — Rashid Rehman, a veteran Pakistani human rights activist who had received threats for defending people charged under the country’s blasphemy laws, was shot dead on Wednesday night in his office in the southern city of Multan. Mr. Rehman’s office assistant and a visitor were seriously wounded and taken to a hospital, the police said.

Zulfikar Ali, a senior police officer, said Mr. Rehman had received death threats in open court on April 9 for his work on a blasphemy case. Mr. Ali said initial investigations into the shooting would focus on that link. In an interview with BBC Urdu last month, Mr. Rehman, who was in his mid-40s, said that defending someone accused of blasphemy was akin to “walking into the jaws of death.” “There is fanaticism and intolerance in society, and such people never consider whether their accusation is right or wrong,” he said. “People kill for 50 rupees. So why should anyone hesitate to kill in a blasphemy case?”

Human rights groups have long campaigned against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which carry a potential death penalty and are frequently used to persecute religious minorities or to settle personal scores. But conservative clerics staunchly oppose any reforms, saying the laws reinforce respect for the Prophet Muhammad. And politicians, judges and police officers, fearing attacks by religious vigilantes, treat blasphemy cases with great caution.

In January 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province, was killed by his own bodyguard for criticizing the blasphemy laws. In Mr. Rehman’s case, three men made death threats against him in the courtroom where he was defending Junaid Hafeez, a Muslim university lecturer accused of blasphemy. “You will not come to court next time because you will not exist anymore,” one of the men shouted, according to a statement by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan that described the trial as a “charade.”

Mr. Rehman drew the judge’s attention to the threats, but no action was taken. The Human Rights Commission demanded that the men, said to include two lawyers, be prosecuted, and that the police provide additional security for Mr. Rehman. But in an interview in Lahore this week, Mr. Rehman complained that he had not received adequate protection. The blasphemy case stemmed from March 2013, when the student wing of the religious Jamaat-e-Islami party accused Mr. Hafeez, who teaches English and is known to have liberal views, of insulting the prophet.

It took Mr. Hafeez four months to persuade a lawyer to take up his case; most cited fear of attack when turning it down. But that lawyer later recused himself, citing pressure and threats. So Mr. Rehman stepped in, taking the case on behalf of the Human Rights Commission. His death offered fresh evidence of the government’s failure to prevent extremist and militant violence against journalists and human rights defenders. On April 19, Hamid Mir, a prominent talk show host, was shot six times as he drove through Karachi. Weeks earlier, Raza Rumi, a liberal reporter, was attacked by gunmen from a militant group as he traveled through Lahore. Mr. Mir is recovering from his injuries in the hospital, and Mr. Rumi went to the United States.
“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.” Pakistan Criminal Code Article 295 -C
In a span of less than two weeks, in two separate cases, three Christians — a couple and an another unrelated man – were sentenced to death and fined under this draconian provision of the Pakistani Criminal Code. A paralyzed church school worker, Shafqat Masih, and his wife Shagufta, were sentenced for sending text messages against the Holy Prophet. While Sawan Masih, a road sweeper from Lahore, was condemned to death after a friend accused him of making blasphemous remarks during an argument.
Human rights activists are counting on a de facto death penalty moratorium in place since 2008 to keep them from the hangman’s noose. Though Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has attempted to lift the moratorium. “This is a travesty of justice,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director, commenting on the Masih case. Indeed, both cases are not only a travesty of Justice but make a mockery of Islam.
Such cruel and unusual penalties are on the books in far too many Muslim nations. In many instances they are the legacy of colonial rule. A case in point is Pakistan, where the existing blasphemy laws date back to 1860 British laws against insulting religion to keep the peace between religions. These provisions were inherited by Pakistan in the 1947 partition. The laws were expanded and penalties made harsher under General Zia Ul Haq in his 1986 attempts to establish his piety and win support from orthodox religious parties and the masses. According to Osama Siddique and Zahra Hayat, in addition to creating procedural inadequacies, General Haq’s changes to the inherited laws involved eliminating “any requirement of intent, deliberate or malicious” from various sections despite the fact that proof of intention on the part of the accused to “insult the religion of a class of persons” was a prerequisite to the application of the blasphemy sections.
Since 1987, 247 blasphemy cases have been registered, according to a 2013 report from the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), an independent think tank based in Islamabad. In fact, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that 34 people were charged with blasphemy in 2013, while 27 were charged in 2012. Nineteen people are now on death row for blasphemy, while another 20 are serving life. Moreover, dozens have died as a result of riots, extra-judicial killings and mob “justice.”
Based on the fact that these are being done in the name of Islam, it would not be illogical to conclude that Islam advocates extensive restrictions on free speech and imposes excessive penalties for blasphemy. A closer look at Islamic jurisprudence and blasphemy reveals a much more nuanced perspective.
There is, of course, strong precedent in the Islamic legal tradition to argue that blasphemous speech targeted at any religion should be restricted, but at the same time there is scholarly consensus around the notion that there is no criminal or worldly sanction mandated. As Intisar Rabb noted, with the exception of Hanafi jurists who expanded the Islamic doctrine of defamation to a new crime of blasphemy, most jurists from all of the other major Sunni and Shi’a schools of jurisprudence refused to classify even intentional jabs at the Prophet as criminally blasphemous. Some scholars even point out that the prophet himself did not retaliate even when subjected to direct physical and verbal attacks.
So where does the confusion arise from? It appears that many Islamic jurists conflated blasphemy and apostasy. As prominent classical and contemporaryscholars such as Ibn Taymiyah, Mahmood Shaltut, Mohamed Hashim Kamali and Rabb, among others, have examined the context of the ruling on apostasy and concluded that death was only mandated even in the case of apostasy when it was combined with war against the community. Building on Ibn Taymiyah and Shaltut, Rabb concludes that “…the pre-modern period was an era in which citizenship was defined by religion. In the worlds of Islam and Christendom alike, to declare allegiance to another religion while continuing to reside in the land where one’s original religion was dominant, was to renounce allegiance to one’s co-religionists in a way tantamount to treason.”
Moreover, Kamali, Chairman of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies, examined the concept of fitnah, a word that appears in both the Quran and the hadith (prophetic tradition) in a variety of contexts and seemingly with various meanings, and its effect on freedom of expression. He found that the dominant meaning of fitnah in the Quran is “seditious speech that attacks a government’s legitimacy and denies believers the right to practice their faith.” Importantly, it is seditious fitnah in the form of political treason, through acts such as attempting to overthrow a leader that was “duly elected and confirmed through the community’s pledge of allegiance (bay’ah),” that according to one hadith, can be punishable by death.
In other words, classical Islamic law interpretations stipulated death as a punishment when apostasy was combined with treason and rebellion against the state, not for blasphemy. Indeed, this later position is more in line with the Quranic message of tolerance (“there is no compulsion in religion“) and freedom of conscience. The Quran further states that had God willed it He could have created all of humanity with the same beliefs. Indeed, as Kamali and others point out, the Quran, prophetic conduct/teachings and the thrust of classical Islamic jurisprudence supports “the vindication of the truth and the protection of human dignity” by guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression. Moreover, during the medieval Islamic period, proving blasphemy required meeting the high evidentiary standards of the rest of Islamic criminal law.
Rabb, for instance, also notes that: “…the elements required to declare speech to be blasphemy … meant dealing with an internally coherent system of laws and folded in cultural, temporal, and jurisdictional standards of propriety and treasonous intent. The implication is that, for most jurists, the blasphemy laws formulated in classical Islamic legal writings could apply only to a Muslim society of earlier times and particular places of shared moral norms according to a narrow set of justifications.”
Two Pakistani officials – Salman Taseer (the former governor of Punjab) and Shahbaz Bhatti (former Federal Minister for Minorities) – have been murdered to date for speaking out. Islamic scholars for the most part have been reticent to speak out in any resounding manner due to the potential backlash. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a prominent and popular Islamic scholar, who said that the blasphemy laws have no justification in Islam was forced to leave the country in 2011 for his own safety.
This lack of opposition to these outdated and out of context laws and the scapegoating of minorities and dissenters in far too many Muslim nations only sullies Islam and Muslims. It is high time that Islamic scholars internationally speak out against this travesty of Islam.

See also:
Ulema now demand expulsion of Taslima

Prof Irfan Habib's remark on AMU minority character causes stir

Javed Anand - Ms Wadud, we are ashamed

Joint Statement of Religious Leaders On “Supreme Court order on Section 377”
Academic research on Rushdie's literary work sabotaged by Deoband Ulema

Two persons arrested for Facebook post on Mumbai shutdown after Bal Thackeray's death

Call on the Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay to encourage the withdrawal of complaints against Indian Rationalist Sanal Edamaruku

LUMS fires Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy

Maryam Namazie: Defend Bangladesh's Bloggers

Tableeghi Jamaat members can knock at any door anywhere in the West. But Christian missionaries cannot proselytize the Muslim world

‘Freedom to criticize religion is a touchstone of free expression’ - Interview with Gilbert Achcar

 WOLE SOYINKA: Religion Against Humanity

IHEU Freedom of Thought Report 2013: Death penalty for atheism in 13 countries

Salman Rushdie - ON CENSORSHIP

Communal fanatics continue their assault on free speech & expression - Kolkata TV serial based on Taslima Nasrin's script put off indefinitely


Salman Rushdie - We're all too easily offended these days

VHP disrupts Hyderabad's Kashmir Film Festival

Gita Sahgal - Bangladesh: Blasphemy, Genocide and Violence Against Women

Taslima Nasreen - ‘Religion Is The Biggest Bane For Any Democracy’

Syed Badrul Ahsan calls for Taslima's return - Our writers, our moral parameters

New Age Islam Website Is Banned In Pakistan

Taksim, Convergence, and Secular Space // Turkey, the end of Islamism with a human face

Khaled Ahmed - A culture of haters

Khaled Ahmed - Rollback nations (NEWSWEEK PAKISTAN)

Interview with Karima Bennoune, author of 'Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here'

Woman filmmaker in Iran sentenced to 18 months in prison
The religious persecution of Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (1945-2010)/ Interview: My life fighting intolerance/ Mahmoud Mohammed Taha & the Second Message of Islam

Mahmoud Mohammed Taha (Author of Second Message of Islam)also known as Ustaz Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, was a Sudanese religious thinker, leader, and trained engineer. He was executed for apostasy at the age of 76 by the regime of Gaafar Nimeiry(See his Court statement)
THE MODERATE MARTYR - A radically peaceful vision of Islam

Najam Sethi - Pakistan: Pluralism and tolerance

Unfortunately, attempts to rationalize and modernize our education system have continuously foundered on the rock of misplaced, conservative or politically motivated religious elements in society..Two such cases have caught headlines recently. The first is an attempt by Imran Khan's PTI government in KPK to undo the rational cleansing of the textbooks by the previous ANP government by reinserting nations of jihad and "Islamic" vice and virtue into the curricula. The second is an attempt by a section of the media to devalue the teaching of "comparative" religion in schools in which the values of relative compassion, mutual respect and human dignity common to all religions are emphasized

We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree. // We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons. // We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights. // We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind.  We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called "Islamaphobia" in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights...