Saturday, November 8, 2014

Beena Sarwar: Pakistan needs rule of law. Arrest & punish those who murder & those who incite violence // PRESS RELEASE from the Society for Secular Pakistan

The vicious cycle continues in the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”. It will not end unless the ‘takfiri’ (declaring someone a non-Muslim) ideology and justifying murder for alleged ‘blasphemy’ are not curbed. Once again a violent mob incited by calls from mosque pulpits has killed on the basis of such allegations.

Once again the motive was not ‘religious’ but financial (as often happens). Rule of law MUST be imposed and the culprits caught, charged, tried and punished. Enough of this culture of impunity for crimes committed in the name of religion. This time it was a poor young couple, Shama and Shehzad, brick-kiln workers, accused of having ‘desecrated’ pages of the Quran (she was pregnant, they leave behind four children including a baby). Fifty people have been arrested for that murder. The next day, in another city, a policeman axed to death a man brought into custody after being arrested for a brawl – his justification: the man had been committed “blasphemy”. The policeman has been arrested.

The cycle will continue because no one is ever punished for either false allegations, or for their involvement in the criminal act of extra-judicial murder, although laws exist against both. The ‘blasphemy’ laws of Pakistan are not divinely ordained. These are man-made laws, imposed on Pakistan by a military dictator. Gen Ziaul Haq added various clauses to the original Article 295 of the British law (shared by India and Bangladesh) that dealt with injuring religious sentiment. While criminalising other aspects of ‘injuring religious sentiment’, the critical word ‘intent’ was quietly dropped. ‘Intent’ or ‘neeyat’ is crucial when someone is accused of such crimes. If the intent was not to defile or injure religious sentiments, there is no case. It’s time to openly debate these issues and stop this senseless violence. Even if someone burnt some pages of the Quran, that is not grounds to kill them. 
It is good to see that there is widespread outrage in Pakistan against the latest ‘blasphemy murder’. Many groups are holding protest demos in different cities of Pakistan. Some people have started a collection drive to sponsor the lifelong education and other needs of the three children (details coming up).

The situation has been spiraling downhill since the early 1990s when the first ‘blasphemy murder’  was committed, right after the option of life imprisonment lapsed, making death the only option for 295-C convictions. This is not a religious, but a socio-political and legal issue stemming from many factors that need to be addressed. Every case investigated so far has been found to have ulterior motives. Half the cases registered are by members of one Muslim sect against another, or based on other motives like financial or business rivalry, land disputes, or caste – jealousies arising out of changes in the caste system (eg. Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death, and now this brick-kiln worker couple, also Christian). 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan been long pointing out that the severity of the punishment (mandatory death) is disproportion to the crime. The ‘blasphemy laws’  give a handle to the unscrupulous to settle scores. Also pertinent is ‘intent’, a word that was dropped when the military dictator Gen. Zia amended the ‘blasphemy’ laws. In this situation, the absence of rule of law in Pakistan, the lack of a witness protection plan, and the weaknesses in the law enforcing system with the police being poorly equipped and trained to be effective in these and other cases, make for a volatile situation.

These issues have been exacerbated by the promotion of a ‘takfiri’ (terming people non-Muslims) ideology perpetuated first through the Second Amendment of 1984 that declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims, followed by Gen. Ziaul Haq’s Martial Law Order 20 of 1984 that made it a criminal offense for Ahmadis to practice their faith as Muslims.

PRESS RELEASE from the Society for Secular Pakistan

The Society for Secular Pakistan (SfSP) strongly condemns the killings of Shazad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama by the crowd incited by the clerics of three mosques of the villages in Kasur. We demand that these clerics should be arrested and punished for inciting people’s religious feeling to kill the kiln worker who had reportedly some dispute with the kiln owner. Unfortunately this is not the first time that the sacred place of worship was used to incite and entice people to kill with impunity. There have been instances when some fanatics had announced hefty head money for killing so-called blasphemers and the state did not take any action although it’s a crime.

While the Society for Secular Pakistan stands for freedom expression, we demand that the state should register all mosques and the religious leader to keep a close check that nobody makes hate speeches from the pulpits. They should be free to preach their faith but not hatred. At present there is no check of the state on over 250,000 mosques and 20,000 madrassahs in the country.

The brutal Kasur incident is once again a rude reminder to the peace loving people of Pakistan that ever since perfidious General Zia amended the blasphemy law many more people have been killed by the fundamentalist vigilantes than before. Such killings in the name of religion are encouraged by the inappropriate blasphemy law in the country which needs amendments.

The recent judgment confirming the death sentence of Asiya Bibi creates an environment in which tolerance and civility are victims. We appeal to all democratic forces to protest against these killings and build public opinion against bigoted laws.

Dr Syed Haroon Ahmed, President
Released by: Babar Ayaz
SfSSP spokesperson

see also
Khaled Ahmed - Rollback nations:  The modern Islamic state continues to be a besieged idea. After the Taliban killed a major-general and blew up 80 Christians in Peshawar
Khaled Ahmed, veteran journalist, noted in his book that “In 2005, I was asked by the Lahore Chapter of doctors' association to address them on current national issues…
The decision to introduce sharia and reintroduce the death penalty has been condemned by NGOs and legal rights campaigners, who say the new rules will breach international laws. 
IHEU Freedom of Thought Report 2013: Death penalty for atheism in 13 countries. 
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