Stop Violence in the name of religion: Signature Campaign – Karachi April 14, 2012‏

Citizens for Democracy (CFD) is responding to the call for another public signature campaign, and a performance, from the citizens of Karachi.

The theme
‘Live and let Live: Stop violence in the name of religion’
Location
in front of Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim/opp. Park Towers, Clifton, Karachi
Date
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Program schedule
Signature Campaign: 12pm – 6pm
Mural Drawing: 4pm – 5pm
Performance by Tehrik-e-Niswan (“Hum Rokaen Gay”): 5pm – 6pm

You are requested to please respond to this call, join us, invite friends and help spread the word.

Facebook Event Page
https://www.facebook.com/events/217777031655890/

Those who can’t attend can sign the petition here
http://www.change.org/petitions/prime-minister-of-pakistan-live-and-let-live-stop-violence-in-the-name-of-religion
..

Letter Text

April 14, 2012
To: Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Yusuf Raza Gilani
Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Ch. Nisar Ali Khan
Dear Sirs,
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah told the nation in his speech to the Constituent Assembly on Aug 11, 1947 that “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed –that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” Sadly, this nation is today witnessing calls to demolish places of worships, killings and abduction in the name of religion, abductions and forced conversions (particularly of the Hindu community in Sindh) and a flood of hate mongering activities.

We urge you to intervene and stop the killing of Pakistan’s religious communities, specifically target killings those belonging to the Sunni (Barelvi), Shia (including Hazara) and Ahmadi communities who are facing a virtual genocide simply for following their religious beliefs and practices.

The attacks on the 12 Rabiul Awal processions cities around Pakistan are evidence of the menace of bigotry and intolerance, as are the target killings of Shias and Ahmadis. The government must act with all its might to put a stop to this. This needs to be done NOW.

1. We strongly condemn these threats of violence and urge the establishment of a code of ethics across the board that prohibits any religious or political party supporting those who victimize others.
2. The Government must ensure that the banned terrorist organizations are not able to operate, spread hatred and harm or threaten peaceful citizens.
3. The Government, both at the Federal and Provincial levels, must take immediate action against violence, threats and intimidation, especially those in the name of religion.
4. There is urgent need to institute a witness protection plan; the police must be empowered, enabled and de-politicized in order to act against those who violate basic human rights and engage in criminal acts in Pakistan.
5. The government must employ the full force of the law to ensure that no one attacks or threatens members of any community simply for following their religious beliefs and practices.

We hope that the government and all political parties will wake up to the growing evil of intolerance and bigotry that is fast turning into a monster and act up before it eats up the very foundations of our society.
..

Background
Our friends and fellow Pakistani citizens initiated online petitions and wrote to the relevant authorities to protest the hate campaign and violence against Ahmadis specially by members of the so-called Difa-e-Pakistan Council, target-killing of Shias and other acts of violence in the name of religion.

Incidents where people are stopped, identified and killed for their religious beliefs are increasing in Pakistan, the only country where it’s a crime for Ahmadis to practice their religion. Forced conversions, attacks on Christian churches and false cases under blasphemy laws (including against Muslims of various sects) are becoming more and more common. The space for free practice of religion and civil public discourse is shrinking.

It is high time for Pakistanis to unite and raise collective voice against these trends before it’s too late. We must act NOW! We need to follow up the letter campaigns with a more visible public action. We need to make concrete, consistent and focused attempts for our survival, and consolidate the struggle to take our country back. Every little step counts, every effort will bring us together and will provide likeminded peoples an opportunity to unite.

Blog: www.citizensfordemocracy.wordpress.com
Twitter @cfdpk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cfd.pakistan
.
.

‘No Reprieve’ by Farieha Aziz

While Pakistan has been living under an increasingly murky sky for years, it has grown darker and more ominous since Aasiya Bibi’s conviction for alleged blasphemy in December 2010. Following that, close on the heels came the murders of Punjab Governor, Salmaan Taseer, and Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti. And it didn’t end there. The dark cloud of fear and intimidation has not receded. Since the two high-profile murders, there has been an alarming rise in the number of people accused of blasphemy as well as in the number of cases filed, and several other people – minorities and targets of sectarian wars among them – have fallen prey to vigilante justice and cold-blooded murder.

Not surprising then, that when the news of convicted blasphemer David Qamar Masih’s passing away while serving a jail term was received, it sounded alarm bells. Did he really die of a heart attack at age 52, as the jail authorities claimed, or was it yet another case of the law-enforcers playing judge, jury and executioner? Who can blame people for speculating, given the numerous instances where jail wardens or other prisoners have killed inmates in jail on charges of blasphemy. And if it is not in jail, it has been outside of it. On March 4, Mohammed Imran, who was acquitted of blasphemy charges a year ago, was shot dead on the outskirts of Rawalpindi.

In the most recent case that was reported on March 26, a man by the name of Yaqoob was accused of using abusive language against the Prophet (PBUH) in Gilgit. Announcements from mosques galvanised people from nearby houses, who took to the streets and dispersed only when the police arrested and booked the accused. This was preceded by a similar incident in Lahore’s Badami Bagh area, where a mob collected to burn down the Full Gospel Assembly (FGA) Church after clerics announced from their pulpits that the parishioners had burnt pages of the Holy Quran. While the police reached in time to prevent the mob’s attack, it did not arrest anyone – neither those attempting to commit arson, nor the clerics who were instigating murder. But that was not unprecedented. For example, the imam of the Mohabbat Khan mosque in Peshawar, who vociferously announced head money for Aasiya Bibi in the event of the court acquitting her, remains free.

The increasingly intolerant and dangerous prevailing climate can be gauged just by a glance at daily reports. In late January, a dispute between two sisters-in-law led to one, Amina, a Muslim, accusing the other, Zahira, a Christian, of blasphemy. Following the allegation, Zahira’s house was broken into and she and her mother were beaten. In early February, sectarian differences led to an attack on a religious procession, resulting in the death of two people. In mid-February, in Multan, a teacher who was accused of blasphemy by a student was not only suspended, but savagely beaten up by residents, instigated by mosque announcements and text messages, due to which he sustained life-threatening injuries.

Several cases have been reported in these three months where arrests have been made and people booked under 295-B (defiling the Quran) and 295-C (using derogatory language against the Prophet (PBUH)), and there have been convictions where courts have handed down life imprisonment and death sentences. In Multan, a prayer leader and his 20-year-old son were sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged blasphemy; in Bahawalpur, a sessions court put a man charged under 295-C and 298-A (use of derogatory language against holy personages) on death row, and another man was awarded a life sentence after he was found guilty of defiling the Quran by a sessions court.

Numerous other cases have been reported, many of them undoubtedly motivated more by personal rivalries and sectarian or religious differences than any real offence. As a leading religious scholar put it, “who would be foolhardy enough to risk his life by blaspheming in this climate – unless he/she is on a suicide mission.” Thus, when in February Muslim residents in Faisalabad charged Agnes Bibi, a Christian woman with blasphemy, and it later transpired this was in order to acquire a piece of land she held, it came as no surprise. In fact, today just about anything – from wearing a wooden pendant around one’s neck allegedly bearing “blasphemous” inscriptions against the Sahaba, removing a poster from outside of one’s shop, tying a shoe to a flag post with a holy symbol on it and even an exchange of SMSes – can be construed as blasphemy, and all these have actually been grounds for FIRs.

The question that begs to be asked then is, what kind of evidence is considered as proof or otherwise of the crime of blasphemy in a court of law? Are SMSes, sim cards, accounts by warring neighbours and the like enough proof of awarding people life imprisonment and death sentences? And what in the instance that an accused is not of sound mind, as in Karachi, where medical reports of a man accused of burning pages of the Holy Quran clearly indicated he was a psychiatric patient. Or for that matter, what of a minor, such as the 17-year-old who was charged with blasphemy for answers he wrote in an exam paper?

Since the introduction of the Blasphemy Law to Pakistan’s Penal Code – which it must be emphasised happened during the Zia era – to date, whenever any government has announced the intent to amend the Blasphemy Law to curb its abuse, religious groups have taken to the streets, vehemently denouncing the government’s proposition. Each time they have been successful in building pressure and forcing the government to back down from its intent. So, not surprisingly, this time too the religious lobby succeeded in making the PPP retreat from its avowed attempt to consider amending the law. So much so, that contrary to the facts, PPP members claimed no committee was ever constituted to even consider touching the law. Even more telling was how the party did not issue a forthright condemnation of the assassination of their governor and minister, till long after the events. In fact, it was not until late March, when President Zardari addressed parliament, that there was an official condemnation of the murders of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti.

But what next? Should this be interpreted as a sign that the government is finally ready to apprehend and try the killers, and put a stop to the abuse of the Blasphemy Law? Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s recent statement while speaking to Reuters in London would indicate so. He said “[the Blasphemy Law’s] misuse is being … taken into account and party leaders … will meet to try to reach a consensus on the law.” However, when he qualified this by stating this would happen “as proposed by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman,” it left less room for optimism. While the Maulana stated earlier last month, “If a law is being misused against minorities, we are ready to discuss this (matter),” this came after blaming Governor Taseer for the fate he met because of what he said about the law, refusing to condemn slain minister Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder, and issuing warnings against amendments to the Blasphemy Law.

The question is, what form of abuse and what number of casualties will force state institutions to take cognisance of the criminal acts being aimed at its citizens? Hate-mongering, the creation of an atmosphere of threat and intimidation and the stymying of open discourse on the issue has led to the loss of several lives, government functionaries and common citizens alike.

While the government has miles to go in this regard, the onus is also on the judiciary. With powers to take suo moto action, why hasn’t it acted against those inciting violence or conversely, instructed the government to take action? Why does it confine itself to issuing notices only on issues like the NRO and the hiring and firing of government functionaries? How is it that the rule of law is not a concern?

Rights groups, activists and members of civil society have gone hoarse shouting about the abuse of the Blasphemy Law. When the words blasphemy and Taseer became taboo, they continued uttering them in the public sphere, condemning murder as it should be condemned, rather than inventing excuses for it in the name of religion. Breaking the silence on the issue of blasphemy and religious extremism, reaching out to fellow citizens and initiating a dialogue on this issue, and reclaiming public spaces increasingly being taken over by the religious right has been a burgeoning concern.

Citizens for Democracy (CFD), an umbrella group of citizens, labour unions and rights organisations, formed in December 2010 to lobby against the misuse of religion in politics, launched a letter campaign in March, seeking to do exactly that. The letter was addressed to the heads of state institutions and those in power, to demand that they uphold the rule of law, take action against murders and those who incite hate and murder, and ensure the protection of all citizens, especially against acts of vigilantism justified in the name of religion. While thousands of signatories from all walks of life responded to the call, the right-wing brigade has, by using the pulpit and the streets, managed to muster ever-growing and infinitely more numbers to demonstrate its strength.

So while civil society must continue to lobby, ultimately, change will have to be effected at many levels, not least among these the policy level, and time is already running out.

Farieha Aziz is currently an assistant editor at Newsline and has been with the organisation since 2007. She has a masters in English from the University of Karachi. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008.

http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2011/04/no-reprieve/
.
.

SILENCE MEANS MORE BLOOD! Join CFD, Karachi, March 12/11

Raise your voice against

religious extremism

Please join the letter campaign to the President, the PM and the Chief Justice of Pakistan organized by the Citizens for Democracy on Saturday, 12th March, from 11am to 7pm opposite Park Towers, Karachi. If possible, bring some postage stamps. Even better, bring as many friends as you can.

http://citizensfordemocracy.wordpress.com/

cfd.pak@gmail.com

 

Citizens For Democracy (CFD) is an umbrella group of over 75 organizations including professional groups, NGOs, trade unions, student unions, political parties and concerned individuals united against the turn towards extremism in our society. CFD calls upon all professional groups, NGOs, trade unions, student unions, and individuals to join hands in its peaceful campaigns.

.

.

A Brave Woman of Substance: Sherry Rehman‏

Statement: Government’s Attempt to Black Out Sherry Rehman‏

We at Citizens For Democracy (CFD) and Socialist Pakistan News (SPN) must condemn the government’s attempt to completely black out parliamentarian and Human Rights activist Sherry Rehman on a day when her contribution to women’s struggle, in the fields of democratic politics, human rights and parliamentary legislation, as well as her personal courage and commitment, deserved special mention. Today, on March 8, beginning with the official PTV programmes, the Prime Minister’s speech, the video prepared and played at the PM’s event by the Ministry of Women’s Development on Pakistan’s outstanding Women of Substance, there was no mention of Sherry Rehman at all. This concerted attempt by a progressive political party and democratic government to completely black out one of its most outstanding women parliamentarians, is shameful.

We take this opportunity on the 100th International Women’s Day, to salute Sherry Rehman for her dedication and commitment to women’s struggle to fight for their constitutional rights to equality and justice. Today Sherry Rehman, who is facing death threats and is still refusing to leave the country, is a source of inspiration to millions of Pakistani women – and men. She is a courageous woman who has never hesitated to stand up and be counted for her principles and her democratic beliefs. We salute this Outstanding Daughter of Pakistan, this Brave Woman of Substance.

From Tahira Abdullah, Nasim Zehra and Aamir Mansoor
.
.

Followup: Assassination of Governor Punjab Salman Taseer

Two petitions/statements have been launched demanding Pakistan authorities to take legal action against religious leaders who are inciting fatal violence against individuals fighting for human rights in the country. Earlier, Governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer was murdered, execution-style, as a direct result of such incitements.

The first petition, addressed to the Government of Pakistan, is launched by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) asking that the authorities begin by writing First Information Reports (FIRs) against religious fundamentalists who are openly calling for murders of politicians and activists working for democratic and human rights of the people of Pakistan. Sign it here: http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/support.php?ua=UAG-001-2011

The second is a statement addressed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), demanding that he take sou moto action against religious leaders who are inciting violence against individuals. Presented by Citizens for Democracy, the Statement is posted at the link below, and is setup to record signatures via ‘Comments’. http://citizensfordemocracy.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/

Please take a moment to sign both as it is vital to support such initiatives to encourage safe and democratic environments for people to live.
.
.