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Islamic countries set aside their 12-year campaign to have religions protected from "defamation", allowing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Genea to approve a plan to promote religious tolerance on Thursday. Western countries and their Latin American allies, strong opponents of the defamation concept, joined Muslim and African states in backing without vote the new approach that switches focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers.
Since 1998, the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) had won majority approval in the council and at the United Nations General Assembly for a series of resolutions on "combating defamation of religion". Critics said the concept ran against international law and free speech, and left the way open for tough "blasphemy" laws like those in Pakistan which have been invoked this year by the killers of two moderate politicians in Pakistan. They argued that it also allowed states where one religion predominates to keep religious minorities under tight control or even leave them open to forced conversion or oppression.
from Expert Zone:
(The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not represent those of Reuters)
Today's murder of Pakistani Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti by religious extremists establishes a pattern of growing religious intolerance. It is undermining Pakistan's struggling democracy by shutting down free speech and political expression in the name of a ruthless ideology disguised as religion.
In a rare show of unity with Istanbul’s dwindling Jewish community, government officials attended the country’s first official commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Nazi concentration camps.
The highest authority of Sunni Islam, the Islamic University of al-Azhar in Cairo, has frozen all dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church over what it called Pope Benedict's repeated insults towards Islam. Benedict this month condemned attacks on churches that killed dozens of people in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, saying they showed the need to adopt effective measures to protect religious minorities. (Photo: Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, July 13, 2006/Suhaib Salem)
His remarks followed a New Year bombing outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria that left 23 people dead and dozens injured and prompted demonstrations by both Christians and Muslims against sectarian violence. The pope urged Christian communities to persevere in a non-violent manner in the face of what he described as "a strategy of violence that has Christians as a target".
(Photo: Protesters demand release of Asia Bibi, in Lahore November 21, 2010/Mohsin Raza)
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Naeem Shakir is a Lahore-based human rights activist and advocate of the Pakistan Supreme Court.
By Naeem Shakir
The religious minorities in Pakistan are once again awe-struck over the death sentence passed against a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, for committing blasphemy. The fear and scare such tragic events create and spread amongst the minorities goes down their spine and dampens their spirits as citizens of Pakistan. They wonder for how long they would be persecuted for having a faith different from the Muslim majority. Each time it has been found that the blasphemy law was used either for religious persecution or for settling personal scores or grabbing land.
(Photo: Pprotesters demand the release of Asia Bibi at a Karachi rally, November 25, 2010/Akhtar Soomro)
A Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has sparked criticism over the country's blasphemy law. Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of four, requested a pardon from the president after a lower court sentenced her to death on Nov 8 in a case stemming from a village dispute.
The Lahore High Court barred Zardari on Monday from pardoning Bibi in a petition filed by Shahid Iqbal, a Pakistani citizen. Iqbal's lawyer Allah Bux Laghari told Reuters a pardon was illegal as the court was already hearing an appeal against her sentence.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
Earlier this year I asked someone who had been a senior minister in the government of Pakistan why the country could not change laws which discriminated against minorities. I asked the question because more than 80 people from the minority Ahmadi sect had just been killed in two mosques in Lahore, which at the time served as a wake-up call of the dangers of growing religious intolerance in Pakistan.
His answer was unhesitating. You could not possibly do something like that in Pakistan.
The United States on Wednesday unveiled its annual survey of religious freedom, citing countries ranging from North Korea to Eritrea as repressing religious liberties.
Following are some of the conclusions from the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report on eight countries previously named as areas of "special concern" over their limits on religious freedom.
(Photo: Rally against proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque near World Trade Center site in New York ,August 22, 2010./Jessica Rinaldi)
The U.S. Justice Department has said it is monitoring 11 cases of potential land-use discrimination against Muslims, a sharp increase in cases under a federal law designed to protect religious minorities in zoning disputes.
In a report on discrimination against mosques, synagogues, churches and other religious sites, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said on Tuesday it has monitored 18 cases of possible bias against Muslims over the past 10 years.
A Pakistani court ordered the release of a mentally ill women accused of blasphemy who has been held without trial for 14 years, a court official and her lawyer said on Thursday. Police arrested Zaibun Nisa, now 55, in 1996 outside Islamabad after a Muslim cleric registered a complaint about the desecration of a copy of the Koran.
She has been held in the prison section of a mental hospital in the eastern city of Lahore for 14 years without trial because no one pursued her case.