FaithWorld

100 pilgrims killed in stampede at Hindu festival in India

sabarimalaA stampede sparked by a night-time road accident in dense forest has killed more than 100 Hindu pilgrims in the southern state of Kerala in India. Kerala’s deputy general of police told reporters that 102 people who visited the Sabarimala Temple to offer prayers to the Hindu deity Ayappa had been killed on Friday night. Officials at a Hindu temple estimated the death toll at around 100, Kerala Temple Affairs Minister Ramachandran Kadannappally said by telephone. (Photo: Pilgrims at Sabarimala Temple, January 15, 2003/Dipak Kumar)

Hundreds of thousands had gathered at the hilltop shrine of Sabarimala on Friday evening, the last day of an annual two-month religious festival. A bus carrying pilgrims back to the neighbouring state of Karnataka collided with a jeep and went out of control, crushing people walking nearby, Kadannappally said. Panicked pilgrims rushed forward, triggering a stampede.

“They came down the hillside… this happened primarily because the area was totally dark,” Jacob Punnoose, Kerala Deputy General of Police told Times Now TV channel.

Fifty-two pilgrims were killed in an almost identical stampede at Sabarimala in 1999. An investigation into the deaths found the state government guilty of negligence in ensuring public safety.

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Egypt sentences Muslim to death for Coptic shooting

coptic (Photo: Riot police stand guard near the Orthodox church in Alexandria, Egypt bombed during Orthodox Christmas Mass, January 6, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

An Egyptian state security court on Sunday sentenced a Muslim man to death for killing six Coptic Christians and a Muslim police officer in a drive-by shooting on Coptic Christmas Eve in January 2010.

Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, 39, known as Hamam Kamouni, had been charged with the “premeditated murder” of the Christians and the police officer and with “intimidating citizens” in Nagaa Hamady in southern Egypt after mass on the eve of Coptic Christmas.

The judge said Hussein’s sentence would be sent to the Grand Mufti for confirmation, a reference to Egypt’s top religious authority who is called on to confirm death sentences.

Haiti voodoo leader urges halt to cholera lynchings of priests

voodoo 1 (Photo: A voodoo priest walks around a believer in a trance during a ritual at a voodoo festival July 24, 2010/Eduardo Munoz)

The head of Haiti’s voodoo religion has appealed to authorities  to halt the bloody lynchings of voodoo priests by people who blame them for causing the Caribbean country’s deadly cholera epidemic. Since the epidemic started in mid-October, at least 45 male and female voodoo priests, known respectively as “houngan” and “manbo,” have been killed. Many of the victims were hacked to death and mutilated by machetes, Max Beauvoir, the “Ati” or supreme leader of Haitian voodoo, told Reuters.

“They are being blamed for using voodoo to contaminate people with cholera,” Beauvoir said on Thursday. The killers accused voodoo priests of spreading cholera by scattering powder or casting “spells” and complained that local police and government officials were not doing enough to halt the lynchings and punish the killers. Voodoo is recognized and protected by the constitution as one of Haiti’s main religions.

“My call is to the authorities so they can assume their responsibilities,” said Beauvoir, who fears more attacks against voodoo devotees. Most of the lynchings occurred in the southwest of Haiti but also in the center and the north.

Guestview: The infliction of the blasphemy law in Pakistan

asia bibi 1 (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.

In Asia Bibi’s case, the complainant was a local clergyman Qari Mohammad Salam. He was neither present at the place of occurrence nor personally heard the blasphemous words allegedly uttered by Asia Bibi. Muslim women who worked with Asia Bibi in the falsa fruit fields of a local landlord informed him on June 19, 2009 that on June 14, Asia uttered blasphemous remarks about the Prophet (PBUH) and the Quran. The two sisters admitted in evidence that a quarrel took place regarding drinking water that Asia brought, which was declared as ‘unclean’ and they refused to drink it. The complainant stated that she confessed her guilt before a religiously charged mob.

Hardline Pakistan imam offers reward to kill Christian woman

qureshiA hardline, pro-Taliban Pakistani Muslim cleric on Friday offered a reward for anyone who kills a Christian woman sentenced to death by a court on charges of insulting Islam. The sentence against Asia Bibi has renewed debate about Pakistan’s blasphemy law which critics say is used to persecute religious minorities, fan religious extremism and settle personal scores. Non-Muslim minorities account roughly 4 percent of Pakistan’s about 170 million population. (Photo: Maulana Yousef Qureshi in Peshawar, February 17, 2006/str)

Maulana Yousef Qureshi, the imam of a major mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar, offered a $5,800 (3,700 pounds) reward and warned the government against any move to abolish or change the blasphemy law. “We will strongly resist any attempt to repeal laws which provide protection to the sanctity of Holy Prophet Mohammad,” Qureshi told a rally of hardline Islamists.

“Anyone who kills Asia will be given 500,000 rupees in reward from Masjid Mohabat Khan,” he said referring to his mosque. Qureshi, a cleric who has been leading the congregation at the 17th century Mohabat Khan mosque for decades, later told Reuters he was determined to see her killed. “We expect her to be hanged and if she is not hanged then we will ask mujahideen and Taliban to kill her.”

Pakistan Pres. Zardari barred from pardoning Christian woman

bibi 1 (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.

“We believe it is the court’s duty to evaluate the evidence against her, not individuals, and if she is found innocent, she should be freed,” he said.

Condemned Christian woman seeks mercy in Pakistan

bibiA Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan on charges of blaspheming Islam said on Saturday she had been wrongfully accused by neighbours due to a personal dispute, and appealed to the president to pardon her.

Asia Bibi, mother of four, is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law which rights groups say is often exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores. (Photo: Asia Bibi in an undated photo handed out by family members on November 13, 2010. Standing left to right is Bibi’s brother Ramzan, Asia, brother Yunus and son Imran)

The 36-year-old farm worker was taken into custody by police in June last year and was convicted by a lower court on Nov. 8. She has been in prison since then, with her case drawing international media attention as well as appeals by human rights groups, and, according to Pakistani media, Pope Benedict.

Iraq pres rejects Aziz death order, partly because he is Christian

azizIraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Wednesday he will not sign an execution order for Tareq Aziz, the former deputy of dictator Saddam Hussein sentenced to death last month for crimes against humanity.

“No, I will not sign the execution order for Tareq Aziz, because I am a socialist,” Talabani told French television France 24 in an interview. “I sympathize with Tareq Aziz because he is an Iraqi Christian. Moreover he is an old man who is over 70.” (Photo:  A video grab of former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz listening to the court verdict in Baghdad March 11, 2009/Iraqiya TV via Reuters TV)

Iraq’s high tribunal passed a death sentence on Aziz, once the international face of Saddam’s government, in October over the persecution of Islamic parties in Iraq during Saddam’s rule. The Vatican and Russia both called on Iraq not to carry out the death sentence on humanitarian grounds, noting his age and health problems. The Vatican said mercy would help the war-torn country make progress toward reconciliation, peace and justice.

Iran tells world: don’t make woman’s stoning a human rights issue

stoningForeign countries should not interfere in Iran’s legal system and stop trying to turn the case of a woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery into a human rights issue, Tehran said on Tuesday. (Photo: Demonstrator against stoning in Trafalgar Square, London, August 28, 2010/Paul Hackett)

The case of the 43-year-old mother of two, condemned to death for illicit sex and charged with involvement in her husband’s murder, provoked an international outcry, with Brazil offering her asylum and the Vatican speaking out against the “brutal” punishment.

stoning 2A government spokesman said the furor was based on false information about Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s case.  “Unfortunately, (they are) defending a person who is being tried for murder and adultery, which are two major crimes of this lady and should not become a human rights issue,” Foreign Ministry Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference.

CNN fires veteran Mideast editor over tweet on respect for Fadlallah

fadlallah picCNN has fired a senior editor for Middle East news after she published a Twitter message that said she respected a Lebanese Shi’ite cleric branded a terrorist by the United States, U.S. and British media said on Thursday. The Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, one of Shi’ite Islam’s highest religious authorities and an early mentor of the militant group Hezbollah, died in Beirut on Sunday. (Photo: Supporters of Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah hold posters after his death in Beirut, July 4, 2010/Khalil Hassan)

Octavia Nasr, a 20-year CNN veteran based in Atlanta, wrote on Twitter: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” Some supporters of Israel saw the Twitter posting almost immediately and took issue with it, the New York Times said.

The Times cited Parisa Khosravi, the senior vice president for CNN International Newsgathering, as saying in an internal memorandum that she “had a conversation” with Nasr and that “we have decided that she will be leaving the company.”