FaithWorld

Pakistan court frees mentally ill blasphemy suspect after 14 years

blasphemyA 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. (Photo: Pakistani women protest in Karachi against the blasphemy law, January 16, 2001/Zahid Hussein)

“At her arrest, her medical examination was carried out and doctors had certified that she was mentally ill but still she was languishing in jail,” her lawyer, Aftab Ahmed Bajwa, who recently took up her case with the Lahore High Court, told Reuters. Chaudhry Mohammad Sharif, the chief justice of the high court, ordered Nisa’s immediate release, a court official said.

Human right activists have long called for the repeal of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, which they say discriminates against non-Muslim religious minorities and is also used to settle personal scores.  Two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous letter against the Prophet Mohammad were gunned down outside a court in the eastern city of Faisalabad on Monday.

Read the full story here.

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In season of optimism, Kashmiri Hindus dream of returning home

kashmirTwo decades after they were forced to flee Kashmir, thousands of Hindu Pandits seek to return to their ancestral homeland, their hopes lifted by a fall in Islamist rebel attacks against New Delhi’s rule. (Photo: Kashmiri Pandits perform prayers during an annual Hindu festival at a shrine in Khirbhawani, June 19, 2010/Danish Ismail)

Exiled Pandits gathered Saturday by the green chinar trees and sparkling streams at the Khirbhawani shrine for an annual festival, chanting hymns to the goddess of peace who is the deity in this holy spot 30 km east of Srinagar.

“My motherland is regaining its peace and beauty, I can feel it. I feel the time has come to return and live here with Muslim brethren,” 52-year-old Ravinder Sadhu, a migrant who lives with his family in the western Indian city of Pune, told Reuters.

Muslim states seek UN Human Rights Council action on West’s “Islamophobia”

human rights council (Photo: Delegates at the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva on March 22, 2010/Denis Balibouse)

Muslim states that say what they call “islamophobia” is sweeping the West and its media have demanded that the United Nations take tougher action against it.  Delegates from Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Egypt, told the United Nations Human Rights Council this week that treatment of Muslims in Western countries amounted to racism and discrimination and must be fought.

Pakistan, speaking for the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), has tabled a resolution at the council instructing its special investigator on religious freedom “to work closely with mass media organisations to ensure that they create and promote an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for religious and cultural diversity”.

Diplomats say the resolution, which also tells the investigator to make recommendations to the Human Rights Council on how its strictures might be implemented, is bound to pass given the majority the OIC and its allies have in the body.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Killings of Ahmadis unleashes fresh soul-searching over Pakistan’s identity

ahmadiIn a country which has suffered many bombings, the killing of more than 80 people in two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore last week has unleashed a particularly anguished bout of soul-searching in Pakistan, going right to the heart of its identity as an Islamic nation.

When he heard the news, wrote Kamran Shafi in Dawn, "I ran home and put on the TV and burst into tears, first of rage and a seething anger; and then of complete and utter helplessness and sadness. Shame on us."

"Tell me – is this a country that we can be proud of?,"  wrote Kalsoom on the blog Changing up Pakistan. "Pakistan was supposedly established as a homeland for Muslims, to free them of discrimination. This same country now allows persecution to continue not just unabated but often by the writ of the state."

Pakistani law fuels hatred of Ahmadis, prompts attacks: UN experts

ahmadiOfficial discrimination in Pakistan against the Ahmadi Muslim sect fuels hatred of the community and prompts violent attacks against them, according to three U.N. human rights investigators.

In a statement issued by the United Nations in Geneva following deadly bombings last Friday of two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, the three said the authorities had failed to head off the attacks despite many signs that they were coming. (Photo: Ahmadis bury attack victims in Chenab Nagar,  northwest of Lahore on May 29, 2010/stringer)

“Members of this (Ahmadi) religious community have faced continuous threats, discrimination and violent attacks in Pakistan,” said the experts, who included Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir.

from India Insight:

In Kashmir, nearly half favour independence

Nearly half of the people living in the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir want their disputed and divided state to become an independent country, according to a poll published by think tank Chatham House.

A man walks past closed shops during a strike in Srinagar June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/Files London-based Chatham House says the poll is the first to be conducted on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), a military control line that has separated Indian and Pakistani controlled Kashmir since the U.N.-brokered ceasefire between two rivals in 1949.

The poll has produced startling results. On average 44 percent of people in Pakistani-administered Kashmir favoured independence, compared with 43 percent in Indian Kashmir.

French foreign minister gets ready for criticism over planned burqa ban


(French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Europe 1 radio, 2 May 2010/Dailymotion)

France hasn’t even presented its draft bill to outlaw Muslim face veils yet — in contrast to Belgium, which has started voting on its ban — but Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is already preparing for the wave of criticism from abroad it will provoke. He told Europe 1 radio on Sunday that he’d already warned the government at a cabinet meeting about what to expect.

“The United States are very attached to religious liberty and there will be lots of NGOs and American foundations that will want to point out our mistake,” he said (in the video above in French). “I think they’ll also be convinced that we are for religious liberty but there is no religious recommendation to veil one’s face.

Mumbai gunmen denied Muslim burial secretly interred in January

Remember the issue of what to do with the corpses of the nine attackers killed during the November 2008 siege of the Taj Mahal Hotel and other targets in Mumbai that killed 166 people? The dead attackers were all presumed to be Pakistani Muslims, like the sole survivor, but local Indian Muslim leaders refused to let them be buried in their cemeteries. Islamabad ignored calls to take the bodies back. So they were left in morgue refrigerators in Mumbai, presumably until the issue was finally settled. kasab

Sole surviving attacker, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, in police custody in this undated video grab shown by CNN IBN Television channel on February 3, 2009/CNN IBN

FaithWorld was deluged with comments after we asked if the bodies should be cremated and the ashes spread at sea. A surprising number of them suggested the bodies should be desecrated, thrown to the dogs or dumped at the Pakistani-Indian border. The discussion tapered off and the issue seemed to have been forgotten.

from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban's promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

Over a five year period of engagement, the United States gained little while the Taliban grew even more radicalised and the threat from al Qaeda more serious. Rubin details how State Department officials were repeatedly misled by Taliban officials harbouring bin Laden even after two U.S. embassies were attacked in Africa in  1998.  They even told them they would protect the Buddha statues in Bamiyan which were subsequently destroyed.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Defining Pakistan

binoria girlsHistorian Manan Ahmed has a must-read column up at The National on a strengthening grassroots conservative Islamist ideology in Pakistani society, encouraged, he says, by the political thinking of the likes of TV host Zaid Hamid.

"A new narrative is ascendant in Pakistan. It is in the writings of major Urdu-language newspaper columnists, who purport to marshal anecdotal or textual evidence on its behalf. It is on television, where the hosts of religious and political talk shows polish it with slick production values.

"The basic elements of the story – which has often, and erroneously, been called a conspiracy theory – are simple. Local agents (or terrorists, or soldiers, or Blackwater employees) representing a foreign power (India, or the United States, or Israel) are intent on destroying Pakistan because they fear that it will otherwise emerge as the powerful leader of the Muslim world, just as the country’s past leaders had predicted. The ascendant narrative is prophetic and self-pitying, nationalist and martial; it is a way to interpret current events and a call for activism to restore the country’s interrupted rise to glory.