Sunday, 22 May 2011

Joel Sahotra demands ‘equal privileges’ for minorities

Mr. Joel Amir Sahotra, a member of the Punjab Assembly, has demanded that the government should take steps to treat students from religious minorities on an equal basis.

Sahotra has raised the question of giving an alloting 20 marks to Muslim students in what is called “Hafiz-e-Quran,” which means that when he or she has memorized the Quran by heart, they are given these special marks.

He said, when a Muslim student applies for admission to a college, university or professional educational institutions, that person is given an additional marks as a way to recognize “their love for the Quran.”
Minorities the most vulnerable segment of our society and live hand-to-mouth and when this occurs, this drastic situation makes it difficult for non-Muslim students get a professional and higher education to become part of mainstream of the country,” he said.

“Giving additional marks to a Quran Hafiz also applies to when someone applies for a job in the government and/or in the private sector, as the Muslim student is given five additional marks during an interview that involves a test.

I have observed that Christian youth, and others from different religious minorities, love their Holy books. There are thousands of young people who read Bible every day and attend various Bible courses. They must also be recognized by the state.”
Mr. Sahotra went on to say that Rana Sana Ulla, the Minister for Law in Punjab, has “assured” him that he would soon start a “consultation” to get “solution for the students and candidates from religious minorities who are applying for jobs.”

Would his demand for equality be implemented ?

Akram Masih Gill demands scholarship funds for minorities to be increased

State for Interfaith Harmony and Minorities Affairs Minister Akram Masih Gill said scholarship funds for children of the minorities will be increased from Rs 16 million to Rs 20 million.
Minister of State for Interfaith and Harmony Akram Masih Gill, who also belongs to the PML-Q, has been given full charge of the ministry. was named “Minister of the State” (a sort of “Deputy Minister”).

Speaking to a delegation of parliamentarian’s representing the minorities, he added, development funds would be distributed among the minorities legislators on equal basis, which would help them undertake development work in their respective areas. Gill said development funds for the welfare of the minorities would also be increased in the upcoming budget 2011-12.

The minister informed the delegation that the interfaith harmony ministry would arrange ulema conferences, seminars and walks to bridge the gap among the followers of different religions. Interfaith committees would also be set up at the district level, he said. Gill also informed that the UN would be approached for the establishment of a commission for the well being of minorities across the world. The minister said that the ministry was well aware of the problems being faced by the minorities and it would take concrete steps to resolve all these problems.

Interestingly, last year Akram Masih Gill made the government speechless as he posed a question in the National Assembly on Friday if alcohol was illegal, how the earning from taxes on it could be legal.

“The amount collected through excise duty on the sale of alcohol should be spent on the minorities,” he said in his budget speech. Akram Masih Gill expressed his dismay over the meagre amount of Rs150 million earmarked for the Minorities Welfare Funds in the budget and staged a walkout from the House.

Monday, 16 May 2011

J. Salik sprinkles ash over himself.

Pakistani Christian minority leader J. Salik sprinkles ash over his body in Islamabad on March 24, 2011, to protest the Koran burning by U.S. pastor Terry Jones. Pakistan has strongly condemned the "deliberate desecration" of the Koran by the Florida-based evangelical preacher, calling it a setback for global efforts to promote harmony. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)


Friday, 13 May 2011

24 year old Nurse kidnapped converted to Islam and forcefully married in Rahim Yar Khan

A 24-year Christian Nurse from Rahim Yar Khan was abducted by a Muslim man who, after forcing her to convert to Islam, also forcefully married her.
Zeehan Iliyas, a young Muslim man works as an office boy in United Bank Ltd, Her family has effortessly tried to get her back but their voices have fallen to deaf ears of the law.

The young 24 yeard old girl was training to be a nurse in the orthopaedic ward of the Sheikh Zayed Medical College, last Sunday Farah was abducted from the Jinnah Park by Zeeshan and his two brothers Imram and Gulfam, which is located near her college 

This [Muslim] family has a history of kidnapping young Christian women and forcing them to convert, said Bilquees Marriam, Farah’s mother, adding that they act with impunity because they are backed by a local Member of the National Assembly, who belongs to the ruling party.

The woman and her other six children went to the police to file the abduction report, but the duty officer refused to take a First Information Report (FIR).

The local Christian community rallied around the kidnapped woman’s family and began protesting against the violence against her and the complicity of local law enforcement. Initially, police tried to disperse the crowd but following the intervention of the superintendent of police, a FIR application was accepted and an investigation was launched.

However, the delay gave Farah Hatim’s kidnappers time to take the young woman to a district court under duress so that she could state that she had converted to Islam and would marry Zeehan Iliyas.

The judge, who failed to cross-examine the woman, especially with regards to the wounds to her body, simply accepted her statement as “valid”.

Zahid Hussain, the Hatim family lawyer, slammed the gross violation of the Farah’s rights and the faulty legal procedures. He said that when “someone makes a statement before a court, the judge must question the applicant alone in order to determine whether his or her decision was made under duress or by consent. In this case, the courtroom was full of people, including those who actively took part in her abduction and assault. The judge also ignored her wounds.  All this shows that she was forced to sign the statement”.

Last Tuesday, Farah’s family filed a second complaint, which the police has so far failed to pursue.

Forced conversions are common in Pakistan and usually supported by powerful people and clerics where girls are threatened and beaten to dictate as told in court and many times law enforcement agencies are bribed and the girls never return home.

Bookshop owner accused of blasphemy in Sialkot

Pakistan's infamous blasphemy law has struck again, this time in Sialkot city. The victim is a book store owner named Gulzar Masih.
Gulzar Masih and his muslim friend Abdul Rauf opened a bookshop 10 years ago and soon their business flourished, they expanded their shop to a much bigger one, seeing the success of the business Rauf wanted to take over the bookshop for himself and there were rifts between the two.To come to a settlement both partners agreed to go separate ways in 2009 resulting in individual bookshops named Delight books & New Delight books. Gulzar's unit began to thrive and his success was not acceptable to Rauf who refused to accept his own failure in running a shop as well as Gulzar, and unveiled a fiendish plan to try and close down his competitor; the bookshop of his former business associate.

Gulzar Masih’s son Suleman went early morning to open their shop on Druman Wala Chowk only to find some burnt pages of the Qur‘an under the shutter, and as pre-planned employees of Abdul Rauf began to shout, accusing Gulzar and his son of the crime.

 The noise by Rauf's staff gathered more muslims from the area and passers-by who then attempted to attack Suleman but he was lucky enough to escape from the crowd and inform his father of the conspiracy.The mob then proceeded to set Gulzar's shop on fire, however Police reached on time and prevented the crowd from burning the shop and dispersed all those gathered.
Meanwhile, a Christian leader says “extremist elements are getting stronger” in his nation.
The  blasphemy law provides the death penalty for anyone who speaks ill of Islam or Prophet Mohammed or anyone who disrespects the Quran.

Gulzar Masih, his son and the rest of the family have gone into hiding leaving behind their bookshop to save themselves from the widely criticized blasphemy law that has destroyed lives of many Christians where a few false witnesses and some pieces of a Quran's page can frame anybody. 

To date the maximum cases of blasphemy cases have come from Punjab, Sialkot city also comes under the Punjab Province where most of Pakistan's Christian community resides and it also records the most discrimination against minorities than any other place in Pakistan.

The blasphemy law is being once more as a pretext to settle a personal score,” said Father Naeem Taj.

Will Gulzar get justice ? or will Rauf's evil plans succeed? 

Monday, 9 May 2011

Minorities Minister & Ministry

PML-Q Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada is now offered Health Ministry after last weeks appointment of Federal Minister For Minorities which he refused as it was unacceptable to the minorities who demanded a person from their own faith as Pirzada is a Muslim and lacked experience and ability to carry late Shahbaz Bhatti's torch forward.
However Mr. Pirzada's name is still posted on the Ministry of Minorities website

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Sunday renamed the Ministry of Minorities Affairs as Ministry of Interfaith Harmony. We wonder how name changing resolve minorities issues.

Interestingly Pirzada had termed suicide bombers as "will of God" and even 
demanded the abolition of Federal Shariat Court and Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) saying that there was no need for the Shariat Court in the presence of Shariat Bench in the Supreme Court. 

Pirzada said last week “The truth is that I am not mentally prepared to handle the ministry. I believe that it should be handled by a representative of the minorities. If the minorities don’t want me to hold this post, I will tender my resignation

The appointment of Pirzada was not only questioned by Minorities but baffled many Muslims and other ministers of the cabinet at this decision. It seemed as if someone was handed down this position with the purpose of filling in an empty seat.
Will the government appoint a member of a minority as the Minister for Religious Affairs? It will never do any such thing. Then how can it appoint someone from the majority as the minister for minority affairs? questioned former MPA Michael Javaid.

Minority MNA, Nelson Azeem  said  “Our leaders should not be bound to the minority affairs ministry only. We should be given charge of other ministries as well,”

Dr. Paul Bhatti, brother of the late Shahbaz Bhatti is an advisor for minorities affairs.

Shahbaz Bhatti was the only Christian in the federal cabinet struggled for the rights of minorities and on March 2 2011 was assassinated in front of his home in Islamabad.

As federal minister, Bhatti took serious steps to ensure the safety, rights and empower religious minorities while in office, can a Muslim minister achieve these?:

•    In 2002, he banned the sale of properties belonging to minorities while law enforcement authorities took action against them
•    Supported the revisions of the Blasphemy Law by the end of 2010
•    Supported repeal for discriminatory laws that affected minority groups
•    Launched national campaign to promote interfaith and harmony through seminars,  awareness groups, and workshop.
•    Had planned to introduce legislation that would ban hate speech and hate literature
•    Proposed to the Ministry of Education to introduce comparative religion courses as a curriculum subject
•    A five per cent quota was given for all government jobs to minorities
•    Four reserved senate seats
•    Religious holidays and festivals are recognized by the government and respected.
•    Made August 11th Minority Day in Pakistan
•    Prayer room for non-Muslims in the prison system
•    A 24-hour crisis hotline to report acts of violence against minorities
•    A campaign to protect religious artifacts and sites that belong to minorities

Who will replace Shahbaz Bhatti ?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Gujranwala update- Aman Chowk

Here is a rough translation of this article:
Strict action would be taken against those that ruin peace.
All the residents of Aziz Colony should return home as we assure full peace and protection. Khokharki visit and order to file a case against those who uploaded extremist video on Youtube. (by CPO)

CPO Gujranwala along with leaders of ETEHAAD COMMITTEE and journalists visted KHOKHARKI and inquired about the current conditions of peace in the area from the appointed officers. He said that a society can never survive without peace so he renamed the "Pawranwala Chwok" as "AMAN CHOWk". This name will be announced soon officially in the presence of Islamic Ulma and Christian priests. He said that strict acions would be taken against anyone who tried to ruin peace of the area as no one has right to do so. He assured peace in the area to all residents of the Colony and appealed them to return to their houses.

Are Christians looking for solutions to the blasphemy laws and an end to discrimination or to renaming of landmarks ?

Mentally-ill Christian charged with 'blasphemy' in Sahiwal

Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law has again claimed another victim, this time in Chichawatni under Sahiwal district where a mentally ill Christian youth 25-year-old Babar Masih; son of Iqbal Masih a resident of Shakir Colony.

Clerics gathered an angry mob outside the Masih family's residence and demanded he be handed over to them for justice, a case was filed against Babar on May 2nd 2011 at the local police station. The mobs threatened to attack and force their way into the house of the alleged blasphemer. Police then from another entrance to the house took him into a police van.
As soon as someone from the mob noticed all the policemen moving towards the road they then realized that Babar was out of the house; the mob chased the vehicle shouting slogans and demanding Babar to be handed over to them.

Seizing the opportunity, the rest of the Masih family ran for their lives as they know the mob would soon come back to vent their anger. The Masih family is now in hiding. Three families related to Babar have fled their homes to save their lives; they are also the only Christians in the neighborhood. 

Amjad the brother of the accused said that many neighbours had informed him that local clerics had forced and pressured many people to provide false testimonies to the police to build up a case in order to register an FIR.

Babar is being accused of blasphemous and abusive words (or language) towards the Prophet Mohammed, Babar being a mentally ill person is an easy target for those wanting to fabricate blasphemy law cases.
It is being said that Babar was walking along the side of a mosque and used abusive language and insulted the Prophet and the local cleric is a witness; however the FIR is not registered by any person from the mosque but a dairy farmer named Zeeshan Arain who resides in the same lane as the Masih family.

Christian leaders has tried to reach an agreement with the clerics unsuccessfully who were reluctant to withdraw the case and accept Babar as a mentally ill person.

Sahiwal is a small city in Punjab known for it's dairy farms where the literacy rate is still low: about 30% overall and 51% in the city of Sahiwal. Sahiwal has also given Pakistan Abdus Salam, Pakistan's only Nobel Prize winner who was born in Santokdas, District Sahiwal.

The late Zia-ul-Haq introduced blasphemy laws in Pakistan that till today hang over the minorities as a guillotine framing them with fabricated cases for revenge or personal enmity.

Will Babar be given justice or will be police bow down to Mullahcracy ?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Blasphemy accused Younas Masih killed in Prison

According to a report by Spero News Younas Masih, a shop owner in Faisalabad’s Chak Jhumra district, was shot dead yesterday. Two men entered his business to buy cigarettes and shot him in cold blood after an argument broke out over payment.

Another man, also called Younas Masih, died in prison from the injuries he sustained in jail last Thursday at the hands of fellow inmates. He was in prison since 2005 when he was arrested on blasphemy charges. In 2007, he was convicted and sentenced to death. Inside, he had to endure threats by other prisoners.
Following his death, prison authorities denied any responsibility in the incident. By contrast, Fr Mark Lucas, a priest in Faisalabad, blames prison officials for not stopping inmates who threatened him repeatedly and for allowing some of them “to reach him”.
It also appears that Masih was not provided with proper medical care and died from an excess loss of blood on his way to hospital.