PAKISTAN MINORITIES WILL CONTINUE FIGHTING FOR REPEAL OF BLASPHEMY LAWS


Reiterating his pledge to continue mounting efforts for a repeal of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) has assured the family of a blasphemy-accused that the APMA would not rest until release of Dr. Robin, a Pakistani Christian homeopathic doctor who was arrested in May 2008 after he was accused of blasphemy.

Dr. Robin was accused of passing derogatory remarks against the beard of Prophet Muhammad.

He is currently detained in Gujranawala jail. Dr. Robin’s family was forced to go into hiding as the family members of the accused cannot stay at their home after the stigma of blasphemy has been slapped on any of their family members.

The family of Dr. Robin and some 20 Christian residents of district Hafizabad had come to see the APMA Chief; Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, after Dr. Robin was accused of blasphemy. They apprised him of the insecurity they had become exposed to after Robin was implicated in a blasphemy case.

The APMA has been extending financial support to the family as well as free legal aid to Dr. Robin since the occurrence of alleged blasphemy by Dr. Robin.

The family of the accused including Veenus, 50, Tariq 42, Waseem Bhatti, 32 and Francis Masih, a relative of Dr. Robin came to the APMA office in Islamabad on October 3, 2008.

Describing the fear and uncertainty that gripped the family members following leveling of blasphemy charges on Dr. Robin, Waseem told ANS that they felt as if a roof had been snatched from them.

“We felt secure after we met the APMA Chief Shahbaz Bhatti,” he said.

“We wanted our voice to be raised. We were desperately looking for someone to steer us out of the problem we were confronting. We were praying for some help. We prayed to God and we knew our prayers were heard when we met Shahbaz Bhatti”, said Waseem.

The young Christian man went on to say that fears of sorts were assailing the family’s mind after detention of Dr. Robin. They (fears) left us disturbed and helpless all the more, he said.

After incarceration of Dr. Robin, he said the family had lost the breadwinner and they were not in a position of hiring a lawyer.

“You need a lawyer to defend you even in a simple dispute. We knew we had to hire a competent defense counsel for Dr. Robin. It was again Mr. Shahbaz who extended free legal aid for Dr. Robin”, said Waseem as tears ran down his cheeks.

Waseem, who works as an animator in a local Non Governmental Organization (NGO) feared that it had become virtually impossible for Dr. Robin to run his clinic at the same locality.

He also ruled out possibility of any of his family members staying at the same place after leveling of blasphemy accusations on Dr. Robin.

“His (Dr. Robin’s) family members are living in hiding. They have been able to find a roof above their heads with the help the APMA Chief extended to the family but you still feel alienated. You take time to settle down at a new place. You continue to live a tension-ridden life”, he said.

“The children of Dr. Robin have been robbed of fatherly love. Michael Rose, the youngest of Dr. Robin’s children used to stay in a hostel. He does not feel comfortable staying at the hostel now”, said Waseem.

In response to a question he said that during this period of tribulation Dr. Robin had emerged as a strong Christian. He said his (Dr. Robin’s) belief in Christ had only become stronger.

Tariq, a relative of Dr. Robin told ANS that Dr. Robin wished to be released as soon as possible.

He said the incident had come as a big jolt to the children of Dr. Robin.

He said they had not been able to concentrate on their studies fully after Robin was arrested by the police.

Francis, brother-in-law of Dr. Robin called for repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Citing his talks with a couple of Muslim friends, he said that they were of the view that the law should be repealed.

“My Muslim friends admitted that a thorough investigation should be made before lodging of a blasphemy-related Police First Information Report (FIR)”, said Tariq.

Tariq disclosed that he had been able to record a conversation between the complainant and some family members of Dr. Robin in which the complainant tried to do a “deal” with the family of the accused.

According to Tariq, the complainant said that he would withdraw charges against Dr. Robin if his family agreed to pay him money.

He claimed he recorded the conversation on September 19, a day ahead of the hearing of Dr. Robin’s case in a lower court.

Echoing a grave concern of Pakistani Christians, who like their fellow Muslim Pakistanis want their concerns to be highlighted on national and print media, Tariq said that Dr. Robin’s case only drew marginal coverage of the incident.

Lashing out at the police he alleged that the police failed to provide adequate security to Dr. Robin’s family.

“If the Police had provided security to Dr. Robin’s family and his vulnerable relatives then they might have decided to continue staying in Hafizabad but in the absence of any such security the family was forced to go into hiding”, he said.

In an apparent bid to support his disbelief in the police, he said that police did not take initiative for rescuing Dr. Robin’s family “rather some local Christians entered Dr. Robin’s home at about 3 am and rescued the family members who had become prone to attack by the angry Muslim residents of Hafizabad”.

“Do you want us to jump into fire”, he quoted a police official as saying, who Tariq and other Christian residents of the area wanted to rescue Dr. Robin’s family members.

Post-arrest situation

Tariq said when he and some other members of Dr. Robin’s family went to Dr. Robin’s place to collect some clothes, books and some other daily use items they saw a “shocking scene”.

“Not even a single thing was at its place. There were visible signs of human presence at Dr. Robin’s house. It was not hard to conclude that some people have been living at Dr. Robin’s house. We saw crumbs of bread, chicken bones, and unwashed dishes.

Dr. Robin’s house had been ransacked”, said Tariq, who looked scared while sketching the ransacked home of Dr. Robin.

He said that the lower court rejected a post-arrest bail petition, prompting the APMA to file a petition in Lahore High Court.

Asked who could have inhabited Dr. Robin’s house after his arrest and exiting of his family members, Tariq said that the fundamentalist Muslims of the area could have maintained their presence at Dr. Robin’s house. Nobody could have dared entering Dr. Robin’s home if the police had been vigilant, he said.

Tariq disclosed that a small but angry Muslim crowd took out a rally in a bid to pressurize the court.

He said that participants of the rally were holding placards, which were inscribed with slogans, “Give death to Dr. Robin.”

He disclosed that the witnesses at a court hearing had submitted their written version on legal papers that Dr. Robin did not commit blasphemy.

He said he learned that Dr. Robin’s lawyer also gave precedents of post-arrest bails granted to blasphemy accused in the past “but even then the judge did not grant post-arrest bail to Dr. Robin”.

Talking to the APMA Chief, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, Veenus said that recording of the alleged conversation between the complainant and some family members further angered the local Muslims.

Thanking Mr. Shahbaz, she said she was optimistic that Dr. Robin would soon be home due to the APMA’s efforts.

She said: “I urge the Christians across the world to pray for release of my husband from prison. I cannot give fatherly love to my children. We want him back as soon as possible”, she said while talking to the APMA Chief”.

The APMA Chief told ANS that he was going to urge authorities to do an in-camera trial of Dr. Robin for security purposes. An application in this regard would be moved soon, he said.

He assured the family of the accused that Dr. Robin would soon be with them.

“The APMA is concerned. It (APMA) has been since leveling of the blasphemy accusations on Dr. Robin. We stand by you at this critical juncture in Robin’s and your life,” Shahbaz told the family of Dr. Robin who had come to see him at his office in Islamabad.

“It is the case of entire Christian community. When children of Dr. Robin talk to me by phone, I could feel the agony in their voices. I understand what they are living through. The APMA will do all it can to ensure expedient release of Dr. Robin”, said Shahbaz.

“We understand that the Pakistan blasphemy laws are being misused to settle personal scores. Religious enmity, prejudice and intolerance have been found behind filing of blasphemy cases in the past”, he maintained.

“God will move in His own mysterious way. Dr. Robin will be with you soon”, the APMA Chief told Dr. Robin’s spouse, Veenus.

Shahbaz reiterated his pledge that the APMA would continue to extend free legal aid to the blasphemy accused.

He said the APMA would continue to struggle until the blasphemy laws are repealed.

A person is reduced to the status of a refugee in his country after blasphemy allegations are leveled against him, said Shahbaz implying to the threats the accused and his family receive after slapping of blasphemy charges.

Responding a question, he said the APMA had been providing free legal aid and shelter to the blasphemy-accused since the abuse of the law became rampant in Pakistan.

The APMA, he said, wants to see the controversial laws abolished. He disclosed that he wanted to table a bill in parliament in a bid to either get the laws repealed or see them significantly amended.

He appealed to the Christians across the world to pray for the APMA and Pakistani Christians.

“I thank you for your previous prayers and support. We need your prayers to be able to continue fighting for the rights of the marginalized and the down-trodden Pakistani Christians and other minorities”, he said.

Dubbing Pakistan blasphemy laws as a death warrant in the hands of extremists, Shahbaz called for the repeal of the law, which he said had done more harm than good since their introduction in 1986.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

INDIA: POLICE DO LITTLE TO PROTECT CHRISTIANS IN ORISSA


Survivors fleeing to state capital continue to receive accounts of violence.

BHUBANESWAR, India, September 4 (Compass Direct News) – Christian victims of Hindu extremist violence who have fled to the capital of the eastern state of Orissa said state police have been mere spectators as mayhem continued a 12th consecutive day.

Attacks on Christians and their property and institutions began in Orissa’s Kandhamal district following the killing of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader, Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four of his disciples on August 23. Maoists claimed responsibility for the murders on Monday (Sept. 1), though the statement did nothing to slow Hindu extremist violence that Christian leaders say has claimed more than 100 lives.

Among those who have fled to Bhubaneswar was Father Prabodha Kumar, a Catholic priest who reached the Catholic Archbishop’s House in the capital after a seven-day journey from Onjamundi village in Kandhamal. He was among other fearful sojourners at the house whose mobile phones constantly rang with news of more attacks from their relatives, friends and church members in interior villages of Kandhamal.

Fr. Kumar looked deeply troubled after one such phone call yesterday.

“My brother has been forced to ‘reconvert’ to Hinduism, as he was told that if he did not do so, his house would be destroyed,” he said.

Asked why he did not report the abuse to the police, the priest told Compass that if police officers could “witness Christians being brutally attacked,” why would they do anything to save his brother?

A few minutes later, Fr. Kumar’s phone rang once again. This time, it was about Christians in Kanpada village in Balliguda Block (Kandhamal district) being told to “reconvert” if they did not want their houses to be burned.

Shortly thereafter, another victim at the Archbishop’s House received a phone call reporting that at least 19 houses and churches were burned down that morning in Lujurmunda village, under Tikabali police station jurisdiction in Kandhamal.

 

State Inaction

That police did nothing to protect Christians is the assertion of most of the victims of Orissa violence.

Ravindranath Pradhan, a 45-year-old former soldier for the Indian Army, told Compass that two policemen came to him in his village, Gadragaon – also under the jurisdiction of Tikabali police station in Kandhamal – on August 24 and asked if he had heard the news about Saraswati’s killing. The officers told him to be “cautious,” but when he said police should protect him and his family, they said they didn’t have enough force to do so and left the village.

A little while later, he said, a mob of around 50 Hindu extremists stormed into the village and burned 31 houses belonging to Christians. The mob burned and killed his brother, Rasanand Pradhan, who suffers from paralysis, as he lay on his bed in a room that was set on fire.

“There is a police post in Pasora village, around five kilometers [three miles] from Gadragaon, but there was not even a single policeman in the village at the time of the attack,” the former soldier told Compass.

Ravindranath Pradhan, along with more than 100 Christians – including women, children and babies from his village, walked to reach Bhubaneswar, covering more than 300 kilometers (186 miles). He walked and used various means of transport, halting in numerous forests, before he was able to reach the state capital on Tuesday (Sept. 2).

“It took us four long days to reach Bhubaneswar,” Pradhan said. “We did not eat anything. We survived on water from rivers along the route. We also encountered wild animals in some forests.”

Pradhan had severe swelling of his left foot. One of his brothers was recovering in a hospital.

Many Christians from Gadragaon village reached Bhubaneswar on August 28. They were taken by local Christians to a YMCA center, where several other victims also are temporarily residing.

Christian leaders estimate at least 40,000 people have taken refuge in forests, and some 20,000 persons have fled to 10 government relief camps.

 

Police Afraid of VHP

Father Mathew Puthyadam of Christ the King Catholic Church in Phulbani town in Kandhamal also blames police for inaction.

At around 8:30 p.m. on August 24, he heard a mob shouting anti-Christian slogans, he said.

“I knew the church was going to be attacked,” Fr. Puthyadam said, his voice still trembling with fear. “I escaped to a nearby house when I saw a crowd of around 4,000 people carrying the body of Saraswati coming towards the church. The district collector [administrative head], the Deputy Inspector General [DIG] of Police, and several police personnel were also there.”

The Saraswati funeral procession stopped outside the church building, with the Hindu extremists carrying the body of Saraswati before its gate. The mob then broke the boundary wall and damaged statues and a cross.

“The collector, the DIG and other policemen witnessed it without doing anything,” Puthyadam recalled. “The DIG merely told the crowd, ‘Enough, enough, now move on.’ It is only when the crowd pelted stones on the police, and some of them got hurt, that the DIG asked his force to use batons to disperse the crowd.”

A federal security force also blamed Orissa state police for failing to prevent attacks on Christians.

On Friday (Aug. 29), the commandant of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Darshan Lal Gola, told The Indian Express newspaper that there was “complete breakdown of the state’s law and order machinery.” He pointed out that the CRPF rounded up 75 rioters in Deegei village under the Raikia police station, but local police refused to put them behind the bars.

A local human rights activist, Dhirendra Panda, said the state administration and police were afraid of VHP extremists.

“The state government did not conduct an autopsy on Saraswati’s body,” Panda said. “The body was not even taken to a hospital. Why didn’t the government follow the required procedure of law?”

Panda also pointed out that while the Orissa government put a restriction on all political party members and rights activists to visit Kandhamal, it gave police protection to VHP General Secretary Praveen Togadia to visit Saraswati’s Ashram (religious center) on August 25.

“Togadia was escorted by the police,” he said.

India’s Supreme Court reacted angrily to the Orissa administration’s denials yesterday of ongoing attacks, as justices ordered a commitment under oath for Orissa to provide protection to its people and their property.

Acting on Christian leaders’ charges that police were colluding with perpetrators and that the state government was a mute spectator, the court asked the Orissa chief secretary to file an affidavit today stating that the administration “will take all steps to protect life and property.”

Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices P. Sathasivam and J.M. Panchal had been enraged by a denial from state counsel Jana Ranjan Das that “allegations about continuing communal violence are false.”

Thus the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Orissa state to report on steps taken to stop the wave of anti-Christian violence. The court order came after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered the state to punish those responsible for murder and arson.

In calling for the resignation of the entire state government of Orissa, on Monday (Sept. 1), Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said that the death toll from the violence had reached 100 “and more butchered bodies and burnt corpses are being found.”

“In Bakingia, two families of seven Christians – Daniel Naik and Michael Naik and their families – were tortured and killed,” George said. “Their bodies were found with their heads pulped and smashed, they were recognized by their clothes. Bakingia is about eight kilometers [five miles] from Raikia police station.”

 

Another Inflammatory Procession

The Orissa government today put a ban on another rally planned by the VHP to take the ashes of Saraswati in public procession from one village to another in Orissa beginning on Sunday (September 7), reported the Press Trust of India news agency.

The ban was announced by the state government in hearing of a petition filed by Archbishop Raphael Cheenath from Orissa in the Supreme Court of India.

The VHP and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a partner of the ruling government led by the Biju Janata Dal party, continue to blame Christians for the killing of Saraswati and four others in spite of the Maoist claim of responsibility for the assassination.

When Compass spoke to VHP Orissa State President Gauri Prasad Rath, he said the state government was wrongly linking Saraswati’s killing to Maoists.

“We know and believe that Christians killed him,” he said.

When Compass asked how he could say Christians killed him, he replied, “Christians attacked him on December 24, 2007.”

Saraswati allegedly incited the attacks on Christians and their property in Kandhamal during last Christmas season. The violence lasted for more than a week beginning December 24, and killed at least four Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches.

The 2007 attacks were allegedly carried out mainly by VHP extremists under the pretext of avenging an alleged attack on Saraswati by local Christians. Hundreds of Christians were displaced by the violence in Kandhamal, and many are still in various relief camps set up by the state government.

Christians make up 2.4 percent of Orissa’s population, or 897,861 of the total 3.7 million people.  

Report from Compass Direct News

ERITREA: CHRISTIAN WOMAN IN PRISON DIES OF MALARIA


Weakened by torture, Azib Simon succumbs to disease only a week after contracting it.

LOS ANGELES, July 23 (Compass Direct News) – Imprisoned and tortured for her Christian faith since December, 37-year-old Azib Simon died of malaria in Eritrea’s Wi’a Military Training Center last week.

Weakened by ongoing torture, sources said, Simon contracted malaria only a week before she died. Christians in the prison are rarely given medical attention, and the sources said authorities refused to provide treatment for Simon’s malaria.

Simon was the sister of former Eritrean television journalist Biniam Simon, who recently fled the country after abandoning his career at government controlled ERI-TV.

Azib Simon had attended the Kale-Hiwet Church in Assab, one of the independent evangelical churches that have been targeted by the country’s Marxist-leaning authoritarian regime. She was held at the notorious Wi’a Military Training Center, 20 miles south of the Red Sea port of Massawa, since her arrest in December 2007.

Prisoners at the Wi’a military camp are under constant pressure to recant their faith.

On June 8 Compass learned that eight Christian brothers held at the Adi-Quala prison were taken to the medical emergency facilities as a result of torture by military personnel at the camp.

Simon’s death makes a total of five Christians whom Compass has confirmed have died in Eritrean prisons after being tortured for refusing to recant their faith. On September 5, 2007, Eritrean authorities at the Wi’a Military Training Center tortured Nigisti Haile, 33, to death for refusing to recant her faith. On February 15, 2007, Magos Solomon Semere also died under torture at the Adi-Nefase Military Confinement facility outside Assab.

In 2006, two other Christians – Immanuel Andegergesh, 23, and Kibrom Firemichel, 30 – died from torture wounds in Eritrea on October 17.

Since 2002 the oppressive regime has outlawed all independent Protestant churches, closing their buildings and banning gatherings in private homes. Worshippers caught disobeying the blanket restrictions are arrested and tortured for weeks, months or even years. They are never allowed legal counsel or brought to trial.

The government only recognizes Islam and Eritrean Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran Christian denominations as “historical” legal religions. High ranking clergy have been replaced by the government’s choice of men, and many believe the clampdown is an attempt of President Isaias Afwerki’s government to control church members.

It is estimated that more than 1,000 Christians are imprisoned at any given time. Many of the arrests of Christians take place in groups when the government breaks up local house meetings.

It was not clear how Simon was arrested or where she was at the time of her detention last December.

 

Under Attack in Assab

Another round-up of Christians in the port city of Assab took place earlier this month, sources told Compass.

Sources said authorities were singling out Pentecostal believers, among other evangelicals, whom they arrested with the intention of pressuring them to recant their faith.

On July 8 alone, six members of the Kale-Hiwet Church, 11 members of the Full Gospel Church in Assab and 15 members of the Rema Church in Assab were arrested at their homes one by one and imprisoned in the Wi’a military camp. Among them were seven women, one of them a known evangelist of the Kale-Hiwet Church in Eritrea, whose name was withheld for the safety of her family.

One of the arrested women, a member of the Berhane Hiwet Church, was taken to the Adi-Abyto Military Camp and released on bail on July 9. Her bail was 50,000 nakfa, (approximately US$3,400), and authorities warned her not to participate in Christian activities in the future.

Eritrean authorities also arrested nine leaders of a Jehovah’s Witnesses group on Wednesday July 16 in Asmara, Compass confirmed.

The nine leaders are held at Mai Serwa Military Camp, known for its harsh torture and conditions. It is believed that the government has intensified hunting of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ main leaders because it is angry that the group is still organized and active in the country.

Since the Eritrean referendum in 1992, followers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrea have been under constant attack, succumbing to arrests and torture.

Report from Compass Direct News