The link below is to an article reporting on the possibility of fake missiles in North Korea – would that really surprise anyone?
The link below is to an article that reports on a fake kidnapping scenario in Pennsylvania, in the USA – carried out to teach persecution to students. Perhaps it really taught how stupid some people can be and now a number of people face jail terms.
District judge bows to pressure of local Muslims, handing down stunning sentence to Christian.
LAHORE, Pakistan, November 13 (CDN) — Attorneys for a Christian mother of five sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly speaking ill of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, have filed an appeal of the verdict, they said.
Bowing to pressure from Muslim extremists in Pakistan, according to the Christian woman’s husband and rights groups, a district court judge handed down the stunning sentence to Asia Noreen on Monday (Nov. 8). Additional District and Sessions Judge Naveed Ahmed Chaudhary of Nankana Sahib district delivered the verdict under Pakistan’s controversial “blasphemy” statute, the kind of law that a resolution before the United Nations condemning “defamation of religions” would make legitimate internationally.
Noreen is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s widely condemned law against defaming Islam.
Noreen’s lawyer, Chaudhry Tahir Shahzad, said that among other allegations, she was accused of denying that Muhammad was a prophet.
“How can we expect a Christian to affirm a Muslim belief?” Shahzad said. He added that he and lawyer Manzoor Qadir had filed an appeal against the district sessions court’s verdict in the Lahore High Court.
Asia (alternately spelled Aasya) Noreen has been languishing in isolation in jail since June of last year after she argued with fellow field workers in Ittanwali village who were trying to pressure her into renouncing Christianity. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, told Compass that the argument began after the wife of an Ittanwali elder sent her to fetch water in Nankana Sahib district, about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from Lahore in Punjab Province.
The Muslim women told Noreen that it was sacrilegious to drink water collected by a non-Muslim, he said.
“My wife only said, ‘Are we not all humans?’ when the Muslim women rebuked her for her faith,” Masih, a field laborer, told Compass by telephone. “This led to an altercation.”
Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) General Secretary Katherine Sapna told Compass that the women told Muslim cleric Muhammad Salim about the incident, and he filed a case with police on the same day, June 14, 2009.
On June 19, 2009, Masih said, the Muslim women suddenly raised a commotion, accusing Noreen of defaming Muhammad.
“Several Muslim men working in the nearby fields reached the spot and forced their way into our house, where they tortured Asia and the children,” said Masih, who confirmed that his wife is 45 years old and that they have five children – four girls and a boy, the oldest daughter 20.
Police arrived and took his wife into custody, presumably for her own protection, he said.
“They saved Asia’s life, but then later a case was registered against her under Sections 295-B and C [blaspheming the Quran and Muhammad, respectively] at the Nankana police station on the complaint of Muhammad Salim, the local imam [prayer leader] of the village,” he said. “Asia has been convicted on false charges. We have never, ever insulted the prophet Muhammad or the Quran.”
Salim reportedly claimed that Noreen confessed to speaking derogatorily of Islam’s prophet and apologized. Under immense pressure from local Muslims, according to Masih, CLAAS and Sohail Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry, local judge Chaudhary ruled out the possibility that Noreen was falsely accused. In spite of repeated efforts by the Muslim women to pressure her into renouncing her faith, the judge also reportedly ruled “there were no mitigating circumstances.”
Chaudhary also fined her 100,000 rupees (US$1,150), according to CLAAS.
Ataul Saman of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) said that lower court verdicts in blasphemy cases are usually overturned by higher courts. He said lower court proceedings take place under intense pressure, with local Muslims gathering outside and chanting slogans to pressure judges. Saman added that NCJP research showed that up to 80 percent of blasphemy charges are filed against people to settle personal scores.
Rights groups have long criticized Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as too easily used to settle grudges or oppress religious minorities, such as the more than 4 million Christians that Operation World estimates out of Pakistan’s total population of 184.7 million. To date no one has been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, as most are freed on appeal after suffering for years under appalling prison conditions. Vigilantes have killed at least 10 people accused of blasphemy, rights groups estimate.
Noreen was convicted under Section 295-C of the defamation statutes for alleged derogatory comments about Muhammad, which is punishable by death, though life imprisonment is also possible. Section 295-B makes willful desecration of the Quran or a use of its extract in a derogatory manner punishable with life imprisonment. Section 295-A of the defamation law prohibits injuring or defiling places of worship and “acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class of citizens.” It is punishable by life imprisonment, which in Pakistan is 25 years.
Between 1986 and August 2009, at least 974 people have been charged with defiling the Quran or insulting Muhammad, according to the NCJP. Those charged included 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 from other religions.
Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry, which is active in prisons and has been following Noreen’s case from the onset, said he was impressed by her continued faith.
“A week before the verdict, I went to visit Asia in jail,” he said. “I asked her what she was expecting. She told me that Jesus would rescue her from this fake case.”
The verdict was shocking in that no one was expecting a death sentence for a woman, he said. Masih agreed.
“Asia was hoping that the judge would free her and she would come home to be with us, but this conviction has dashed our hopes for now,” Masih said.
He said that since the sentencing, authorities have not allowed him or other members of their family to visit his wife.
“We don’t know yet how she is, but we trust the Lord,” he said. “Asia is suffering for Jesus, and He will not forsake her.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Nigerian girls are being forced to work as prostitutes in Mali "slave camps," Nigerian officials say, reports CISA.
The girls, many of them underage, are often promised jobs in Europe but end up in brothels, said the government’s anti-trafficking agency. According to BBC correspondent, the brothels are run by older Nigerian women who prevent them from leaving and take all their earnings.
Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (Naptip) said officials visited Mali in September to follow up "horrendous reports" from victims, aid workers and clergy in Mali.The agency said it was working with Malian police to free the girls and help them return to Nigeria.
They said there were hundreds of brothels, each housing up to 200 girls, run by Nigerian "madams" who force them to work against their will and take their earnings.
"We are talking of thousands and thousands of girls," Simon Egede, Executive Secretary of Naptip, told a news conference in Abuja, adding that they were between 20,000 to 40,000.
He, however, did not give details as to how the figure had been reached.
In a statement, Egede said girls were "held in bondage for the purposes of forced sexual exploitation and servitude or slavery-like practices."
"The madams control their freedom of movement, where they work, when they work and what they receive," he said.
The trade is centred on the capital Bamako and large cities, but the most notorious brothels are in the mining towns of Kayes and Mopti, where the sex workers live in "near slavery conditions," said Naptip.
Many of the brothels there also had abortion clinics where foetuses were removed by traditional healers for use in rituals, said Egede.
Most of the girls were reported to have come from Delta and Edo States in Nigeria.
Many were lured with the promise of work in Europe, given fake travel documents and made to swear an oath that they would not tell anyone where they were going.
On arrival in Mali, they were told they would have to work as prostitutes to pay off their debts. Prostitution is legal in Mali but not if it involves minors.
Naptip said it had also uncovered two major trafficking routes used to transport the women from Nigeria through Benin, Niger and Bukina Faso to Mali.
Egede said Naptip was working with the police in Mali to return the girls to Nigeria safely, shut down the trade and prosecute the traffickers.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Country’s notorious ‘blasphemy’ law used against innocent father, daughter.
LAHORE, Pakistan, December 16 (CDN) — A Christian in Faisalabad district and his 20-year-old daughter were released on Monday (Dec. 14) after 14 grueling months in jail on false charges of blaspheming the Quran.
Khalil Tahir, attorney for Gulsher Masih and his daughter Ashyana Gulsher (known as Sandal), said the case was typical of the way Pakistan’s blasphemy laws can be used to harass innocent Christians.
“Christians are the soft targets, and most of the people implicated in these inhumane laws are Christians,” Tahir said. “We Christians are fighting for the same, noble goal – to provide justice to the victims of blasphemy laws.”
Masih said that inmates beat him at least five times since he was arrested on Oct. 23, 2008. His daughter was arrested two weeks earlier, on Oct. 10.
“These long 14 months seemed like ages,” Masih told Compass. “There was one inmate, Ghulam Fareed, a rich man, who always harassed me, trying to coerce me to convert to Islam by saying he would make me rich and would send me abroad.”
Fareed, who also promised high quality education for Masih’s children, joined with Islamic extremists jailed for terrorist acts to beat him in an effort to force him to “come into the fold of Islam,” Masih said. While in jail, he said, his wife told him that their daughter had been beaten several times by the superintendent of police.
Masih and his daughter were charged under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code for blaspheming the Quran. Before charges were filed in October 2008, Masih said an initial incident occurred on Aug. 25, when Ashyana Gulsher found some burned pages of the Quran in a garbage dump outside their community of Chak No. 57, Chak Jhumra in the district of Faisalabad.
Masih said she handed the charred pages to a woman, Lubana Taj, saying, “These are the holy page of your Quran and I found them in the garbage, so you take it.”
There were still some pages left, which she gave to their neighbor, Khalida Rafiq, who burned them, he said.
“She had borrowed wheat from us a few weeks ago, and when my wife demanded it back, Khalida Rafiq said that we had burned pages of the Quran and was now accusing us of taking wheat,” Masih said. “Some other women of the village also accused my children of making paper airplanes of the pages of the Quran.”
The escalating conflict was defused with the help of other neighbors who knew the truth, he said, and local Muslim cleric Amam Hafiz Muhammad Ali also intervened, saying Masih’s daughter had done a good deed and questioning why the neighbor women were repaying her with evil.
“We thought that the matter was buried, but it arose again on Oct. 7, 2008,” Masih said. On that day 20-year-old Muhammad Qasim went throughout the village on bicycle exclaiming that Christians had burned the Quran, Masih said. Upon hearing this, village landlord Rana Sarwar called Masih and told him that his children had burned the Quran and had used pages to make paper airplanes.
“I told them that I was working in Asghar Christian Colony and never knew about the incident, and the son who had been accused of blasphemy had gone to school,” Masih said.
His accusers were unmoved, he said.
“In the evening when I was returning home, I heard announcements from several mosques that Christians had burned the Quran,” he said. “After hearing the announcement, people began pouring in. These announcements were made by Tariq son of Hafeez, Maqbool son of Hafeez and Maulana Tawaseel Bajwa.”
When Masih called emergency police, they arrested him and sent him to the Jhumra police station, Faisalabad.
“The police asked me where my children were, and when I told them that the children were in the village, the police went back to arrest them,” he said. “Rana Sarwar, Wajid Khan and Rana Naeem Khan came into the police station and argued that my children had blasphemed, so why was I the one being beaten? I told Rana Sarwar in front of the police that if my children have done this, then I was ready to bear consequences.”
Police told them that the crowd outside wanted to hang him and that this was why they had arrested him. Masih said that the next day Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Yousuf Zai came and asked him why he had committed blasphemy.
“Rana Sarwar then told the DSP that it was all a political ploy, and that I had been implicated in the case for voting for the opposition party,” he said. “If that day those Christian Members of Parliamentary Assembly had spoken up, then the police complaint wouldn’t have been registered against me.”
Masih added that the station house officer felt that he was innocent but had become legally entangled due to lack of support from the community. Masih said that the next day, Oct. 8, a few Muslims gave conflicting statements against him when charges were filed.
“One said he saw me burning the pages of the Quran at 10 a.m., the other said that he saw me burning the pages at 12 p.m. and still another said that he saw me burning the pages of the Quran at 2 p.m.,” he said. “When I was sent in jail, the investigation office swore that I was innocent.”
In a further contradiction, the complainants accused him of cutting up pages of the Quran and tossing them in the air, not burning them, Tahir said.
The complainant in the case was Mohammad Farooq Alam, and other prosecution witnesses named were Mohammad Maqbool Ahmad and Mohammad Akber, according to Tahir.
Masih said that initially he appeared before Judge Zulfikar Lon, but that whenever a judge asked for witnesses, he was transferred.
“In this manner eight months passed, and then Judge Raja Mohammad Ghazanfar came” and refused to be transferred, Masih said.
After Tahir’s cross-examination of witnesses, Ghazanfar dropped all charges and ordered their release.
“During cross examination, I proved that the whole case was concocted, frivolous, fake and that the charges against the accused Christian brother were unfounded,” Tahir said.
Tahir said that he had provided only legal assistance to the victims, with Johnson Michael, chairman of the Bishop John Joseph Shaheed Trust, providing paralegal assistance. An MPA in the Punjab Parliament, Tahir is the body’s secretary for Human Rights and Minority Affairs and also serves as executive director of advocacy group Action Against Discriminatory Laws Trust Pakistan.
Report from Compass Direct News
Recent Incidents of Persecution
West Bengal, August 31 (Compass Direct News) – Hindu hardliners have again attacked the Christian community in Bishnupur and threatened to kill them if they continue to practice their faith. About 15 Hindu extremists armed with knives and heavy rods of bamboo and iron shouted anti-Christian slogans as they attacked Khagen Majhi on Aug. 20. Threatening the Christian with violent “incidents like Orissa’s Kandhamal situation,” they commanded that he recant his Christian faith, reported the Evangelical Fellowship of India. Running from one Christian house to another, the enraged Hindu extremists also beat Manik Jana and verbally abused and manhandled Jharna Pradhan. Similar violence took place in the same area on July 29, as well as on Christmas Day of 2006. Area Christians filed a police complaint at Bishnupur police station, but no arrests had been made at press time.
Andhra Pradesh – Suspected Hindu extremists set aflame a newly built church building in Mahasamudram, destroying it on Aug. 20. Best Friends Church was built with the permission of local authorities and was scheduled to be inaugurated on Aug. 30, reported the All Indian Christian Council. The next morning local Christians went to the site to find the church building in ashes. Pastor A. John filed a complaint at Bangarupalem police station. A police investigation is underway.
West Bengal – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Aug. 20 attacked two Christians in Amtala, Kolkatta. The All India Christian Council reported that eight extremists accused two unidentified Christians of forceful conversion and filed a police complaint against them after forcing villagers to sign a letter of complaint. Christian leaders have taken the matter to authorities, and a police investigation is underway.
Karnataka – Hindu extremists attacked the Mayer Memorial Church building and set fire to three vehicles belonging to Christians on Aug. 17 in Hubli. A Compass contact said the extremists were opposing a Christian rally organized by the church. Area Christians said they believe the attack was planned well in advance as the extremists arrived with media. The church cancelled the rally, and police provided protection to the Christian community.
Karnataka – Members of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) on Aug. 16 disrupted a Christian prayer meeting in Karwar, accused the pastor of forceful conversion and threatened him with violence if he continued Christian activities. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that at 7 p.m. a church leader of New Life Fellowship identified only as Pastor Quadros was conducting a prayer meeting in a church member’s house when the extremists barged in. The intolerant Hindus accused the pastor of forceful conversion, searched the house and took Christian literature. The VHP filed a complaint against the pastor, and police ordered him to inform them about any future Christian activities.
Kerala – Police on Aug. 12 arrested Christians based on false allegations of destroying Hindu holy books in Vythiri, Wayanad district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that Hindu extremists of the local Hindu Ikkaya Vedhy group surrounded the house of Karthyani Amma, a Hindu in Laksham colony, near Vythiri police station, as her son – a convert to Christianity identified only as Manikandan – was cleaning her home along with evangelist Sunny Joseph. The extremists created a disturbance, and Christians became embroiled in the subsequent uproar. Amma filed a complaint against the Christians for destroying Hindu holy books and articles used in rituals. The Christians were charged with promoting communal disharmony, house trespass, and damaging property.
Karnataka – Hindu hardliners on Aug. 9 disrupted the worship of Indian Missionary Service and beat Pastor V. James in Gulbarga. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that at around 10 a.m., about 20 Hindu extremists shouting anti-Christian slogans stormed into the worship service and accused the pastor of forceful conversion. They dragged the pastor out to the street, kicking, punching and beating him. The pastor fled to Ganigapura police station and filed a complaint against the extremists, reported EFI. Later in the evening, the intolerant Hindus went to the pastor’s house and assaulted him again, chasing him, his wife and four children away from the village. The pastor has relocated to another area. No arrests had been made at press time.
Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Aug. 9 ordered 20 Christians to leave their home village of Gulbarga because they had put their trust in Christ. The All Indian Christian Council (AICC) reported that village leaders in alliance with the Hindu extremists were reacting against a recent baptism service conducted by Pastor Sukruuth Raj. AICC reported Pastor Raj, who was instrumental in the baptized person coming to faith in Christ, as saying “all the believers are from the same village, and they are going to stay there.”
Maharashtra – About 45 Hindu extremists attacked two Gospel for Asia Christian workers, accused them of luring people to convert to Christianity and took their equipment on Aug. 8 in an undisclosed area in Maharashtra, according to a Christian source. Two Christian workers identified as Jayant Mehta and Dayanand Tambe were screening a film about Jesus that was attended by many villagers, reported the source. As the Christians were getting ready to go home, the Hindu extremists rushed at them and snatched their film equipment, then began beating them. They took the Christians to a police station and charged them with bribing people to convert to Christianity, giving fake names of people who would supposedly testify against them. After local Christian leaders intervened, the two Christian workers were released the next morning. The film equipment was returned to the Christians on Aug. 10 after police confirmed that the allegations were false.
Kerala – Hindu extremists armed with swords on Aug. 7 barged into the prayer hall of the Full Gospel Church for God, attacked two Christians and vandalized the facility in Pullad. Hindu newspapers reported that about 25 extremists, two armed with swords, attacked Pastor Joe Kaithavana and a church member identified only as Deepu at around 10:30 p.m. and vandalized the prayer hall. The Christians sustained injuries and received hospital treatment. Koipram police have registered a case against the assailants. Member of Legislative Assembly K. Sivadasan Nair visited the site, condemned the attack and called for the immediate arrest of the extremists.
Karnataka – On Aug. 7 in Haveri, a group of Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal accused a pastor from Every Home Crusade church of forceful conversion and threatened to beat him if he continued his ministry in the area. A church representative told Compass that about 25 extremists went to Pastor Ajit Kumar’s house at around 11 a.m., spoke derogatorily about his faith, and warned him not to conduct a worship meeting on Aug. 10 or face serious consequences. The pastor registered a case against the extremists, and the Sunday church service took place on Aug. 10 under police protection. No arrests had been made at press time.
Karnataka – Police arrested two Christians for distributing pamphlets and conducting a medical camp on Aug. 4 in Mosarukunte village, Tumkur district. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that Pastor M. Shivanna, Vijay Kumar and some doctors were conducting a medical camp when the Hindu hardliners along with the village head objected to their activity, claiming that they had not obtained prior permission. The extremists later filed a police complaint, accusing the Christians of distributing gospel pamphlets to forcefully convert people to Christianity. Police arrested the two Christians under section 109 of the Criminal Procedure Code to ensure “good behavior from suspected persons,” and later they were released on bail.
Madhya Pradesh – Hindu extremists in Rewa, including a woman said to practice sorcery and witchcraft, burned down the home of a Christian on Aug. 2. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that when Raj Bahor accepted Christ and began attending the church of Pastor Heeralal Kushwaha, the Hindu woman in the neighborhood found the spells she cast on Bahor prior to his conversion had become ineffective. She and other Hindu extremists opposed to Bahor’s new faith burned down his house, and local Christians filed a police complaint. An investigation is underway.
Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) on Aug. 1 attacked Christians charging large-scale, forceful conversion; they forced the Christians to wear tilak, a Hindu symbol on the forehead, and threatened to kill them if they went ahead with church construction in Mahabubnagar. The All Indian Christian Council reported that Pastor B.Y. Dass of the Smarna Prayer Home Church had obtained land to build a church with permission from the village head. Upon hearing of the Christians’ plan to build a church building, the VHP came to the site with the threats and accusations. At press time local Christian leaders were taking the matter to authorities.
Orissa – The Rev. S.P. Lima of Cross International Ministries, operator of Agape Manor International Residential School, has been arrested and imprisoned since January 2008 in Baragarh and Sambalpur after Hindu extremists falsely accused him of raping a schoolgirl and feeding schoolchildren beef while claiming that it was mutton, according to his brother. Lima’s brother, Dayanidhi Lima, told Compass that Hindu extremists filed a false complaint against his brother because Rev. Lima had refused to meet their demand that they give them 50,000 rupees (US$1,035) to build a Hindu temple. A medical and DNA examination of the girl at Burla Medical College showed no evidence of rape. The girl had left the school on Jan. 5, 2008, and the First Information Report naming the pastor was filed on Jan. 12 of that year. Nevertheless he was arrested on Jan. 28, 2008. Area Christians maintained that the extremists pressured the parents of the girl to falsely accuse the pastor. The Additional District Session Court on June 12 of this year imposed a fine of 10,000 rupees (US$207) and sentenced Rev. Lima to 10 years in prison; he was transferred to Sambalpur Prison, where he is subject to various kinds of punishment.
Report from Compass Direct News
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a pregnant Christian woman miscarried on July 26 after police beat her and dragged her naked through their police station in the Gujrat District of Punjab, Pakistan. Police had arrested her and a Muslim woman after their employer accused them of theft, but police did not even touch the Muslim woman, reports Dan Wooding, founder of ASSIST Ministries.
An ICC spokesperson said that the woman, Farzana Bibi, worked as a maid in the house of a wealthy Muslim. During a wedding held at the house, some jewelry was stolen from some of the landlord’s female relatives. The police were called, and when they arrived at the scene they arrested two maids: Farzana and a Muslim woman named Rehana.
Nazir Masih, Farzana’s husband, said, “Police registered a fake theft case against my wife and Rehana without any proof.”
Nazir went on to say that the police tortured his wife even though she told them she was pregnant. He told ICC, “Sub-Inspector Zulfiqar and Assistant Sub-Inspector Akhter subjected her to intense torture. They stripped off her clothes and dragged her naked around the compound of Cantonment Area Police Station in Kharian. They humiliated and tortured my wife, but did not do anything to Rehana.”
The ICC spokesperson said, “Although Farzana complained of severe pain, the police ignored her pleas and detained her for another two days. When her condition became critical, the police finally transferred her to the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital in Kharian, where she miscarried.
“Nazir filed a report with the District Police Officer in Gujrat, detailing the abuse his wife received and her miscarriage. The District Office initiated an investigation after receiving the report, withdrawing the false accusations and suspending officers Zulfiqar and Akhter.
“The authorities have pledged to punish all those responsible. Please pray that God would comfort Farzana and Nazir and that justice would be carried out. Please also call your Pakistani embassy and ask them to defend the rights of Christians.”
Jeremy Sewall, ICC’s Advocacy Director, said, “While we were not able to confirm whether Farzana was innocent of robbing her employers, it is absolutely unacceptable for police to humiliate her and abuse her so severely that she lost her child. The fact that the Muslim woman accused of the same thing was at least treated like a human being just proves again that if you are not a Muslim in Pakistan, you have no rights. The government should go beyond suspending the two officers guilty of this crime and try them for manslaughter.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
State blames 2008 Kandhamal district violence on conversions, ‘reconversions.’
NEW DELHI, July 14 (Compass Direct News) – Nearly 11 months after an unprecedented wave of anti-Christian attacks shook the eastern state of Orissa, a reign of terror continues in the area as the former rioters issue death threats to witnesses.
Of the more than 750 cases filed in various police stations in Kandhamal district and neighboring Gajapati district, only one has resulted in conviction. Some trials are underway amid reports of armed extremists threatening to kill witnesses.
The Rev. Dibya Paricha of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Catholic Archdiocese said several witnesses are shrinking away to save their lives. On Thursday (July 9), a witness in Salapsahi village, in the Kasinpadar area under the Phiringia police station, refused to testify in a murder case.
“During the trial, the complainant, the younger brother of the victim, said he did not know anything about the case,” Paricha, coordinator of the Christian Legal Association’s (CLA) legal cell in Kandhamal, told Compass. “The previous day, he had said that he would tell the truth so that the culprits would be punished … From a reliable source we came to know that he was threatened with death.”
On June 30, three men carrying pistols – Sanjeeb Pradhan, Bikram Pradhan and Pratap Pradhan – threatened witnesses in the Gondaguda area of the Chenchedi Gram Panchayat administrative area, under the jurisdiction of the Sarangarh police station in Kandhamal, Paricha said.
The three men have been issuing death threats to witnesses through the area villages, he said.
“I know them [the three gunmen] personally,” Paricha said. “They were living hand-to-mouth until recently, and now they are riding a motor vehicle and threatening the survivors.”
Information on the threats has been provided to the sub-collector (an administrative officer in charge of a sub-district), the sub-divisional police officer and the district collector (administrative head), he said, and a First Information Report has been registered at the Sarangarh police station.
Another witness and complainant in a riot-related case, 55-year-old Batia Digal, was threatened on June 17, said Paricha. Gobida Chandra Pradhan from Piserama village and Shricharnan Mohan Pradhan from Dodaingia village in Raikia area tried to pressure Digal to withdraw the case, in which a local legislator from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Manoj Pradhan, is one of the accused.
The Raikia police station is investigating the case.
On July 4, Christians saw a ray of hope when a fast-track court in Phulbani, Kandhamal district convicted a tribal leader of arson – the first conviction in a 2008 violence case. The court sentenced a 58-year-old Chakradhar Mallick to two years of prison and a fine of 1,000 rupees (US$20). Mallick had burned the house of a Christian, Loknath Digal, and threatened to kill him in August 2008.
But the granting of bail to one of the prime suspects in numerous anti-Christian riot cases – local BJP legislator Pradhan of the G. Udayagiri assembly constituency – on July 6 dampened the spirits of the Christians. Bail was granted for 15 days so that Pradhan could take oath as a member of the new assembly, reported Indo-Asian News Service. Pradhan was arrested in October 2008 on various charges including murder, rioting and arson.
The spate of violence that erupted in Kandhamal in August-September 2008 killed more than 100 people and resulted in the incineration of 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions. The violence began following the assassination of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu council or VHP) leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, by a Maoist (extreme Marxist) group. Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for the assassination.
Although more than 100 people were killed in the attacks, only 26 murder cases have been registered under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. According to CLA statistics, 13 cases were registered in the Raikia police station alone. Five complaints were filed in Tikabali, two each in G. Udayagiri, Sarangada, and Balliguda, and one each in Gocchapada and Phiringia.
At least nine cases were registered for attempted murder: four in Balliguda, two in G. Udayagiri, and one each in Tumudibandha, Phulbani, and Sarangada. Two rape cases were registered, one each in the Phulbani and Balliguda.
Over 550 cases have been filed for arson and looting: 323 in G. Udayagiri alone, 59 in Tikabali, 32 in Raikia, 31 in Gocchapada, 26 in Phulbani, 23 each in Phiringia and Balliguda, 18 in Daringbadi, 10 in Sarangada, four each in Tumudibandha and Kotagarh, and three in Khajuripada.
Around 680 people were arrested in the numerous cases, but some have managed to get bail from courts, according to The Deccan Herald newspaper.
The CLA and a non-profit group, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), are providing free legal services to the victims and their relatives in Kandhamal. In neighboring Gajapati district, which also faced numerous anti-Christian attacks in August-September 2008 as fallout of Saraswati’s murder, the All India Christian Council (AICC), in partnership with the HRLN, is providing free legal aid to victims of the violence.
“At least 337 families lost homes or businesses [in Gajapati district],” Dr. Sam Paul, AICC spokesman, told Compass. “[However,] most rehabilitation as well as public attention has focused on Kandhamal district.”
Commenting on the need for legal help in Gajapati, Paul added, “On one single day [in June], the lawyers counselled and drafted petitions for 30 persons.”
The AICC and HRLN are also helping the victims in Gajapati to receive compensation and recover lost identity cards and other documents.
Silence of Inquiry Panel
At the same time, a judicial commission headed by Justice S.C. Mohapatra to probe the August-September 2008 violence submitted a 28-page interim report to the state government on July 1 without blaming any group or organization for the violence.
“Sources of the violence were deeply rooted in land disputes, conversion and re-conversion and fake certificate issues … Suspicion among the scheduled tribe and scheduled caste inhabitants of Kandhamal is the main cause of riots, with the tribals suspecting that Pana Dalits were capturing their land through fraudulent means,” Mohapatra said, according to The Hindu.
Those belonging to the Kui tribe in Kandhamal are mostly Hindu. Christians make up an estimated 16 percent of the 650,000 people in the district, with more than 60 percent of them belonging to the Pana community and classified as “Scheduled Castes,” better known as Dalits (formerly “untouchables”).
The Pana community has been demanding recognition as a tribal community, as Dalits lose their right to government’s affirmative action after they convert to Christianity. The Kui people, however, oppose the demand, as it would increase the number of candidates eligible for government-reserved jobs. Sections of the Kui people believe that Pana Dalits make fake certificates to get the land that can belong only to tribal people.
“I know it will take at least two years to complete inquiry, but the interim report will help the government to make immediate intervention,” added Mohapatra.
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Catholic Archdiocese told private channel Zee News, “Justice Mohapatra had given remarks on other matters without touching the subject for which the commission was set up, to investigate culpability in the series of attacks on Christians.” Cheenath said that conversion was “not at all” a factor behind the Kandhamal violence.
The National Commission for Minorities in October 2008 had accused the then-ruling state government, a coalition of a regional party, the Biju Janata Dal (NJD) and the BJP, of not controlling the violence. It said that despite knowing that public reaction to the murder of a prominent religious leader like Laxmanananda would be extreme, there was little evidence of action by political and administrative higher-ups in Bhubaneswar, reported The Indian Express daily on Oct. 30, 2008.
In March 2009, the BJD broke its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP, saying it did not want to partner with a “communal” party. The BJD fought and won the April-May state assembly election alone. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik held the BJP and groups linked with it, such as the Hindu extremist VHP and its youth wing Bajrang Dal, responsible for the violence, according to private news channel CNN-IBN.
Report from Compass Direct News
CLAAS director Joseph Francis charged with forged documents in assault case.
LAHORE, Pakistan, July 14 (Compass Direct News) – Well-known Pakistani minority rights activist Joseph Francis and two others were jailed on Sunday (July 12) for forged documents in connection with false charges of assaulting a woman who visited his office in 2006, their lawyers said.
Francis, national director of the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which for more than two decades has defended Christians and others against spurious charges by Islamists, was arrested on Thursday (July 9) along with CLAAS official Ashar Sarfaraz and Sarfaraz’s brother-in-law, Zulfiqar Wilson.
Judge Malik Muhammad Mushataq remanded all three to two days of police custody under pressure from Islamists who have harassed Francis and the other two men with false accusations, CLAAS lawyers said, and on Sunday a magistrate sent them to jail to await trial.
“This is the first time in my 19 years of work that I have been so set up by the judicial system,” said one of Francis’ lawyers, Akbar Munawar Durrani. “The judge was blind to the facts presented before him.”
The lawyer told Compass that the court did not listen to their arguments for releasing Francis as it was biased toward the Islamists who have urged the woman to charge the CLAAS officials with assault. In December 2006 CLAAS officers had counseled the woman, identified only as Roma, when her Christian family brought her to the CLAAS office after she converted to Islam.
“She was brought to us because she had converted to Islam, and her parents wanted us to explain to her the consequences and implication of doing so,” said CLAAS Program Officer Katherine Sapna.
The woman had changed her name to Aisha and had married Mehboob Basharat, a Muslim who had converted to Christianity and then “reverted” back to Islam. CLAAS lawyers said that Basharat, whom police describe as “fraudulent,” along with an Islamist group and a church-going lawyer at odds with the local Christian community, are behind the assault charges officially filed by Roma/Aisha.
Francis and the two others are in Camp Jail in Lahore; today a judge denied their plea for release on bail. CLAAS lawyers said they expect to file for bail in Sessions Court this week.
Francis is charged with forging documents in the 2007 case in which he and the two others are accused of beating Roma/Aisha, “misbehaving” with her and setting her on fire, lawyers said. The forgery charges arose, said Sapna, after two former CLAAS staff members submitted a fake medical certificate indicating that Francis was too ill to appear at court on July 14, 2007 for a hearing on the assault charges.
Francis was out of the country at the time of the hearing and was not aware that the two CLAAS staff members, Justin Gill and Aneeqa Maria, had submitted the false medical certificate, Sapna said. Both Gill and Maria have since left CLAAS.
Sapna told Compass that the Christian parents of the woman then known as Roma brought her to CLAAS offices on Dec. 23, 2006. Roma’s mother, Shamim Bibi, and sisters Shabana and Taskeen, were with her at the CLAAS office, where all three spent the night at CLAAS’s second-floor shelter for abuse victims, Sapna said.
Roma/Aisha’s husband called police the next day, and officers ordered her family to bring her to the Race Course Police Station, Sapna said. Christmas was near and most of the CLAAS staff members were gone for the holiday, so Francis himself went to the police station. When police questioned Roma/Aisha, she never mentioned being mistreated while in the CLAAS offices, Sapna said.
CLAAS staff members forgot the matter until Basharat and church-going attorney Raja Nathaniel Gill held a press conference on Feb. 18, 2007 in which they had Roma/Aisha claim that she had been attacked at the CLAAS office. In May 2007 Basharat, Gill and the Islamist group had her file a First Information Report (FIR) at Ichhra police station charging that during her stay at CLAAS, staff members beat her, forced her to revert to Christianity, doused her with kerosene oil and set her ablaze inside a locked room.
Sapna said Roma/Aisha’s FIR also claimed Church of Pakistan Bishop Samuel Azariah threatened her by phone while she was at the CLAAS office. Gill had Roma implicate the bishop because CLAAS had been instrumental in clearing Bishop Azariah of charges of murdering his wife in April 2006, according to Sapna. She said that Gill bore a grudge against CLAAS because he had hoped to gain some advantage in the false charge against the bishop.
In response to an inquiry from Capital City (Lahore) Police, Ichhra police reported on March 7, 2007 that Basharat was a “fraudulent man” who repeatedly changed his religion in order to malign both Christianity and Islam, and that he repeatedly cheated on women. The Ichhra police quoted Basharat’s first wife, Fouzia, as saying he “had already cheated on four girls like this.”
Sapna said that Basharat originally converted from Islam to Christianity in 2001.
“He converted along with his wife Fouzia and two daughters,” she said. “He did a seminary course, and after that he became part of the clergy and joined 15 Waris Road Central Church, run by Bishop Samuel Azariah. Roma used to go to this church for theological studies and was Basharat’s student. There Basharat trapped her, and on Nov. 26, 2006 they got married [under Muslim rites].”
Compass obtained Fouzia Basharat’s court statement of March 8, 2007, which she gave after her husband had married Roma. In the statement, Fouzia said that on Sept. 12, 2006, her husband brought his pupil Roma to her and told her that she was his new wife – that he had married her in a Christian rite. She also said in her statement that Basharat later married Roma/Aisha under Muslim rites, and that Roma had changed her name to Aisha.
Fouzia Basharat then filed a case under Christian Marriage Act Section 22 applying for judicial separation. Sapna said that Fouzia Basharat initially resisted marriage to Basharat and warded off a later effort to reconvert her to Islam.
“During that time, she stayed at the Central Church, and her children continued their education at St. Peter’s High School,” Sapna said. She added that the Christian rite marriage of Roma/Aisha to Basharat was illegal, and that CLAAS had sought only to help resolve associated problems.
Sapna said CLAAS staff members were concerned about Francis remaining incarcerated, as he suffers from diabetes and hypertension.
Civil and District Judge Malik Mushtaq of Magistrate Section 30 will hear the forgery case.
Report from Compass Direct News
Police ridicule Christian mother for kidnapping complaint; others demand money, labor.
LAHORE, Pakistan, June 4 (Compass Direct News) – The Christian mother of a 12-year-old girl in Punjab Province who was kidnapped, coerced into converting to Islam and forcibly married to a 37-year-old Muslim hopes to recover her daughter at a court hearing next week.
The reaction of Pakistani law enforcement authorities to Sajida Masih’s complaint so far – ridiculing her and asserting that there is nothing she can do because her daughter is now a Muslim – does not encourage her hopes of recovering her daughter Huma at next Thursday’s (June 11) hearing.
Masih said that Muhammad Imran abducted Huma at gunpoint on Feb. 23 from Hanif Kot village in Gujranwala district, forcibly converted her and then married her. Imran has since disappeared along with his first wife, three children and new child-bride.
Masih, who worked alongside Imran as a farmhand, said the kidnapping occurred on her son’s wedding day. Masih said that when she sent Huma and the child’s aunt out of their home to see if transportation had arrived for the wedding party, Imran – who had helped in preparing for the ceremony – was waiting and told her to sit on his motorbike.
Huma did not understand and, with her concerned aunt tightly holding her hand, she refused.
Masih’s attorney, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said Imran took out a pistol and told Huma that he would shoot her as well as her parents if she did not obey; he also pointed the weapon at her aunt and said that he would kill her. Huma got onto the bike with him; her family has not seen her since.
Masih immediately ran to the owner of the farm where she and Imran work, Khan Buhadur, who told her to first finish the wedding and then see him in the evening. Masih’s attorney said that when she and relatives went to Buhadur after the ceremony, however, he said only that Imran had fled with his family along with the girl, and that he did not know where they were.
Suspecting that Buhadur was complicit in the kidnapping, Masih went to Sadar police station in Gujranwala. Police officers first ridiculed her, the attorney said, and then told her to go back to Buhadur because “only he could do something.” For several days officers and Buhadur shuttled her back and forth between them.
Unable to get police to register the case, Masih submitted a report with the help of a lawyer and took it to the police station, where officers consigned it to the dustbin.
Three days after the kidnapping, police finally registered a First Information Report (FIR) on Feb. 26 – but changed the age of the kidnapped girl from 12, as her mother reported, to 16. Moreover, Investigating Officer Niaz Khan told Masih that the FIR was useless since she was too poor to hire a lawyer, and that she should try to reach an out-of-court agreement with Buhadur – implying that he knew of the child’s whereabouts.
The Masih family learned from a friend of Imran, identified only as Javed, that Huma had converted to Islam and had married the fugitive father of three. Javed further said that Imran had told him police would do nothing as he had paid them 50,000 rupees (US$620).
The family subsequently received a court notice, the attorney said, stating that Imran had requested nullification of the FIR on Huma’s abduction, claiming she was an “adult” and had “willfully” converted to Islam and married him.
According to Huma’s birth certificate, issued by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Gujranwala, she was born on Oct. 22, 1996. The attorney said that Imran had submitted a fake birth certificate stating she was born on Dec. 23, 1990, which would make her 18 years old. The legal marriage age for girls in Pakistan is 16.
Only then did Masih obtain the services of the lawyer now handling the case, who is supported by the American Center for Law & Justice.
A hearing on the case had been scheduled for May 6, but because of a change of judge a new date was set for June 11. Unwilling to wait, the family and their lawyer went with a court bailiff to a factory owned by Buhadur in Gujranwala on May 14, hoping to get help in recovering Huma, but Buhadur did not cooperate.
Buhadur had been demanding that Masih pay him 100,000 rupees (US$1,240) that she had supposedly borrowed from him, but this demand only surfaced after the kidnapping – an implied attempt to extort money from her in exchange for information on the whereabouts of her daughter, according to the lawyer. Buhadur withdrew this pressure on Masih after the visit from the court bailiff and efforts by the attorney.
At a meeting of villagers on May 16 at the Sadar police station, Buhadur said that Imran owed him money and that he would inform officers if he learned anything of his whereabouts.
Another land owner, Karamat Ali Saroyya, subsequently called Masih saying that Huma was in Muridke, near Lahore, but when Masih and her lawyer set out again and met with Muridke police, they were unable to find her.
Saroyya later demanded that Masih work his fields for one year in order to get her daughter back.
Masih’s lawyer and other legal representatives said police and officials at the Municipal Corporation’s office, which keeps birth and death records, have been reluctant to help, saying that Huma had converted and that therefore there was no reason that she should be returned to non-Muslim parents.
Report from Compass Direct News