Cashless payment is booming, thanks to coronavirus. So is financial surveillance


Jack Parkin, Western Sydney University

A banknote has been sitting in my wallet for six months now. As time ticks on, it burns an ever greater hole in my pocket.

At first I felt uneasy spending it, following COVID-19 warnings to pay more attention to hand hygiene and the surfaces we all touch on a daily basis.

Now I have less and less opportunity to do so. While the World Health Organisation has never advised against using cash, more and more businesses are displaying signs that read “We Only Accept Contactless Payment” next to their registers.

A recent global poll conducted by MasterCard – a company with reason to favour card-based payments – found 82% of its users see contactless payments as cleaner than cash.

Online shopping is booming too. Amazon’s value alone has risen by 570 billion US dollars this year.

But while electronic payment may reduce our exposure to germs, it also shows banks, vendors and payment platforms what we do with our money. Social media is awash with posts condemning the forced use of contactless payment for fear of overseers eyeballing spending. Some people are even boycotting stores that won’t accept cash.

The growth of digital transactions exposes yet another aspect of our personal life to, what the social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff has called, “surveillance capitalism”. Financial data is now a valuable raw material that can be bought, sold and refined in the name of profit.

The decline of cash

When the pandemic began, cash had already been on the decline for years. In Australia, demand for coins fell by more than 50% between 2013 and 2019.

For many people, increasing digitisation is synonymous with progress. It can be seen as a way of leaving the cumbersome, historical artefacts of coins and banknotes behind.

COVID-19 has accelerated this move away from cash. Wariness of microbe-ridden banknotes has seen contactless payment become a spontaneous public health standard.

Because cash is a social material, it moves between us, connecting us both financially and physically. The US Federal Reserve even decided to quarantine dollars returning from Asia earlier this year in an attempt to stop the coronavirus crossing its borders.




Read more:
Depending on who you are, the benefits of a cashless society are greatly overrated


Dropping digital breadcrumbs

One perk of paper money is that it does not leave paper trails. Digital money, however, leaves traces in the databases of banks, vendors and platform owners, while governments look keenly over their shoulders.

Financial journalist Brett Scott calls this a “prison of watchable payments”.

Tax officials love digital transactions because they make it easier to monitor the nation’s economy. Banks and payment platforms are pleased as well: not only do they collect fees and gain the ability to allow or obstruct transactions, they can also profit from the troves of personal data piling up on their servers.

Internally, banks use this data to offer you other bespoke services such as loans and insurance. But information is also aggregated to better understand wider economic trends, and then sold on to third parties.

At the moment, these data metrics are anonymised but that doesn’t guard against retailers using de-anonymising techniques to attach transactions back to your identity.

Data brokers exist for this very reason: building digital profiles and creating a marketplace for them. This allows retailers to target you with tailored advertisements based on your spending. The devices at everyone’s fingertips become a feedback loop of information in which companies analyse what people have bought and then urge them to buy more.




Read more:
Explainer: what is surveillance capitalism and how does it shape our economy?


Can surveillance work on your behalf?

Having records of every transaction can also be useful for individuals. Companies such as Revolut and Monzo offer “spending analytics” services to help customers manage their money by tracking where it goes each month.

But information about a user’s own behaviour never truly belongs to them. And, as the digital economist Nick Srnicek explains, “suppression of privacy is at the heart of the business model”.

Digital payment with (some) privacy

While filling virtual baskets or paying by tapping a card does open up transactions for inspection, there are still ways you can protect your health and your data at the same time.

“Virtual cards” like those provided by privacy.com are one useful tool. These services let users create multiple card numbers for different online purchases that conceal consumption patterns from banks and credit card details from merchants.

Cryptocurrencies might also find a new limelight in the pandemic. Hailed as cash for the internet, the inbuilt privacy mechanisms of Bitcoin, Zcash and Monero could work to mask transactions.

However, finding companies that accept them is challenging, and their privacy capabilities are often overstated for everyday users. This is particularly true when using exchanges and third-party wallet software such as Coinbase.

In brick-and-mortar stores, staying under the radar can be more difficult. Prepaid cards are one option – but you’ll need to buy the card itself with cash if you want to keep your anonymity fully intact. And that takes us back to square one.The Conversation

Jack Parkin, Digital Economist, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Treasury revises JobKeeper’s cost down by massive $60 billion, sparking calls to widen eligibility


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal treasury has revised down by a massive $60 billion the estimated cost of the JobKeeper wage subsidy program, from an original $130 billion to $70 billion.

Treasury revealed its huge recalculation in a joint statement with the Australian Taxation Office, which also revealed there had been a large reporting error in estimates of the number of employees likely to access the program.

The costings revision, while highly embarrassing for treasury, is extremely good news for the government, which had committed around $200 billion to support measures to get the country through the pandemic.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said: “It is welcome news that the impact on the public purse from the program will not be as great as initially estimated”.

The government will be able to use money saved to reduce projected deficit and/or for other spending.

The news of the revision immediately prompted calls for JobKeeper to be widened to include workers, especially many casuals, who are not covered under its present rules.

But Frydenberg told the ABC: “We’re not making wholesale changes to the JobKeeper program. We’ll have a review, as we’ve always stated, mid-way through the program, and we’ll wait for the results of that review if there are to be any changes.”

When JobKeeper was developed, Treasury anticipated about 6.5 million employees would access the program, which provides a flat $1500 a fortnight for workers who remain connected to their employer. The assistance is available to employees of businesses which have had at least 30% fall in their turnover, or 50% in the case of big businesses.

Writing in The Conversation in late April, Melbourne University economists Roger Wilkins and Jeff Borland pointed to a disparity between the dive of 2.6 million full time jobs expected by Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe and the 6.6 million jobs the Treasury was preparing to fund under JobKeeper.

“What is surprising is the size of gap between the predicted number of payments and the predicted number of jobs at risk,” they wrote.

Treasury now expects only some 3.5 million workers to need JobKeeper.

While the Treasury revision of the scheme’s likely cost is driven by the fact circumstances have not born out its original assumptions, a reporting error by many businesses masked what was actually happening, so treasury’s numbers for a time appeared correct.

At a Senate committee hearing on Thursday Treasury was still talking about the program covering more than six million employees.

Explaining the wrong forecast, Friday’s statement said the original cost estimate was made when COVID-19 cases were “growing significantly” in Australia and restrictions were being tightened here and abroad.

“The difference between Treasury’s estimates at the time and the number of employees now accessing the JobKeeper program partly reflects the level and impact of health restrictions not having been as severe as expected and their imposition not having been maintained for as long as expected at the time.

“This has been reflected in some improvement to the outlook for the economy since the original estimate was developed,” the statement said.

“The variation in estimates also reflects the inherent uncertainty associated with estimating the take up of a demand driven program in the current circumstances.”

The enrolment forms completed by 910,055 businesses had indicated the program would cover about 6.5 million eligible employees – in line with treasury’s thinking.

But the ATO has now found about 1,000 of these businesses had made big mistakes in estimating eligible workers.

“The most common error was that instead of reporting the number of employees they expected to be eligible, they reported the amount of assistance they expected to receive.

“For example, over 500 businesses with ‘1’ eligible employee reported a figure of ‘1,500’ (which is the amount of JobKeeper payment they would expect to receive for each fortnight for that employee).”

The reporting error does not affect the payments already made to businesses.

This is because those payments are linked to a later declaration from a business in relation to every eligible worker.

“This declaration does not involve estimates and requires an employer to provide the tax file number for each eligible employee.”

The information where the reporting error occurred was just collected to obtain an early indication of how many employees were likely to go onto JobKeeper.

The mistakes were detected when the Tax Office investigated the large gap between the expected number who would go onto JobKeeper and the much smaller number actually accessing it.

By May 20, 910,055 businesses had enrolled in the program, with 759,654 making claims for eligible employees; $8.7 billion had been paid to those businesses, covering about 2.9 million employees.

Anthony Albanese said: “This is a mistake you could have seen from space. This is a government that couldn’t run a bath, let alone be good economic managers.”

Calls for the scheme to be revamped came from both the employer and employee sides.

The Australian Industry Group said the government should address the program’s anomalies and alter “rules which leave many employees without support and mean that many employers are facing unfair competition.

“With the estimated budgetary costs reduced by $60 billion there is considerable scope for refinements to the program,” the Ai Group said.

It urged the inclusion of low-margin businesses which had not had a 30% reduction in turnover but were “under greater stress than higher-margin businesses that do qualify for Jobkeeper”.

The ACTU tweeted “We have millions of workers who were left out of #JobKeeper on the premise that there wasn’t enough money. Now we know that it’s been underspent by $60 billion. There is no excuse – @JoshFrydenberg can fix this with a stroke of his pen. Expand JobKeeper now.”

The Transport Workers’ Union said the government should immediately pay the thousands of airport workers shut out of the scheme.

The Greens said the revision meant the government had “no excuse to return the Jobseeker payment to $40 a day at the end of September”.

Treasury still expects unemployment to reach 10% and says it would have reached 15% without JobKeeper.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

JobKeeper payment: how will it work, who will miss out and how to get it?



@shotsoflouis/Upplash, CC BY-NC

Rebecca Cassells, Curtin University and Alan Duncan, Curtin University

The A$130 billion $1,500-per-fortnight JobKeeper payment will benefit six million Australians for six months, with payments expected from May 1.

Eligible businesses include not-for-profits and businesses with turnovers of less than $1 billion per year whose turnover is down 30%. Businesses with turnovers of more than $1 billion per year need to have lost 50% of turnover.

Eligible workers include full-time and part-time employees and sole traders as well as permanent visa holders and several other visa categories.

Workers don’t apply on their own behalf. They go to their employers, who will apply to the Tax Office.




Read more:
The key to the success of the $130 billion wage subsidy is retrospective paid work


But casual workers are eligible only if they have been with their employer for 12 months or more.

Our calculations suggest about 950,000 casual workers will be ineligible, because they have been with their most recent employer for less than 12 months, something common among casual workers.

Most are employed in the accommodation and food services, retail trade, and health care and social assistance industries. More than half are women.


Casual workers employed less than 12 months with current employer


Bankwest Curtin Econimcs Centre | Calculations from ABS Characteristics of Employment

Eligible employers will receive $1,500 per fortnight (before tax) for each eligible employee regardless of whether that employee is paid more or less than this and regardless of whether the employee is full or part-time.

Workers that are paid less than $1,500 per fortnight will receive the full $1,500 per fortnight regardless of their pay.

Most part-time workers will take home more under the $750 Job Keeper payment than they were receiving in wages from their employer.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Is it good policy?

At a projected cost of $130 billion over the next half year, it is an extraordinary commitment from the government, and a huge statement of intent to support businesses and workers.

It will help many businesses stay afloat and help many workers stay attached to their employers as we move through the crisis.

But the model adopted raises a number of questions:

1. Is it fair to full and part-time workers?

It will give a part-time worker on 15 hours per week about the same weekly wage as a full-time worker on a 35 hour week.

Employers might try to re-organise hours of work to make it fairer, but some workers might want fewer hours and others more. Regardless, many will end up with the same pay.

A capped wage subsidy model would deliver support more efficiently, but may be harder to administer and police. Every worker and every employer knows that they will get $1,500 per fortnight. Anything outside this amount will raise alarm bells.

2. How will it interact with other payments?

Many part time workers who are combining work with caring for others and/or studying also receive family payments and other means-tested government payments.

For many, the $1,500 per fortnight will cut their other payments while at the same time increasing the demands their employers for hours, where those employers are able to continue to operate.

3. What about multiple job holders?

There are currently more than one million workers in Australia who hold more than a single job. The rules state they are eligible for the JobKeeper payment in respect of only one of those jobs.

They will have to choose which job to keep their attachment to. The employers who miss out will miss out on the wage support.

4. Will it actually keep people in work?

A key aim of the JobKeeper payment is to keep people in jobs. It will certainly offer an incentive for workers to stay attached to their employer and in work, whatever form it takes.

But, some might judge their overall welfare to be better served if they receive a combination of the enhanced JobSeeker payment (formerly Newstart) and other benefits and might not seek JobKeeper.

5. Will it keep businesses afloat?

The benefit for eligible employers is that their wages will largely be covered. But this might not be enough to keep them operating if their other costs become too large. This will especially be the case for firms for which Labour is a small share of costs.

This is where other elements of the government’s support package will come into play to keep businesses afloat including those announced on March 12.

6. Will businesses change in order to become eligible?

Behavioural responses are inevitable. JobKeeper creates incentives for firms to force down turnover to get access to the payments

And it might induce firms to pay their workers the flat $1,500 per fortnight even if they can afford to pay and would ordinarily pay more – not the best outcome.




Read more:
Australia’s $130 billion JobKeeper payment: what the experts think


The Conversation


Rebecca Cassells, Associate Professor, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, Curtin University and Alan Duncan, Director, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, and Bankwest Research Chair in Economic Policy, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s $130 billion JobKeeper payment: what the experts think



Shutterstock

Steven Hamilton, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Anthony Forsyth, RMIT University, and David Peetz, Griffith University

The A$130 billion payment will be benefit six million of Australia’s 13 million employees through their employers.

It will ensure each employee kept on in a business that has lost custom gets at least $1,500 per fortnight for six months. But the devil is in the detail.

We asked three experts to pick the package apart.

Steven Hamilton

Visiting Scholar, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This is a welcome move by the government that will keep many businesses afloat and connected to their employees, which are critical to a speedy recovery. It is commendable that the government reversed course so quickly given rapidly deteriorating economic conditions.

You can’t shut down the economy for months without providing massive support to businesses and workers. At A$130 billion, this package alone is worth 12% of the economy over the next six months. Along with the measures already announced, it takes our fiscal support to a similar scale as recently legislated in the United States.

Targeting only businesses experiencing a revenue loss limits profiteering. Those currently doing well won’t get unneeded support. It applies to all full-time, part-time, and long-term casual employees, as well as the self-employed, and it forces all participating firms to pay workers at least the $1,500 per fortnight subsidy.




Read more:
The key to the success of the $130 billion wage subsidy is retrospective paid work


It could have several unintended consequences. It might encourage firms to limit sales to push revenue down below the turnover threshold.

For example, for Qantas the subsidy would be almost $600 million, but to receive it, its revenue will need to fall to 50% below where it was this time last year. That might discourage it from reopening routes, which would slow the recovery.

The scheme will also make it harder for businesses desperately in need of staff (such as supermarkets) to hire new workers from currently struggling businesses.

To do so, they would need to entice workers to move from what might be suddenly better-paid jobs (everyone benefiting from the scheme must receive at least $1,500 per fortngiht) to less well paid ones.




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And the choice to subsidise the largest businesses in Australia is questionable.

The major banks are excluded, but every other large company with at least a 50% reduction in revenue is included. Specific, targeted measures for the worst-affected industries might have been a better approach.

David Peetz

Professor of Employment Relations, Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, Griffith University

Dangers often associated with wage subsidy schemes — like wasting money on jobs that would have been created anyway, or substituting one type of worker for another — aren’t much of a concern when a wage subsidy is introduced in an environment in which revenue and employment is diving.

Making the scheme temporary, and restricting it to firms facing a 30% drop in revenue (50% for big businesses) greatly reduces this danger.

That said, the scheme will mainly target workers at or near the minimum wage. That’s because the payment is set close to the minimum wage.

In effect, firms can rehire or keep on minimum-wage workers for free.

For workers on average full-time adult earnings, which are about twice the minimum wage, the subsidy is nowhere near as big. Many are still likely to lose their jobs, as we have already seen.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

And the scheme introduces strange incentives. The same payment is received for a part-time worker as for a full-time worker on any wage. (The weekend leak that part-timers would be excluded seems to have been a furphy.)

Many part-timers’ wages will be less than the subsidy. But the employer still has to pay them the $750 per week. The payroll is simpler the fewer employees are on it, so the employer might give one part-timer the bulk of the hours and retrench the others.




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New OECD estimates suggest a 22% hit to Australia’s economy


Many part-timers are casuals, though, and they aren’t covered unless they are “long term” casuals (seemingly a contradiction in terms).

This means many casuals can expect to be sacked in favour of workers who can be put into “free” $750 per week jobs.

Meanwhile, the superannuation guarantee no longer applies to wages covered by the jobseeker payment, including wages the employer would have paid anyway. That’s something that could lead to all sorts of legal complexities in the future.

Anthony Forsyth

Professor of Workplace Law, RMIT University

My comments focus on the government’s claim that its JobKeeper payment is more generous and broader than the UK’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Australia’s scheme is definitely broader, with the aim of providing support to up to six million Australians over coming months.

Eligibility will depend on a business suffering at least 30% reduced turnover or 50% for businesses with more than $1 billion turnover.

It enables employees to receive income support payments where they have been stood down, or already made redundant where the business wants to rehire the employee with Jobkeeper payment support. In the UK, only “furloughed” employees (stood down) are eligible for payments.




Read more:
Coronavirus: how UK job retention plan borrows from collectivist Europe


But the UK scheme provides payments to those on “zero hours contracts” (akin to casuals). Where hours have varied, payments are based on last year’s average.

However in Australia, casuals can only claim Jobkeeper payment where they have been employed for at least 12 months. Many casual workers will be ineligible given the high turnover in hard-hit sectors such as accommodation, cafés and food services.

Casual teaching contracts in universities are often for less than a year.

As for generosity, Australia’s Jobkeeper payment of around A$3,000 per month is far lower than the UK’s, which is £2,500 per month, worth more than A$5,000.

Australia’s payment is 70% of the median wage. The government’s claim that employees in retail and hospitality will get the median wage in those industries simply reinforces their low-paid status to begin with.

The government specifically mentioned that New Zealanders working in Australia would be able to access the JobKeeper payment along with some other categories of visa holders.




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Delivery workers are now essential. They deserve the rights of other employees


But the Victorian Trades Hall’s Migrant Workers Centre believes this will leave 1.1 million temporary migrant workers outside the scheme and needing assistance.

Another gap is the hundreds of thousands of workers in the gig economy.

We are relying more than ever on food delivery riders and drivers. Many are incorrectly categorised as self-employed contractors. JobKeeper will cover self-employed individuals but they must be able to show at least 30% decline in their turnover.

Most gig workers will not have the business systems set up to demonstrate this, as they are in reality employees who have had supposed “contractor” status imposed on them by the platforms they provide services for.The Conversation

Steven Hamilton, Visiting Scholar, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Anthony Forsyth, Professor of Workplace Law, RMIT University, and David Peetz, Professor of Employment Relations, Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia: NSW – Bushfires Update – Too Little Too Late?


This appears to me to be a case of ‘too little, too late,’ though it is good the volunteer fire-fighters are going to get paid for the very good work (generally unpaid and with a loss of income from normal work) they do for the community and country.

Government gives Newstart recipients energy payment to smooth passage of legislation


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has extended the energy payment to people on Newstart – after excluding them only days ago.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the decision was made at a meeting on Tuesday night of Scott Morrison, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and himself. He indicated it was about smoothing the passage of the measure through the parliament.

There was widespread criticism of the exclusion of Newstart recipients from the payment, which will be A$75 for a single person and $125 for a couple.




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The money is due to go out very soon and the government needed the legislation to pass immediately. While Labor had flagged it would support the one-off payment, the legislation could have been amended, because the government is in a minority in the House of Representatives.

The payment was originally set to be confined to those on the age pension, disability support pension, carers payment, parenting payment single recipients, and veterans and their dependants receiving payments.

The extension, which will also cover those on Youth Allowance and other working age payments, bringing the number of recipients to five million, will add some $80 million to the original cost of $284.4 million.

Labor seized on the backdown, seeking to suspend standing orders to move a motion in the House saying the government’s backflip “has already blown an $80 million hole in the budget”, and showed the budget was “unravelling less than 24 hours after it was delivered”.

The motion condemned the government for “only looking after the top end of town and treating vulnerable Australians as an afterthought”. The attempt to suspend standing orders failed.

Frydenberg, speaking to the National Press Club, explained the original exclusion by saying three-quarters of people on Newstart moved off it within 12 months, and 99% of people on it received another payment.




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Tax giveaways in Frydenberg’s ‘back in the black’ budget


“They get a parenting payment or they get a family tax benefit payment, whereas when you’re on the Disability Support Pension or on the aged pension, you tend to be on it for longer, and that seems to be – that is your principal form of payment”.

Frydenberg said the change “will secure the passage of the piece of legislation through the parliament”.

Appearing on the ABC Q&A on Monday, Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos could not say why Newstart recipients had been excluded from the payment. “The short answer is I don’t know why,” he said. He also said he thought Newstart was too low.




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Politics with Michelle Grattan: Peter Martin and Tim Colebatch on budget strategy and numbers


The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Suspected Drug Traffickers Kidnap Pastor


Michoacan state church leader abducted during Sunday service.

MEXICO CITY, April 15 (CDN) — Some 500 worshippers were gathered for last Sunday’s (April 10) worship service at the Christian Center El Shaddai in the Mexican city of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacan at about 8:15 a.m. when four masked men burst in firing machine guns into the air.

Before the frightened believers realized what was happening, their pastor, Josué Ramírez Santiago, had been whisked away. Divergent press reports indicated the kidnappers, suspected drug traffickers active in the state, were about 10 in number.

The following day, the pastor’s family received news that the criminals wanted a ransom of 20 million pesos (US$1.7 million). Even if the family could raise such an immense sum – considered doubtful – payment would not guarantee that the victim would be returned alive.

Arturo Farela, director of the National Fraternity of Evangelical Churches, has asserted that organized crime syndicates and drug cartels have targeted Christians because they view churches as revenue centers and because churches support programs for the rehabilitation of drug addicts and alcoholics.

“The majority of rehabilitation centers that have been attacked by organized crime in Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Tepic and other places belong to the evangelical community,” Farela said in a declaration regarding the kidnapping of Ramirez. “Furthermore, some 100 Mexican or foreign pastors who lived in Ciudad Juarez have had to abandon the city because of the threats and demands for money. And of course many pastors and their families have been victims of extortion, threats, kidnapping and homicide.”

Farela has stated that 100 Mexican clergymen have been kidnapped in recent years, with 15 of them losing their lives to organized crime. Asked if Compass could review his records of these crimes, Farela said he was not authorized to permit it.

In numerous other cases, children of pastors have been kidnapped, including one from Matehuala, San Luis Potosi, who has not been heard from for some six months. The college-age daughter of a prominent pastor in Mexico City was held by kidnappers for a week but was released when the criminals grew tired of the father’s prayers every time they telephoned him; the family has not revealed whether money was given for her return.

Michoacan, the state where the most recent abduction took place, has been a center of much criminal activity and also of severe reprisals by elements of the Mexican army. The state where President Felipe Calderon was born, Michoacan was the first to implement an anti-drug military operation that expanded to northern and eastern states.

In spite of the operation, more than 34,600 people nationwide have reportedly been assassinated since it was implemented in December 2006, with most of those crimes tied to drug traffickers “settling accounts.”

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Christian Woman Freed from Muslim Kidnappers in Pakistan


Captors tried to force mother of seven to convert to Islam.

LAHORE, Pakistan, March 11 (CDN) — A Christian mother of seven here who last August was kidnapped, raped, sold into marriage and threatened with death if she did not convert to Islam was freed this week.

After she refused to convert and accept the marriage, human traffickers had threatened to kill Shaheen Bibi, 40, and throw her body into the Sindh River if her father, Manna Masih, did not pay a ransom of 100,000 rupees (US$1,170) by Saturday (March 5), the released woman told Compass.   

Drugged into unconsciousness, Shaheen Bibi said that when she awoke in Sadiqabad, her captors told her she had been sold and given in marriage.

“I asked them who they were,” she said. “They said that they were Muslims, to which I told them that I was a married Christian woman with seven children, so it was impossible for me to marry someone, especially a Muslim.”

Giving her a prayer rug (musalla), her captors – Ahmed Baksh, Muhammad Amin and Jaam Ijaz – tried to force her to convert to Islam and told her to recite a Muslim prayer, she said.

“I took the musalla but prayed to Jesus Christ for help,” she said. “They realized that I should be returned to my family.”

A member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lahore, Shaheen Bibi said she was kidnapped in August 2010 after she met a woman named Parveen on a bus on her way to work. She said Parveen learned where she worked and later showed up there in a car with two men identified as Muhammad Zulfiqar and Shah. They offered her a job at double her salary and took her to nearby Thokar Niaz Baig.

There she was given tea with some drug in it, and she began to fall unconscious as the two men raped her, she said. Shaheen Bibi was unconscious when they put her in a vehicle, and they gave her sedation injections whenever she regained her senses, she said.

When she awoke in Sadiqabad, Baksh, Amin and Ijaz informed her that she had been sold into marriage with Baksh. They showed her legal documents in which she was given a Muslim name, Sughran Bibi daughter of Siddiq Ali. After Baksh had twice raped her, she said, his mother interjected that she was a “persistent Christian” and that therefore he should stay away from her.

Shaheen Bibi, separated from an abusive husband who had left her for another woman, said that after Baksh’s mother intervened, her captors stopped hurting her but kept her in chains.

 

Release

Her father, Masih, asked police to take action, but they did nothing as her captors had taken her to a remote area between the cities of Rahim Yar Khan and Sadiqabad, considered a “no-go” area ruled by dangerous criminals.

Masih then sought legal assistance from the Community Development Initiative (CDI), a human rights affiliate of the European Center for Law & Justice. With the kidnappers giving Saturday (March 5) as a deadline for payment of the ransom, CDI attorneys brought the issue to the notice of high police officials in Lahore and on March 4 obtained urgent legal orders from Model Town Superintendent of Police Haidar Ashraf to recover Shaheen, according to a CDI source.

The order ultimately went to Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Asghar Jutt of the Nashtar police station. Police accompanied by a CDI field officer raided the home of a contact person for the captors in Lahore, Naheed Bibi, the CDI source said, and officers arrested her in Awami Colony, Lahore.

With Naheed Bibi along, CDI Field Officer Haroon Tazeem and Masih accompanied five policemen, including ASI Jutt, on March 5 to Khan Baila, near Rahim Yar Khan – a journey of 370 miles, arriving that evening. Area police were not willing to cooperate and accompany them, telling them that Khan Baila was a “no-go area” they did not enter even during daytime, much less at night.

Jutt told area police that he had orders from high officials to recover Shaheen Bib, and that he and Tazeem would lead the raid, the CDI source said. With Nashtar police also daring them to help, five local policemen decided to go with them for the operation, he said.

At midnight on Sunday (March 6), after some encounters and raids in a jungle area where houses are miles apart, the rescue team managed to get hold of Shaheen Bibi, the CDI source said. The captors handed over Shaheen Bibi on the condition that they would not be the targets of further legal action, the CDI source said.

Sensing that their foray into the danger zone had gone on long enough, Tazeem and Jutt decided to leave but told them that those who had sold Shaheen Bib in Lahore would be brought to justice.

Fatigued and fragile when she arrived in Lahore on Monday (March 7), Shaheen Bibi told CDN through her attorneys that she would pursue legal action against those who sold her fraudulently into slavery and humiliation.

She said that she had been chained to a tree outside a house, where she prayed continually that God would help her out of the seemingly impossible situation. After the kidnappers gave her father the March 5 deadline last week, Shaheen Bibi said, at one point she lifted her eyes in prayer, saw a cross in the sky and was comforted that God’s mighty hand would release her even though her father had no money to pay ransom.

On four previous occasions, she said, her captors had decided to kill her and had changed their mind.

Shaheen Bibi said there were about 10 other women in captivity with her, some whose hands or legs were broken because they had refused to be forcibly given in marriage. Among the women was one from Bangladesh who had abandoned hope of ever returning home as she had reached her 60s in captivity.

Masih told CDN that he had prayed that God would send help, as he had no money to pay the ransom. The day before the deadline for paying the ransom, he said, he had 100 rupees (less than US$2) in his pocket.

Report from Compass Direct News

Christian Woman in Pakistan Abused, Forced to Resign


Sanitation worker on verge of receiving benefits; in another village, church builders attacked.

SARGODHA, Pakistan, June 10 (CDN) — A Christian woman here said she has been falsely accused of theft, beaten, threatened with rape and forced to resign her job in a bid to keep her from obtaining full benefits as a regular government employee.

Razia Bibi, a 38-year-old sanitation worker known as Rajji of village No. 47-NB (Northern Branch), Sargodha, was due to obtain regular status as a government employee at Aysha Girls’ Hostel at the University of Sargodha at the end of May. On May 7, however, Muslim office worker Safia Bibi accused her of stealing 10,000 rupees (US$120) from her cubicle – and when Muslim hostel warden Noshaba Bibi learned of it, she called female police officers and ordered them to beat her until
she confessed, Rajji said.

“Lady police constables subjected me to inhumane thrashing with bamboo sticks and kept saying that I must confess or they would not spare me,” she said, adding that she was beaten for four hours in one of the hostel rooms. “I said that, being a Christian from childhood, I had learned not to steal, therefore I told them the truth, but it seemed they were bent on making me confess a crime I had not committed.”

Her comment about being a Christian and therefore not having stolen anything seemed to especially enrage Safia Bibi and Noshaba Bibi, she said.

“Hostel officials turned violent, and they called Haaser Khan, the chief security officer of the university, accompanied by two junior security guards, and ordered them to take me into a cubicle and take off my clothes and rape me,” she said. “I raised a cry for help, but there was no one to help me.”

Her husband, Nayyer Aftab, told Compass that someone informed him that his wife was in serious trouble at her workplace. Rushing to the girls’ hostel, he said, he found the security guards dragging his wife on the ground as she screamed for help. When Aftab asked why they were treating her this way, Khan charged him with his baton and left him injured on the ground, Aftab said. The chief security officer took Rajji inside.

“Both hostel officers, Noshaba and Safia, told me that Rajji had stolen 10,000 rupees, and that because she didn’t confess her crime the security guards were going to teach her a lesson,” Aftab said.

Aftab said he knew that his wife would not confess to theft even to spare herself from rape, and he pleaded with the two accusers to stop the security guards, promising that he would pay them the amount of the allegedly stolen money.

“At this both Safia and Noshaba ordered to bring Rajji out and not rape her,” Aftab told Compass. “They gave me an hour to make payment of the allegedly stolen amount.”

He said he went to friends and relatives to gather up the 10,000 rupees and gave it to Safia Bibi and Noshaba Bibi, but Aftab said they still compelled his wife to resign by forcibly obtaining a thumb print from the illiterate woman on a resignation statement.

Rajji said she had been happily looking forward to obtaining regular employee status.

“In three weeks I was going to become a regular employee as a sanitation worker at the university, but as I am a Christian, the Muslim hostel officers Safia and Noshaba wanted a Muslim regular employee after their hearts instead of me,” she told Compass.   

Noshaba Bibi initially refused to comment on the allegation that she falsely accused the Christian woman of theft in order to provide a job to someone of her choice. After repeated questioning by Compass, however, she became exasperated and used coarse language, yelling, “Yes, I have done it, do whatever you want!”

The Christian couple in the village in Punjab Province has an 8-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 9 and 5.

 

Christians Beaten, Jailed

In a village in southern Punjab Province, Muslim extremists on Saturday (June 5) attacked Christians trying to construct a church building, and then got police to file charges against them for defending themselves, according to the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA).

A club-wielding Muslim mob led by Muhammad Nazir Ahmed beat Christians who were laying the foundation for the church building in village No. 184/9-L, in Cheechawatni of Sahiwal district, seriously injuring several of them, said Javed Akber Gill, APMA district coordinator in Sahiwal.

Ahmed later enlisted Inspector Allah Ditta, station house officer at the Dera Rahim police station, to file charges against four Christians – Noreen Mumtaz, who is pregnant, and her husband Mumtaz Inayat, Aftab Inayat and Kashif Masih, Christian sources said. All four were charged with critically injuring others and attempting to kill or threaten to kill, they said.

Inspector Ditta refused to respond to repeated requests by Compass for comment on allegations that he colluded with the Muslim extremists to falsely accuse the Christian victims of the attack.

The accused Christians pleaded with police that they were innocent, to no avail. Gill said that he was doing his best to resolve the issue peacefully in an attempt to avert the kind of violence that hit the Christian communities of Gojra and Korian in July and August of 2009 and Shanti Nagar in 1997.

The Rev. John Rizwani of Cheechawatni city said the government had allotted a small piece of land to the Christians for the building and that they had permission to build. There are only 25 Christians’ homes amid the approximately 500 Muslim homes in the village.

Ferhan Mazher, chairman of Rays of Development Organization, Azher Kalim, general secretary the Christians Lawyers Foundation and Khalid Gill, head of APMA in Punjab, condemned the attack.

“Attacks on worship places usurp basic human rights and constitute a conspiracy to belittle the name of Pakistan worldwide,” Mazher said.

Report from Compass Direct News

Christian Forced to Sell Kidney to Pay Debt to Boss in Pakistan


Employer charges non-Muslims at least 400 percent interest.

LAHORE, Pakistan, May 14 (CDN) — A low-wage Pakistani Christian said his Muslim employer last week forced him to sell his kidney in an effort to pay off a loan his boss made at exorbitant interest rates charged only to non-Muslims.

John Gill, a molding machine operator at Shah Plastic Manufacturers in the Youhanabad area of Lahore, said he took a loan of 150,000 rupees (US$1,766) – at 400 percent interest – from employer Ghulam Mustafa in 2007 in order to send his 17-year-old daughter to college. 

“I kept paying the installments every month from my salary, but after three years I got tired of paying the huge interest on the loan,” Gill told Compass.

The employer denied that he had received payment installments from his Christian worker, although Gill said he had receipts for monthly payments.

Mustafa confirmed that he took over Gill’s home last week after giving the Christian two weeks to pay off the outstanding interest on the loan. Then, on May 6, Mustafa came to Gill’s home with “about five armed men” and transported him to Ganga Ram hospital, where they forced him to sell his kidney against his will, the Christian said.

“They sold my kidney and said that they will come next month for the rest of the money,” Gill said.

The value of the kidney was estimated at around 200,000 rupees (US$2,380), leaving Gill with outstanding debt of about 250,000 rupees (US$2,976), he said. Recovering at home, Gill said he did not know he would repay the rest of the debt.

Mustafa told Compass that Gill owed him 400 percent interest on the loan.

“I only offer 50 percent interest to Muslim employees,” he said, adding that he refused to take less than 400 percent interest from any non-Muslim.

‘Kidney Bazaar’

There was no immediate confirmation from Ganga Ram hospital. Rights groups, however, have complained that hundreds of rich foreigners come to Pakistan every year to buy kidneys from live, impoverished donors.

Kidney failure is increasingly common in rich countries, often because of obesity or hypertension, but a growing shortage of transplant organs has fueled a black market that exploits needy donors such as Gill and risks undermining voluntary donation schemes, according to Pakistan’s Kidney Foundation.

Pakistani legislation aimed at curbing trafficking in human kidneys has not ended a business that has turned the country into the world’s “kidney bazaar,” critics say.

Gill said he is trying to contact local Christian advocacy groups to help him recover and overcome his financial and spiritual difficulties. Christians are a minority in heavily Islamic Pakistan, where rights groups have lamented discrimination against Christian workers.

Report from Compass Direct News