Saturday, October 18, 2014

Matt 24 watch, 254: Calling for action by Caricom to stop the judicial murder of Asia Bibi of Pakistan on a false charge and dangerous blasphemy law in Pakistan

Pakistan is a Commonwealth member state, and so are many territories in the Caribbean. That is why I am calling on national, legal and media leaders across our region to stand up and be counted on a blatant, potentially murderous miscarriage of justice now under way in Pakistan.

Today, I saw in my inbox, notification that the High Court in Lahore Pakistan has upheld the blasphemy-death sentence verdict against Asia Bibi on a charge that is blatantly false, made under a dangerous but violently upheld blasphemy law.

So, I am following up on my post last year on the case.

The damage to her health and family are bad enough, this desecration of justice and abuse of the good name of God have gone beyond all decency and reason.

Stop, stop, for God's sake . . . STOP!

As a first, public mark of protest, we should publicly refuse to play International Cricket with the team of a nation that has such a murderous, worse than apartheid law on its books.

If boycotting South Africa was important to send a message, this is worse.

If you doubt me, notice the Guardian on the law under which Asia Bibi has been sentenced to death by hanging:
  Blasphemy [under the Pakistani law] carries a maximum penalty of death, yet the law sets out no standards for evidence, no requirement to prove intent, no punishment for false allegations and, indeed, no guidance on what actually constitutes blasphemy.

The accuser can refuse to repeat the offending statement in court, and judges can choose not to hear evidence in case it perpetuates the blasphemy and offends religious sensibilities. This means that in some cases, the accused can go through a whole trial without knowing what they are supposed to have done or said.
The law is open to massive abuse. As such, it is frequently used to settle personal vendettas and to persecute minorities . . .
 In the case of Bibi Asia (and other similar cases), as the article continues:
Bibi’s alleged blasphemous comments were supposedly made after co-workers refused to share water that she had carried; they said it was unclean because she was a Christian (this is a hangover from the caste system, as most of those who converted to Christianity in pre-partition India were members of the lower castes). She has always maintained her innocence, claiming that these neighbours simply wanted to punish her. The British citizen Mohammed Asghar, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, also faces the death sentence for blasphemy. Allegations were made against him in 2010 by a tenant with whom he was having a dispute. No concessions have been made for his mental health condition.

Despite these obvious flaws in the legislation and the way it is applied, reform is not coming. When Bibi’s case came to prominence in 2010, three politicians – Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and Sherry Rehman – all from the Pakistan People’s Party, which was then in power, took up the case and called for reform. The consequences speak for themselves. Taseer was shot dead by his bodyguard in January 2011. In March the same year, Bhatti was killed by Taliban assassins. Rehman was forced into semi-hiding. The then prime minister shelved all reform, cowed into retreat by the potent mix of extremist threats and mob violence.

Blasphemy excites strong emotions among parts of Pakistan’s public like no other issue. Many people accused of blasphemy are killed by mobs before they even make it to trial. (According to the Islamabad-based Centre for Security Studies, at least 52 people have been killed over blasphemy offences since 1990). Taseer’s assassin was showered with rose petals when he arrived at the courthouse for his murder trial. Many took this as evidence of the way that extremist groups have infiltrated elements of Pakistani society, exploiting the public’s strong religious sensibility and pushing it further towards intolerance . . .
So bad is the situation that when the author of this report, while living in Pakistan, authored an article for a leading newspaper there, the editor suppressed it for fear.

I think we in the Caribbean need to pray, and to act:

1 --> Let us call on the political leadership of our region to use our Commonwealth status to protest the patent injustice of this case and the destructive law.

2 --> Let us determine not to support any Test matches or International Cricket series involving Pakistan, making it clear that justice must be done and what is worse than Apartheid must be stopped. (This would use the international stature of the West Indies Cricket team to do a world of good. And, the message would be sent to every city, town and hamlet across Pakistan, that enough is enough.)

3 --> Let us support one or more regional offers of refuge for this poor, oppressed woman and her family. (Italy, France and Spain have made offers, let us make one too. Surely, Asia Bibi and her family would classify as refugees under any reasonable standard.)

4 --> In every international forum of which we are a part and Pakistan is a part, let us send the same message to the Pakistani delegation. Let me sum it up:
Stop the hate, false accusation, corruption of justice and murder under false colours of justice and pretense of outraged religious sensibilities . . . murder of one in the image of God under false colours of law and justice is the REAL blasphemy here.

5 --> Only shame, deep wounding shame will move those caught up in entrenched depravity like this, to act.

6 --> The time for public, persistent shaming has clearly come; and that includes specifically every party involved in this disgraceful case, from accusers to judges and politicians who have stood by or have gone along with evil, though we must note the horrible price paid by those who spoke up for the right.
7 --> The murderous fanatical mobs cannot reach us, so let us speak up for those in fear of their lives.

Enough is enough. END