Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Although physical abuse dominates headlines, it is not the only issue domestic workers encounter.“Everybody’s nice if you didn’t borrow money yet, but if it’s time for them to collect, they are rude,” says 30-year old Celine Barung* from the Philippines. Like thousands of other maids, years after her arrival, Barung is still repaying debts tied to the placement fees charged by the agency that first recruited her for work in Hong Kong. The recent case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, who was allegedly assaulted by her Hong Kong employer, brought media attention to the physical abuse suffered by some domestic workers, but many others, like Barung, suffer an injustice not often spoken about: financial abuse. The anti-slave charity Liberty Asia has announced that it is building a database that will gather complaints logged against abusive recruitment agencies and moneylenders in Hong Kong and across Southeast Asia. The goal is to have a single, searchable database capable of identifying patterns of abuse and frequent offenders. The online nature of the database will allow charities, lawyers, and other interested parties to access the data regardless of their location. Funding comes from a $3 million Google-sponsored Global Impact Award given to Hong Kong-based Liberty Asia and two other organizations. According to Google’s website, the award “support[s] ideas that use technology to address some of the world’s biggest challenges.” Financial exploitation is most often inflicted by recruitment agencies that withhold jobs until they receive large sums of money labeled “placement fees” or “agency commissions.” Helpers who cannot afford to pay are pressured into borrowing money from friends and family. Those for whom this is not an option are frequently introduced to moneylenders. When Barung decided to seek employment as a domestic helper outside her native country, she had to turn to a specialist recruitment agency. “I got an employer in a short time,” she says. “The agency was saying, ‘Provide it [the money] now, so that you can go now.’” Not having money for the placement fee, she felt pressured into accepting their advice to borrow money. The agency persuaded her that the number of Hong Kong employers was limited and that she should not miss this opportunity. Charging for recruitment services is not illegal, but the placement fees demanded of domestic workers are often disproportionate to the salaries they earn. In an effort to stop agencies taking advantage of migrant workers, some countries have set fee caps or abolished them altogether – as is the case in the Philippines. Charities and NGOs, however, claim that the practice of charging fees is still very common. Prosecuting rogue agencies and moneylenders has proven difficult, mainly due to lack of evidence, paper trails and the international nature of the transactions. “Recruitment agencies in [domestic helpers’] home countries, like Indonesia, collude with the placement agencies in Hong Kong and the loan companies,” says Tom Grundy, Hong Kong-based activist and founder of HK Helpers Campaign. “They basically entrap helpers in debt. Which makes it much harder for them (the workers) to escape abusive situations.” Charities and NGOs dealing with helper-related issues typically collect complaints on paper forms, which given a lack of resources are rarely digitized. This has made it difficult to connect one complaint with another or identify agencies that are repeatedly reported. This is where Liberty Asia’s database comes into play. “We are providing the data, and they [Liberty Asia] are helping us compile our data,” says Holly Allan, manager of the Hong Kong-based charity Helpers for Domestic Helpers. Without a database that gathers and compares information, Allan says, it has been difficult to prepare the types of reports and statistics needed to go after “the most notorious actors and most frequent offenders.” In Hong Kong, more than 300,000 foreign domestic workers (FDWs) are employed to assist with domestic duties and the care of children and the elderly. The minimum monthly wage for domestic helpers is HK$4,010 ($529) and the eligibility requirements for employers are very basic (HK$15,000 monthly household income – or asset equivalent – and Hong Kong residency). For many families, employing a domestic helper is a necessity rather than a luxury due to limited childcare facilities. Catering to this demand are specialist recruitment agencies in Hong Kong that collaborate with partner agencies in the helpers’ home countries, primarily the Philippines and Indonesia, which account for 97 percent of all FDWs. The Hong Kong government is aware of accusations made against recruitment agencies and has taken some steps to improve the situation, such as capping placement fees at 10 percent of the first month’s salary. According to Allan, however, more needs to be done. “There is a lack of solid or serious action from the government to address the issue,” she says. Hong Kong labor laws also work against domestic workers. FDW’s must leave the territory within two weeks of terminating a contract. This time pressure gives recruitment agencies the upper hand: it allows them, according to Allan, to charge placement fees for new jobs as high as HK$21,000. Helpers fearing they will not secure a new employer within the 14-day grace period often feel that they have no choice but to go through an agency. Some abusive lenders will probably never make it into the database. One such moneylender is Angie: the matriarchal Philippine helper who lent Barung money when a family emergency demanded that she return home unexpectedly. After the terms of the loan had been agreed, Barung says they did not document the transaction. And typical of an illegal moneylender, Angie’s friendly demeanor vanished once the loan was made. When Barung tried to make small payments, Angie become difficult to find. “She would say that if you have money, then pay it back, but when I want[ed] to pay her, she didn’t want that.” Physically unable to pay her lender, Barung watched helplessly as the debt kept growing. Remembering sleepless nights, as well as the fear and shame associated with being in debt, Barung says: “There is much regret. There is anger inside. If I did not borrow money, things could have been different.” A database will not solve all the problems associated with financial abuse, but it is a step in the right direction. (* Not her real name.) Angelina Draper is a multimedia journalist based in Hong Kong.
The United States has deployed 80 troops to Chad to augment efforts to find Nigerian schoolgirls who were taken hostage by a militant Islamist group, the White House announced Wednesday, in a significant escalation of Washington’s contribution to a crisis that has drawn global consternation. “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” the White House said in a statement formally notifying Congress about the deployment. The unit will remain in Chad “until its support resolving the kidnapping is no longer required,” the statement said. The Pentagon recently dispatched a team of eight experts to the Nigerian capital to help search for the more than 200 schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram, a group that holds sway over remote areas in northern Nigeria. They are working with roughly two dozen other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence personnel advising the Nigerian government on the recovery effort. On Tuesday, a Defense Department spokesman, Rear. Adm. John Kirby, called the search for the missing girls tantamount to finding “a needle in a jungle.” “We’re talking about an area roughly the size of West Virginia, and it’s dense forest jungle,” he told reporters. The abduction of the girls in mid-April from a boarding school in the town of Chibok went largely unnoticed outside of Africa for weeks. But their plight began making headlines in the United States recently as calls for their return gained significant traction on social media. Several U.S. female lawmakers and first lady Michelle Obama have joined the cause, posting photos on Twitter using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
At least one person dies in fighting during a ceremony to mark the death of a Shia killed in an explosion last week.A youth in Bahrain has died in clashes with police at a Shia village near the capital Manama, according to the country's main Shia opposition bloc, al-Wefaq. Witnesses said the fighting broke out on Wednesday afternoon during a ceremony to mark the death of Ali Faisal al-Akrawi, a Shia killed in an explosion on May 16. "Mahmud Mohsen succumbed to his wounds after being hit by buckshot on Wednesday in Sitra," al-Wefaq said on Twitter. Police were notified that a dead person was admitted to a clinic in Sitra, the interior ministry said, adding that an investigation was under way. Bahrain is still a deeply divided country three years after security forces crushed an uprising, with persistent protests sparking clashes with police. Attacks on the security forces have intensified in the Sunni Muslim-ruled kingdom, mainly in Shia-populated villages surrounding the capital. Scores of Shias have been jailed on "terror" charges and reconciliation talks have stalled. Clashes also broke out between anti-government protesters and riot police during al-Akrawi's funeral on May 18.
If British Columbia’s government thought its apology last week for the discriminatory “head tax” and other racist legislation once imposed on Chinese immigrants would lay the issue to rest, veteran activist Sid Chow Tan wants it to think again. “This is more about vote pandering and photo ops than it is about justice and honour for pioneer Chinese families,” said Tan, whose grandfather, Chow Gim Tan, was among those forced to pay the tax when he arrived in Canada in 1919. The notorious head tax was imposed by Canada’s government on tens of thousands of Chinese arrivals for nearly 40 years. The per-person tax was C$50 when it was introduced in 1885, rising to C$500 in 1903. That was equivalent to about two years’ wages for a Chinese labourer. The tax was abolished in 1923, when it was rendered obsolete by the more-draconian Chinese Exclusion Act, which placed a near-total ban on Chinese migration to Canada until 1947. BC’s provincial treasury is estimated to have received about C$9 million in head tax revenue. The apology issued by Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government last Thursday received unanimous cross-party support, yet the issue was horribly bungled by her government in the so-called “quick wins” scandal. Howls of outrage followed last year’s emergence of a political strategy paper that touted ways for the government to engage with ethnic voters. The paper said “some ethnic communities, particularly Chinese, feel that they are ignored by government between elections”, and that one way to quash this perception was to “identify and correct ‘historical wrongs’” in order to score some “quick wins”. The proposed head tax apology was thus shelved for a year amid suggestions that it would represent nothing more than insincere politicking. Tan, a founding and current director of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada, still holds that belief. He said he would not be satisfied until the C$9 million in head tax funds was repaid by the government to head tax survivors and their descendants. “The apology in the BC Legislature is an apology by current status quo politicians for past status quo politicians’ racism and discrimination. I am disappointed by this apology by BC legislators who are very unfeeling, dismissive and arrogant to the surviving directly affected elderly sons and daughters of head tax and exclusion families,” said Tan in a statement. “The message here is you can profit from racism in BC and an apology makes it okay. Shame on our politicians and community leaders who fail to understand this is about justice and honour for elders of pioneer Chinese families in BC. Tan told me that he considered last Thursday “an utter humiliation day for all pioneer Chinese families”, because of the BC government’s failure to pay back the C$9 million. “I am sure that she [Clark] would argue that her government is being incredibly sincere and that community leaders would feel that it is quite heartfelt. I did not go to the legislative session on Thursday, though I was invited. I did not see the purpose.” The motion read by Clark in the provincial legislature apologised “for more than a hundred laws, regulations, and policies that were imposed by past provincial governments that discriminated against people of Chinese descent since 1871, when British Columbia joined Confederation, to 1947. "These laws and policies denied British Columbia's Chinese communities' basic human rights, including but not limited to, the right to vote, hold public office, or own property; imposed labour, educational and employment restrictions; subjected them to health and housing segregation, and prevented them from fully participating in society. "The House deeply regrets that these Canadians were discriminated against simply because they were of Chinese descent.” Although Clark rejected the notion of compensation, a C$1 million legacy fund for educational initiatives was announced. In 2006, the federal government offered C$20,000 compensation payouts to head tax survivors or their widows. About C$16 million in compensation was eventually paid out to 800 people, representing less than one per cent of all who paid the tax. But Tan said the hurt imposed by the old racist policies was not just financial. Families were kept apart for decades by laws banning Chinese women from joining their husbands in Canada. “My grandmother was separated from grandfather for the first years of their marriage until family reunification in 1950. It wasn’t until I got into the [head tax redress] campaign in the 1980s that I really understood what my grandmother and grandfather had been talking about, how difficult it was for them.”
http://www.voanews.com/Police in Tehran have released six Iranians who were arrested for posting a dance video featuring American singer Pharrell Williams's hit song "Happy" on the Internet. Reyhaneh Taravati, one of the Iranian women arrested posted a message on Instagram Wednesday to announce the news. Taravati, "reihanet" on instagram, posted a photo of herself and thanked the singer and all others for their support "Hi I'm back. thank you @pharrell and everyone who cared about us love you all so much and missed you so much," she wrote in English. In a post to Twitter, the International Campaign for Human Rights quoted a source close to the families of the dancers saying that all people who made the video were released, except for the director." The controversial video clip that prompted the arrest shows three men and three unveiled women singing and dancing to the song on rooftops and in the streets. Speaking Tuesday, Tehran's police chief called the dance video a "vulgar clip which hurt public chastity." Islamic law enforced in Iran requires women to cover themselves from head to toe. "Police decided to identify those involved in making that clip," Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency, in a report by the French news agency AFP. The police chief added it took authorities just hours to identify and arrest the six dancers, who were shown on state television after their arrests as a warning to other youths. The video was uploaded in April. The original clip has been removed from the Internet, but copies are still available. The song, featured in the animated movie “Despicable Me 2,” has sparked similar videos of people dancing down streets and smiling in choreographed crowds all over the world. Those arrested said on the TV broadcast that they were deceived and that the video was not meant to be posted online, the AP reported. “They had told us that this video won't be released anywhere and that it was for our own joy,'' one of the women said. Another detainee said: "They invited us to appear on the video to practice acting.” It wasn't immediately clear if the six arrested faced criminal or civil charges or had lawyers, AP reported. The arrests come as hard-liners increasingly challenge moderate President Hassan Rouhani, the AP reported. Rouhani campaigned for greater cultural and social freedoms during the presidential election last year and spoke last week about the Internet. “We should see the cyberworld as an opportunity,'' said Rouhani, according to the official IRNA news agency and reported by the AP. "Why are we so shaky? Why don't we trust our youth?” Hard-liners accuse the president of failing to take the necessary actions to stop the spread of the "decadent'' Western culture in Iran. After learning of the arrest, singer Williams tweeted with his @Pharrell Twitter handle Wednesday that it is "beyond sad" the six were arrested for "trying to spread happiness."
Deborah Peters, a 15-year-old Nigerian girl who survived a 2011 attack by Boko Haram, tells members of the U.S. Congress that the militants killed her father that night for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.
China and Russia on Wednesday inked the long-awaited gas deal in Shanghai, ending the decade-long natural gas supply talks between the two neighbors. The deal came one day after visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin said that "significant progress" had been made over the price in the lengthy talks. Two documents, China and Russia Purchase and Sales Contract on East Route Gas Project and a memorandum, were signed at a ceremony attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Over the past years, talks, which started in 2004, have stalled over price. The gas supply deal was signed on the sidelines of the fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, a regional security summit which Putin and Xi are attending. China and Russia have vowed to strengthen cooperation in energy and infrastructure in Russia. According to a joint statement signed by the two leaders after their talks on Tuesday, the two countries will "establish a comprehensive energy cooperation partnership." Zhou Jiping, Chairman of China National Petroleum Corporation and Wu Xinxiong, head of China's National Energy Administration and also deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic watchdog, signed the deal on the Chinese behalf.
Apparently, dancing to a song about happiness in Iran can get you arrested. Six Iranians are behind bars after they appeared in a fan video set to Pharrell Williams' "Happy," the American hit song that has sold millions of downloads worldwide. Tehran Police Chief Hossein Sajedinia ordered the arrests of the three men and three women because they helped make an "obscene video clip that offended the public morals and was released in cyberspace," the Iranian Students' News Agency reported Wednesday. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may think differently -- if a post on his Twitter account is any indication.
"#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy," the post read in what appears to be a restatement of a Rouhani comment from 2013, based on a date accompanying the tweet.
Pharrell denounced the arrests."It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness," the Grammy Award winner said on his Facebook page. Just like in the singer's original video, the Iranian fan version features a montage of men and women dancing to the song in a variety of settings. Reihane Taravati, a woman who said she helped make the fan project, gushed over the reaction to the video in the days before the Tuesday arrests. "178K VIEWS thank you," she wrote on her Facebook page last week. She also posted a picture of people featured in the video on Instagram. "People of Tehran are happy! Watch and Share Our Happiness!," Taravati wrote. "Let the world hear us! we are happy and we deserve to be!" Taravati's last Facebook post came Sunday. The arrests come amid growing support on Facebook for an unrelated project featuring photographs submitted by women who appear without the country's legally required head scarves. The page, created May 3, now has 331,000 likes. "This is the voice of Iranian women who have been censored all their lives in Iran," said London-based journalist Masih Alinejad, who created the page, told HLN, CNN's sister network. "And now social media is giving them the opportunity to speak out, to be themselves." Conversely, Iranian officials and some journalists denounced an Iranian actress who extended her hand in greeting to a film festival executive and received a kiss on the cheek from him, according to media reports. The BBC reported that a conservative journalism organization run by Iran's state broadcaster said actress Leila Hatami engaged in "unconventional and improper" behavior by extending her hand to Cannes Film Festival president Gilles Jacob. For his part, Jacob dismissed the controversy over kissing Hatami on the cheek. He said on Twitter that she represented "all Iranian cinema" and called the uproar over the kiss needless controversy "over a usual custom in the West." 'Happy' makes Pharrell cry International backlash Pharrell's not the only one unhappy about the arrests. The Twitter hashtag #FreeHappyIranians has gone viral. "Is happiness a crime? @Pharrell #freehappyiranians," @MaedehHP tweeted. Others poked fun at the fan video's message. "They deserve it for lying:) How can any body be #happy in #Tehran or #Iran for that matter," @Alothman123 wrote. The National Iranian American Council condemned Iranian authorities for arresting the six men and women and forcing them to repent on state TV. "There are forces within Iran's government who want to keep the Iranian people isolated from the world," the council said in a statement. "The irony that the Iranian youth were arrested for dancing to a song called 'Happy' seems to be lost on the Iranian authorities." Incidentally, the arrests came just days after Rouhani said citizens should take advantage of the Internet to communicate. "#Cyberspace should be seen as opportunity: facilitating two-way communication, increasing efficiency & creating jobs," the President tweeted Saturday. "Govt unhappy w/ current situation; working to increase internet speed for users at home, in offices& on mobiles." Rouhani said every Iranian citizen has a right to connect to the Internet, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. Some on social media made a point to separate the Iranian government from everyday Iranians. "In a country which Religion and politics are not separated anything could become a crime even happiness," Hamoun Dowlatshah posted on Pharrell's Facebook page. "I love you Iran but i hate your government more than anything else."
President Barack Obama on Wednesday vowed to get to the bottom of alleged misconduct at Veterans Affairs agency hospitals, calling the reported activity "dishonorable" and "disgraceful" but expressing confidence that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki will continue working with the administration to solve the problem "at this stage." "If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful and I will not tolerate it, period," he said in remarks at the White House. Obama made the statement after meeting with Shinseki and top White House aide Rob Nabors, whom Obama has tapped to help fix the department’s problems. Several high-profile lawmakers have called for Shinseki’s ouster over the matter, but Obama said that the secretary has been "a great public servant" for veterans and for the country. But, he warned: "I want to see what the results of these reports are and there is going to be accountability." "I know that Ric's attitude is that if does not think he can do a good job on this, and if he thinks he's let our veterans down, then I'm sure he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve," he said of Shinseki. "At this stage, Ric is committed to solving the problem and working with us to do it." The president also highlighted the administration's efforts to reduce homelessness and unemployment among veterans, as well as a push to slash the VA backlog. His comments were the first on the VA facility controversy since he addressed the issue on April 28. The White House is facing an increasing outcry over allegations that VA hospital employees tampered with data and built hidden waiting lists to obscure the long delays veterans faced when needing care. Nabors is headed to Phoenix this week to meet with officials at the VA facility where reports of the misconduct first surfaced earlier this month. Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, is also set to meet with Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Lawmakers are expected to vote soon on a bipartisan bill that would enable easier dismissal of VA officials. Critics say that the Obama administration has acted too slowly to address the scandal, which has made headlines nationwide and exacerbated frustration about a VA system that has long been characterized as dysfunctional and out of date. Obama said Wednesday that his administration has been focused on veterans issues since long before the scandal broke, saying that "taking care of veterans of their families has been one of the causes of my presidency."
On May 19, 2014, President Xi Jinping met with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan in Shanghai.Xi Jinping stressed, China adheres to the friendly policy toward Afghanistan. China remains a reliable friend of Afghanistan no matter how the international and regional situations change. We are willing to maintain high-level exchanges with Afghanistan, to push forward exchanges and cooperation at all levels and in various fields, to provide help within our capacity to Afghanistan in its peaceful reconstruction, and to promote the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt together with the Afghan side. The Chinese government supports competent Chinese enterprises to invest in Afghanistan, bringing benefits to local people. Hope that the Afghan side will take effective measures to protect the safety of Chinese institutions and personnel in Afghanistan. The Chinese side stands ready to strengthen cooperation with the Afghan side to prevent and fight against the "three evil forces". Xi Jinping expressed, the Chinese side hopes to see a united, stable, developing and friendly Afghanistan. China supports the Afghan side for its efforts to safeguard national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and for a reconciliation process led by and belong to the Afghan people. The Chinese side is willing to continue its constructive role. The Chinese side respects the choice of the Afghan people, and hopes that the ongoing presidential election in Afghanistan will be a new starting point for the country to realize smooth transition and to move towards solidarity and stability. The fourth Foreign Ministerial Conference of the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan is to be held in August this year in Tianjin, China. The Chinese side is willing to carry out close cooperation with Afghanistan and the international community to ensure the success of the meeting. The Chinese side is also willing to promote a greater role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on the issue of Afghanistan. Xi Jinping spoke highly the important contributions Karzai has made to promoting the development of China-Afghanistan relations. He expressed that Chinese people will never forget their old friend and welcome him to pay more visits to China, continuing his positive role in promoting the bilateral relations. Karzai said that Afghanistan and China have a profound friendship of brotherhood, and that China is a reliable and good neighbor of Afghanistan. The Afghan side appreciates the valuable support of the Chinese side for Afghanistan's peaceful reconstruction. Whatever the result of the Afghanistan general election will be, the Afghan side is determined to develop close good-neighborly relations with the Chinese side, and hopes the Chinese side continue its help for the realization of stability, reconciliation and development in Afghanistan, as well as for training talents for Afghan in various fields. Terrorism and transnational crimes are the common enemies to both Afghanistan and China, against which the Afghan side is willing to fight together with the Chinese side. Xi Jinping extended once again his condolences and sympathy over the fatal landslide earlier this month in Afghanistan that has resulted in huge casualties and losses of properties. He expressed that the Chinese side stands ready to offer support and assistance for restoration and reconstruction after the disaster in line with the needs of the Afghan side. Karzai expressed his gratitude in this regard. Wang Huning, Li Zhanshu, Han Zheng, Yang Jiechi and othes were present at the meeting.
Jamil Karzai, a close relative of President Hamid Karzai and former member of the parliament on Wednesday endorsed Abdullah Abdullah for the second round of election. While announcing his support to Abdullah’s team in election runoff, Jamil Karzai called on Afghan people to support and vote for Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. He said the enemies of Afghanistan will not be allowed to interfere and damage the unity of the Afghan people. Abdullah welcomed Jamil Karza’s support for his team in election runoff and said certain people are looking to spark ethnic issues among the Afghan people through the election process. Abdullah was the leading contender in the first round of election by securing 45 percent of the vote. Other candidates, Zalmai Rassoul and Gul Agha Sherzai has previously announced their support to Abdullah Abdullah during the second round of election. The election runoff between Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is expected to be organized on 14th June, the election commission officials said.
Pakistan had given enough indication before and during the Lok Sabha elections that it was willing to do business with India. While there has been no change in Islamabad’s stand on doing business and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has spoken to prime minister-to-be Narendra Modi, the neighbouring country’s latest official position that the talks must be without any preconditions can give rise to an element of discomfort. There have been so many irritants in India-Pakistan relations that any degree of rigidity in positions can scuttle all hopes of peace. When outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Mr Sharif in New York in September last year, the Indian side had made ending all terrorist activities on the Line of Control a precondition for taking the talks forward. This was understandable, given the fact that there had been a terrorist attack, which led to the killing of a lieutenant colonel, in Jammu just days before the meeting. In early 2013, there had been the incident of the beheading of an Indian soldier. Subsequently Mr Sharif’s description of Kashmir being a “flashpoint” and that the place could lead to a “fourth India-Pakistan” war drew a sharp response from Mr Singh. Given this backdrop, some other statements from the Pakistan side also can be a cause for concern. Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit said “the two democratic countries have to decide whether we will bury the hatchet or will continue to be daggers drawn … we have to leave the use of acrimony and hostility…” In the first place, such language sounds more like that of a foreign policy analyst than of a diplomat. Second, why bring issues such as “acrimony” and “hostility” into the foreground when the new government has not yet taken office? Does the use of such language not set the tone for future talks? It would be most advisable for Pakistan to wait in such circumstances. India’s relations with Pakistan must be seen as part of the former’s overall thrust at preserving peace in the subcontinent and even beyond. Heads of several states have congratulated Mr Modi on his resounding victory without insisting on anything immediately from him. There is no reason why Pakistan should be any different. After all a cardinal principle of foreign policy is continuity. - See more at: http://www.hindustantimes.com/comment/pakistan-must-not-jump-the-gun/article1-1221299.aspx#sthash.10yhZDWy.dpuf
The turmoil in the Pakistan Cricket Board continued on Wednesday with a three-member bench of the Supreme Court suspending the Islamabad High Court's earlier decision of reinstating Zaka Ashraf as chairman of the PCB. This means that Najam Sethi is now reinstated as PCB chief. The three-member bench of the apex court headed by Justice Anwar Zahir Jamali gave its decision after hearing arguments of the counsel for the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) which had filed the petition against the reinstatement of Ashraf. (Read: Pakistan cricket devastated after officials fight) Counsel Asma Jahangir told the bench that the IHC's intrusion into cricket matters had undermined the sport and hit Pakistan's image at home and abroad. The three member bench annulled the IHC's decision given by Justice Nurul Haq Qureshi that ordered the reinstatement of Ashraf last Saturday. The Supreme Court has now issued notices to the concerned parties to appear before it on May 27 for further hearing and arguments of the petition. Wednesday's ruling means that the situation remains uncertain in Pakistan cricket as no one is sure what will happen at the May 27 hearing. "It is not a decision just a stay order and I intend to contest it vigorously as I am the legally elected head of the board," Ashraf told reporters in Lahore. He said he respected the court's orders, adding that facts were not presented during judicial procedures and he would personally do so at the next hearing. The reinstatement of Najam Sethi will bring some breathing space for the newly-appointed chief selector Moin Khan, head coach Waqar Younis, batting coach Grant Flower and spin bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed who were appointed by Sethi. Sethi told reporters that he had no intention of staying on as Chairman of the board for more than the period given to him by the Prime Minister (maximum six months). "I have a job to do and that is to reorganise Pakistan cricket and put it on the right path. I have no ambitions to stay on as Chairman for long. We have already sent a amended constitution to the law ministry and government for approval," he said. Sethi said Pakistan cricket was not a game of musical chairs and this trend of going to courts had to stop.
“I used to feel my life was too straight, too linear.”The speaker was Junaid Hafeez, a young poet and Fulbright scholar from the south of Pakistan, telling a radio show host in 2011 why he had given up studying medicine for a life in literature. Today, he is in jail on a blasphemy charge that carries the death penalty, and is mourning the lawyer who was murdered earlier this month for defending him. Before his arrest, Hafeez was teaching in the English Department at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, a city in Punjab Province close to where he grew up. His personal charisma and liberal views had won him a following among students, as well as the envious attention of faculty members. One day in 2013, a student affiliated with Islami Jamiat Talaba, a wing of the hard-line Jamaat-i-Islami party, accused Hafeez of insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. The student had no evidence, but no evidence was needed. Hard-line students soon held a protest crying out for Hafeez’s execution. University administrators backed away. The police registered a case for blasphemy against Hafeez. They did not ask cybercrime specialists to investigate the accusation, relying instead on a fatwa issued by a seminary. For months Hafeez’s father tried to find a lawyer. Finally he petitioned Rashid Rehman, the 53-year-old special coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in Multan. A legal expert with 20 years of activism, Rehman was known as a go-to lawyer for hopeless causes. Despite the danger, he agreed to take Hafeez’s case. Defending a man accused of blasphemy, Rehman told a reporter in April, was like “walking into the jaws of death.” Those jaws have been open wide since the 1980s, when the military dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq updated a set of colonial laws that criminalized “insulting the religion of any class of persons.” The original laws were devised in the late 19th century by a paternalistic British government trying to keep its multifaith subjects from fighting one another. Those laws were worded generally, and prescribed fines and, at most, two-year prison terms. General Zia’s amendments particularized the insults and tailored the provisions to favor a stringent Sunni strain of Islam. They criminalized the desecration of the Quran, any defiling of the name of the Prophet Muhammad, and disrespectful remarks about his companions — a jab at Pakistan’s Shiite minorities, who dispute the outcome of the succession struggle that followed the Prophet’s death. Moreover, any attempt by members of the outlawed Ahmadi sect to refer to themselves as Muslims was criminalized. Punishments were upgraded: Blasphemers could be executed or jailed for life. General Zia died in an air crash in 1988, but his legacy remains. It includes the empowerment of theological figures in every stratum of life — from clerics and televangelists to fanatical academics and Shariah judges — all aided in their righteous endeavors by a legislature that remains intractably Zia-ist. The blasphemy laws are part of this package. For decades they had been rarely used, with only a handful of cases before the mid-1980s. But General Zia’s amendments opened the floodgates: More than a thousand cases have been reported since then, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Just last week the Punjabi police, prompted by a Sunni extremist, brought blasphemy charges against 68 lawyers. The blasphemy laws can serve just about anyone with a dark design — an angry relative, an envious colleague, a neighbor with his eye on your property. But the greatest beneficiary has been the professional Islamists, who specialize in their application to encroach on both state and society. I got a sense of this in August 2009 when I visited the torched Christian neighborhood of Gojra, a small city in the heart of Pakistan. A Muslim peasant had spread a rumor that Christian neighbors had desecrated a Quran, and it degenerated into a riot after clerics riled up Muslims with hysterical broadcasts from the loudspeakers of mosques. When the police tried to stop the mullahs, they quoted the blasphemy laws and threatened to turn the mob against the authorities for “protecting the blasphemers.” Some 60 Christian houses were set on fire and eight Christians killed. The Islamists would have us think that all believers are susceptible to spontaneous eruptions of violence when their religion is offended. But the reality, as documented by a government report on the Gojra incident, is more treacherous and tragic. A blasphemy charge, once taken up by a religious activist, can legitimate myriad other interests, from petty personal needs to large political plans, and create an exhilarating free-for-all atmosphere. The Gojra rioters included the constituents of the local opposition politician, peasants and day-laborers from neighboring areas who joined in the looting and armed members of the now-banned Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Pakistan’s Islamist groups have little incentive to reform the blasphemy laws. They have even expanded the understanding of blasphemy so that it now includes any criticism of the laws themselves. This has been achieved by targeting high-profile dissenters, like Salmaan Taseer, a governor of Punjab province, and Shahbaz Bhatti, a federal minister for minorities, who were both assassinated in 2011. And then, just two weeks ago, there was the murder of Rashid Rehman. They closed in on him as mafias do, from all sides. First there were encoded warnings in Urdu newspapers, describing a lawyer who was out to “hurt himself.” Then there was a press conference in Multan at which a group of stern-faced clerics accused Rehman of trying to make an international issue of the Hafeez case. In April, during Hafeez’s trial, three lawyers for the prosecution told Rehman in front of the judge that by the next hearing he “would not exist.” Rehman’s colleagues at the human rights commission urged the government to provide him with security. They got no help. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party has a history of placating extremist groups, like the Pakistani Taliban, to gain political mileage. On the night of May 7, two young men walked into Rehman’s office near the district courts in Multan, shot him dead in front of his colleagues, and fled into the night. The next morning, almost every newspaper in Pakistan described them as “unidentified individuals.” But what killed Rehman can be identified: It was violent zealotry, aided and abetted by the state.
Minorities in Pakistan Account for just 10 percent of this country’s population of 180 million. They are no unfamiliar to marginalization, discrimination or even violence.According to persistent reports that Christian and Hindu girls are being forcibly converted to Islam might just take the top spot in a long list of carnages that non-Muslims are forced to suffer. “The situation is extremely grim. About 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls are kidnapped in Pakistan every year. They are converted to Islam through the use of forced marriages,” Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, chief patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), told IPS.. A number of cases are reported against the forced conversions issue but these are failed to capture the true extent of problem because girls themselves are reluctant say anything against the criminals and families are unable to reports complaints against them too. Last year in December, a six-year-old girl named Jumna, and her 10-year-old sister Pooja, went missing from their home in Mirpur Khas, a city in Pakistan’s southeastern Sindh province. After searching day and night, their parents discovered that girls were living with a man named Rajab Pathan. The girls’ mother, Soma, told IPS that the case quickly blew up in the media, leading to a trial at which both girls confessed that they willingly accepted Islam. This, according to a report released last month by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan, is representative of young girls who are abducted, forcibly kept away from their families. They are threatened by their abductors. Furthermore, report stated, “Once in the custody of the abductor, the victim girl may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse.” The report of Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan says approximately 700 of the girls kidnapped each year are Christians, while “conservative estimates” show that about 300 are Hindu. Most of the girls are likely to be between 12 and 25 years of age. The report authors say that a lack of press attention and reluctance on the part of the police to reveal details of such cases indicate that the actual figures could be much higher. Even when families do file a case in the form of First Information Reports (FIRs) for kidnapping or rape, the kidnappers straightaway register counter-claims on behalf of the victims, stating that the conversions were voluntary and blaming the families of “harassing” the happily married girls. The cases are then closed without further investigation and relief to families. PHC’s Vankwani told IPS he is unhappy with administrators’ reaction so far to the problem. “The government fears reprisals from fundamentalist groups, so our complaints go unheeded,” he said. A famous case in 2012 of a girl named Rinkle Kumari demonstrated the darkest side of the forced conversions. She was abducted from her home in the Sindh province in February, and she was afterwards made available before a judge to whom she apparently stated that she had married her abductor, Naveed Shah, of her own free will. According to PHC General Secretary Hotchand Karmani, “That statement was “made under duress” due to the presence of “dozens of armed men in the court premises.” For religious experts, forced conversions are against the teachings of Islam and its most basic tenets of peace, love and brotherhood. “People should be free to live in line with their chosen religions,” Peshawar-based religious scholar Ghulam Rahim told IPS. He further added, “The government should protect them. Islam itself forbids the idea of forcing someone to take a religion they do not truly believe in. It goes against the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him.” The report of Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan says approximately 700 of the girls kidnapped each year are Christians, while “conservative estimates” show that about 300 are Hindu. Most of the girls are likely to be between 12 and 25 years of age. - See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/forceful-conversion-to-islam-rising-fear-in-minorities/#sthash.LoDH2Zy6.dpuf
The government of Pakistan which claims to uphold freedom of speech brought cases against Ahmadiyya publications such as Misbah and Alfazl - Pakistan’s oldest daily Urdu newspaper , exclusively meant for Ahmadis.Spokesman of Ahmadiyya Jamaat in Pakistan, Mr Saleem Ud Din, issued the annual report of persecution of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat for the year 2013. He said that the hatred and persecution against Ahmadis increased in the past year. Seven Ahmadis including three from the same family in Karachi, were killed sequentially merely on account of religious differences. Acts of persecution against the Ahmadiyya Jamaat are at their peak while the law enforcement agencies pander to the whims of the aggressors. Whether it is the desecration of Ahmadiyya mosques or the devastation of graves, the authorities align themselves with extremists rather than enact the law. Saleemuddin said that the government has close dealings with extremists under the cover of discriminative legislation against the Ahmadiyya Jamaat. He said that the discriminative laws of 1984 go against the fundamental principles of human rights, the law of Pakistan and the philosophy of the nation presented by Quaid e Azam. These laws should be dissolved and the human rights of Ahmadis ought to be upheld. According to the spokesman, Ahmadies have faced political, social and legal discrimination since he promulgation of the notorious ordinance of 1984 which is contrary to the basic and equal rights of citizenship. He said that 237 Ahmadis have been killed since the Ordinance was passed while 193 attempted murders have taken place. 27 mosques have been demolished, 31 have been sealed by the authorities and 16 others have been illegally appropriated. 37 bodies exhumed after burial while burial of 61 dead bodies of Ahmadis were denied in common cemetry. Not only are the lives of Ahmadis are under constant threat they are afforded no peace in death either. He said that with the assistance of the police opponents continued to efface Kalimas from Ahmadiyya mosques while Quranic verses were also removed from some houses. Similarly, various illegal operations were conducted, which were beyond the jurisdiction of the authorities. He said that a curtailment of the lawlessness in the country should be the top priority of law enforcement agencies, yet sadly it seems that they would rather spend their time harassing Ahmadies. Provocative literature, promoting the social and financial boycott as well as the murder of Ahmadies, is being distributed widely in the country, especially in Punjab and Sindh. Government silence on these issues suggests that these heinous acts have official backing. The Ahmadiyya spokesman said that the religious freedom and human rights of Ahmadies were constantly impinged on over the course of the year. Ahmadies were even prevented from offering Eid prayer in Rawalpindi. Likewise other Ahmadiyya mosques in the country were also targeted by opponents. The government of Pakistan which claims to uphold freedom of speech brought cases against Ahmadiyya publications such as Misbah and Alfazl - Pakistan’s oldest daily Urdu newspaper , exclusively meant for Ahmadis. According to the spokesman, Ahmadis were not allowed to hold any religious gatherings, or sports event in Rabwah, where 95% of the population is Ahmadi. Whereas the opponents were free to hold gatherings consisting of participants from outside Rabwah. Numerous Anti-Ahmadiyya organizations held such conventions in which they used abusive language against distinguished Ahmadies and publicly incited people to murder Ahmadis. No action was taken against them by the authorities. The spokesman referring to injustices against Ahmadis in the field of education said that in the 1970’s the government nationalized educational institutes including Ahmadiyya ones. After this a policy was implemented to reprivatize these institutes, the community submitted a significant payment to retake control of their schools and colleges. However this was not ratified by the government from fear of reprisal. How long will such discrimination continue for? The spokesman said that today sectarianism, violence and disorder is at its peak. It is necessary to figure out and understand that the current situation originates from the time when the government began to intrude in religious matters and enacted discriminative laws. It is time to eradicate all such legislation. Those Pakistani’s who possess a sense of justice ought to insist that the government of Pakistan devise effective measures to eradicate sectarianism and bias so that our beloved Pakistan can tread the path of success and prosperity. Press Release highlights: Seven Ahmadies killed and 16 further murders attempted for nothing more than religious differences Ahmadies deprived of the vote on account of discriminative election lists Due to pressure from extremists, Ahmadis prosecuted under discriminative laws Provocative literature, promoting the social and financial boycott as well as the murder of Ahmadis, widely distributed. Government silence suggest official patronage of these heinous acts Neither mosques nor the cemeteries are free from the oppression of so called ulema and the representatives of government According to the government’s policy regarding privatization, Ahmadiyya Jamaat has failed to retrieve its nationalized educational institutes. How long will the government impinge on the rights of Ahmadies from fear of opposition parties During 2013, an increase in fabricated news stories published in the Urdu press. More than 1700 news reports and more than 394 articles appeared during the year depicting Ahmadis in a negative light
Pakistan: Posting a serving military officer as DG means placing the interests of landowner in the hands of the land user
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar on Tuesday drew house’s attention towards what he said resentment among civilian officers of the military lands department and demanded that the cadre post of Director General of the department should be given back to the civilian officers after the retirement of the incumbent serving general this week. Speaking on a calling attention notice against what he said the appointment of a serving military officer against the slot, he said the continued retention of a civilian cadre post by serving military officers is illegal. “It’s a violation of the Supreme Court’s June 2013 order; a recipe to demoralise and undermine civilian structures and above all a conflict of interests that will bring a bad name to the military institution,” he added. Babar stated that director general military lands is supposed to watch the interests of the owner of land namely the federal government whereas the military is the user of the land. Posting a serving military officer as DG means placing the interests of landowner in the hands of the land user, he said, adding it is the worst form of conflict of interests that raises many questions. He said that DG is a BS 21 civilian cadre post of the ML&C department and appointments to it are made by the Public Service Commission through CSS exams. The post has been held by civilian officer since 1924 until General Pervez Musharraf took over who appointed a serving military officer in 1999, he added. He said the Supreme Court has also declared illegal the absorption of a non-civil servant on a civil post and the absorption of a non-cadre civil servant to a cadre post without due process of competitive examination under the recruitment rules. Babar said that in July last year when the defence ministry moved a summary for the appointment of yet another serving army officer to the post of DG the Prime Minister reluctantly agreed on the condition that in future the post would stand reverted to the civilian cadre. In order to countermand the orders of the then PM and to continue the illagility, he added, it is planned to give extension in service to the incumbent on his retirement due this week. He said that huge irregularities have been committed in changing the use of defence lands for commercial purposes. “When the previous parliaments agitated the issue the defence ministry secured from the caretaker Prime Minister in 2007 an unprecedented and questionable blanket waiver of all such irregularities,” he claimed. However, minister for defence production Rana Tanveer said the incumbent DG MLC was appointed for a two-year tenure and there will be no such appointment after his term is completed.
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority disowns decision by its own members to suspend Geo TV's licensesAn attempt to take Pakistan's largest and most influential television station off the air descended into farce on Tuesday after the country's broadcasting regulator disowned a decision taken by some of its own board members. Three members of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) horrified journalist rights activists on Tuesday when they held a press conference declaring the organisation had suspended three licenses from Geo TV.
Pakistan's biggest television station said it was ramping up security on Tuesday after it became the object of dozens of blasphemy accusations for playing a song during an interview with an actress. Geo Television is scrubbing logos off its vans and limiting staff movements after receiving scores of threats over allegedly blasphemous content, said channel president Imran Aslam. "This is a well-orchestrated campaign," he told Reuters. "This could lead to mob violence." The accusations pit Pakistan's most popular private television channel against increasingly vocal religious conservatives, just as the station was emerging from a bruising battle with the country's spy agency. Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan but is not defined by law; anyone who says their religious feelings have been hurt for any reason can file a case. Scores of people accused of blasphemy have been lynched by mobs and Aslam said despite broadcasting apologies, the station had received threats to kill journalists and their families. The accusations follow Geo's high-profile tussle with Pakistan's powerful spy agency, whom it accused of shooting one of its most popular anchors last month. The station did not support its accusations with evidence and later backpedaled. But a national poster campaign was launched proclaiming support for the military and denouncing the station. Cable operators pulled Geo from their content. That controversy had barely died down when Geo was engulfed by a flood of blasphemy accusations over a show it carried last week. The cases allege a traditional song was sung about the marriage of Prophet Muhammad's daughter at the same time a pair of shoes was raised. Both elements are traditional in a wedding ceremony but the timing was insulting to Islam, dozens of petitioners have alleged. Others allege the song itself was insulting. On Monday, Islamabad High Court accepted a petition brought by a lawyer representing a group of clerics affiliated with the radical Red Mosque in the capital. Advocate Tariq Asad said his suit named the singers and writers of the song, cable operators, television regulators, a national council of clerics and ARY, a rival television station. ARY repeatedly broadcast clips of the morning show, alleging it was blasphemous, an action that Asad said was blasphemous in itself. Judges frequently do not want to hear evidence in blasphemy cases because the repetition of evidence could be a crime. Judges acquitting those accused of blasphemy have been attacked; a defense lawyer representing a professor accused of blasphemy was killed this month. Clips of Geo's controversial programme have attracted tens of thousands of views on YouTube, which was blocked in Pakistan in 2012 because of fears that it may show blasphemous content. Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people, is struggling to contain two insurgencies, daily power cuts, widespread unemployment and rising crime. Accusations over blasphemy are rocketing, from one in 2011 to at least 68 last year, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. More than 80 people have already been accused of blasphemy this year. Activists say the accusations are increasingly used to grab property or money, target minorities and settle political scores. Cases can take years to go through the courts.