Thursday, June 11, 2015

Saudi Arabia Could Resume Flogging Raif Badawi


 Saudi Arabia could resume flogging an activist as early as Friday after the country's Supreme Court upheld its sentence of 1,000 lashings and 10 years in prison, according to a human-rights group.
Raif Badawi, 31, was convicted in 2013 of setting up a liberal website that Saudi officials said insulted religious authorities in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.
The blogger's sentence was condemned by the United States, the United Nations and others. The State Department called it a "brutal punishment" and said Badawi had merely been "exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion."
The 1,000 lashes were to be administered in front of a mosque in the Saudi city of Jeddah, and administered in groups of 50 for 20 weeks every Friday.
But after Badawi received the first 50 of these in January his punishment was postponed due to "medical reasons," according to Amnesty International.
Human Rights Watch warned on Thursday that the lashings could resume following the Supreme Court upholding the sentence Sunday after it was sent to appeal.
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said Badawi was being punished "merely for expressing his peaceful opinions."
He added: "All Saudi efforts to improve the country's image internationally cannot overcome this ugly message of intolerance."
Saudi Arabia expressed its "surprise and dismay" in March at the international outrage following Badawi's sentencing and defended its human-rights record.
The Saudi Embassy in London did not immediately respond when contacted by NBC News for comment on Thursday's Human Rights Watch report.

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Salman Rushdie - ‘There is no right not to be offended’

Salman Rushdie on religious insult, freedom of expression and the dark years spent in hiding
A phone call on February 14, 1989, Valentine’s Day, altered Salman Rushdie’s life forever. He was told that Ayatollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa calling for his death for allegedly insulting the Prophet and the Quran in The Satanic Verses. His recently launched memoir Joseph Anton is a transfixing account of the nine years spent in hiding that is at once overtly political and deeply personal.
Religion and secularism, truth and falsity, friendship and enmity, hope and despair, bravery and cowardice, love and betrayal, collide in the pages to form a highly-charged battleground of ideas about a world poised for an uncertain future.
In this phone interview, Salman Rushdie talks about the novel that robbed him of a decade and the lessons it has taught him about free speech, religious fundamentalism and the importance of standing up for what you believe in.
It is a coincidence that Joseph Anton is being launched at a time when there is a storm over the “Innocence of Muslims” film and the caricatures in a French newspaper. But since the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988, there has been a virtual explosion in what novelist Monica Ali called ‘the marketplace of outrage’ — this phenomenon of people, not necessarily Muslim, being offended and sometimes violently so. In retrospect, do you see The Satanic Verses as the forerunner of this narrative of blasphemy, insult, indignation and violence?
Yes, of course I do. In fact, I explicitly state in the book that I see this as a prologue rather than an isolated event. In the years that followed, there were attacks across the Muslim world on other writers and intellectuals who were accused of exactly the same crimes — these medieval crimes of heresy and apostasy in a language that, in a way, one hadn’t heard since the Spanish Inquisition.
For example, the Turkish journalist Ug˘ur Mumcu was killed by Islamic fundamentalists. In Egypt, the philosopher Farag Foda was killed and Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck. In Algeria, the novelist Tahar Djaout was murdered by Islamic fundamentalists and so on. This has been a broadening attack and the combination of fanaticism and this outrage industry has become a very powerful force in our times.
You have used the expression ‘manufactured’ to describe this outrage, which you now refer to as industry. This is accurate inasmuch as the protests are usually carefully planned and coordinated. But do you think this ignores the fact that people could also be genuinely upset or hurt by what they construe as religious insult?
That’s their problem. The world is full of things that upset people. But most of us deal with it and move on and don’t try and burn the planet down.
There is no right in the world not to be offended. That right simply doesn’t exist. In a free society, an open society, people have strong opinions, and these opinions very often clash. In a democracy, we have to learn to deal with this. And this is true about novels, it’s true about cartoons, it’s true about all these products.
A question I have often asked is, ‘What would an inoffensive political cartoon look like?’ What would a respectful cartoon look like? The form requires disrespect and so if we are going to have in the world things like cartoons and satire, we just have to accept it as part of the price of freedom.
One of the parallels one notices between the nature of the responses to The Satanic Verses and the rage today is the random pattern of the attacks. The U.S. cultural center was attacked in Islamabad back then…..
Which had absolutely nothing to do with the book.
Exactly. And the U.S. consulates have been under attack recently thanks to the controversial film. Is there a larger theme running here, something that emerges from a climate of hostility and distrust of the West, particularly America?
I think you could say that some of it is caused by a particular kind of anti-Americanism, which might well be fuelled by recent American military excursions. You could say that some of it is out of a kind of economic despair, where you have a body of young men whose own prospects are very slim and whose hopes of making a good life are very small. And that engenders all kinds of disappointments and anger which can be channelled in this direction. There is a whole series of causes and they are not the same in every place. In Iran, fundamentalism was fuelled to an extent by the regime of the Shah being supported by the West.
Of course there are geopolitical reasons. But I think there are educational reasons as well. The mistake of the West was to put the Sauds on the throne of Saudi Arabia and give them control of the world’s oil fortune, which they then used to propagate Wahhabi Islam. This very minor extremist cult, Wahhabism, was suddenly propagated across the Muslim world through madrassas and has created generations now who are steeped in this harsher, more paranoid, more confrontational version of Islam.
The book shows you were opposed, or at least left unsupported, not merely by radical Islamists but also those who would regard themselves as liberal, a number of who were on the Left. What was the main reason for this — this opposition, as it were, from within?
I was always bewildered by it. I confess I am still a little bewildered by it.
Could it be because they felt you brought it on yourself? This idea that you knew exactly what you were doing when you wrote The Satanic Verses, or at least the Mahound chapter?
It is a number of things. I think partly, and I think I say this somewhere in the book, it is this kind of reflex of the old Left that the people can’t be wrong. If a large number of people of any community object to a certain person, that person must be in the wrong. It’s not possible that there can be an erroneous mass response to an event.
Or was it also because Left-Liberal opinion has become more and more influenced by a moral and cultural relativism? Have we taken respect for other people’s beliefs and feelings too far?
Of course, that’s true. Moral and cultural relativism is a very dangerous phenomenon. What you routinely hear from some extremist Muslim pundits, whether religious or political, is a discourse that is anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynistic. The same Leftists would not tolerate that coming from any other group. But somehow people turn a blind eye to it because it is coming from this group.
The book reveals that many people in Britain openly called for the implementation of the fatwa. I was really surprised to read that this included Cat Stevens [aka Yusuf Islam]. I mean this was the man who sang of dreaming of the world as one and invited us to glide on his peace train…..
Yes, the peace train, I know…well, I guess the peace train didn’t travel to this particular station (laughs).
But isn’t exhorting people to kill another person a clear incitement to violence? Isn’t this an offence under British law? Why weren’t people who did this prosecuted?
Not one single person in England was prosecuted for any offence even though thousands upon thousands were demanding my death and standing up in mosques every Friday and saying they were ready to do it. I did ask myself, supposing this had been not me but some other figure in Britain, suppose it was the Queen, for instance. It is impossible to think people would not have been arrested and prosecuted if they were standing up in their thousands and saying ‘We will kill the Queen.’
I am only saying the Queen to dramatise my point. But you see what I mean? It seemed very odd that this particular person could be threatened in that way, whereas other people would never have been allowed to have been.
By ‘this particular person’, you mean a ‘mere writer?’
Or this mere writer. Maybe another writer would have elicited another response.
Not a brown-skinned writer.
Ah, I was trying to tease that out of you.
Joseph Anton reads in parts like a thank you work — a way of acknowledging the bravery and loyalty of the few who stood by you in those years of darkness.
Well, I certainly think that one of the big subjects in the book is the opposition between hatred and love, between friendship and hostility. And I certainly think I was fortunate in my friends, who both publicly and privately, gave me an astonishing degree of support. We have all sat on these secrets for more than 20 years. And it has been a pleasure to say, here is what people did, here is how it was done.
Even the British police came to really admire my circle of friends because they saw how determined they were to keep secrets, to be totally dependable.
Your son Zafar recently told the Evening Standard that he “had no wish that it (the fatwa) hadn’t happened” because it made him who he is — underlining that it taught him to deal with adversity. I am sure it taught you to do so as well, but do you still find yourself wishing it never happened even today? Or do you not think about it at all?
Obviously, given a choice, I would be better off if it hadn’t happened. I would have had a much more pleasant ten years. I was in a very good place in 1988, after the publication of Midnight’s Children and Shame. It would have been much more pleasant to have continued an ordinary literary life and bring up my child in an ordinary way.
Absolutely. But my question was whether you still think about it and wish it had never happened.
You can’t regret your life in the end. And that is what Zafar is essentially saying in that interview as well. What happened is what happened and everybody has learnt from it and moved on. One of the reasons for waiting this long to write the book is that I didn’t want to be affected by ideas of ‘What if’. I didn’t want to be excessively possessed by anger, resentment, whatever. I felt I should wait until I was in a calmer and more peaceful place so that I could look back on this period of my life with tranquillity and objectivity and tell the story as truthfully as possible.
You are pretty hard on yourself about that period when you caved in, apologised and declared you were a good Muslim…
Well, it’s important in an autobiography that the author is self-critical. Because, otherwise, it reads like an excuse, an apology, or a self-justification. The reader needs to feel that the person writing the story has a pretty clear or unvarnished idea of himself. I wanted to make it clear that I know there are all kinds of things I wished I hadn’t done, or should have done differently, or better. And that there are a few things that I am proud of having done. But I think you need to present this just in the same way as you are creating a fictional character. You have to present a three-dimensional character.
You describe yourself as having been stupid in your ‘Why I am a Muslim’ phase. How much of this was a result of sheer despair, of being not in the right mental state? And how much of it was cold calculation — the hope of a deal that would end the torment of hiding?
I will tell you what it was. Reading my journals of this period, it was quite clear the person writing them was in a very low state of mind — something very like despair. So, there was that internal contradiction. But also externally, there was an enormous amount of pressure on me in those days from the media, from politicians and even from opinion polls being taken in Europe.
The general attitude was that this was my fault and I was the one who needed to find a resolution to it — that I broke it, so I should fix it. And when I tried to argue that this was not the case, this was called arrogance. My refusal to withdraw my book was proof of not only my arrogance but also my financial greed. Nobody would see there was a principled reason for doing this.
All of this, over the course of two years, wore me down to a point to which I clutched at a straw. I thought maybe this is a way of breaking the logjam. But of course, this was dishonest, I am not a religious person, and I shouldn’t have said I was. I immediately felt dreadful about it and understood it was a kind of self-betrayal.
But in retrospect, it was a clarifying moment, it made me understand that it was a mistake to go down that road of appeasement. It made me clearer — no more apologies, no more excuses, no more appeasements, no more compromises. I am just going to say my piece, argue my corner, and try and stand up for what I believe in. And if people don’t like it, tough.
That moment of failure turned me into a much clearer, much stronger person.
The book reveals how much of your novels — the people, the places, the events — have been drawn or loosely based on real people, places and events. The novels of imagination are also novels of experience.
If you read the work of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, James Joyce or Marcel Proust, you will probably find there is an enormous amount of personal experience as source material. Now somebody will say I am comparing myself to those writers, but I am not. I am talking of writers I admire.
But the act of writing a novel is a journey. And the beginning of the journey can often be personal experience. The end product is something else. That journey from personal experience to finished book is the imaginative leap. That is the act of writing.
I thought it would be interesting for people to get a sense of how my writing moved from personal experience to finished work. The grandparents in Midnight’s Children are not like my grandparents, but they had things in common. They didn’t look through a hole in a sheet.
You are pretty critical about some people in your book you don’t like. One of them is Marianne [Wiggins, Rushdie’s second wife], who is portrayed as almost delusional. I know she has said and written damaging stuff about you. But don’t you think people like her are likely to be hurt by some of the things you said in the book? Does this bother you?
What bothered me most was to tell the truth. The things that Marianne said about me were extremely unpleasant and characterised by blatant untruth, including allegations that I was interested to have a meeting with Muammar Qadhafi, which is a ludicrous kind of escalation of untruth.
I think you just have to decide when reading the book whether you feel you are reading the truth or not. In my view, I am telling not just the exact truth, but truth for which there are many witnesses.
This is how she behaved and this is the reason why our marriage ended. It was something that made my life extraordinarily difficult.
The purpose of writing a book like this is to say what happened. I am not fantasising, not fictionalising, I am actually toning it down. What really happened was even worse than that.
Did you show any of the parts to people you were once close to? Padma [Lakshmi, his fourth wife] doesn’t get very good press either.
She knows what is in the book. I rewrote a couple of passages that she asked me to. I think I have tried to show there was a long period in which we were in love. And that it was a good relationship for a time. But I said to her, I am talking about the end of the marriage — and it was not my choice to end. So you are going to get that perspective on it.
There are some satirical passages about her having left you for someone with more money.
Yes, I think that was perfectly reasonable. After she talked to me every day for eight years about how I was too old for her, she left for somebody at least a decade older. So you can draw your own conclusions, as I do.
What next? Truthfully, I don’t know. Obviously, we still have work to do to launch this book for the next couple of months. There is also the movie of Midnight’s Children, which is just about coming out now. I’ve got this TV project, a 60-minute drama series, an idea that I have been developing in America with Showtime Networks called The Next People, which is a kind of political science fiction.
I have some ideas for novels. But truthfully I don’t know whether any of them are any good.

Taliban Offensive in Afghanistan Strains Ties with Islamabad

By Ayaz Gul
Afghan and Pakistani leaders have made a push to improve their long-troubled relationship under Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and try to broker peace with the Afghan Taliban. But this week, an open dialogue in Islamabad exposed how their fragile alliance is being strained by the Taliban’s spring offensive.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani made significant moves this year to try to improve relations with Islamabad, which cost him political support at home.
A deal for improving counterterrorism cooperation between spy agencies of the two countries led to close consultations with senior Pakistani army leaders but also angered Afghan lawmakers who distrust Islamabad.
In return, Afghan delegates claim that Ghani was promised that Pakistan would press the Taliban to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government instead of launching a spring offensive.
But Taliban attacks have increased as the weather has warmed, prompting speculation that Islamabad is not holding up its end of the bargain.
Davood Moradian is head of Afghanistan’s Institute for Strategic Studies.
“Therefor the message that the Afghan delegation convey in this round of negotiation is that the next three months are very critical and President Ghani needs to produce result to the Afghan people that his risk, his gamble is going to pay off. Of course no one in Afghanistan expect a sudden change but what is important is that a meaningful peace process and a meaningful reduction of the violence has to be concretized,” said Moradian.
Distrust still exists
Lawmakers and analysts from Afghanistan and Pakistan gathered in Islamabad this week to exchange views and proposals for shoring up commitments to improve peace and stability on both sides of the border.
But the event also showed the distrust that still exists in the relationship, with Afghan participants openly accusing Islamabad of continuing to allow top Taliban leaders to take refuge in Pakistani cities.
Analyst Moradian expressed the widespread belief among Afghans that the Taliban remain under the influence of the Pakistan military.
“We know that even if Pakistan decides to exercise that role, the Taliban would not disappear overnight but it will send a symbolic message to us in Kabul that Pakistan is serious. So, for us the leadership of the Taliban, that as long as they enjoy the hospitality of your establishment, I don’t think any other measures will win the trust of the Afghan people,” said Moradian.
While at the conference, the Pakistani prime minister’s adviser on foreign policy and national security Sartaj Aziz called the Taliban’s spring offensive a “disturbing development” that has nothing to do with Pakistan. But he said it is unrealistic to expect the group would suddenly give up fighting the first summer after the withdrawal of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
He said the current friendly phase of good ties between Islamabad and Kabul is not being given enough time to change the situation on the ground.
Simbal Khan is an adviser with Pakistan’s Planning Commission who acknowledged that although some Taliban leaders may reside in Pakistan, authorities here do not have great influence over them and Islamabad remains committed to policies promoting peace and stability on both sides of their shared border.
“Yes, there is leadership in Pakistan. It has been there but as far as the commanders on the ground carry out the operations they have been doing that from Afghanistan. To assume that the Taliban are going to align policies exactly to what Pakistan is promising I think that’s quite fallacious at this point,” she said.
Khan asserted that since the withdrawal of most NATO-led foreign forces, Taliban fighters have moved back to Afghanistan and their commanders on the ground are operating independently.
Informal talks
Khan pointed to recent unofficial successive meetings Taliban officials held with Afghan politicians, civil society members and even female lawmakers in Qatar, Norway and in Dubai. She said unlike the past practice, the Islamist insurgency has confirmed all these but Khan would not say whether Pakistan played a role in facilitating these informal talks.
“I think what we were promising very clearly and I think what we are trying to work very clearly was to speed up the reconciliation. We have been trying to do that, it has not really snow balled into the process that we wanted to actually happen but the effort is on,” said Khan.
Afghan delegates have welcomed the Taliban talks, although they remain skeptical about their outcome. However, female Afghan lawmaker Nahid Farid said the talks, which have included women participants, are an important milestone for a country where many worry about the future of women’s rights.
“Right now women are sitting with Taliban, it means Taliban are accepting women and they count women as a dynamic and as a part of the solution. This is very important for us,” said Farid.
She said Afghan women will continue to support the peace process as long as they protect the basic rights they have been guaranteed in the constitution, as well as their access to justice and education.

Bangladesh, Narendra Modi’s best yet

There’s much more to Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh than has been acknowledged in public comment so far—more not just in terms of the number of pacts and agreements signed (22!), but also in showing-casing the flowering of a mature relationship in South Asia.

The fact that the Indian Prime Minister chose to make Dhaka his first foreign destination after completing a year in office and the sheer substance of it (those agreements, yes) make this a landmark visit.

But there are other more subtle reasons that lend substance to it, which can get overwhelmed by narrow strategic considerations rather than those of friendship.

On both sides of the eastern Radcliffe line (named after British civil servant Cyril Radcliffe, who hurriedly drew a line across 450,000 sq. km of territory in 1947), there’s a tendency to view the relations through the prism of politics and religion.

The political prism will have Indians believe that relations can only improve when the government in Bangladesh is led by the Awami League.

The opposing view in Bangladesh is that the Awami League, founded by the founder of the nation and led currently by his daughter, Sheikh Hasina, is beholden to India.

The religious lens, even more darkly and certainly more dangerously tinted, tends to see India as a Hindu nation and Bangladesh as Muslim—although their constitutions proclaim both countries to be secular republics and the fabric of both nations is multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic.

Modi’s visit is an important step in exploding these myths—opposition political groups greeted him warmly. And when nations go to war over land and water, the lessons from the land border agreement signed between India and Bangladesh during Modi’s visit will not be lost on the world—certainly not in conflict-riven South Asia.

Modi had to work on this visit, and Bangladeshis have taken note of it, as I found out while gleaning through the reports on the visit in Bangla and English language newspapers.

Writing in the mass-circulation Daily Ittefaq, the Bangladeshi novelist, intellectual and rural development specialist, Hasnat Abdul Hye, a former secretary in the ministries of industry and land, said that when Modi met Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last year, she requested early action on resolving the outstanding issues between the two nations.

“Keep faith in me,” was Modi’s reply.

Within a matter of months, the Indian leader had persuaded sceptical partymen in Assam, a state that borders Bangladesh in the north-east, to drop their strong objections to the land border agreement.

The Indian Parliament then ratified the agreement after sitting on it for 41 years.

“Modi immediately gave the good news to the Bangladesh PM and informed her that he wanted to visit Bangladesh to formalize the agreement,” Hye wrote in Bangla.

“It then became clear why the Indian PM did not visit Bangladesh immediately upon assuming office. He did not want to come to Bangladesh without something to keep Bangladesh satisfied.”

At the moment, it appears, Bangladesh is satisfied with the visit, but wants more done. The general verdict seems a nod to Modi, but distrust of Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal chief minister, who accompanied the Indian PM.

Commentators said that Mamata wasn’t really part of the Modi entourage, that she arrived a day earlier and left separately, too; how she failed to participate in the discussions, only making herself available for the land border agreement ceremony and for flagging off two bus services between Dhaka, Kolkata and the north-eastern states of India.

All of this, said Hye, indicated her continuing objection to the chief issue that rankles in Bangladesh—India’s failure to agree a deal to share the Teesta river waters between Bangladesh and neighbouring West Bengal. This has been vetoed by Banerjee.

But with important road and port transit pacts in place that will give Indians access to the north-east through Bangladesh, every Bangladeshi commentator has expressed the hope that the Teesta issue will be resolved soon.

The editor of the Daily Star, Mahfuz Anam, wrote:

“When former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh concluded his tour of Bangladesh in September 

2011, this paper headlined its lead story: ‘No Teesta, no transit’. This time, too, there is nothing on Teesta, yet we have agreed on all forms of transit in the name of connectivity. This outcome is not an evidence of the persuasive power of the Indian PM Narendra Modi but more an expression of our faith in him to deliver on all the promises that his predecessor so miserably failed to keep. To be fair to Mr Singh, he did most of the preparatory work.”

Fed up with India’s obsession with Pakistan and China, Modi’s neighbourhood-first policy appears to have been received very well in Bangladesh.

Anam wrote in frustration some time ago that it seemed to him “India has only two neighbours—Pakistan and China—and the rest of us mere geographic entities.”

This visit to Bangladesh has crowned Modi’s year in office. Ministers and diplomats on both the sides, backed by their people, have worked carefully and hard to build a strong edifice that has ensured the visit’s success.

But the substance of the visit must now trickle across.

In Dhaka, some months ago, a senior former diplomat from Bangladesh and a friend of India told me of his frustration over New Delhi’s failure to grant “visa on arrival” to Bangladeshis.

No doubt, it’s an Indian self-goal.

All neighbourhoods have good guys, bad guys and meddlesome bullies, who watch from afar.

In India’s case, Bangladesh are the good guys, cousins united by language, literature, intellect and temperament.

“Sheikh Hasina has met every possible demand from India… There is very little left for us to give,” wrote Anam. “It is now India’s time to reciprocate. It is now Narendra Modi’s time to reciprocate.”

Pakistan Christians Under Attack - : Christians Threatened With False Blasphemy Charges If They Refuse to Hand Over Church Property to Muslims

A congregation in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi is being threatened by Muslim criminals who want to seize the church's land. The menacing group is trying to intimidate the Christian community by saying that they'll accuse them of the highly punishable offense of blasphemy if they don't vacate their church property and stop worshiping there.

Members of the Jerusalem Church, a Pentecostal, 300-family congregation in Karachi, have informed International Christian Concern that they've been receiving deadly threats from a group of armed Muslim miscreants, who are known for seizing property from the poor and various targeted killings.

Church members said they were approached in May by the group and were told to leave the church and never return. However, the interaction in May was not the only time that church members were confronted by the group, according to one of the church's pastors, Ilyas Masih.

"These Muslims have been pressuring the church people not to play musical instruments and asked the church leaders to stop girls from singing with boys in the church," Masih explained. "Several times they stopped and threatened the worshipers and pastors for going into church for prayers and harassed the women in the past."

Being accused of blasphemy in Pakistan is a serious and almost undefendable charge for Christians. When a Christian is accused of blasphemy, they are often put in jail, sentenced to death or imprisonment or victimized by angry Muslim mob violence. Any such accusations of blasphemy toward the Jerusalem Church could land the its members in serious legal and social controversy.

Although blasphemy accusations carry huge consequences for the accused, Masih said members of the congregation will stand strong in their faith and added that they will have to be killed before they willingly give up their church, which was constructed in the late '90s.

"The Christians of the locality have responded in a brave manner and announced that they will die before they let them grab the church property," Masih asserted.

John Nazareth Adil, a local activist, told ICC that the group of Muslims probably want to use the church property to carry out "their agendas."

The congregation has submitted a request to the local police department for extra protection, however, the church is still being threatened, Masih said.

"Yet again a church in Pakistan faces harassment of its women and threats about how and when church services and worship should be conducted," Wilson Chowdhry, president of the British Pakistani Christian Association, told The Christian Post on Tuesday. "A similar treatment to a church in Badami Bagh in 2011 resulted in a local contract between Muslims and Christians, in which churches were restricted on the times they could have their services and agreed not to speak of God on the streets, as it was offensive to Muslims."

According to Chowdhry, Karachi is the most "lawless" region in Pakistan, where many previous false blasphemy accusations have led to the deaths of Christians.

"Karachi is known for its lawlessness and Christian men often lose their lives in extra-judicial killings," Chowdhry stated. "In 2014, Boota Masih, a Christian jeweler, had his throat slit in public after a jealous Muslim accused him of blasphemy. The family was prevented from taking legal action after [receiving] threats from the relatives of the murderer."

When it comes to being accused of blasphemy in Pakistan, the individuals accused are not the only ones at risk of Muslim mob retaliation, Sardar Mushtaq Gill, a leading Pakistani-Christian human rights lawyer, told CP in a statement.

"The threats that involve blasphemy are common in Pakistan and Muslims of Pakistan ... if any Christian is accused of blasphemy then the whole community has to suffer," Gill asserted. "Last month, the Muslim mob of about 500 attacked Christians' homes [in Lahore] on pretexts that one Christian man burned some papers on which Islamic text was written."

"This is the reason [for] a large number of Christians [fleeing] from Pakistan and seeking asylum in different countries," Gill continued. "The government of Pakistan has to take strong and concrete steps to eradicate religious extremism and intolerance from our society, otherwise peaceful society will be not possible. I think Pakistan should be secular state if it wants to get progress in every field of life."

Chowdhry explained that most Christians who flee Pakistan do so because of religious persecution and they end up in Malaysia, Sri Lanka or Thailand, and added that each country has a population of about 10,000 Pakistani asylum seekers.

But in most cases, those seeking refugee status in those countries are not recognized as refugees and are often arrested and fined.

"This treatment of [Pakistani] Christians is not unlike the treatment of Armenian Christians, who later faced the awful extermination during the Armenian Genocide as quoted by Lemkin. Just like Turkey before them, Pakistan denies that Christians face brutality, persecution and hatred, and Britain, as a nation, due to vested interests, remains shockingly silent," Chowdhry contended.

"I hope we do not see a repeat of the mass killings faced by our Armenian brothers and fully understand why Christians in their droves are fleeing Pakistan despite being re-persecuted in other nations such as Thailand, where there is said to be 10,000 Pak-Christian refugees. It is time the world listened to the stories that the victims are desperate for humanitarians to hear."

Pakistan - Load shedding - Sweating it out: More hours without than with electricity

As the mercury goes up and electricity consumption increases, the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) has also extended its load-shedding hours across the province.
The number of protests and rallies have also increased in direct proportion with power outages. The protesters either block roads or hold sit-ins outside Pesco offices or press clubs, exhibiting their distress on the situation.
“Our children are suffering. They go to school in wrinkled clothes. Extensive and unannounced load-shedding has created water shortages as well,” said Mohammad Javed, a resident of Landi Sarak on Charsadda Road. “I have not heard the Azaan for a long time because of these power outages.”
He said, “We pay bills regularly but controlling theft is Pesco’s responsibility because they get paid for it,” he said, refuting Pesco’s claim it carries out more load-shedding in areas where people do not pay their bills or pilfer electricity.
“I enter my house in the dark and leave it in dark. I two UPS to keep the bulbs lit up, but the UPS are not working because they’re not getting charged properly.”
Javed works in Qissa Khwani Bazaar where power outages are three-hours-long, though the shopkeepers there are happy with it.
Haji Akhtar, a resident of Afghan colony on Dalazak Road said they face 20-hour-long power cuts. “We get only four hours of electricity, in which we try to fill our water tanks and charge our cell phones,” Akhtar said. “Our children have become sick while Pesco and the chief minister claim they have freed hundreds of feeders from load-shedding. Where are those feeders?” he questioned. Akhtar added voltage is also low and affects electronic appliances.
In Swabi, protesters blocked the road outside Dobian Grid Station because of a power outage which continued for 18 hours on Thursday.
They kept the road blocked for four hours and demanded the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) separate the power transmission lines of Tarakai from Dobian so the voltage problems get fixed. They also demanded the transfer of Dobian Sub-division Officer (SDO) from the post.
Newly-elected local government councillors also participated in the protests and were able to negotiate with police officials who assured the protesters the duration of outages would be reduced to eight hours. The Pesco spokesperson was not available for comments.

Pakistan - Bilawal Bhutto strongly condemns terrorist attacks on police in Peshawar and Quetta

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party has strongly condemned the terrorist attacks on police in Peshawar and Quetta today in which five policemen embraced martyrdom.
In a press statement, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said such coward attack won’t succeed in their nefarious designs and the people of Pakistan and their law enforcing agencies won’t rest till the menace of terrorism is completely wiped out from Pakistan.
PPP Chairman sympathized with the victim families adding that being a member of a family worst victim of terrorism and their sponsors he understands the depth of pain that they are undergoing. However, we have to fight back and cleanse the country from monster of terrorism and extremism for lasting peace and prosperity.