Sunday, April 16, 2017
A fleeing Saudi woman faces grave risks after being returned to Saudi Arabia against her will while in transit in the Philippines, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi authorities should ensure that Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, is not subjected to violence from her family or prosecution by Saudi authorities for trying to flee, Human Rights Watch said.
On April 10, 2017, Saudi activists posted videos that appeared to show Lasloom at Manila’s international airport pleading not to be returned because she feared her family would kill her. The Saudi embassy in the Philippines issued a statement on April 12 saying that Lasloom’s return was a “family matter.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi authorities should immediately protect this woman from her family to ensure she’s not subjected to violence and should not punish her for fleeing.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed four people linked to Lasloom’s case, including two who said that they spoke to her at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
A Canadian woman, Meagan Khan, transiting through Manila on April 10, told Human Rights Watch that Lasloom approached her at 11 a.m. to ask if she could borrow her cell phone. She said that Lasloom identified herself as a Saudi woman living in Kuwait who intended to flee to Australia to escape a forced marriage and that airport officials had confiscated her passport and boarding pass for a scheduled 11:15 a.m. flight to Sydney.
Khan said she then assisted Lasloom in filming several short videos explaining her case, which were later circulated on social media networks. One video shows Lasloom saying: “They took my passport and locked me up for 13 hours … if my family comes they will kill me. If I go back to Saudi Arabia I will be dead. Please help me.” Khan said several hours later, two men Lasloom identified as her uncles arrived at the airport. After sitting with her for eight hours, Khan then left for her connecting flight.
Philippine immigration officials denied holding Lasloom in immigration detention, according to local media outlets. An airline security official, who requested not to be identified, told Human Rights Watch that he met Lasloom at about 12:30 p.m. on April 11 in the lobby of a small temporary lodging facility in Terminal One. He said that Lasloom told him that she feared going back to Saudi Arabia with her uncles and that he saw bruises on her arms that she said were the result of a beating by her uncles.
The security official said that at 5:15 p.m., while he was in the hotel lobby, he saw two airline security officials and three apparently Middle Eastern men enter the hotel and go to her room, which he said was near the lobby. He said he heard her screaming and begging for help from her room, after which he saw them carry her out with duct tape on her mouth, feet, and hands. He said she was still struggling to break free when he saw them put her in a wheelchair and take her out of the hotel.
A Saudi source sent Human Rights Watch photos obtained via a contact who works at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport that show flight information that includes details of Lasloom, along with her two uncles, as passengers on Saudia Airlines flight SV871, which departed Manila at 7:01 p.m. on April 11 and arrived in Riyadh at midnight local time.
Reuters reported that several passengers said they had seen a woman being carried onto the plane screaming. One woman told Reuters, “I heard a lady screaming from upstairs. Then I saw two or three men carrying her. They weren’t Filipino. They looked Arab.” Two people who went to Riyadh airport at midnight to seek information about Lasloom told Human Rights Watch that she did not emerge from the flight with the rest of the passengers. Reuters also reported that a Saudi activist who went to the airport to meet Lasloom appeared to have been detained after approaching security officials to inquire about the case.
The role Philippine authorities played in Lasloom’s return is unclear. As a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Convention against Torture, the Philippines has an obligation not to return anyone to a territory where they face persecution because of their gender or a real risk of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
“The Philippine government should fully investigate this incident and hold any of their officials who failed to protect Dina Ali Lasloom accountable, as required by international law,” Whitson said.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte began a three-day state visit to Saudi Arabia on April 10, the same day Lasloom attempted to fly to Australia.
Lasloom’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
The Saudi authorities should disclose whether Lasloom is with her family or held by the state, Human Rights Watch said. If held by the state, the authorities should disclose under what conditions she is being held, including whether she is at a shelter at her request and whether she has freedom of movement and ability to contact the outside world. State shelter facilities in Saudi Arabia are used both to detain women and to provide protection for those fleeing abuse, and may require a male relative to agree to their release. Lasloom is at serious risk of harm if returned to her family. She also faces possible criminal charges, in violation of her basic rights, for “parental disobedience,” which can result in punishments ranging from being returned to a guardian’s home to imprisonment, and for “harming the reputation of the kingdom” for her public cries for help.
Human Rights Watch has documented how under Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system, adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel abroad, marry, or be released from prison, and may be required to provide guardian consent to work or get health care. These restrictions last from birth until death, as women are, in the view of the Saudi state, permanent legal minors.
“Saudi women face systematic discrimination every day, and Lasloom’s case shows that fleeing abroad may not protect them from abuses,” Whitson said.
Activists feared Friday for the safety of a young Saudi woman they say was returned to the kingdom against her will, in a case highlighting tight restrictions on women.
Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, intended to flee to Australia to escape a forced marriage, Human Rights Watch cited a Canadian witness as saying, AFP reported.
The witness said Lasloom approached her while in transit at the airport in Manila, saying "airport officials had confiscated her passport and boarding pass" for a Sydney-bound flight.
The Canadian said she helped Lasloom film social media videos about her plight. In one of them she said, "If my family comes they will kill me," HRW said.
Arranged marriages are the norm in Saudi Arabia, where a "guardianship" system requires a male family member, usually the father, husband or brother, to grant permission for a woman's study, travel and other activities.
"Lasloom's whereabouts are currently unknown," HRW said in a statement from Manila.
The Canadian witness, who spent several hours with Lasloom at the airport in Manila, reported that two of Lasloom's uncles arrived, the New York-based watchdog said.
Yahir's trauma is too much, His father tries to comfort him but his tears don't stop. An airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition has left shrapnel embedded in his head. In the next hospital room Mohammed stands looking dazed at his injured family. Two of his children were killed in the attack which destroyed two houses.
The Pakistani government has intensified its crackdown on progressive university professors and intellectuals. DW looks at why the state considers these peaceful academics a threat to national interests.
Earlier this month, the Pakistani paramilitary forces arrested Dr. Riaz Ahmed, a Chemistry professor at the University of Karachi, near the southern city's press club. Ahmed and two others were campaigning for the release of Dr. Hasan Zafar Arif, a former professor and leftist intellectual, who was detained last year by the security forces for his association with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a liberal political party whose leader Altaf Hussain has been living in self-imposed exile in London since the early 1990s. The Pakistani state considers Hussain a traitor; hence his party activists have been facing a fierce crackdown by police and paramilitary forces in the city which is still Hussain's political stronghold. Hussain, who in the past collaborated with the Islamic country's civilian and military leadership, has increasingly become critical of the state policies, particularly its alleged support of Islamist militants.
Ahmed, too, is a critic of the government's policies: the army's military operations against the jihadists, the silencing of dissidents, torture and illegal abductions of activists, and rampant human rights violations in the South Asian country. Ahmed, who was released last week on bail by a Karachi court, is not the only academic facing the wrath of the military and the civilian government for raising voice in support of religious minorities, political activists and the downtrodden; many other university professors and lecturers have reportedly been picked up by security personnel. Now they face charges ranging from possessing illegal weapons and committing blasphemy to treason.
"The police have also detained Professor Anwar Ahmed. He was accused of promoting 'atheism' at the university," Fahad Rizwan, an Islamabad-based leftist activist, wrote on Facebook.
But why has the government suddenly intensified its crackdown on academics, writers and intellectuals? Rights groups say the authorities want to stifle dissenting voices as an increasing number of people are criticizing their policies and actions through social media and other cyber platforms. And that is also the reason why the Pakistani government has introduced stricter measures to control social media and the internet.
"The callous idiocy of the state was on full display during the arrest of Karachi University Professor Dr. Riaz Ahmed and the registration of a case against him for allegedly being 'in possession of a weapon illegally,'" wrote Abbas Nasir, a senior Pakistani journalist, in "Dawn" newspaper.
But some would argue that it is not the state's "idiocy" but a well-thought out policy to target the country's opinion-makers, whose voice is now being increasingly heard by the masses.
"The crackdown on dissidents is actually a political witch hunt," said Arshad Mahmood, a Pakistani writer and social media activist. "Those who are critical of the state, the military and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project are being picked up by the government agencies. I wish the authorities had shown the same enthusiasm in targeting Islamist militants," Mahmood added.
A London-based Pakistani activist and academic told DW on condition of anonymity that he believes the harassment of intellectuals shows the myopic mindset of Pakistan's rulers and will promote a culture of intolerance.
"The prevailing nationalism in Pakistan, narrowly defined and lacking depth or subtlety, promotes intolerance of critical debate in the country. Academics and other members of the intelligentsia who engage with global think tanks are labeled disloyal or anti-state," he underlined.
"The establishment is unable to recognize that critical thinking is a necessary and beneficial feature of academic debate. It fails to acknowledge that academics that critique state policies are doing so for the wellbeing of society and in order for the state to perform better," the expert added.
Rights groups find the trend of bloggers' abduction and detention of intellectuals alarming for the freedom of expression in the country.
"The civil society needs more unity now to protect the freedom of speech in the country. In the age of social media, independent thinkers have a platform to voice their concerns against certain actions of the government, and it is their right," Nahyan Mirza, an Islamabad-based development professional, told DW.
"Pakistani society, unfortunately, is being controlled to a large extent by the rightwing. These groups will never tolerate social, cultural and intellectual change that poses a challenge to their power. But I am hopeful the change will come soon," Mirza added.
The 'missing persons' phenomenon
In January, renowned rights activist and university professor Salman Haider disappeared from the capital Islamabad. Three other secular activists - Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed and Ahmed Raza - also went missing. After weeks, all these bloggers returned to their homes, with Goraya claiming that he was "abducted" by Pakistan's law enforcement agencies.
While these activists work in different fields, they all have one thing in common: their consistent and sharp criticism of Pakistan's security establishment and conservative groups.
The "missing persons" phenomenon is not new in Pakistan. Thousands of people have disappeared over the past few years, but most of them are connected with an ongoing separatist movement in the western Balochistan province or the Islamist insurgency in the northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. In both places, the army is operating against "miscreants" and "terrorists," which it believes are working against the state.
Local rights groups have the details of at least 8,000 people they say have disappeared over the past 12 years without a trace.
The activists' disappearance is not only condemned in Pakistan but across the world, especially among the Pakistani diaspora.
Asim Ali Shah, a leftist member of the London-based Faiz Cultural Foundation, doesn't directly accuse the government for the kidnappings, but rather views the issue as a failure of the state to protect the country's intellectuals.
"The government's National Action Plan to eradicate terrorism has been a total failure. We see the extremist literature that promotes hatred, sectarianism and intolerance is in circulation all across the country. Yet the state only cracks down on progressive bloggers, peaceful writers and political activists," Shah told DW.
But there are also people in Pakistan who say the liberal sections only protest when one of their "comrades" disappears, and that they never raise their voices against the military operations in the tribal areas that, according to them, have killed thousands of innocent people. They argue that many people with no links to the Taliban or any other militant group have disappeared in those areas, yet the civil society is silent about them.
"The missing persons belonging to the Islamist camp have never been an issue for the Pakistani liberals. They were happy when former military dictator Pervez Musharraf acted unlawfully against Islamic clerics and activists," Naufil Shahrukh, an analyst at the Islamabad-based Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), told DW.
"The US drone killings in the northwestern tribal region, and the kidnappings and extrajudicial killings of anti-Musharraf people never bothered the secular groups. The case of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who is imprisoned in the US, is just one example of this hypocrisy," Shahrukh underlined.
But some say the Karachi University professor, Riaz Ahmed, is known for his sympathetic stance towards Taliban. The Marxist intellectual continues to raise his voice against the military operations against homegrown jihadists.
Ahmed, however, vehemently denies these claims. "I don't sympathize with the Taliban or any other right-wing group. I consider the Taliban brand of Islam dictatorial, which suppresses freedom and divides the working class and the oppressed," Ahmed told DW in an e-mail.
But experts say that his arrest proved that the government is not ready to tolerate anyone who raises his voice.
From recent terrorist attacks in Lahore and Quetta to the horrific massacre of school children at Peshawar’s Army Public School in 2014 — the catalogue of atrocities has become immense.
Malala Yousafzai’s recent selection as a UN Messenger of Peace is a recognition of the terrorist violence suffered by Pakistan’s people. Just 19-years-old, she is the youngest recipient of the UN’s highest honour. “Now as our youngest-ever UN Messenger of Peace, Malala can do even more to help create a more just and peaceful world,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The hate-filled invective of extremists and largely uneducated populace has resulted in disastrous consequences for Pakistan as extremist forces have been able recruit ready adherents. This is why advocates for peace like Malala have placed a singular emphasis on the need to ensure every child is afforded a quality education. Given the growing youth bulge in populous countries like Pakistan, this education imperative becomes all the more urgent.
A recent survey by Pakistan Social and Living Standard Measures found that the literacy rate in Pakistan for 10-year and above rose to 60 percent, representing a 2 percent annual increase.
However, Pakistan’s education system remains in a bleak state. According to the UN Global Education Monitoring Report 2016, Pakistan’s education system has failed to meet its targets by decades: primary education by 50 years and secondary education by 60 years. Moreover, it is estimated that Pakistan’s poorest women have received less than a year of schooling. And, 5.6 million school-age children remain out of primary school and 5.5 million of secondary school. Pakistan’s Constitution obligates the state in unequivocal terms to provide free and compulsory education to all children from the age of five to 16. However, it seems that while some articles of the Constitution are feverishly upheld and defended, provoking endless political debate, the most fundamental ones like a citizen’s right to education are flagrantly disregarded.
Pakistan’s woefully inadequate education system has been further devastated by militant violence. A recent Human Rights Watch report entitled Dreams Turned into Nightmares: Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools in Pakistan, has detailed the disruptive impact of terrorism on the education of thousands of children, particularly girls. With the Taliban and other extremist groups targeting educational institutions, teachers and students have been compelled to keep away in case of further attacks — a brute tactic regularly employed by extremist forces to disseminate fear and attain control as the 2016 massacre at Peshawar’s Bacha Khan University grimly demonstrates.
“Attacks on education not only harm students and families directly affected, but also have an incalculable long-term negative effect on Pakistani society,” said Bede Sheppard, child rights deputy director at Human Rights Watch. Depriving children of education is effectively robbing them of awareness, independence, critical life skills and consigning them to a state of unremitting poverty.
Malala’s triumph is a collective victory for Pakistan as her views and aspirations deeply resonate with the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis. Earlier at the UN, she eloquently articulated the power of resistance against retrogressive forces, “... the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices.” Malala was just fifteen-years-old when she was shot by Taliban gunmen in 2012. An outspoken critic of the Taliban, Malala gained recognition for her BBC blog describing the atrocities wrought by the Taliban in Swat after militants burnt down a girls’ school.
The recent years of conflict have exacted a heavy toll on Pakistan. Sadly, the story of Malala is just one of innumerable attacks against children but she stands as a brave survivor and narrator of a dark chapter in Pakistan’s history. As she so aptly asserted, “Education is the only solution. Education first.”
No one has it coming. This concept, that if someone hurts our religious or political sentiments, one can respond with physical violence, is not brave or just – it is savagery at its worst.
The mob lynching of Mashal Khan, who by all measures was a smart, critical and patriotic Pakistani, happened at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, which has already been a hotbed of extremist activity in the past. The student was being targeted for days now. This wasn’t the knee-jerk reaction of a mob, this was planned by the murders with the knowledge, that in the face of their bigoted righteousness, there would be no objection to their violence – not from their peers, nor from their superiors.
Pakistan’s universities have become home to young thugs and murderers. On March 21, during a Pashtun cultural event, activists of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) attacked the participants and set the place on fire. In 2015, students belonging to IJT attacked female students who were playing cricket in Karachi University. In October 2011, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) student wing carried out the ‘million man march’ in Lahore despite Punjab University authorities denying it permission. The Punjab government refused to do anything to stop the event which featured JI Chief Munawar Hassan stating that the youth must get ready for Jihad and that a million Osamas would emerge from the Muslim world if the US did not stop its ‘anti-Islam’ policies. In 2015, a student of Punjab University allegedly told university authorities at a disciplinary hearing that he considered slain Taliban chieftains Nek Muhammad and Baitullah Mehsud to be his leaders and intended to avenge their deaths. The student was a member of Pashtun Educational Development Movement, a Punjab University student association.
Education, sadly, is now an enabler of violence given the Islamisation process Pakistani textbooks underwent in the 1980s to promote religion as the nation’s only identity. The stratified school systems – elite private schools, public schools and non-elite private schools, and madrassas provide distinct environments, potentially creating fresh fault lines. Academic textbooks used in Pakistani public schools that cater to three-fourths of school-going children, have been a matter of intense controversy. Subjects like Pakistan Studies and Islamiyat deliberately try to eulogise the concept of violent jihad and create exclusionary mindsets. The Pakistani state that is supposedly responsible for human development of its young citizens, has created an uncritical army of violent men with no market to absorb their radical talents.
This is not just about the blasphemy laws that have shattered our society’s capacity for debate, forgiveness and justice, but about a nationally accepted behaviour, that “my feelings matter more than your life”. This goes deeper than the law, it permeates education and social interaction – weeding it out will be painful and expensive.
Where and how to begin? Two and a half years after the APS massacre of teenaged students and the National Action Plan, and much in between, the country was shell-shocked Wednesday by the savage lynching of Mashal Khan, a journalism student of 23 summers at the Mardan University. People in Pakistan are regularly lynched, burnt, beaten or shot, or left to rot in jail after being falsely accused of blasphemy. But this horror moved the country like no other lynching because the cold-blooded killers released the video-tape of the gruesome murder which went viral. Admitted, I have not watched it myself – but by all accounts he was stripped naked, beaten to death with sticks, bricks other sharp and blunt objects and then thrown two floors down from his hostel building.
Do these people really believe that the Holy Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) would have condoned this exhibition of love for him, or smiled broadly enough at the faithful carriage of his orders? That he would recommend a higher jannah to those who would then kick and bash further the lifeless Mashal, and ensure the seventh heaven for those who would desecrate it by burning the naked body of the man they heard had committed blasphemy?
Where did this mob find such teachings of Rehmat-e-do-Alam (pbuh), to rip off the clothes, expose private parts, strip the dignity, inflict the animal in you on anyone who was a soft, thinking, curious, gentle, intellectual, poetic being, if he the Prophet (pbuh) was disrespected, never ask for evidence, never look for witnesses; kill the man and then burn him? Because that’s how the mob of 500 believers executed his teachings. He must also have left instructions somewhere to ignore what Allah said in the Qur’an, but to seek guidance from 21st century televangelists, Taliban, Sunni Tehreekists, Khatm-e-Nabooatists, local mosque clerics, Sheikh Khadim Husain Rizvis, Orionic bureaucrats, alims online, drunkards turned preachers, Farid Parachas or other Jamatias masquerading as journalists.
In some Davincian code passed down only to Alims-Jamatias-Oryas-Rizvis etc, the Prophet (pbuh) must have exhorted his Ummah to defy Allah and each and every Qur’anic Surah and Ayat mentioning The Prophet’s actual, real disrespect (not accusations thereof):
1. Sura Ahzab: 57:
a. Lo! Those who malign Allah and His Messenger, Allah hath cursed them in the world, and the Hereafter and hath prepared for them the doom of the disdained (Pickthall)
b. As for those who abuse Allah and His Messenger, Allah’s curse is on them in this world and the Next World. He has prepared a humiliating punishment for them. (Bewly)
c. Verily as for those who (knowingly) affront God and His Apostle, God will reject them – in this world and in the life to come; and shameful suffering will He ready for them. (Muhammad Asad)
Pick up any translation of this widely quoted ayat in support of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and you will find that the punishment for those tormenting, abusing, mocking, disrespecting, annoying Allah or the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) has been reserved for himself by Allah to mete out, in this world as well as in the hereafter. He does not give authority to Muslims, or other people in general, nor to any state, to punish such a sin.
2. Sura Hijr: 95
a. Lo! We defend thee from the scoffers (Pickthall)
b. Surely! We suffice to deal with those who scoff at you (Asad)
c. Verily We are enough for thee against the scoffers (Palmer)
Here too, Allah’s instructions to Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) were to leave his insult to Allah himself – meaning no human was to take Allah’s prerogative in his hands.
And these and other ayat dealing with blasphemy, mocking, disbelieving at either the Prophet or at Allah himself relate to actual, visible, proven blasphemy. Not with regard to accusations.
But the Davincians deliberately mislead their followers. One thing is for sure though, the followers, the lynching mobs, do not read the Qur’an. The other thing which is clear is that the Davincian Alims-Jamatias-Oryas-Rizvis have read the Qur’an and can and do quote it at will in Arabic, a language that Pakistanis neither understand nor speak. And they deliberately misquote, distort, misinterpret Allah’s will and mislead the faithful mobs who put out Mashals and other gentle lights who actually read with meaning, read widely, use the brains Allah gave them, and are the light for mankind Allah meant them to be.
Taking advantage of the Arabic language being alien to Pakistanis, the Alims-Jamatias-Oryas-Rizvis etc. also regularly quote other ayat of the Qur’an that have nothing whatsoever to do with blasphemy and mistranslate them for the unsuspecting believers to give them the impression that ‘sar tan se juda’ (head cut off from body) is the prescribed Islamic punishment for blasphemy. As a quick example, and without quoting, many ‘Alims’ are on record quoting in Arabic the Sura Muahida (verse 66), Sura Kausar (verse 3), Sura Anfal (verses 12 & 13), Sura Nisa (verse 65) etc. as having prescribed killing of blasphemers.
I would invite my readers to look these up themselves. They are not even remotely connected with any form of imagined or real blasphemy. So what is going on? The molvis, alims, and others in other institutions are actually belying the Quran to achieve political objectives like hunger for power, the power of fear, control on narrative, killing dissent on political issues, and in some cases sheer bloodlust. Thought about carefully, these contractors of Islam are regularly committing blasphemy themselves, by arrogating to themselves the power Allah preserved for himself; by changing his words in their rattled off dishonest translations; by creating fitnah on this earth in the name of Allah and His Prophet himself, which they forbade; and finally, by inspiring in people’s hearts an image of the prophet of Islam of a man who instructed people to kill anyone one who disrespected him or mocked him, not as the awe and love inspiring man who preached forgiveness, and not as the man who went asking after the health of the woman who would daily throw garbage on him and abuse him when he passed by under her window. Most importantly, just as Allah ordained, these Alim blasphemers can also only be dealt with by Allah, not by us, not by our courts, not by our state. Not for blasphemy.
But these Alims-Jamatias-Oryas-Rizvis’s etc. ignorant, blind, unread followers in universities, government jobs, bazaars, mosques, courts, follow them, believe them, torture, kill, desecrate all in the name of the man and the God who never gave them the power to do so. Allah, his messenger (pbuh), his Quran also did not give any government or state the power to behead or kill anyone for blasphemy.