Tuesday, June 13, 2017

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Pakistan - Threat To Free Speech

Baksheesh Elahi’s murder in Haripur, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is yet another attack against the journalist fraternity and by extension, free speech in the country.
The editor of K2 – an Urdu publication, was on his way home when he was riddled with bullets by unknown attackers. The victim’s family claims that he had no enemies, and this is not surprising – journalists are usually killed because of their work and not because of other personal issues.
And he is not the only one; in 2016, Pakistan was declared to be the fourth most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Less than a week ago, Express Tribune journalist Rana Tanveer was run over by a car after he was repeatedly threatened. His crime – report on issues of minorities, the Ahmadiyya community in particular. The sentence he was handed out by extremists, from painting hate slurs outside his house that declared him ‘wajib-ul-qatal’ to the eventual attack that nearly cost him his life, have yet to be investigated by the police despite the obvious danger. If the police willingly refuse to protect journalists, state complicity in their deaths cannot be discounted in the attacks over the years.
But even if the police are successful in apprehending those involved in Baksheesh Elahi’s murder or open a case against Rana Tanveer’s attackers, the larger problem of attacks against members of the press in a bid to silence them continues unabated. From state institutions to extremist outfits, the influential and even the wealthy can use their power to threaten and coerce journalists to stop them from doing their duty. If intimidation does not work in limiting the proliferation of information regarding a specific story, members of the press continuously have to fear for their lives over the work they have produced.
The reaction of the police in the Rana Tanveer case however, paints a bleak picture for the future of the profession in Pakistan. Beyond directly targeting journalists and media houses for reporting the truth, state institutions are not even taking the very tangible threat seriously.
Until there is a change in this mindset, more attacks against journalists are to be expected.

What we know about ISIL’s killing of two Chinese citizens in Pakistan

Last week ISIL claimed responsibility for the killing of two Chinese nationals in Pakistan. The incident occurred as China is extending its economic reach around the globe—an effort likely to result in heightened risks for its people.
Adding insult to injury, the incident is reportedly related to a Christian aid worker from South Korea, a country that has angered much of China by permitting the deployment of a US antimissile system. Here is what we know so far:

What happened?

On June 8, ISIL said it killed two Chinese citizens it abducted last month in Pakistan’s southwestern province Baluchistan. One day later, China’s foreign ministry acknowledged learning from the Pakistani side that the two were likely dead, but didn’t provide any details.
Yesterday (June 12) Pakistan’s interior ministry confirmed that the two Chinese nationals had been killed. In a statement to Reuters, it named the victims as Lee Zingyang and Meng Lisi, both in their mid-twenties, and said they were actually preachers who had misused business visas to enter the country.
Previous media reports identified the man and woman as Mandarin teachers. But the ministry said the two had been preaching in Quetta, Baluchistan’s capital, under the guise of learning the local Urdu language from a Korean national. The ministry didn’t specify to Reuters what the two were preaching and whether the Korean is from South Korea or North Korea.
Queries about the activities of the three individuals were left unanswered by the foreign ministries of China and South Korea, as well as by Pakistan’s interior ministry.
China’s state media outlet were among the first to report that the deaths of the Chinese nationals could have been related to their activities spreading Christian teachings to members of the local Muslim community. The two belonged to a 13-member missionary group led by a South Korean citizen, according to two Chinese reports.

What do the killings mean for Pakistan?

An “all-weather” Chinese ally, Pakistan is one of the earliest participating nations of China’s massive “One Belt, One Road (OBOR)” initiative, a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan that aims to connect 60-plus countries across Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The $54 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship project of the initiative, and has drawn a great number of Chinese to the southern neighbor. At least 70,000 visas were issued to Chinese citizens in 2016, according to Pakistan’s interior ministry.
The recent killings have prompted Pakistan to increase security measures around Chinese nationals and CPEC projects.

Is Pakistan safe for foreigners?

ISIL is struggling to establish a presence in Pakistan. In May, the terror group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 25 people in the city of Mastung, also in Baluchistan. On June 4, the Pakistani military said it had killed 12 militants from an extremist group seeking to establish a foothold for ISIL in the province. ISIL announced the killings of the two Chinese soon after the military operation.
Baluchistan, with nearly half the land area of Pakistan, has a population of about 10 million. Separatist groups there have been fighting the Pakistani government for decades. Last month, at least 13 individuals working on CPEC projects in the province were killed by separatist militants in two separate attacks.
Both Beijing and Islamabad have tried to play down the security concerns.

What do the killings mean for South Korea?

The Korean connection in the killing has been widely covered by Chinese media, and stirred public anger against South Korea’s Christian missionary community. Both state media and government agencies have warned Chinese people not to preach in risky regions.
Media reports in South Korea have picked up the Chinese accounts, noting that Korean people are concerned (link in Korean) that anti-Korea sentiment could reignite in China. For months China and South Korea have been involved in a diplomatic standoff due to Seoul’s decision to allow the installation of THAAD, a US antimissile defense system, in the country. But there had been signs of a thaw in recent days, with Seoul partially delaying the system’s deployment last week so that an environmental impact assessment can be done.

Is it OK to preach Christianity in Muslim nations?

It varies from country to country. Pakistan offers special visas to Christian missionaries, and the country’s laws don’t forbid its citizens from converting from Islam to another religion. But Pakistan’s Christians, comprising less than 2% of the nation’s population, are frequently attacked.

How killing of Chinese couple prompted Pakistan's offensive against Islamic State

Hamza Ameer

Even as Pakistan government denies presence of Islamic State militants in its territory, the killing of a Chinese couple in Balochistan not only raise brows but also prompted Army's offensive in the region. 

Pakistan government has been in complete denial over the presence of the dreaded militant group Islamic State (IS) on its ground, claiming that IS does not hold any foot on ground in Pakistan.
But that was negated recently after a Chinese couple, working at teachers on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) One Belt One Road (OBOR) project, a multi-billion dollar investment by China, aimed at rejuvenating Pakistan's 300 billion dollar economy, were abducted and killed.
They were abducted from Pakistan's Balochistan province's provincial capital Quetta in broad day light and later claimed to have been killed by the Islamic State militants.
The abduction alarmed authorities and law-enforcement agencies to launch major operations in various parts of the province.
It was not long when Pakistan Army got intelligence reports of the whereabouts of the Chinese couple and launched a key operation in Mastung area of Balochistan.
The operation carried importance as reports indicated presence of Daesh group militants, a local faction of Islamic State operating in Pakistan, housed alongside another banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in the caves near Isplingi (Koh-e-Siah/Koh-e-Maran), about 36 kilometers south-east of Mastung.
A press release from Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated:
"The successful operation by security forces in Mastung denied establishment of any direct/indirect ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) organized infrastructure in Balochistan. Based on actionable intelligence, Security Forces conducted an operation in Mastung from 1-3 June. There were reports of 10-15 terrorists of a banned outfit Lashrake-Jhangivi Al-Almi (LeJA) hiding in caves near Isplingi ( Koh-i-Siah/Koh-i- Maran) 36 Kilometer South East of Mastung."ISPR also confirmed about ISIS, trying to establish itself in Pakistan.
"The said organization was reportedly making efforts for communication with ISIS (Daish) and intended to facilitate establishment of ISIS foothold in Balochistan."
What happened between June 1-3
Operation for physical clearance of target area, spread over 10km, started early morning  June 1 by landing of heliborne force. The operation continued for three days.
250 Meter long gorge with steep heights and multiple caves made the clearance operation difficult and challenging. Terrorists who were hiding in caves offered stiff resistance.
During exchange of fire, 12 hardcore terrorists including two suicide bombers were killed.
During the operation security forces destroyed IED making facility inside cave and recovered cache of arms and ammunition which included 50 kilograms of explosive,  three suicide bomber jackets, 18 Grenades, six rocket launchers, four light machine guns,18 small machine guns,  four sniper rifles, 38 communication sets and huge ammunition of various types.
During the operation, at least five security forces personnel including two officers got injured.
The operation by Security Forces besides denying establishing of any direct or indirect ISIS organized infrastructure in Balochistan, also foiled terrorist incidents in Pakistan.
The authorities also found the vehicle, that was used in the kidnapping of the Chinese couple from the area but there was no sign of them.
Pakistan Army also released a video showing installations of IS militants inside the caves of Isplingi.
A day after the operation, Islamic State announced and claimed that they had killed the Chinese couple, raising serious concerns of security parameters, put in place to ensure security of Chinese nationals working on the CPEC-OBOR project.
Pakistan beefs up security around OBOR and Chinese nationals
This prompted Pakistan to take immediate steps towards beefing up security around the OBOR, primarily focused on the monitoring and safety of Chinese nationals.
Sources say, Pakistan is going to be deploying at least 15,000 additional troops to ensure security of Chinese nationals in Balochistan, ensuring tight monitoring and swift progress of $57 billion Chinese investment on CPEC-OBOR.
Chalking out the revised security plan, Pakistan has outlined security that includes thousands of police protection forces, monitoring of Chinese nationals and establishment of an Army division, comprising of at least 15,000 troops, engaged specifically to safeguard projects in the CPEC initiative.
The initiative will ensure security around power plants, railway tracks and road that will cross the Himalayas to connect western China with Pakistan's Arabian Sea port of Gawadar.
For this, all provinces including Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa have been taken on board with specified duties assigned for immediate implementation.
"We are already alert, but this incident has made us extra vigilant over Chinese security," said Amin Yousafzai, deputy inspector-general of police of Sindh.
Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province is in process of carrying out a census of Chinese nationals in the province and is raising a security force of about 4,200 officers to protect foreigners.
Punjab's Special Protection Unit (SPU), is also increasing the number of officers from 6,000 to 10,000. SPU officers are dedicated to safeguarding Chinese and other foreigners in the province.
"SPU chiefs hold daily meetings with the intelligence agencies and police chiefs to ensure Chinese nationals stay safe. A database has also been setup to track foreigners from their arrival, to their lodging and departure", said Raja Jahangir, Punjab's secretary for Information.
Balochistan government is reviewing and revamping the overall security arrangements of the province.
"Chinese nationals who come in a private capacity should inform the authorities about their activities" said AnwaarulHaqKakar, spokesperson for the provincial government.
Miftah Ismail, a state minister involved in CPEC planning said, "Pakistan had devoted huge resources to improving security and Chinese investors should not be put off by a one-off attack.The country's security situation has improved."
The increasing Chinese business presence in Pakistan
While the kidnapping of Chinese couple, whose killing later claimed by Islamic State is a major concern, it also highlights the fact that there is an increasing number of Chinese businessmen, who are coming to Pakistan and exploring investment opportunities in relation with the CPEC initiative.
Most of the arriving Chinese nationals stay in bigger cities like Karachi, Lahore and the capital Islamabad, but many also venture into riskier areas like Balochistan itself.
Going forward, the challenges of security will further increase as Pakistan plans on making CPEC operational during the year 2018 as remote areas of Balochistan, which constitute about 1,000 kilometers of the CPEC, will be opened to back-and-forth movement of trucks, carrying good from and to China. The area will also be then opened to foreigners, who are barred to access them currently.


Haqqani Network Commander Reportedly Killed By Drone Strike In Pakistan

A suspected U.S. drone strike in northwestern Pakistan has killed a commander of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, local officials say.
A security official said on June 13 that the commander, identified as Abubakar, died in an overnight strike in the Speen Tal area of the Hangu district.
A resident of Dewal village, Behram Khan, said three more people were injured in the strike, including a boy.
Khan said Abubakar was from Afghanistan's Khost Province and that his original name was Omar.
He added that the slain commander moved to Dewal from Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district after the Pakistani military launched a counterterrorist operation there in 2014.
The drone strike comes after a May 31 truck bombing in Kabul killed more than 150 people in the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the ouster of the Taliban following the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
Afghan officials blamed the Pakistan-based Haqqani network for the blast.
However, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Afghan Taliban's second-in-command and head of the Haqqani network, denied any involvement in an audio message distributed to the media late on June 11.


Pakistan - Death sentence for 'online blasphemy' - Shocking event

In a shocking development, a Pakistani man from the country's minority Shia community was sentenced to death by a local court in Bahawalpur, Punjab province, for allegedly sharing blasphemous content about Islam on social media. Taimoor Raza was arrested last April for posting content against Sunni Muslim religious leaders and the wives of Prophet Mohammed on Facebook. Although Pakistan's blasphemy laws allow for death sentences, this is reportedly the first time that someone on social media has suffered this fate. Several others are on death row for alleged blasphemy in public, among them a certain Asia Bibi, the Christian woman convicted in 2010 after a row with two women in a village in Punjab province. With a long-awaited final appeal adjourned, Bibi is still in solitary confinement. Former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer had spoken out in support of Bibi and challenged the blasphemy law. His bodyguard assassinated him for his troubles in 2011. In Raza's case, he was arrested by counter-terrorism department officials. He had reportedly gotten into an argument about Islam with a person on Facebook, who apparently was a counter-terrorism official. 

As per figures published by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the government arrested 10 Muslims and five non-Muslims on blasphemy charges. Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which is popularly known as the blasphemy law, has been used to target religious and sectarian minorities. "Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine," reads Section 295-C. It was under the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s when Pakistan passed down a series of orders to create and sharpen blasphemy laws. It was under General Zia that narrow and bigoted religiosity became state policy. What began during Zia's tenure did not end with him. The vicious attack on minorities, their place of worship, and subjecting people to incarceration on the mere suspicion of blasphemy, are regular occurrences in Pakistan today. 

One is not surprised at how an Islamic State-like ideology has made its way into mainstream public discourse. There are serious concerns that sectarian violence could further intensify in an already strife-ridden Pakistan. According to Hussain Haqqani, the former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States and a leading South Asia expert, there is already broad support for such an ideology. "While many Pakistanis might be troubled by the violent ramifications of global jihad within the country, broad sympathy in Pakistani society for jihadis remains a reality," he writes in an academic paper titled, Pakistan and the Threat of Global Jihadism: Implications for Regional Security. "Most Pakistanis support Sharia rule, an Islamic caliphate, and an Islamic state, even if they disagree on the definition of those concepts." Post the 1970s, Pakistan saw an increasing acceptance of blasphemy among the Muslim community, allowing the enshrinement of religious ideas into law. 

The result of these machinations is there for everyone to see with vigilante groups and militant elements using religion as their authority to challenge the very state itself. On the subject of blasphemy, however, social media has become the new battleground. In an Orwellian move, authorities in Pakistan have asked social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to help identify users who share blasphemous material, while distributing text messages asking Pakistanis to report fellow citizens. The burden of proof in most of these cases lies with the accused and not the one framing these allegations, which completely goes against a central principle in jurisprudence—innocent until proven guilty. These laws and the desire of authorities to implement them zealously has provided a tool for individuals to carry out personal vendettas, considering nobody is ever punished for making false accusations. In a report published by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan last year, Justice Ibadur Rehman Lodhi said: "A majority of blasphemy cases were based on false accusations, stemming from property disputes or other personal or family vendettas rather than genuine instances of blasphemy." 

The mere mention of blasphemy, even if these allegations are unfounded, is capable of igniting vicious mobs. Earlier this year, a vigilante mob in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province thrashed and then killed a university student and seriously injured another for alleged blasphemy. Both students of mass communication at the Abdul Wali Khan University were accused of promoting the Ahmadi faith on social media. The incident occurred in the presence of local police, who were outnumbered by the vicious mob. The mob allegedly forced one of the students to recite verses from the Quran before they began beating him. When the police intervened and saved him, the crowd went after the other student. After a vicious thrashing, someone in the mob shot him in the head and chest. Not satiated by the cold-blooded murder, the mob continued to beat the dead student's body. For nearly a century, members of Ahmadiyya community have suffered ostracisation for an interpretation of Islam that differs from traditional orthodox positions of the majority Sunni community. There are tragic consequences for a country that fails to maintain the separation between religion and governance.

Read more at: http://www.millenniumpost.in/editorial/editorial-246585


Responding to an Anti-Terrorism court’s decision to convict and sentence to death a man for allegedly posting content on Facebook deemed to be ‘blasphemous,’ Amnesty International’s Pakistan campaigner, Nadia Rahman, said:
“Convicting and sentencing someone to death for allegedly posting blasphemous material online is a violation of international human rights law and sets a dangerous precedent. The authorities are using vague and broad laws to criminalize freedom of expression. He and all others accused of ‘blasphemy’ must be released immediately.
“Instead of holding people accountable for mob violence that has killed at least three people and injured several more in recent months, the authorities are becoming part of the problem by enforcing laws that lack safeguards and are open to abuse.
“No one should be hauled before an anti-terrorism court or any other court solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief online. It is also horrific that they are prepared to use the death penalty in such cases, a cruel and irreversible punishment that most of the world has had the good sense to abandon.”
BackgroundThe conviction and sentence, imposed by an Anti-Terrorism Court, came after the Facebook user was accused under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code (using derogatory remarks…in respect of the Holy Prophet) and Sections 9 and 11(w) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which criminalize incitement to sectarian hatred.
The sentence is the harshest handed down yet for a cyber-crime related offence. Pakistan has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy.
An Amnesty International report published in December 2016 documented how Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used against religious minorities and others who are the target of false accusations, while emboldening vigilantes who are prepared to threaten or kill the accused.
“As good as dead”: The impact of blasphemy laws in Pakistan shows how once a person is accused, they become ensnared in a system that offers them few protections, presumes them guilty, and fails to safeguard them against people willing to use violence.
People accused of blasphemy, the report documents, face a gruelling struggle to establish their innocence. Even if a person is acquitted of the charges against them and released, usually after long delays, they can still face threats to their life.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally in all cases – regardless of who is the accused, the crime, guilt or innocence, or method of execution.

Aitzaz Hasan - Pakistan’s bravest son - Is Pakistan Forgetting Its Brave?

Ashar Zaidi
Ibrahimzai is a sleepy little village tucked away in Pakistan’s north-west Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. From the city of Kohat, it is an hour and a half drive along a dusty, winding road dotted with potholes. And the sun doesn’t help much either, searing travellers with its scorching rays, even in the month of May.
On entering the village, my driver points to the right. There, he says, is Aitzaz Hasan’s school. He then points to its gate. And there is where the 15-year-old died, after heroically intercepting a suicide bomber from storming his school.
Ibrahimzai, with its 10,000-strong population, has a history of sectarian violence. Otherwise, it is like any other rural settlement in Pakistan, undeveloped and deprived of basic necessities. Most of the men in the village work as labourers in the Middle East.
Our car now stops outside a small graveyard. I make my way in and then I see it. Buried ahead of me is Pakistan’s bravest son. There is no marble tombstone, no monument. It a simple mud burial mound, covered in artificial flowers.
I raise my hands, read Fatiha, and wait for Mujahid Ali Bangash, Hasan’s father. The 58-year-old is employed as a driver in the UAE. On January 6, 2014, Bangash was told of his son’s martyrdom over the phone.
Fate has been cruel to him. The father wasn’t here when Hasan was born and he couldn’t return in time for his funeral. He now sits beside the grave, talking about his teenage son, sometimes with grief and at other times with pride.

What was your relationship like with your son?
Bangash: He was not just my son but also my best friend. When I came home, on leaves, he would stay beside me. He would iron my clothes and polish my shoes. His mother would often tease him about this. She would ask if I am his father or his friend? His reply would be, “You will never understand our relationship.” We had a very strong bond.
At school, he was an average student. He wanted to join the army so much so that when he would go to the mountains for hunting, he would dress up in military fatigues.
Hasan was always bulky. People in the village, even his classmates, used to bug him about it, but he always took it in good humour. Some would tease him further and say that he was not strong enough to take a single bullet. Then in January, God put him to test. It wasn’t his duty, it wasn’t his job. He was just an ordinary student. He could have run like the others, but when the time of sacrifice came, he stood his ground.
How do you think Hasan’s martyrdom has changed our country?
Bangash: I think he has changed the way people think in Pakistan. Children in our village earlier wanted to be pilots or army officers but now some of them want to be Aitzaz Hasan. Today, Aitzaz lives in every home.
The moment I heard of his Shahadat (Martyrdom), I thanked God three times for choosing me as the father of a martyr. And I will keep thanking God till my last day. As Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A.) said that if life is destined for death then Shahadat is the best end. Everyone has to die one day, but few die as martyrs. I am lucky and a proud father of a shaheed”.
Hasan was awarded the Sitara-e-Shujaat, the highest civilian award of bravery, posthumously. How does that make you feel?
Bangash: I have mixed feelings about this. I have heard that the Nishan-e-Haider is only reserved for the military or government officials. But if that is not true then no one deserves it more than my son.
What would you say to the terrorist who took his life away?
Bangash: They can try all they want, but in the end, the pen will prevail over their guns. Our children will never abandon the path of education. Even after the suicide bombing, the children, Hasan’s class fellows, never stopped going to school. These children are resilient.
With the recent military offensives against militants, there has been relative calm and peace in the Hangu district. But the fear of unknown continues to grip the entire region. Hasan’s family has received threatening letters, warning them against talking to the media.
His brother, Mujtaba Hasan Bangash, says he is thankful to the media and the Pakistan Army for their support to the family, but the federal and provincial government have yet to fulfil their promises.
Mujtaba Bangash: The KP government promised to set up two colleges, for men and women, along with a sports complex, in our village. But nothing is being done about it. We also requested them to declare the 6th of every January as a day of remembrance for Hasan.
Now that the sun was starting to disappear, we packed up our video equipment and headed back to Kohat, leaving behind Hasan and his family. On the way home, my thoughts were preoccupied, by the teenage boy who died too young.
May Pakistan never forget Aitzaz Hasan.

Video Report - Aitzaz Ahsan Talks on #JIT @MediaCellPPP #MediaTalk #JIT #Lahore #PPP #AitzazAhsan #Accountability

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