Sunday, February 25, 2018

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Is Sweden complicit in war crimes in Yemen?


Despite the documented crimes of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, Sweden continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
A Yemeni man inspects the damage caused by an alleged Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa, Yemen, 04 February 2018. Picture by Hani Al-Ansi/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.Despite Sweden leading a few special UN sessions in response to the acute humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it still has not demonstrated a political appetite to stop its arms sales to the most active warring parties in the Yemen war: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Swedish parliament is due to discussits governmental policies on Swedish arms exports, on the 28th of February – and anti-militarization Swedish groups are demanding that Sweden halts all its arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Human rights groups have documented serious attacks committed by both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis
In the course of the ongoing war in Yemen human rights groups have documented serious attacks committed by both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis against civilian sites. These attacks appear to have violated international humanitarian law and may constitute war crimes. While the Houthis grew their military power ever since they overtook Sana’a on September 2014, with the support of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Saudi-led coalition’s military activities in Yemen were only possible because of their weapon supplies from several western countries - including Sweden.
The Yemen Data Project reveals that since 2015, nearly one-third of Saudi air raids hit non-military sites; such as schools, hospitals, weddings, funerals among many other civilian targets. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both documented dozens of unlawful coalition airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes. And yet, Sweden has not taken any steps to, at least, investigate how its weapons might be used in violating the international humanitarian law and hence continues risking its complicity in these war crimes.
Sweden is among the world's top 30th biggest arms producers and both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are some of its main customers. According to the Swedish prominent 135-years-old anti-militarization group, Svenska Freds, the Swedish arms trade to Saudi Arabia has been ongoing since 1998; with a quick suspension in 2015 following a brief diplomatic crisis between the two countries. The greater amount of the trade has occurred in the last seven years. Between 2010 and 2016, the arms sales to Saudi Arabia was worth almost 6 billion Swedish kronor.
Additionally, the United Arab Emirates was able to buy Swedish weapons in 2016 after the Swedish administrative authority, National Inspectorate of Strategic Products (Inspektionen för strategiska produkter) granted a permission for arms trade to the United Arab Emirates for an amount of nearly 11 billion Swedish kronor, which is one of the largest grants of all time.
Prior to that deal, between 2010 and 2016, Sweden exported arms to the UAE worth 2,12 billion kronor. Saab Group (the Swedish aerospace and defence company) recently opened its office in the capital Abu Dhabi end of 2017 – a clear sign of Sweden’s desire to expand its activities in the region.
Sweden has not taken any steps to investigate how its weapons might be used and hence continues risking its complicity in war crimes
The Swedish foreign minister, Margot Walltröm has faced criticism at the Swedish parliament in late 2016 by Sweden’s Left Party, over Sweden’s role in peace-building and arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition. During that hearing, questions were raised about Sweden’s role in investigating committed war crimes and what initiatives the minister intended to take to introduce a national arms embargo against Saudi Arabia.
In response to these questions, the Swedish government has been working on presenting a proposal to tighten arms exports that could come into effect as a law in April of this year. However, this proposition does not deliver an absolute prohibition on arms trade to countries involved in armed conflict with possible war crimes committed.
Sweden should use its efforts to help find a solution, not add fuel to a burning fire
As both a Swedish-Yemeni citizen and an awardee of Svenska Freds’ Eldh-Ekblads Peace Prize for 2017, I take Sweden’s role in the war in Yemen very seriously. At the end of 2016 I urged Sweden to suspend its arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition and today I urge them again to do so. In the coming Swedish parliament debate on the arms exports, Svenska Freds group plans to demonstrate in front of the parliament to demand a halt on all arms trade related to the war in Yemen. And I raise that demand as well.
The ongoing war in Yemen has produced the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II and has the potential to get worse. A Recently published UN report shows how throughout 2017 alone there has been widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all parties involved in the conflict. Both Norway and Finland have reviewed or suspended their arms trade with members of the Saudi-led coalition. Sweden should do the same. Sweden has long stood for peace and conflict resolution and it should use its efforts to help find a solution, not add fuel to a burning fire.

Amnesty International demands Saudi Arabia to halt execution of 14 Shia activists

Amnesty International has urged Saudi authorities to halt imminent execution of 14 young Shia activists who were condemned to death for taking part in anti-regime protests gripping the kingdom's Eastern Province.

The leading international human rights group in a recent statement decried the Saudi Arabian Supreme Court’s decision to uphold death sentences against the group convicted of participating in the protests.
“The men about to be executed told the court they were tortured, which makes their confessions invalid - most of us could be forced to say anything under torture. They were then charged with offences related to their alleged participation in anti-government demonstrations in Saudi Arabia,” read the statement.
Amnesty said, "We must stop this Saudi execution. All that stands between these 14 men and their death is King Salman’s signature. Join us in urging the Saudi authorities to stop the executions now."
In June 2016, the the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced to death the 14 men charged with crimes relating to protesting in what Amnesty says was a "grossly unfair mass trial."
"Following a grossly unfair trial, where the men were put in a group with others being sentenced, the judge handed them the ultimate cruel and inhumane punishment: the death sentence,” said Amnesty.
The activists were convicted of a wide array of crimes that include bomb making, participation in riots and shooting at security vehicles. 
According to reports, the trial process preceding the verdicts took place at the criminal court dealing with terrorism-related cases, a tribunal viewed by legal experts as an Interior Ministry tool to suppress opposition activists.
This is while some of the defendants had said during the hearing sessions that they were forced into false confessions through physical and psychological torture.
In July last year, Samah Hadid, Director of campaigns for the Middle East at Amnesty International, said in a statement that "by confirming these sentences, Saudi Arabia's authorities have displayed their ruthless commitment to the use of the death penalty as a weapon to crush dissent and neutralize political opponents." 
"King Salman's signature is now all that stands between them and their execution. He must immediately quash these death sentences which are a result of sham court proceedings that brazenly flout international fair trial standards." 
In May 2017, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, urged Saudi Arabia to stop using the law against people peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Shia activists belong to the restive Qatif region, which has been the scene of peaceful protest rallies against the ruling Al Saudi regime in recent years.
The rulers in Riyadh have been under fire by international rights groups for using the so-called “anti-terrorism law” to silence critical voices in the kingdom. Riyadh adopted a revised version of the law in 2014, enabling tougher penalties for those found guilty of terrorism.
The tough verdicts were issued amid the latest wave of unrest in the Shia town of Awamiyah in Qatif.
Qatif was home to Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, an outspoken critic of the Saudi policies whose execution in 2016 by the Riyadh regime sparked angry protests at home and abroad as well as widespread international condemnations.
An undated picture taken in 2016 shows a man walking past images of executed Shia cleric Nimr Baqir al-Nimr on a wall in Awamiya town in Saudi Arabia's Eastern province. (Photo by AFP)
Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the oil-rich region, but the marches have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown by the Saudi military.

Saudi Arabia, a United Nations Human Rights Council Member, Continues Rights Crackdown

Saudia Arabia, a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), continues its crackdown on human rights.
The HRC, consisting of 47 Member States elected by a majority of the members of the United Nations General Assembly by direct and secret ballot, is the highest international body dealing with human rights issues around the globe.
The General Assembly is supposed to consider candidate Member States’ contributions to the protection of human rights, as well as voluntary pledges and commitments when applying for council membership. But Saudi Arabia was elected twice in succession despite its well-documented and ongoing human rights violations.
In October 2016, Saudia Arabia was elected as an HRC member for the second successive time, despite a lack of elections or secret ballot nor an assessment of the nation's human rights record. The council distributes seats geographically and the Asia-Pacific States, with four out of 13 seats vacant, presented Saudi Arabia as one of its four candidates. Therefore, Saudi Arabia was able to keep its seat until the end of 2019 without having to undergo due process and faced zero accountability for its human rights violations to date.
The international human rights community reacted with disappointment and condemnation to Saudi Arabia's re-election to the HRC due to its role in the war in Yemen. Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has been leading a coalition war against Houthis rebels in Yemen. The coalition's airstrikes have killed and injured thousands of civilians, including children.
In addition to its violations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia continues to target human rights defenders inside the country. In fact, the rights situation in the kingdom, an absolute monarchy, has markedly deteriorated with a renewed crackdown against human rights defenders since the accession of Mohammad bin Salman as Crown Prince in June 2017. The environment for human rights defenders has become increasingly dangerous as authorities systematically target them on a daily basis.
Writers, academics, online activists and clerics have been among those arrested in recent months. In one week alone in September 2017, more than 20 prominent human rights defenders were detained following a wave of house raids and arrests.

Human rights organisations targeted

Human rights defenders Mohammed Al-Otaibi and  Abdulla Al-Attawi – The GCHR Archives
On 25 January, the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in the capital city of Riyadh sentenced rights defenders Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi and Abdullah Madhi Al-Attawi to 14 and seven years in prison respectively, over rights-related activities. Al-Otaibi and Al-Attawi are founding members of the Union for Human Rights which monitors and advocates for the respect of human rights in Saudi Arabia.
In 2013, they were summoned with two other founding members of the organisation by the public prosecutor in Riyadh and ordered to freeze their activities. Due to serious threats from authorities, Al-Otaibi and Al-Attawi agreed to fully close their organisation but were still referred to the SCC and continued to work as human rights defenders in their personal capacities.
The two were charged with a number of accusations including setting up a human rights organisation prior to obtaining an official permit and spreading petitions deemed harmful to ”the reputation of the Kingdom and its justice and security institutions” on the internet.
The Association for Civil and Political Rights in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA) was also targeted by authorities. All its founding members were arrested and tried on a range of fabricated charges. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, who is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence, was convicted in March 2013 on a number of charges including membership in an unlicensed organisation (the ACPRA), incitement against the kingdom, as well as cooperation with the HRC as stated in the indictment.

Women rights activists targeted

Internet Activist Noha Al-Balawi – The GCHR Archives
Saudi Arabia prohibited women from driving until recently when a royal decree issued in September 2017 permitted women to drive starting in June of 2018. Despite the conservative kingdom's pledges to reform, discriminatory rules against women still exist. For example, the male guardianship system requires women to have the consent of a male relative guardian to travel outside the country, apply for a passport, get married or to even rent their own places.
Women who call for reform and campaign to end the guardianship system are silenced and often face interrogations and arrests for engaging in online advocacy work. On the day of royal decree announcement to repeal the ban on women driving, authorities phoned several prominent women’s rights defenders to warn them against making comments on the decision or they would face legal consequences.
Activist Noha Al-Balawi, a college student from the city of Tabuk in northwestern Saudi Arabia, was arrested on 23 January for speaking out online on Saudia Arabian politics as well as supporting of women's rights. On 5 February, Al-Balawi's detention was extended another month.
According to some reports, Al-Balawi was arrested for publishing a YouTube video in which she criticised Saudi Arabia's relations with Israel. However, the International Federation for Human Rights reported that she was questioned about her rights activism:
The authorities questioned her on tweets and videos she had posted, including on a video in which she supports the driving campaign for women and shows solidarity with the prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia. She was also questioned about her connections with the successful campaign on women’s right to drive, and with the women’s rights and human rights movement in Saudi Arabia generally.
On 22 February 2018, reliable sources confirmed to the GCHR that Al-Balawi has been released after 29 days of arbitrary detention.

Observers say China needs consistent leadership as CPC proposes removing presidential term limit

By Yang Sheng

The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee made public its proposal on amendment to the country's Constitution Sunday.

The proposal includes addition of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era to the Constitution and removing the expression of term limits for the country's President and Vice-President, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Removing the constitutional restriction to two terms is a significant decision made by the CPC to serve its historic mission in the new era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, Su Wei, a professor at the Party School of the CPC Chongqing Municipal Committee, told the Global Times on Sunday.

"Especially in the period from 2020 to 2035, which is a crucial stage for China to basically realize socialist modernization, China and the CPC need a stable, strong and consistent leadership. So removal of the section of the clause about the presidency in the Constitution is serving the most important and fundamental national interest and the Party's historic mission," Su said.

In a two-stage development plan of China, drawn up by President Xi Jinping, who is also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, the first stage is "from 2020 to 2035" which is "to see that socialist modernization is basically realized"; and the second stage from "2035 to the middle of the 21st century," China will develop "into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful."

"The decision has been made after careful consideration, and this is an adjustment to serve China's current situation and future development, which is consistent with Chinese political characteristics and goals," a Chinese scholar who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Sunday.

The trinity of the general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, Chinese president and chairman of the Central Military Commission has positive meaning, the expert said. "In order to achieve the great goal from 2020 to the middle of the 21st century, China needs a centralized and unified leadership; otherwise the decentralization of authority will impact realization of the great goal."

On Saturday, Xi stressed the important role of the Constitution.

"No organization or individual has the power to overstep the Constitution or the law," Xi said while presiding over a group study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, Xinhua reported.

The CPC Central Committee also proposed writing Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era into the country's Constitution. The proposal was made public on Sunday, Xinhua reported.

The proposed Constitutional amendment requires the approval of the National People's Congress, which is scheduled to hold its annual session in March.

Supervisory reform

The CPC Central Committee also proposed listing the supervisory commission as a new State organ in the Constitution.

According to the proposal, supervisory organs will be listed together with administrative, judicial and procuratorial organs of the State, all of which are created by the people's congress to which they are responsible and by which they are supervised. 

Supervisory commissions, the supervisory organ of the State, will be made up of national and local commissions, according to the document.

China has established supervision commissions in every county, city and province now that the last remaining county, Daxin in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, set up its supervision commission on Sunday, Xinhua reported. 

The new nationwide supervision commissions incorporate existing supervisory, corruption prevention and control agencies within the government and procuratorates and are in charge of three major duties: supervision, investigation and punishment.

Guo Yong, director of the Center for Anti-corruption and Governance of Tsinghua University, said that "the country's reform on supervisory commissions has multiple significance. It strengthens the Party's leadership on anti-corruption, and it covers everyone who executes public authority," not just Party members."

The National Supervisory Commission will oversee local commissions and answer to the National People's Congress and its Standing Committee.

The supervisory commissions will "independently exercise their power of supervision and not be subject to interference by any administrative organ, public organization or individual," said the proposal.

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Michelle Obama To Release ‘Deeply Personal’ Memoir In November

By Hayley Miller

“I talk about my roots and how a girl from the South Side found her voice,” the former first lady tweeted.

Former first lady Michelle Obama announced new details Sunday about her much-anticipated memoir.
Becoming, scheduled for a Nov. 13 release, will offer “deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling” about Obama’s incredible life as “one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era,” according to the book’s website.
“I talk about my roots and how a girl from the South Side found her voice,” Obama tweeted Sunday. “I hope my journey inspires readers to find the courage to become whoever they aspire to be.”

Writing BECOMING has been a deeply personal experience. I talk about my roots and how a girl from the South Side found her voice. I hope my journey inspires readers to find the courage to become whoever they aspire to be. I can't wait to share my story. 
The book will be released simultaneously in 24 languages worldwide, according to a statement from its book’s publisher, Penguin Random House.
“Becoming is an unusually intimate reckoning from a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same,” the publisher said.
The former first lady is scheduled to embark on a U.S. and international book tour, with dates to be announced at a later date. You can sign up for information about the tour dates here. Obama’s first book, American Grown, was published in 2012 and chronicled the White House cooking and nutrition initiatives she spearheaded as first lady. Her husband, former President Barack Obama, is set to publish a new memoir in the spring of 2019.

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EU Warns Pakistan of Consequences If Christian Mother Asia Bibi, Sentenced to Death, Is Not Released


A representative of the European Union has warned the government of Pakistan that unless it secures the freedom of Christian mother of five Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, it will suffer economic trade consequences.

The EU Cooperation in Pakistan website reported earlier in February that Jan Figel, the special envoy of EU for the promotion of religious freedom around the world, recently told the Pakistani government during a visit to the country that the outcome of Bibi's case is going to be directly linked to trade favors the EU bestows upon Pakistan.
The trade favors in question refer to the Generalized System of Preferences plus status, which in 2013 was awarded to Pakistan, allowing it duty-free access to the EU markets, including 20 percent exports to EU markets at zero tariffs and another 70 percent at preferential rates.
Ending its GSP plus status poses a severe threat to Pakistan's sinking economy, the article explained.
"The EU communicator stressed the need to resolve Asia Bibi case because Italy, one of the EU strategic partners, is pushing hard to parallel the renewal of GSP plus status with the release of Asia Bibi, an internationally known Christian victim of false blasphemy charges languishing in the Pakistani prison for the last eight years," it noted.
Bibi's legal ordeal began in 2009, after Muslim co-workers accused her of blasphemy for praising Jesus Christ and allegedly insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
The mother of five denied the charges, but was found guilty and sentenced to death in November 2010. Her case has drawn major international attention and outrage from human rights groups.
She has languished in prison following several appeals and hearings, with her fate still uncertain.
Christian lawyer Naeem Shakir explained that the case is also very important to Islamic hardliners in Pakistan, who want her to serve as an example of the consequences of breaking blasphemy laws.
"The plight of Bibi has had a dampening effect on minorities. Their grief cannot be addressed because of religious retrogressive and extremist groups," Shakir said.
The EU's meetings on GSP plus status for Pakistan have reportedly focused in part on Bibi. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, prime minister of Pakistan, has been directly told that Bibi's freedom will play a notable role on the outcome.
"The EU countries have started believing that Pakistan's Supreme Court, appeasing certain political and fundamental forces of Pakistan, is intentionally delaying the hearing of Asia Bibi. In his several recent speeches, Justice Saqib Nisar, the Chief Justice of Pakistan has urged Pakistani courts for speedy trials of pending cases, but still, he is not bringing Asia's case before the Judges for determining her fate," the EU Cooperation in Pakistan article stated.
"During Islamabad dharna (sit-in), the TLY gathering was continuously shouting for hanging Asia Bibi, and it is known to all that some very close parliamentarians of the ruling party were supporting that anti-blasphemy protest."
Pakistan was listed in January as No. 5 on Open Doors USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith, with blasphemy accusations cited as one of the major sources of oppression.
The EU has, meanwhile, sought to honor Bibi in other ways. In 2017, she was nominated for the Sakharov Prize, a prestigious religious freedom award.

Family of Pakistani woman condemned for blasphemy urges pope’s help

Saying they want to ask Pope Francis to do “everything he can” to secure the freedom of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Catholic woman imprisoned in 2009 and sentenced to death for blasphemy, her husband and daughter said they remain “hopeful” about her situation heading into an audience today with the pontiff.
Nine years ago in Pakistan’s Punjab region, Asia Naurīn Bibi was accused of insulting the prophet Muhammed during an argument with farmers that arose from her drinking some water from a well, which she was prohibited from doing because she’s Christian. Today she is still in solitary confinement in a female prison in Multan, about an eight hours drive from her family.
“She’s all right,” said her husband, Ashiq Masih, in an interview with Crux. “She was a little bit sick but not psychologically. Still she has hope that she will maybe come out of jail and live with the family.”
Masih and their daughter Esham Ashiq are in Rome this week with the support of Aid to the Church in Need, a global papal foundation that supports persecuted Christians around the world, and after having met the city’s mayor Virginia Raggi, will have an audience with Francis at the Vatican on Saturday Feb. 24.
“We are very honored to see the Holy Father, Pope Francis. We are excited to see him. It would be a blessing for us and for Asia Bibi as well. We hope that with the prayer of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, Asia Bibi will be freed very soon,” Masih said.
“We want to ask the Holy Father to do as much as he can for the freedom of Asia Bibi,” he said.
During the Saturday meeting, Francis told Masih and Ashiq that “I think very often of your mother and I pray for her.” Ashiq told Francis that her mother had asked her to give him a kiss in her name.
On the same day of the audience at 6:00 p.m. local time, Rome’s Colosseum will be bathed in red light to raise awareness for the persecution of Christians all over the world. Civic, European and Church representatives will be present for the occasion in a show of support for what organizers call the “most important human right: Religious freedom.”
It’s part of a global initiative by Aid to the Church in Need that will include similar events at the same date and time in Iraq and Syria.
In January, the U.S. State Department placed Pakistan on a watchlist due to “severe violations of religious freedom,” and global rankings show that the Muslim-majority country has some of the most severe blasphemy laws in the world.
Asia Bibi has experienced the harshness of these laws on her own skin, since she became the first woman in Pakistan to be condemned to death by hanging for allegedly criticizing the prophet Muhammad.
Bibi has denied these charges vehemently before the courts. On November 11, 2010 the court excluded any mitigating circumstances for the case and found her guilty, forcing the family to appeal to the High Court in Lahore. In 2014 came the second disappointment, when the court confirmed the death penalty.
Since then, the Supreme Court has suspended the execution and the judgment has been left to the courts. Meanwhile the story of Bibi, an illiterate Catholic farmworker and mother, has become a figure of national debate in Pakistan, making the decision of the case not only judicial but also highly political.
“We have been waiting for the past eight years, and every hearing was not in favor of Asia Bibi’s freedom,” Masih said through a translator. “Still, we have hope in Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ will help us and help Asia Bibi get out of jail very soon, because we are just struggling and struggling, and hopefully in a couple of months a hearing date will be fixed.”
Tensions in the country’s capital of Islamabad continue to rise, and fundamentalist groups have held several rallies calling for the hanging of Asia Bibi. Things have gotten so bad that the government had to issue a document stating it did not intend to change the blasphemy laws, and even mentioned Bibi’s case directly.
“Kill Asia Bibi” is a recurring chant in the city’s streets, local news outlets report, and there is even a $10,000 bounty for whoever kills her.
“We visited the supreme court in Pakistan last week, and we met with the registrar. We asked him to reschedule the hearing date of Asia Bibi because, at the moment, the situation is that Pakistanis are not supporting her, so I asked that they just hold on for a couple of days and we will see what we can do,” Masih said.
Despite the sentiment in the country, Bibi’s family continues to be optimistic about her return and expresses complete confidence in their faith.
“She will come back and live with the family,” her husband said.
Beyond being marginalized and persecuted by the vast majority of the country, Masih also said that he does not get support from the local Catholic community. “We don’t get any support, not even from the Church, not from the bishops, not from priests and not from the community as well,” he said.
Though many non-profit organizations in Pakistan claim to support the case of Asia Bibi and her family, he adds, “they are good for nothing.” Masih is grateful for the help issued from Europe and all over the world, but he added that this support is not reaching Bibi and her family.
Masih claims that he and his family must sustain the legal fees alone, and stated that “no one can support us from abroad.”
“The Church receives the funds for Asia Bibi and they ask us to go to the Church for interviews and all, but after the interviews they are not supporting us or Asia Bibi,” he said.
Despite this, Masih recognizes that the situation in Pakistan is difficult and that a part of those funds, in his opinion, are directed to help many others who live through a similar situation. Also, he adds, the “Church is not personally involved, especially openly, in the case of Asia Bibi, because a relationship with her is not safe for anyone.”
In 2011 the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, who had expressed sympathy for Bibi’s case and began a plan to revise the blasphemy laws, was murdered in Islamabad by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri, who was later hanged.
Not long after, Shahbaz Bhatti, a minister for religious minorities and a Catholic, was murdered by extremists for trying to help Bibi.
“Whoever has a relationship with Asia Bibi could be killed,” Masih said, adding that people live in fear that they “might be next.”
As Bibi and her family await sentencing amid national turmoil, even international support appears to be flagging. For the past six months, five Italian senators in the European Union and the Christian Unity Party have attempted to pressure Pakistan into freeing Bibi and promoting religious freedom in order to be granted “GSP” status.
Generalized System of Preferences, or GSP, allows for duty free exports to the EU for developing countries, which gives a strong boost to these economies - around $6 billion in the case of Pakistan.
On Feb. 20, the EU granted Gps status to Pakistan and expressed satisfaction with the country’s implementation of 27 core European conventions, including the National Action Plan for Human Rights, without any conditions regarding Bibi’s status.
In this general context, the appeal to the pope for Bibi’s liberation comes at a crucial moment, when most legal, political or diplomatic outlets are gone. Back in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI released a statement calling for her release to no avail.
“I feel alone without my mother. I miss her very much,” said Bibi’s daughter Esham. “I always pray that my mother will soon come out of prison and live with me and the family in peace.”

In March of 2016, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, formally invited Francis to visit the country. It remains to be seen if Saturday’s audience with Bibi’s family will encourage the pope to apply his political heft in yet another periphery of the world.

#Pakistan - Violent clash erupts between #Christians and #Muslims, few injured

By  Madeeha Bakhsh

Violent clash erupted between Christians and Muslims in Faisalabad’s neighborhood. In keeping with details, few people were injured as a result of this clash. The incident occurred on Friday, February 23, 2018 when miscreants painted a wall in front of a church in Illahi Abad area of Faisalabad.
Details emerged that, the group arrived and started painting the wall, afterwards wrote an Islamic slogan on it. Seeing the malevolent act, local Christians flew off the handle, engaging local Muslims in a brawl. The brawl soon turned into a clash which left few injured.
However, the situation was brought under control by timely intervention of local police. The clash left local Christians are fearful of further act of vengeance. Christian residents of Illahi Abad have urged the Chief Minister of Punjab to take notice of the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.