Monday, November 19, 2018

Video Report - #YellowVests - #France - Social media drives "yellow vest" protests

Video - Responsibilities & a surprise guest! Barack tells his version of meeting Michelle

China urges US to stop wagging finger at others

Certain countries should stop finger-wagging at other countries but to match words with deeds, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Sunday when commenting on U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's recent remarks of China.
A spokesperson statement quoted Pence as saying, during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' meeting held in Papua New Guinea, that China's aid to Pacific Island countries saddled them with loans they could not afford.
"We suggest a certain country matches its words with its deeds, rather than wag the finger at others," Hua said in the statement. "The country should treat all countries on an equal footing no matter big or small, respect other countries' right of following a development path that accords with their own national conditions and make real contributions to developing countries."
Hua cited President Xi Jinping's speeches during the APEC meeting, which stressed both international and regional cooperation should adhere to the principle of openness, development, inclusiveness and innovation, as well as rules-based approach, to cope with common challenge and achieve mutual benefits.
As the APEC has entered a critical stage of development, the Chinese side believes that all parties should demonstrate a responsible and constructive attitude, and calls for negotiation under the rules made collectively when encountering differences, rather than setting barriers, according to Hua.
She said China had conducted sound cooperation with many countries, including mutually beneficial cooperation with developing countries under the framework of South-South cooperation.
"Upholding justice while pursuing shared interests and the principle of sincerity, real results, affinity, and good faith, China has contributed to the social and economic development of these countries within its capability," she said, adding that this kind of assistance, with no political conditions attached, had fully respected the willingness of the recipient countries and their people.
"There is not a single country getting into debt crisis due to its cooperation with China. On the contrary, they have all improved the capacity of independent development and people's livelihood so the cooperation with China is widely welcomed by vast developing countries and their people.
"The international community has a fair opinion on the cooperation between China and other developing countries," she said.
"As an important member in the Asia-Pacific region, China supports the APEC in continuing its active role on promoting regional cooperation and common development," she said.
China stands ready to work with all parties to enhance partnership and the concept of building a community with a shared future, so as to promote the establishment of a new type of international order featuring mutual respect, justice and fairness and win-win cooperation, she said.

What democracy? 70% of ‘not free’ countries get US military aid

Washington has a habit of bombing defenseless nations in the name of democracy, but isn’t the least bit squeamish about selling weapons and giving military aid to countries its own human rights watchdogs deem dictatorial.
Freedom House, a US-based non-governmental organization (NGO) set up in 1941, publishes an annual Freedom in the World report, which categorizes countries as either “free”, “partly free”, or “not free.” Funded almost entirely by the US government, Freedom House considers the US and its allies “free” while it designated enemy countries such as Russia and China “not free.” The group’s 2018 report described 2.7 billion people living in 49 countries as tragically “not free.”
Yet of those 49 countries, at least 35 – or 71 percent  – have either been customers of the US military-industrial complex, or received some form of military assistance from the Pentagon over the previous three years.

‘Worst of the worst’

Back in September 2017, Rich Whitney of Truthout cross-referenced the Freedom House report and the Pentagon reports on US military assistance, and came to the stunning conclusion: despite the public proclamations about spreading democracy and opposing dictatorships, Washington has provided military assistance of some kind to 73 percent of the “not free” countries on the NGO’s list. Little has changed since then.
Twelve of those countries are so awful, according to Freedom House, that they have been dubbed “the worst of the worst.”Yet half of them – Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Central African Republic and Libya – are ongoing recipients of US military aid.
Sure, Somalia has been ravaged by civil war, terrorism and clan strife since 1991, but the US keeps propping up the current central government, providing military assistance as well as “Make Somalia Great Again” hats.
The Central African Republic has been gripped by civil war between Christians and Muslims since 2012, and has a paltry 9/100 Freedom House ranking. A UN arms embargo has been in force since 2013. That has not stopped the US from delivering 48 vehicles to the CAR armed forces in August this year.
Libya is another case worth highlighting. In 2010, the North African nation was declared a “high human development” country by the United Nations, ranking 53rd out of 162 countries surveyed. The very next year, however, the country’s government was overthrown by US-and NATO-backed rebels. Seven years after being bombed into a moon crater and left to the tender mercies of warlords, tribal militias and even Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Libya has dropped to 108th place in the UN rankings, has a 9/100 score on the Freedom House index, and features open-air slave markets. On the other hand, the officially recognized government receives US military aid, so there’s that.

Saudi Arabia: Interest over moralizing

One of the worst-ranked countries on the Freedom House index is Saudi Arabia – with only 7/100 on the index, far below Washington’s favorite villains Venezuela (26), Russia (20) China (14), and even Iran (17), though not below North Korea (3).
As the State Department put it last month, however, the Saudi kingdom is the US “largest foreign military sales (FMS) customer, with over $114 billion in active cases.” Foggy Bottom expects a “significant increase” in FMS due to the $110 billion agreement to modernize the Saudi armed forces, signed in May 2017 by US President Donald Trump and King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. So far, $14.5 billion in sales have been implemented under this initiative.
Despite the ongoing calls for sanctions against Riyadh over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, the Trump administration has been reluctant to interfere with the weapons sales.
That has not stopped Germany from halting weapons deliveries to Saudi Arabia, citing Khashoggi’s death. Saudi Arabia was Berlin’s second-best customer, after Algeria, with an estimated $457 million worth of contracts just this year.
Norway and Spain have also canceled Saudi arms contracts, but France, which has ongoing deals with Riyadh for almost $12 billion, is so far refusing to follow suit.

Britain's enemy is not Russia but its own ruling class, UN report confirms

John Wight

As the UK political establishment rips itself to pieces over Brexit, a far greater crisis continues to afflict millions of victims of Tory austerity.
A devastating UN report into poverty in the UK provides incontrovertible evidence that the enemy of the British people is the very ruling class that has gone out of its way these past few years to convince them it is Russia.
Professor Philip Alston, in his capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, spent two weeks touring the United Kingdom. He did so investigating the impact of eight years of one of the most extreme austerity programs among advanced G20 economies in response to the 2008 financial crash and subsequent global recession.
What he found was evidence of a systematic, wilful, concerted and brutal economic war unleashed by the country's right-wing Tory establishment against the poorest and most vulnerable section of British society – upending the lives of millions of people who were not responsible for the aforementioned financial crash and recession but who have been forced to pay the price.
From the report's introduction:
"It…seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for Suicide Prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation."
Though as a citizen of the UK I respectfully beg to differ with the professor's claim that such social and economic carnage seems"contrary to British values,"(on the contrary it is entirely in keeping with the values of the country's Tory establishment, an establishment for whom the dehumanization of the poor and working class is central to its ideology), the point he makes about it being "obvious to anyone who opens their eyes," is well made.
For it is now the case that in every town and city centre in Britain, it is impossible to walk in any direction for more than a minute before coming across homeless people begging in the street. And the fact that some 13,000 of them are former soldiers, casualties of the country's various military adventures in recent years, undertaken in service to Washington, exposes the pious platitudes peddled by politicians and the government as reverence for the troops and their 'sacrifice,' as insincere garbage.
Overall, 14 million people in the UK are now living in poverty, a figure which translates into an entire fifth of the population. Four million of them are children, while, according to Professor Alston, 1.5 million people are destitute – that is, unable to afford the basic necessities of life.
And this is what the ruling class of the fifth largest economy in the world, a country that parades itself on the world stage as a pillar of democracy and human rights, considers progress.
The values responsible for creating such a grim social landscape are compatible with the 18th not 21st century. They are proof positive that the network of elite private schools – Eton, Harrow, Fettes College et al. – where those responsible for this human carnage are inculcated with the sense of entitlement and born to rule ethos that defines them, are Britain's hotbeds of extremism.
Professor Alston:"British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today's world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society."
Here, set out above in bold relief, is the barbarism that walks hand in hand with free market capitalism. It is the same barbarism that was responsible for pushing post-Soviet Russia into a decade-long economic and social abyss in the 1990s, and the values that have pushed 14 million people in the UK into the same economic and social abyss in our time.
Austerity, it bears emphasizing, is not and never has been a viable economic response to recession in a given economy.
Instead, it is an ideological club, wielded on behalf of the rich and big business to ensure that the price paid for said economic recession is borne exclusively by those least able to bear it - namely the poor and working people. It is class war by any other name, packaged and presented as legitimate government policy.
However in Britain's case in 2018, this is a war like no other because as Professor Philip Alston's report lays bare, one side in this war has been throwing all the punches and one side has been taking them.
As the saying goes, wars take place when the government tells you who the enemy is; revolutions take place when you work it out for yourself.

Nancy Ajram - Ah W Noss / نانسي عجرم - فيديو كليب اه و نص - Arab Music Video -

Revealed: 366 alleged war crimes but only 79 investigations. Pressure builds on ministers over UK-backed Saudi bombing in Yemen

THERE have been 366 alleged war crimes in Yemen but only 79 investigations by the Saudi-led coalition, we can reveal.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence has conducted no inquiries of its own despite the UK backing the coalition’s strikes on the shattered country.
British civil servants admit they do not know how many investigations into alleged war crimes are still ongoing or whether any incidents involved smart bombs part-built in Scotland.
Since Yemen’s war escalated in 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has been accused of targeting schools, hospitals and civilian areas with airstrikes, prompting international condemnation.
Observers report air raids have intensified this month with 62% of the 42 raids monitored by the Yemen Data Project said to have hit civilian targets.
The MoD said the number of alleged violations of international humanitarian law listed on an official database was 381.
Of these, 15 were duplicate entries, which means some alleged incidents were recorded on more than one occasion.
They also said they do not have access to all the information required to assess whether war crimes have been committed, pointing out that investigations are conducted by the Saudi-led coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT).
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP said the Saudi-led coalition’s assessment team “does not carry any legitimacy”.
He added: “These revelations of hundreds of alleged violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen is incredibly concerning. It is even more worrying that the MoD is unaware of how many have been have been investigated.
“There must be a full and independent UN-led investigation into all violations in the conflict to ensure all sides are held to account. The UK Government is not a mere bystander in the war, it is an active player.
“Despite the mounting evidence of breaches in international law, the UK Government is still content on looking the other way, whilst simultaneously supplying arms and military advice to the Saudi government. The sale of arms to the Saudis must end now.”
Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s arms expert, said: “These figures make an absolute mockery of the government’s claim that the UK has a ‘robust’ system for exporting arms.
“With the MoD not even trying to investigate coalition airstrikes and the UK relying on implausible Saudi assurances and the coalition’s deeply-flawed investigations, it’s clear that ministers have no reasonable means of assessing the risk that UK arms exported to Saudi Arabia will end up killing civilians in Yemen.”
The UK Government has faced criticism and legal challenges over its arms sales to Saudi Arabia but ministers have defended lucrative contracts with the Saudis by insisting it has “one of the most robust export control regimes in the world”.
The Department of International Trade, which sanctions export licences for arms sales, has repeatedly said that “risks around human rights abuses are a key part of its licensing assessment”.
“We do not know how many investigations the JIAT are conducting,” the MoD said.
For three years, the Saudi-led coalition, backed by the UK and other allies, has waged war against Houthi rebels in support of the Yemeni government.
More than 10,000 people have died while the country faces widespread famine.
There have been a number of attacks on civilians, including the bombing in August of a school bus when 40 children died.
Under international pressure, the Saudis admitted the attack was unjustified and promised to hold those responsible to account.
A damning report by Human Rights Watch in August accused the JIAT of failing to “provide credible, impartial, and transparent investigations into alleged coalition laws-of-war violations”.
Others, including the UN Panel of Experts, Amnesty International and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), have reached similar conclusions about JIAT’s failings.
Scottish Labour MP for Glasgow North East and Shadow Scotland Minister Paul Sweeney said: “It is increasingly clear the UK Government views lives in Yemen as expendable. I intend to raise further questions of ministers in Parliament.”
Ross Greer MSP, international relations spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “That the overwhelming majority of their suspected crimes are not even being investigated has not slowed the UK Government down in continuing the supply of arms, as well as logistical and political support for the Saudi regime.
“It’s time the arms sales end, the political support ceases and the sanctions begin. Otherwise the government’s rhetoric around human rights will be revealed as appalling hypocrisy.”
Oxfam said: “All parties to the conflict have committed serious abuses of international humanitarian law.
“No-one should be supplying arms that could be used in a conflict which is causing such misery to Yemen’s people. This includes the UK Government which has a legal duty to refuse the transfer of arms where a clear risk exists that they might be used in the violation of international humanitarian law.”
The Department of International Trade said: “The government takes its export responsibilities very seriously operating one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.
“Risks around human rights abuses are a key part of our licensing assessment and the government will not license the export of items where to do so would be inconsistent with any provision of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.”

Why no global outcry over Saudi war in Yemen?

By Syed Zafar Mehdi

On Sunday, the U.S. intelligence agency confirmed that the brazen killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was ordered by the Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman, which must have finally given some comfort to his restless soul. The truth was not hidden from the world, as it was already established by the Turkish authorities, but now we have the word straight from the horse’s mouth.
Khashoggi’s killing led to unprecedented global outcry against the Saudi regime because of its wanton disregard for human rights. It dominated newspaper headlines and primetime TV discussions for weeks as the mystery surrounding the dissident journalist’s killing grew.
To their credit, Turkish government authorities left no stone unturned to unravel the murder mystery and expose the masterminds of the most diabolical crime. The whole world waited with bated breath because suddenly something had stirred people’s conscience.
Today everyone knows about Khashoggi and everyone knows his murderer. Everyone is talking about it and tweeting about it. But, hold on, this is not the only crime his murderer has committed. His murderer has the blood of thousands of Yemenis on his hands and he is directly responsible for the starvation of millions of people in Yemen. Does the world know about it? Does it care?
A much-anticipated UN Security Council resolution calling for a cessation of Saudi-led war in Yemen and for the humanitarian aid to be allowed to reach millions of starving people was reportedly “stalled” this week after British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who had moved the resolution, met the Saudi crown prince in Riyadh.
The prince, reports say, ‘threw a fit’ about the resolution. He didn’t like the idea of food reaching the starving Yemenis because he wishes to see them killed either through bombardment or with starvation. Hunt surrendered tamely because U.K. happens to have arms trade with the Saudi regime.
Saudi-led war in Yemen has stretched into its third year now, killing more than 10,000 people and leaving the country completely devastated. The humanitarian situation in the war-ravaged country has been termed ‘catastrophic’ by aid groups. And the world has chosen to be a mute spectator.
The blockade of the country means around 18 million people don’t have access to food, which could eventually and inevitably lead to the worst famine in more than a century. Already 2.2 million children are acutely malnourished and fighting for their lives. The World Food Program warned this week that the country was “marching to the brink of starvation”.
Why has the world chosen to be silent even as warnings of famine have assumed alarming proportions? Akshaya Kumar, a senior Human Rights Watch official, says it’s because of the “sway” Saudi has over some members of the UN Security Council, which has prevented the UN in naming and shaming the regime in Riyadh. “At this point, vague appeals to ‘all parties’ to improve their behavior won’t work; Any resolution that doesn’t specifically mention the Saudi-led coalition by name and call it out for its role in the carnage in Yemen won’t have the required effect in Riyadh,” he said in an interview.
The patronage of world powers like the United States and United Kingdom has ensured that Saudi rulers escape culpability for their war crimes in Yemen. Their support for the Saudi-led coalition in the form of arms, training, intelligence, and refueling of bombers has compounded the misery of Yemenis. The two countries continue to sell billions of dollars in arms to the Saudi regime, thus are directly complicit in the war crimes being committed against the Yemenis.
While bombings by the Saudi-led coalition have devastated the country, U.S. drones have also been flying in the air. A new report by AP documenting civilian deaths in Yemen reveals that the U.S. drones have contributed to several civilian killings this year, while pretending to be fighting Al-Qaeda’s local franchise. What Americans did in Iraq and Afghanistan previously, they are now doing that in Yemen, directly and indirectly.  
Today millions of children in Yemen weigh less than an average American’s weekend lunch. One of them dies every ten minutes due to acute malnutrition and various diseases. United Nations has already estimated that 10 million people may starve to death, majority of them children, due to the Saudi-led war and blockade. Yet, there is no anger, no outrage, no vigils, no street demonstrations, no primetime TV debates, no editorials. It is a forgotten war.
Human rights have been reduced to a joke by the Saudi-led coalition and its international sponsors involved in Yemen war. The only way to end this war is to stop arms sale to the Saudi regime and to hold all parties – which includes Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Sudan, Egypt, Jordon, Morocco, U.S. and U.K. – accountable for their war crimes.


Amnesty International has warned against what appears to be imminent executions of a dozen Shia men on death row in Saudi Arabia, blasting the Riyadh regime for resorting to death sentences as a “tool” to suppress the kingdom’s Shia minorities.

The UK-based rights body said in a report on Wednesday that there are signs the jailed Shia men – who had been sentenced to death in 2016 – could be facing imminent execution as they were transferred to Saudi Arabia’s so-called Presidency of State Security.
That institution was created last year with the aim of diminishing the powers of the Interior Ministry and putting the king in direct control of “state security” matters.
“The families of the men are terrified by this development and the lack of information provided to them on the status of the cases of their loved ones,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director.
“Given the secrecy surrounding Saudi Arabia’s judicial proceedings, we fear that this development signals the imminent execution of the twelve men,” Morayed added.
She further said the men had been found guilty of what is claimed to be spying for Iran in “a grossly unfair trial.”
“Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prolific executioners and regularly uses the death penalty as a political tool to crush dissent from the country’s Shia minority, demonstrating its total contempt for the value of human life,” Morayed added.
Saudi Shia Muslims have long been subjected to discriminatory and abusive policies by the regime in Riyadh. Saudi rulers have also kept the kingdom’s eastern regions – where the Shia Muslims are mainly based – under crackdown in attempt to prevent the minority community from practicing their religion.
Dozens of Shia activists have been languishing behind bars since 2011 merely for participating in protests calling for full equality and basic rights for all Saudis.
In January 2016, Riyadh executed prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, one of the most vocal critics of the royal family and an organizer of peaceful anti-regime protests.
Al Saudi’s suppression campaign is not restricted to the kingdom’s Shia minority. The authorities in Riyadh are notorious for intolerance towards all forms of criticisms and dissent.
Amnesty’s warning comes as Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has been in spotlight for weeks over the brutal murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- at Riyadh’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul, Turkey.
Preliminary investigations have confirmed Khashoggi’s murder – to which Riyadh also confessed.
Investigators are now working to determine who has ordered the assassination, which was carried out by a team of 15 Saudi operatives – and where the journalist’s body is.
Many believe bin Salman was behind the murder as members of his inner circle were part of the 15 hit men.
Amnesty’s warning comes as Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has been in spotlight for weeks over the brutal murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- at Riyadh’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul, Turkey.
Preliminary investigations have confirmed Khashoggi’s murder – to which Riyadh also confessed.
Investigators are now working to determine who has ordered the assassination, which was carried out by a team of 15 Saudi operatives – and where the journalist’s body is.
Many believe bin Salman was behind the murder as members of his inner circle were part of the 15 hit men.
A journalist and writer in Saudi Arabia has reportedly died as a result of torture while in the regime custody as the conservative oil-rich kingdom grapples with an international crisis over the murder of prominent dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The rights group Prisoners of Conscience, which is an independent non-governmental organization seeking to promote human rights in Saudi Arabia, announced in a post on its official Twitter page that Turki bin Abdulaziz al-Jasser lost his life due to severe torture he was subjected to during criminal investigations at a prison.
Saudi authorities claimed that Jasser administered the Twitter account Kashkool or @calouche_ar, which disclosed rights violations committed by high-ranking officials and members of the royal family.
Several sources have reported that Saudi authorities discovered Jasser's real identity after a team of the kingdom's cyber spies infiltrated the Twitter headquarters in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, as part of the so-called Saudi online army founded by Saud al-Qahtani, the former chief adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Qahtani is said to be the architect of a social media campaign against Muslim preachers, intellectuals and critics of the Riyadh regime.
Qahtani, who was fired after being blamed for Khashoggi's murder, posted a tweet in August 2017, saying that fake names on Twitter would not protect those behind the accounts critical of the Saudi royal family.
Khashoggi went missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul on October 2.
A senior Turkish official told the Washington Post on November 2 that the slain journalist’s body was destroyed in acid on the grounds of the Saudi consulate or at the nearby residence of the Saudi consul general.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said biological evidence discovered in the diplomatic mission garden supports the theory that Khashoggi’s body was disposed of close to where he was killed and dismembered.
“Khashoggi’s body was not in need of burying,” the official was quoted as saying.
Khashoggi, a distinguished commentator on Saudi affairs who wrote for The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section, had lived in self-imposed exile in the US since September 2017, when he left Saudi Arabia over fears of the Riyadh regime’s crackdown on critical voices.
His death has subjected the Riyadh regime and Mohammed bin Salman to strict scrutiny.
Hatice Cengiz, the journalist's fiancée, has accused Saudi officials of a massive cover-up.

Khashoggi killing embarrassed France: French journalist

A French journalist said the killing of Jamal Khashoggi “embarrassed” France and there was no doubt that Turkey had shared information and recordings regarding the murder with his country.
“This incident embarrassed France,” Jean-Dominique Merchet, working for French daily L’Opinion, told Anadolu Agency, and added that Saudi Arabia was a strategic ally of his country.
“There is no doubt that Turkey gave information to France. Remarks of Canada’s Prime Minister [Justin Trudeau] stating that he listened to the recordings is proof that the information reached France as well,” said Merchet.
Merchet said that motive behind French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s remarks was to maintain good relations with Saudi Arabia.
Last week, Le Drian claimed that his country does not have the recordings, following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks stating that Ankara had shared recordings related to the Khashoggi killing with some countries including France.
“The French foreign minister went too far, and he has to know how to talk to a president,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, accusing Le Drian of not telling the truth.
“It is clear that the Khashoggi murder has weakened [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman and his image in the international community has been damaged,” Merchet said, adding that Saudis were not aware of how serious the issue was.
Merchet said that in order to make progress on the Khashoggi case and Yemen issues, everyone should have the same opinion in Europe.
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist working for The Washington Post, was killed shortly after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul Oct. 2.
Saudi Arabia had offered shifting explanations for Khashoggi’s disappearance before suggesting he was killed during a botched rendition operation by rogue agents.

Pakistan's Christians live in state of fear after blasphemy row

The violent reaction to a supreme court ruling to free the mother of five has reminded many of Pakistan's Christians of how vulnerable they are.

When furious protesters gathered around Pakistan late last month in the wake of Asia Bibi’s acquittal for blasphemy, a senior police officer visited the Islamabad slum of France Colony. It might be best, the policeman advised, if the mainly Christian residents closed their shops, went home and laid low in case there was trouble.
As the nationwide protests brought the country to a halt for three days, the slum’s new church was closed and services cancelled, while the congregation warily watched the demonstrations unfold.
More than a fortnight after Mrs Bibi, a Catholic farmhand, was acquitted of defaming the prophet Mohammed, she is still hiding in legal limbo, awaiting asylum in the West. Her case also hangs uncomfortably over the country’s Christians.
The violent reaction to a supreme court ruling to free the mother of five has once again highlighted the country’s harsh blasphemy laws, but has also reminded many of Pakistan’s Christians of how vulnerable they are.
“We live under fear, the whole country is under tension,” said Younis Masih, a 61-year-old retired soldier and member of the slum’s Presbyterian Church told The Sunday Telegraph last week. “People are afraid and anything can happen in this situation.”
There's no political backing here, no Christian leaders here. They feel isolated and weak and prefer not to talk about such issues
Around three million Christians live in Pakistan, a country which is more than 96 per cent Muslim.
When Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, set out his vision he declared citizens “may belong to any religion, caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state”.
Yet, seven decades on, the country has become more Islamicised and Christians and other religious minorities face discrimination by society and attacks by extremist militants. Prejudice often locks them in poverty.
In January, the US State Department placed Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom”.
Attacks on churches by militant groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) have killed scores of people.
At the same time, in a country where insulting Islam is an incendiary accusation that can quickly provoke mob violence, the country’s blasphemy laws are being used to suppress religious minorities, human rights groups claim. So far, the anger of the hardline religious protesters over Asia Bibi’s acquittal has been directed at the authorities, rather than the Christian community.
But protests are unpredictable and a feeling of fear and helplessness hangs over the colony, said a 69-year-old church elder, also called Younis Masih.
“There’s no political backing here, no Christian leaders here. They feel isolated and weak and prefer not to talk about such issues.
People are afraid and anything can happen in this situation
“The government protects us, but blasphemy is such a sensitive issue we feel weak and in fear.
“People are helpless, they don’t have any other option, but thank God this time the loss is not bigger. There have been protests, but they have been against judges and the government, not against Christians.”
Asia Bibi’s case has hung over Pakistan’s Christians for nearly a decade.
In the summer of 2009 she was working in a Punjab field when she quarrelled with two Muslim colleagues after they refused to drink from a cup she had touched.
The women told a local mullah she had committed blasphemy and Mrs Bibi was rounded up by villagers.
She denied the charge, but after a year in jail she was convicted and sentenced to hang.
Her supporters said the case was a typical example of spurious blasphemy accusations being used to settle scores. But as her appeal has languished in the courts, it has galvanised hardliners and divided Pakistan.
Shortly after her conviction, Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor, was murdered for speaking out in her support and calling for reform of the blasphemy laws. Mumtaz Qadri, his killer, was executed, but has become a hero to some, with a large shrine dedicated to him on the outskirts of Islamabad.