Friday, May 10, 2019
Four people, who had gone ‘missing’ four years ago, have returned home, said Missing Persons’ Relatives Committee (MPRC) head Rashid Rizvi on Friday.
According to a report in a local media outlet, 27 people who forcibly disappeared have returned home, whereas the release of eight more people is also in progress.
It may be noted here Rizvi along with the members of the Shia community had held a sit-in outside President Arif Alvi’s house in Karachi for two weeks to demand the release of the ‘missing’ Shia persons. The sit-in was only ended after these people were released, with the authorities assuring that all the people will be home soon.
The protesters had alleged that 23 people had been taken away from Karachi in a new wave of “enforced disappearances” and their whereabouts were not known.
The recent disappearances were in addition to 22 people who have been ‘missing’ for the past two or three years, the demonstrators had said.
In order to discourage the sit-in, an FIR was launched against these demonstrators over ‘anti-state activities’ and the Karachi police later arrested 26 people from the site of the protest.
However, these people were released on Thursday after 12 hours. Rizvi had said that these people were detained to stop them from joining the sit-in.
As the issue of enforced disappearances continues to plague the country, Pakistan Army’s spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor also took to Twitter via his personal account to give in his two cents.
In a tweet, he said, “Our hearts beat with families of every missing person. We share their pain and we are with them in the process of tracing them.”
“Thousands of soldiers have laid lives for [the] security of fellow Pakistanis. Can’t harm anyone” while adding that “let none exploit the issue on whatever context. With you,” said Gen Ghafoor.
Last month, during a press conference, Gen Ghafoor said some elements were trying to mislead the people to provoke them against Pakistan and its institutions. He assured the people that the armed forces were working tirelessly to solve their problems, including Pashtun Tahafuz Movement’s (PTM) demand for the recovery of missing persons.
The armed forces would not rest until their issues were resolved, he said, hoping they would not pay heed to “rhetoric and instead will stop these anti-state forces”.
Ghafoor had also taken up the issue of missing persons during his recent media interaction, which focussed on the PTM and its demands.
“[The issue of] missing persons were their third demand [and] they created a list of those missing persons. The list has shortened to 2,500 cases today and the [missing persons] commission is working day and night to resolve those cases,” he said.
In addition to Pashtun and Shia missing persons, the Baloch community led by Mama Qadeer, the chairman of Voice of Baloch Missing Persons, has also been protesting for decades for the recovery of their loved ones.
In Jan, around a dozen people missing for many years reached home over the past three days in different areas of Balochistan, including Kalat, Mashkay, Noshki, Gwadar and Pasni.
According to reports, after the assurance of Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani and Home Minister Zia Ahmed Langove to the leaders of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) recently, the missing persons started reaching their homes.
The restrictions on Uighur Muslims are linked to a large surveillance programme that is being tested by the Chinese government.
SNEHESH ALEX PHILIP
Intelligence reports have suggested that Islamabad is looking at building deeper military ties with Moscow, especially through the purchase of Russian systems.
Pakistan tilt may be due to US snub
Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy. The Supreme Court overturned it in 2018, but she still faced death threats.Asia Noreen, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years in prison after being convicted under the country’s blasphemy laws, has left the country and reached Canada on 8 May to join her family. Popularly known as Asia Bibi, her conviction was overturned last year by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
Asia was convicted in 2010, after she was accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad during a quarrel with her neighbours. For the next eight years, Asia suffered personal indignities, polarised Pakistan and started a vigorous debate about the existence, application, and abuse of the country’s blasphemy laws. ThePrint takes a look at the state of these laws in Pakistan, and Asia Bibi’s persecution.
The case against Asia Bibi
In 2009, Asia was charged under Section 295C of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. This followed an altercation between Asia and other women working in the fields at Ittanwala, near Lahore.Reports said after a long day’s work, Asia took a cup of water from a bucket, and the other woman found this unacceptable, as this had made the bucket “impure”.According to the prosecutors, an argument ensued and Asia allegedly abused Prophet Muhammad. Later, she was beaten up by a crowd, during which she reportedly confessed to blasphemy, according to her accusers. The police arrested her right away.In 2010, a trial court at Sheikhupura convicted her of blasphemy and sentenced her to death under Section 295C. The Lahore High Court upheld the decision in 2014. However, an appeal was registered against the verdict in Pakistan’s Supreme Court the same year.The Supreme Court stayed the death penalty in 2015 for the duration of the trial. Finally, on 31 October 2018, nine years after her arrest, the top court overturned Asia’s conviction.
The judges noted in their judgment: “It is ironical that in the Arabic language the appellant’s name Asia means ‘sinful’, but in the circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare’s King Lear, ‘more sinned against than sinning’.” Also read: Pakistan’s Asia Bibi episode shows injecting extremists into politics is a bad idea Protests and death threats But Asia’s troubles did not end there. There were mass demonstrations and protests across Pakistan against the Supreme Court’s judgment, led by the extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) — roads were blocked in major cities and the state of Punjab reported destroyed property worth US$1.8 million (26 crore Pakistani rupees). Death threats were made to Asia and her family. The case received widespread coverage in the international media too, with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leading efforts to ensure her security.
The Imran Khan government formed in August 2018 caved into pressure and struck a deal with the TLP and its leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi: All the arrested protestors were to be released and the government would file a review petition against the Asia acquittal verdict.
The Supreme Court took up the review petition in January this year, where it rejected the petition and upheld Asia’s acquittal. A few months later, Asia has made her way to an undisclosed location in Canada, where her family had already been granted asylum by the Justin Trudeau government.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws date back to colonial times. In a comprehensive paper, academic and journalist Raza Rumi provides an overview: They were enacted in 1860 and the British justified them from an entirely colonial perspective.
“[T]here is perhaps no country [other than India] in which the government has so much to apprehend from religious excitement among the people,” read Chapter XV of the British-era Indian Penal Code.
These laws provided protections to all religions; for someone to be convicted, their intent had to be proven, and the maximum punishment amounted to one or two years in prison.
After Partition in 1947, Pakistan adopted these laws as they were, and they remained broadly unchanged, until General Zia-ul-Haq came to power in 1977.
Under Zia’s rule, five stringent sections (295B, 295C, 298A, 298B and 298C) were added to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws between 1980 and 1986. Section 295C, which prohibits people from speaking against Prophet Mohammad, prescribes a mandatory death penalty for the convicted.
Section 298 A sanctions “derogatory remarks against holy personages”, and has been used to persecute Shias. The most damning additions were Section 298 B & C, which essentially prevented the Ahmadiyya community from calling themselves Muslims.The effect of these additions can be seen in the rise in blasphemy cases. According to a report by Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), between 1957 and 1986, only eight people were accused of blasphemy, whereas between 1987 and 2012, the number of accused went up to 426.A graver consequence have been the dozens of incidents of lynching following the additions. According to the CRSS, 60 people have been “killed outside the Pakistani justice system” since 1990.Another 2015 study by the International Court of Justice shows that 80 per cent of blasphemy convictions are eventually overturned. This highlights how these blasphemy laws are predominantly used for the purpose of persecution.