Asphyxiating Minorities

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Ambreen Agha
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

Pakistan is increasingly failing to protect its minorities for two broad reasons: principally, rising religious intolerance and the space ceded to violent ideologies.

-Sherry Rehman, former Ambassador to the US, 2011

Little noticed amidst the ongoing pitched battle led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-led Federal Government, a group of protesters from minority communities held a rally in Badin District of Sindh on August 16, 2014, against the current Government’s failure to protect minorities from communal atrocities, including kidnapping-for-ransom, killings on religious grounds and abduction of girls for forced conversion.Religious violence is endemic in Pakistan and the security situation of intra and inter-religious minorities is precarious. The National Assembly (NA) while observing the National Minorities Day on August 11, 2014, acknowledged the catastrophic proportions of the problem and unanimously adopted a resolution to condemn the “brutal killings” of religious minorities and rejecting all forms of discrimination against them in the country. The resolution, tabled by Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yousaf, urged the Government to take concrete steps to establish and maintain interfaith harmony in order to safeguard fundamental rights of minority communities as enshrined in the Constitution.The resolution came in the wake of a recent targeted attack on a Sikh trader in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province. On August 6, 2014, unidentified masked terrorists shot dead a Sikh shopkeeper, identified as Jagmohan Singh, at Khushal Bazaar in the Hashtnagri area of Peshawar, the provincial capital. Lamenting the pervasive sense of insecurity, the chief of the Karachi-based Pakistan Sikh Council (PSC), Sardar Ramesh Singh, noted, “This is not the first time our community was attacked in KP. The Sikh community in the Province is under constant threat… many Sikh families have left the area over lack of security.” Recalling the acts of violence against the besieged Sikh community, Member of Provincial Assembly and PTI leader, Soran Singh, observed, “In the last one year, at least three members of the Sikh community have been killed in the settled Districts.”Incidents of violence against the Sikhs in Pakistan have a long history. In 2010, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists exhibited their barbarism by beheading two Sikh men in the Khyber and Orakzai Agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and sent their heads to theBhai Joga Singh Gurudwara (Sikhs place of worship) in Peshawar. The victims were identified as Jaspal Singh and Mahal Singh. Two of their companions, identified as Gurvinder Singh and Gurjit Singh, were held captive by the terrorists. This spine chilling incident came after repeated threats to the community to convert to Islam.  The seeds of violence against the Sikh community were sown in 2009. On April 30, 2009, the TTP Orakzai Chapter banished 50 Sikh families from the Agency for non-payment of jizya – a tax levied by the early Muslim rulers on their non-Muslim subjects. According to media sources, TTP had occupied the houses and shops of Sikhs and auctioned their valuables for PKR 0.8 million in the Qasim Khel and Feroz Khel areas of the Agency. The terrorists had demanded PKR 12 million asjizya but had only received PKR 6.7 million. This demand was a follow-up of an earlier precedent. On April 15, 2009, the Sikhs had conceded to TTP demands and had paid PKR 20 million as ‘protection’ money as a result of which the terrorists vacated occupied Sikh and also released an abducted Sikh leader, Sardar Saiwang Singh. The Sikhs were guaranteed protection, but the terrorist reneged on their promise. The latest August 6, 2014, incident exhibits the pattern of violence that has evolved over years against the unprotected minorities in the country.As temperatures of intolerance soar in Pakistan, its largest religious minority, the Hindus, representing 1.6 per cent of the then total of 132 million according to the 1998 Census, continue to face the fury of frenzied mobs over false or unverified allegations of blasphemy, and are also subjected to forced conversions. There are repeated incidents of burning of their religious books and places of worship. On March 15, 2014, for instance, an angry mob burnt a temple and a Dharamsala(rest house for pilgrims) in the Larkana District of Sindh over unproved allegations of a Hindu boy desecrating the holy Qur’an. A week later, on March 28, 2014, three armed assailants entered a temple and desecrated it in the Latifabad area of Hyderabad District. Later, on May 14, 2014, PML-N lawmaker Ramesh Kumar Wankwani told the NA that around 5,000 Hindus migrate from Pakistan to India and other countries every year due to religious persecution. The Hindus in Sindh have long been subjected to incessant intimidation and vandalism.Next in the line of fire is the second largest minority group, the Christians, who represent 1.59 per cent of the country’s population (1998 Census). This helpless community has faced the wrath and terror of the Islamist extremists, on the one hand, and politically motivated judicial discrimination, on the other. The abuse of the blasphemy law – which imposes a mandatory death penalty for any act under its purview – has led to the relentless persecution of the Christian community, resulting in large numbers among them seeking asylum abroad, particularly in Australia and Canada. Apart from Taliban violence, the asylum seekers are the ones who have been attacked for committing the ‘crime’ of blasphemy. According to the President of Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), at least 90 per cent of Pakistani Christians favour Refugee Status from United Nations (UN) after rising violence.In the deadliest of attacks on Christians in the country, at least 79 worshippers, including 34 women and seven children, were killed, and another 130 were injured when two suicide bombers attacked a Christian congregation at the historic All Saints Church in the Kohati Gate area of Peshawar on September 22, 2013. TTP’s Jandullah faction claimed responsibility for the attack, declaring, in a statement to the media, “Until and unless drone strikes are stopped, we will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land. They are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them.”There has also been a phenomenal increase in the number of blasphemy cases, another index of violence. Among the most notorious of these involves a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was arrested and sentenced to death by hanging on November 9, 2010 for committing blasphemy after an argument with fellow female workers at the farm where she worked. Asia is still languishing in jail and the case has sparked international reactions. It was this internationally recognised case that led to two high profile murders over the blasphemy issue. On January 4, 2011, the Punjab Province Governor Salman Taseer, was murdered by one of his bodyguards, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, for his public denunciation of the blasphemy law and advocacy for Asia Bibi. This was followed by the March 2, 2011, assassination of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs and leader of the Christian community, Shahbaz Bhatti, for openly speaking out against the controversial law. Blasphemy cases are overwhelmingly registered on flimsy evidence, often the testimony of a single Muslim witness with a personal animus against the victim. Worse, when acquittal results after years of incarceration, the victims have, in many cases, simply been murdered by terrorist formations on their release.There has been an increase in the number of blasphemy cases in Pakistan since 2001. A report by Center for Research and Security Studies, 2013, enumerated a single case in 2001, rising to 80 complaints in 2011. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) World Report 2013, notes that at least 16 people remained on death row for blasphemy, while another 20 were serving life sentences in 2012. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted that, during 2013, as many as 39 cases of blasphemy were registered against Pakistani citizens, including Muslims, Christians and Hindus.Blasphemy accused, moreover, are not safe even after being acquitted. In one incident, on March 22, 2014, Ashraf Gola, a former chairman of a District Council, was shot dead while he was travelling along with a friend, Iftikhar Ahmed, in his car near Pind Dadan Khan in Jhelum District of Punjab. Gola had recently been acquitted in a blasphemy case, but remained under threat from extremists.Earlier, on October 19, 2012, a man, identified as Sajjad Hussain, who was acquitted in a blasphemy case by a District and Sessions Court in Lahore, was shot dead by two terrorists, identified as Sheikh Zeeshan and Awais Ahmed. The accused surrendered to the Police saying that they had killed a “blasphemer” and had no regrets over their action.Extremist groups successfully target religious minorities and anybody who dares to speak out in their defence, including Government officials. Judges and lawyers have also come under threat for defending and acquitting blasphemy defendants. On May 7, 2014, Rashid Rehman, a Human Rights lawyer and HRCP Regional Coordinator in Punjab, was shot five times by two unidentified militants at HRCP office on Kutchery Road in Multan District. He later succumbed to his injuries.  His assassination was preceded by death threats that he received for his human rights activities, especially his denouncement of repression of religious minorities and the misuse of blasphemy laws in the country. While defending the case of one Junaid Hafeez, an accused of blasphemy, on April 9, 2014, Rehman was threatened with death by four men, including two lawyers, identified as Zulfiqar Ali Sindhu and Sajjad Ahmad Chawan, in the court room in Multan Central Prison. No action was taken against those who threatened Rehman, nor was he provided any security. No further steps have been taken thus far, and the killers have not been arrested.Like inter-religious minorities such as Sikhs, Hindus and Christians, intra-religious minorities, particularly including, Shias and Ahmadis (but also including elements within Sunni sects, such as the Barelvis) have long been targeted and persecuted by Islamist extremists. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 3,922 people have been killed in sectarian violence since 2001. Of these, 2,271 were Shias; were 173 Ahmadis; another 51 Tablighi Jama’at members (all data till August 24, 2014). .Taking note of the persecution of Ahmadis, the Annual report of the United States (US) Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published on April 30, 2014, urged the US to add Pakistan to a blacklist of violators of religious freedom, observing that the Ahmadi community suffers “apartheid-like” conditions in the country. The US Commission’s concern was further extended to Shias and other non-Muslim communities, and the report voiced alarm over the treatment of Hindus, Christians and Shia Muslims, and urged Pakistan to improve its treatment of religious minorities.According to the USCIRF report titled “Violence towards Religious Communities in Pakistan”, published in August 2014, moreover, over the one-year period from July 2013 to June 2014, at least 430 people were killed in a total 122 attacks against minorities. These include 222 Shias in 54 attacks; 128 Christians in 22 recorded incidents; 10 Ahmadis in 10 such attacks; and two Sikhs in three attacks. There are four attacks recorded on the Hindu community in this period, with no fatality reported. 68 victims belonged to other religious/sectarian groups, in 29 attacks.In the corresponding period of the preceding year, a total of 567 people were killed in a total of 150 religiously motivated attacks, including 514 Shias killed in 54 attacks; 17 Ahmadis in 40 attacks; seven Christians in 32 attacks; two Hindus in 10 attacks; and one Sikh in 2 attacks. 26 ‘others’ were killed in another 12 incidents.Worrying over the worsening religious persecution in Pakistan, the US State Department in its Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, on July 29, 2014, pointed out that Pakistan’s Constitution and laws restrict religious freedom and practice: “Although the Constitution declares that adequate provisions shall be made for all citizens to profess and practise their religious beliefs freely, other constitutional provisions and laws impose limits on this right.”It is high time that the Nawaz Sharif Government breaks the silence over Pakistan’s pernicious and inequitable blasphemy law and ensures freedom and security to all its citizens. While Islamabad has come under international pressure to repeal the blasphemy law and take effective steps to protect religious minorities, the truth is that extremist and fanatical forces continue to persecute and murder under an umbrella of effective state protection, where cases against perpetrators of such violence are not registered, or are not pursued through serious investigation and prosecution. It is the state’s bigoted approach that has exacerbated majoritarian religious violence in the country, and religious and sectarian minorities live under a pall of enveloping insecurity and fear of persecution.http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/sair/Archives/sair13/13_8.htm

Trafficked widow escaped prostitution through help of fellow captive

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Dubai Criminal Court was told that Uzbek national M A, 35, a mother of two,
lived in cramped conditions with her mother and brother when a neighbour
offered her the position.
“She [the neighbour] called on March 7 this year and told me that I will be
paid US$500 a month for child caring and cleaning the house as well,” said
the victim.
After receiving the offer, M A went to meet the neighbour, S, to arrange her
travel to Dubai.
When she arrived for the meeting, S was nowhere to be found. In her place
was a man who offered to help.
“A man identified as B, that S had told me about, came and offered to buy
my ticket and issue my visa then send me to a woman he knows in Dubai
who would help me find a job,” said M A. “Then, I would pay him back from
my salary.”
The money she owed would be paid to her employer in Dubai before being
transferred to B, the court heard.
M A stayed in the city, where she met B, for a further 12 days, until her visa
and ticket were ready for collection. During that time, her expenses were
paid for by B.
On March 19 this year, M A landed at Dubai International Airport and was
picked up by her compatriot, 44-year-old E A.
From there, the duo travelled to a flat in Sharjah, after which M A allegedly
had her passport seized and was told she had to repay US$10,000 in
expenses.
“I told her that B told me it was only US$3000,” said M A.
The court heard that E A then told the victim she had to work as a
prostitute.
“I refused but I got frightened when she said she would send me to a gang
who would lock me up and give me away for sex seekers for the cheapest
prices,” said M A.
M A told the court she was taken to a flat in Dubai where she met other
women from her home country, all of whom had sex with men in exchange
for Dh20.
For over a week, M A gave her captors excuses for not going out to seek
customers. On her first day outside the flat, looking for men, she was able
to escape with the help of one of a prostitute.

http://www.thenational.ae/uae/courts/trafficked-widow-escaped-prostitution-through-help-of-fellow-captive-dubai-court-told

Women Empowerment: Taking on a New Role

By Wishaal Khalid

Pakistani women venture into fields that were previously considered to be a ‘man’s domain’

Revolutions are, by their inherent nature, loud and fearless. But in Pakistan, a silent revolution is slowly and noticeably reshaping the structure of society – redefining pre-existing attitudes towards gender roles. Women, who were once expected to be seen and not heard, are now stepping outside the comfort of conventional or safe career paths, such as teaching and nursing, to cement their role in professions they were once alien to.

Experimenting with science

When it comes to women in science, the West has always stood out with prominent names such as Madam Curie, a pioneer in conducting radioactivity research. While Pakistan may not top the list, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics’ ‘Employment Trends 2011’ report only 24.4% of women in the country are classified as working women, it is making headway in this field.

Standing against all odds, Dr Mariam Sultana, who is the first Pakistani woman to earn a PhD in astrophysics, is now a lecturer at the mathematical sciences department of the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology.  “Gender inequality is a primitive concept in the cities now. It may still be prevalent in rural areas where women [continue to] face many challenges, but there is no such thing in Karachi,” she says assuredly. Although Sultana’s challenges did not stem from deep gender biases, she faced a great deal of disapproval from her students and their parents, who confused astronomy with astrology and declared the subject ‘haram’.

While engineering is another perceived no-go area for women, the classroom dynamics are now changing with more and more female students filling the seats at engineering universities across Pakistan. Nida Farid, who studied aerospace engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in United States, is now a renewable energy consultant, specialising in wind energy, in Pakistan. She even played an active part in the construction of electro-structural components for the Airbus project in Switzerland and continues to shrug off filial and social pressures to switch to a more conventional job.

Driving through barriers

Pakistani women have taken to the roads as well and are making headway in the transportation sector.  Many women from Lyari, Karachi, in a bid to lead independent lives, have taken up driving to earn an income. Forty-year-old Shabana Parveen, from Surjani Town, Karachi, who has been in the pick-and-drop business for primary students for the past 10 years, says that although she’s always been passionate about driving, she only recently took up the profession. After marrying a low-wage factory worker, she had to contribute to the family income to make ends meet. “I took a taxi on rent to support my family,” she says.

Stories of women taking charge of the wheel are plenty. Wajeeha, a 12-year-old from Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has been riding a rickshaw since 2010 after her father, a soldier, was severely wounded in a clash with the Taliban and was no longer able to financially support his family. She also never let her work get in the way of her education and simultaneously completed her schooling.

Dodging the bullet

A surprising number of Pakistani women have also joined the military and police forces since 2006 and Ayesha Farooq became Pakistan’s first female fighter pilot in 2013. Along with defending the country, Pakistani women have entered the field of security to claim their right at equal employment opportunities. Shahnaz, heading the female wing of a private security service, is currently employed as a security head at the Karachi University. She arrives daily before students to make sure no outsider enters the premises without prior permission. “I did not want to get married and that made survival [in society] quite [difficult],” she says, adding that she took up the job so she could be independent.

Rebranding the word ‘woman’

While women across the world have proven to be convincing in sales, Pakistani women have only recently realised their potential in the field. With a number of boutiques and supermarkets springing up in city centres, women have taken up the opportunity to earn a steady income by selling wares and assisting customers. Sumaira, who runs her shop for ready-to-wear clothes in Hyderi market, Karachi, is an ideal example of women who’ve excelled in the field. “It is a constant struggle to ignore comments and focus on your work,” she says, adding that despite the negativity she hasn’t stopped going to work.

While Pakistan may still be light years away from complete gender equality, its women have surely set out on the right foot. Their relentless efforts are not only bridging the gender gap but also motivating others to follow suit. 

http://tribune.com.pk/story/757802/women-empowerment-taking-on-a-new-role/

Gang-rape victim dies nine days after self immolation attempt

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A 22-year-old alleged gang-rape victim succumbed to her injuries after a self-immolation  attempt  in Dera Ghazi Khan, a private news channel reported on Monday.

According to the report, the victim set herself on fire nine days ago when her alleged rapists were not arrested by the police.

She was taken to a hospital in a critical condition where she succumbed to her burn injuries today.

Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif had taken notice of the incident over the girl’s attempted self immolation and had ordered immediate arrest of the culprits.

http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/09/08/national/gang-rape-victim-dies-nine-days-after-self-immolation-attempt/

‘Rape’ victim’s family rejects court verdict

By Malik Tahseen Raza

Pakistan’s Hidden Shame: Documentary reveals horrors of pedophilia in K-P

 

-Publicity image
-Publicity image

Director Mohammed Naqvi,and British producer Jamie Doran’s filmPakistan’s Hidden Shame depicts the shocking reality of sexual abuse faced by small boys in the Northern areas of Pakistan.

The documentary premiered on September 1 on Britain’s Channel 4 and shows the “dark reality of a society living in denial.”

Set mainly in Peshawar, the film shows homeless boys of different ages recalling their experiences of sexual exploitation.

In an interview with CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour, the director of the documentary told her what puts children at risk in Pakistan and around the world.

“Pedophiles by their very nature are inadequate, it’s about power over children.”

“Where these individuals are able to use and abuse vulnerable children, Pakistan in particular because of the poverty. That’s one of the other factors that really plays here.”

 Screengrab from the documentary
Screengrab from the documentary

In the documentary, the narrator introduces Pakistan as ‘one of the most important Muslim populations, a democracy, a nuclear power and a supporter of the Western bloc.’ But it soon reveals the silence and denial on one of the most taboo topics: pedophilia.

The documentary alleges that 9 out of 10 children in Peshawar have been victims of pedophilia. It also contains interviews with truck drivers who have committed such crimes.

Shockingly, one of the drivers admits, without any remorse, to having raped 11 or 12 boys.

 Screengrab from the documentary
Screengrab from the documentary

Doran also questions Imran Khan whose party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) formed the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which has Peshawar as its capital.

“It’s one of the most sad and shameful aspects of our society. I am totally embarrassed by this and that we have not really been able to protect them,” Khan said.

Disturbing Rotherham child abuse report

Download the Report: Independent_inquiry_CSE_in_Rotherham

The release of the documentary overlaps with the alarming revelations of a report released from Rotherham, the Northern English town where abuse, grooming and trafficking of 1,400 girls by predominantly Asian men over a 16-year period.

According to Reuters, the independent report last week exposed the scale and graphic nature of the crimes and raised difficult questions about whether timidity about confronting the racial aspects of the abuse had prompted authorities to turn a blind eye.

Some of the victims, mainly white girls in social care homes, were as young as 11 and were plied with drugs and alcohol before being trafficked to cities across northern England and gang-raped by groups of men, predominately of Pakistani heritage, the report said.

Those who tried to speak out were threatened with guns and made to watch brutal gang rapes. Their abusers said they would be next if they told anyone. One girl was doused with petrol, her rapist threatening to set her alight.

The report added that senior managers in social care “underplayed” the problem while police regarded many victims with contempt

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http://www.dawn.com/news/1129614

In cold blood: Yet another Sikh targeted in provincial capital

By Riaz Ahmad

Attacks against Sikhs have risen in recent weeks. Above, Sikhs protests at Parliament against the desecration of their holy books on May 23, 2014. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI / PESHAWAR: 

Saturday was yet another day of mourning for Sikhs in the city when one more member of the religious minority was killed in a targeted attack by unidentified assailants in Nothia, Gulberg. While previous target killings of Sikhs have seen silent and even violent protests, this last attack left many fearful and frustrated by the sense of helplessness following each unresolved case.

Thirty-year-old Harjeet Singh was tending to business in his general store in Nothia Bazaar when the assailants entered the shop and opened fire at him. They then fled, leaving Harjeet severely injured. Locals took the shop owner to Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) where he breathed his last.

According to CCPO Ijaz Khan, the attack was carried out by two men and the pistols they used were fitted with silencers. It is an incident of target killing, said Khan.

“We will trace and arrest the culprits responsible for the murder,” he added.

A member of Harjeet’s family, requesting anonymity, told The Express Tribune the deceased had three children and was a resident of Mohallah Jogan Shah. “The attackers came to his shop, ordered something from the shelf and then shot him dead,” he said.

“Harjeet’s father Harban Singh used to help with the shop and was usually there, but today Harjeet was alone,” the bereaved relative added.

Silenced in rage

The cold-blooded murder, yet another in a series of violent attacks on Sikhs in the past few months, left the community enraged. Harjeet’s family even refused to allow an autopsy of his body.

“The police is trying to convince us that an autopsy is a legal requirement but we don’t care about such things,” said an elder on condition of anonymity. “So far, four Sikhs have been killed in targeted attacks and the murderers are still at large.” He added younger members of the community tried to hold a protest and take Harjeet’s body to Islamabad where the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is holding a sit-in, but elders decided against as it they feel it will have no effect.

Harjeet’s body will be taken to Attock in the evening (Friday) for his last rites and cremation, said the elder.

Silenced in fear

“These continued attacks have spread a wave of fright among us. No one is willing to issue any statements to the media out of fear for their lives,” he added. “We feel insecure and the provincial government and police have failed to protect us.”

The subdued response of the Sikhs after Harjeet’s death is in sharp contrast to the last such attack.

Earlier this month, when 19-year-old Jagmohan Singh was gunned down outside his shop in Hashtnagri by unidentified assailants, enraged Sikhs took to GT Road carrying Jagmohan’s body. They blocked the road for over an hour and set fire to tyres. They then proceeded to the provincial assembly but after not being allowed to protest there, the rally headed to the CM House. The protest only came to an end after Khattak met the protesters and announced compensation.

The murder of Harjeet is the third such attack in the province of late.

On September 3, Amarjeet Singh was stabbed to death in his shop in Shaheedan Bazaar, Mardan, while on August 6, armed men opened fire at Jagmohan Singh, Paramjit Singh and Manmit Singh in Khushal Bazaar, Hashtnagri, killing Jagmohan and injuring the other two.

Words of condemnation

Khattak condemned Harjeet’s murder and gave a three-day deadline to catch the culprits. In a statement issued late Saturday, Khattak announced Rs500,000 in financial compensation for the slain shop owner’s family. Adviser to the CM on Minority Affairs Sardar Soran Singh also condemned the incident. Surendar Valasai, minority affairs adviser to PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, also condemned the attack and urged Khattak to provide security to Sikhs who have been living in K-P peacefully for centuries.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/758915/in-cold-blood-yet-another-sikh-targeted-in-provincial-capital/