Pakistan’s Christian Sanitation Workers

Pakistan’s Christian Sanitation Workers Swept into Societal Gutter‏
By Asif Aqeel

LAHORE, Pakistan, July 7 (Compass Direct News) – While one Christian sanitation worker here has been suspended and criminal charges filed against him for objecting to discrimination against fellow workers, another was killed the same month for not tending to a shopkeeper’s command fast enough. Anayat Masih Sahotra, who has worked as a street sweeper for Lahore’s Solid Waste Management (SWM) department for 24 years, said he is facing baseless charges of forgery and fraud from his employers because of his work as a labor leader for area sweepers, who are nearly all Christians. He was suspended and accused of the crimes on May 14 after he asked SWM Managing Director Wasim Ajmal Chaudhry to fulfill a promise to make 400 Christian workers regular employees with full benefits, he said.

The deep, culturally-rooted disparagement Christian sanitation workers suffer was apparent in another incident in May. Abbas Masih, 36, was cleaning the streets on May 21 when he was murdered for not picking up trash quickly enough, human rights advocates said. Contempt for sweepers is rooted deeply in cultural history, the result of a merging of Brahmanic Hinduism’s ritual impurity with Islamic ceremonial uncleanness in regard to sweepers – almost all of whom were Hindu “untouchables” who converted to Christianity in the late 19th century. Pakistani officials appear to want to keep Christians in this degrading occupation. Several job advertisements from government departments clearly state that sweeper candidates must be non-Muslim; some even specify that they must be Christians.

LAHORE, Pakistan, July 7 (Compass Direct News) – The often unseen or unrecognized abuses suffered by Christians at Pakistan’s lowest level of society – street sweepers – have come into sharp focus this year.

While one Christian sanitation worker in Lahore has been suspended and criminal charges filed against him for objecting to discrimination against fellow workers, another was killed the same month for not tending to a shopkeeper’s command fast enough.

Anayat Masih Sahotra, who has worked as a street sweeper for Lahore’s Solid Waste Management (SWM) department for 24 years, said he is facing baseless charges of forgery and fraud from his employers because of his work as a labor leader for area sweepers, who are nearly all Christians. He was suspended and accused of the crimes on May 14 after he asked SWM Managing Director Wasim Ajmal Chaudhry to fulfill a promise to make 400 Christian workers regular employees with full benefits, he said.

Sahotra said when Chaudhry refused his request to make the Christian sweepers regular employees according to the requirements of Pakistani law, he told the managing director that he could expect protests. Protest against injustice was their civil right, he said, and plans for a demonstration were underway when he received the suspension order alleging forgery and fraud.

When he went to Chaudhry’s office again on May 26 to object to the injustice of the suspension order, he said Chaudhry referred to him and other Christian workers as Chuhras, an offensive term of contempt for street sweepers, an occupation assigned only to those of such low “untouchable” social standing that they are below the remnant caste system predating Pakistan’s predominantly Islamic society.

“I know you low-born Christian Chuhras, and I know how to deal with you,” Sahotra said Chaudhry told him.

Sahotra left Chaudhry’s office, he said, only to receive a phone call a few minutes later from SWM Assistant District Officer Faiz Ahmed Afridi telling him to come to his office. Sahotra went to Afridi’s office in the evening, where he was offered to sit and have a cup of tea, he said.

“While I was taking tea, police entered the office and arrested me,” Sahotra said. “I was shocked how cunning Faiz had been to me.”

Charges were filed the same day at Islampura police station, accusing Sahotra of criminally intimidating Afridi, though Sahotra said he was calmly taking tea when police arrested him.

The next day Sahotra was granted bail, but a few days later Anarkali police called him, saying the superintendent of police wanted to talk to him.

“The police of Anarkali are tricking me into meeting them,” he said. “They want to arrest me on any other charge in order to mount pressure on me to withdraw my support to the Christian employees who are not being made regular despite having worked there for several years.”

As temporary or “work charge” employees, the sanitation workers’ contracts expire every 88 days, and they are hired every third month. This goes on for decades, with the employees working until they are too feeble to do so without any benefits or pension. They get no days off – no weekends, no holiday, no sick leave.

Their morning shift begins at 6 a.m., but the general public does not want them working when they are awake, so the sweepers prefer to clean streets beforehand. Starting at 4 a.m., they work until 7 p.m. for US$100 per month, leaving them no opportunity to work any other part-time job. Thus they are kept poor, with no opportunity to provide quality education to their children, who
perpetuate the cycle as they too become sweepers.

Murdered Sweeper
The deep, culturally-rooted disparagement Christian sanitation workers suffer was apparent in another incident in May. Abbas Masih, 36, was cleaning the streets when he was murdered for not picking up trash quickly enough, human rights advocates said.

Eyewitnesses said Masih was cleaning streets in the Pir Maki area of Lahore on May 21 when Muhammad Imran, an Arain or agricultural caste member who worked at a flower shop, told Masih to pick up dried leaves and flowers from in front of the shop. Masih told him that he would gather them up when he came back from the end of the street.

“How can a Chuhra argue with me?” Imran said, and he took out a knife used at the flower shop and shoved it into Masih’s heart, according to the witnesses. Masih fell. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

Two brothers who own the shop, Muhammad Tariq and Muhammad Shehzad, told Compass that Imran had opened the store that morning. Imran asked Masih to pick up a small pile of dried leaves and flowers and take them away with the garbage, they said.

As witnesses also noted, they said Masih told him that he would pick up the trash upon his return from the end of the street. Imran insisted that he pick up the pile immediately.

“Imran called him names and then took out the knife and stabbed the heart of Masih,” Shehzad said, adding that he was at home at the time but heard about it from another who came home from the scene of the incident. “I rushed to the spot, picked Masih up, put him in a rickshaw and rushed him to the Mayo Hospital. I also phoned the emergency police, Rescue 15, and informed the shop that Muhammad Imran must not be allowed to go, as Masih had passed away in the hospital.”

He said that Masih was “a very good person.”

The Lower Mall police station registered a First Information Report (FIR) only after several Christian leaders protested.

Although Masih had worked with SWM for 16 years, he remained a work-charge employee, so his family was not eligible for financial assistance upon his death. Several Christian leaders protested to the Chief Minister of Punjab Province, whose office in turn wrote to the SWM.

Based on feedback from the chief minister’s secretariat, in a June 9 letter the SWM responded to the Christian leaders: “It is the policy of the government to grant financial assistance to the family of deceased civil servants, and work charge employees do not fall under the definition of civil servants. However, on the death of work charge employees during their engagement, it is the practice to pay financial assistance after getting the approval of the Chief Minister as a special case.”

The chief minister has not responded to the request, and Christians said there is little possibility that he will consider it.

Though Christians account for 90 percent of sewage workers and an even high percentage of sweepers, they make up only 2.45 percent of Pakistan’s population, which is more than 95 percent Muslim, according to Operation World. Masih’s widow, Rukhsana Masih, said that she and her family members had feared filing a police report about the case – Pakistani police are notorious for falsely charging or otherwise harassing marginalized minorities like Christians – and that they were too poor to retain a lawyer. The Community Development Initiative, an affiliate of European Centre for Law and Justice, has since allayed her fears about the legal process and offered to assist her, and she has agreed to pursue justice.

Overlapping Religions
When the Indian subcontinent was divided in 1947 and Pakistan was carved out in the name of Islam, ultimately there was a merging of Brahmanic Hinduism’s ritual impurity with Islamic ceremonial uncleanness in regard to sweepers – almost all of whom were Hindu “untouchables” who converted to Christianity in the late 19th century.

This synthesis, however, came about over time. Initially the founding father of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had no notion of bringing religion into the sphere of political life. He was also an advocate of ending caste-based discrimination. With Jinnah’s early death and the use of Islam for political gain by migrating, Urdu-speaking leaders who previously had no political bases here – in particular the first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan – over six decades Islam permeated every aspect of life: social, political, economic and legal.

After Pakistan became fundamentally Islamic, Muslims confused the notion of ceremonial uncleanness – considered temporary in nature in Islamic jurisprudence – with the Brahmanic notion of ritual impurity, considered innate and permanent. Islam forbids eating and drinking with a kafir or infidel, but it allows it with the “people of the Book.” But as caste-based “untouchability” became confused with the Islamic notion of ceremonial uncleanness, Christians also came to be seen as ritually polluting a person or a thing.

Thus contempt toward Christians is deeply rooted, and there is no legislation to arrest this hatred. Rather, the state appears to want to keep Christians in this degrading occupation. Several job advertisements from government departments clearly state that sweeper candidates must be non-Muslim; some even specify that they must be Christians.

The Pakistani government hasn’t evolved any modern system of maintaining hygiene in metropolitan areas, so Christian sweepers are forced to collect and discard garbage under filthy conditions. Rotten and stinking garbage is a source of several contagious diseases, and most of the sweepers have respiratory and skin problems. A large number of them suffer from tuberculosis and hepatitis B.

One reason Sahotra is struggling to get these workers full employee status is that as temporary workers they are not entitled to any Social Security Hospital. They are not considered government employees and hence are not entitled to treatment in hospitals for government employees.

The same situation prevails at the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA), which maintains the sewage system, where about 90 percent of workers are Christians. They face extremely dangerous work conditions. When sewer lines clog because they are too small, these workers are not provided any protective gear as they sometimes dive 30 to 50 feet below ground into manholes filled with dirty and toxic water. When a sewer line gets unclogged, the strong flow sometimes carries away the worker.

Several sanitation workers have lost their lives due to toxic gasses in manholes. Overall, hundreds of people have lost their lives working for WASA, but their families do not receive the benefits that other government employees get because the workers do not have regular status despite working decades for the department.

Caste-Based Blasphemy
One reason missionaries had such success in converting area Hindus to Christianity in the late 19th century was that conversion offered the community a way to socioeconomic as well as religious emancipation.

Although a large number of Christians managed to escape the bondage by attaining education, still an overwhelming number of Christians were caught in an occupation that society rendered humiliating and degrading.

Several cases of Christians falsely charged under Pakistan’s “blasphemy” laws have been rooted in such caste-based discrimination.

Asia Noreen (also known as Asia Bibi), sentenced to death in November 2010 for allegedly insulting the prophet of Islam, was working in the fields picking fruit when she took water from a bucket for all workers. Her co-workers argued that she had polluted the water by touching it, and that the water would be drinkable only if she converted to Islam. When she answered, they ensnared her in a blasphemy case.

Remnant Hindu Brahmanic notions of untouchability combined with Islamic fervor for conversion in Pakistan also figured in accusations of blasphemy against Rubina Bibi in Alipur Chatta, Punjab Province. She had bought ghee, an Indian oil used for cooking, but when she felt it was adulterated, she told the shopkeeper to return it and give her money back. The shopkeeper argued that the oil had been polluted for having been poured into the bowl of a Christian, so it could never be returned. The ensuing argument veered into religious issues that ultimately invoked Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

The hierarchical sense of superiority that marked Imran’s alleged murder of Abbas Masih was also present in the ransacking of Christians’ homes in Bahmaniwala, Kasur, in June 2009. Trolley driver Sardar Masih asked Muhammad Hussain to remove the motorbike that he had parked in the middle of the road. Hussain refused, asking how a “Chuhra” could give him an order.

The argument grew into a brawl between two families, with the inevitable accusation from the Muslims that the Christians had committed blasphemy. The entire Christian population of the village fled, and Muslims ransacked their houses.

The above news analysis was written by Asif Aqeel, director of the Community Development Initiative, a human rights group affiliated with the European Centre for Law and Justice.

Contact Asif Aqeel
Director Community Development Initiative
83-S Block, Model Town Extension
Cell: +92-0300-400-1650
Office: +92-042-583-2641
Fax: 92-042-583-2642

Human Rights Violations against Journalists in Baluchistan

BHRC Condems the Blockade of Daily Tawar’s website

Baloch Human Rights Council (BHRC) Canada condemns the brutal act of Pakistani Security Agencies to silence the voices of freedom of expression by blocking the Web site of a newspaper named Daily Tawar. This is a daily private Urdu News Paper published from the Occupied Balochistan. Daily Tawar is a leading Daily known for its critical coverage of the Military Operation and gross human rights violation committed by Pak Army against the Secular Forces in the occupied Balochistan.

According to the following link the website of Daily Tawar is made inaccessible.
Warning – visiting this web site may harm your computer!

BHRC (Canada) believes that the Pakistani Security Agencies are involved in the blocking of the Web site, as the News Paper was on the receiving end of constant threat by the Pakistani security establishments. Previously, The Baloch Hal, a daily on line News Paper from Balochistan was banned in November 2010 right after its first anniversary. In the year 2009, Pakistani Government banned a Baloch newspaper, Daily Asaap, after an assassination attempt on the life of Mr Jan Mohmmaed Dashti the editor in chief of the Daily Asaap, but luckily he survived. In the same year, the Government of Pakistan besieged the offices of Daily Azadi and Balochistan Express.

According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the New York Based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), atleast 16 journalist were killed in the Occupied Balochistan in the year 2010-2011. Abdost Rind, a reporter with the Urdu-language paper Daily Eagle, was shot four times by the security agencies as he was returning home from work on 18 February 2011. He died immediately. The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, condemned the shooting death of Abdost Rind.

Ilyas Nazar and Abdul Hameed Baloch the two very sincere Baloch journalist were abducted and their bullet ridden decomposed bodies were found on an isolated street near Trubat. This brings the total to 4 in the span of three months.

Another prominent journalist Mr Qazi Rehan’s house was raided by the Froeinter Corp (FC) but luckily Mr Rehan managed to escape. Now he is hiding from the Pakistani establishment. BHRC-Canada along with Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission had already issued a plea to save Mr. Qazi Rehan’s endangered life.

The Pakistani army continues to imperil reporters and restrict their work in the occupied Balochistan by declaring Balochistan a ‘No go area’ for the journalists. These restriction on journalists further block all the news of atrocities committed by Pakistani Army in Balochistan.

As per IFJ’s recent report published on January 5th 2011, 94 journalists and media workers were killed in 2010 in Pakistan. All these deaths and torture of the Journalist has gone uninvestigated and unprosecuted, this further adds to the miserable record of human rights violation in Pakistan and identifies this country as the single most dangerous place in the world for any journalist to perform his/her job freely.

BHRC considers the blocking of Tawar website and the killing of Baloch journalist, a attack on the Baloch liberation movement. BHRC also believes that the blockade of Tawar, the bullet ridden decomposed bodies of the journalists are the result of the critical coverage of Baloch uprising by these Baloch Journalists who are giving their lives every day.

BHRC calls on the UN and the international authorities to act now to ensure that Daily Tawar’s Web site is restored immediately.

BHRC also demands from the United Nation to conduct an independent investigation of the atrocities by Pakistani Establishment on the innocent journalists.

(A London based human rights organization raising the profile of Texas Sized Balochistan occupied by Pakistan in the year 1948)

ASIA: Unabated violence against women impedes social change

March 8, 2011

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission on the occasion of the International Women’s Day

ASIA: Unabated violence against women impedes social change

For 100 years now, a strong struggle for equal rights between genders has been taking place in the world. International women’s day is the opportunity to celebrate women’s economic, political and social achievements. It is the day to acknowledge the enormous potential of women in service of the prosperity of their communities and the core societal role they have to play for peace and political and economic development in their countries. Having educated and empowered women actively participating in every sphere of the public life of their country has for long been acknowledged as the key to development and prosperity in all the countries of the world. Discrimination against women has been formally recognized as a violation of human dignity and as riding roughshod over the concept that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights. Nevertheless, in numerous corners of the Asian region, direct and indirect violence and discrimination, under various forms continue to oppress women and prevent them from fully achieving their potential for change. Through 2010 and since the beginning of 2011, the Asian Human Rights Commission has been aware of numerous cases of such oppression. The diversity of Asia clearly illustrates that the formal recognition of equal rights without discrimination based on gender and criminalization of gender-based violence has failed to materialize in practice. Violence against women is sometimes justified through the evocation of tradition and religion and is exploiting the weak rule of law framework of numerous Asian countries to the advantage of the male-dominated society. It is used to control the behaviour of women, prevent them from freely taking part in public debate and continuously undermines the expression of women’s potential for change in Asia.

The Global Gender Gap Index of 2010 offered a clear overview of the disparities which exists in the Asian region with regard to the country level of advancement in terms of equality of rights and opportunities between genders. The Philippines and Sri Lanka rank respectively as 9th and 16th out of 134 countries in terms of gender equality, mostly due to the achievements of those two countries in reducing the gender-gap in education and health while Pakistan ranks the third worst country in the world in terms of gender equality. Thailand ranks 57th globally but ranks among the best countries in terms of maternal health and 36th in terms of economic opportunity for the women, with women representing the majority (51%) of the non-agricultural labour force, a rarity in the Asian context. The gender situation in Bangladesh and Indonesia is less optimistic: ranking respectively as 82th and 87th. The scores of both countries are increased only by the fact that they have women as their head of State, but their scores in terms of economic empowerment, access to education and health are very low. Closing this ranking are India (112th), Nepal (114th) and Pakistan (132th) with extremely important discrepancies between genders in all spheres of life.

In a number of Asian countries patriarchal cultural and religious traditions are invoked to systematically control women’s lives, their free will and even their bodies and hamper the full realization of their potential. In India, discrimination rooted in gender prejudices that foster stereotypical roles for the girl child and women is one of the reasons for the poor state of affairs of women. The concept of purity and submission superimposed upon women by cultural and religious practices, restrict their access to education and limits their freedom to choose the employment of their choice. The continuing practice of demanding and paying dowry, though prohibited by the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 limits the parents’ interest to educate a girl child.

Another example is the common practice in some communities in Pakistan that at the time of birth of a girl, she is declared engaged to be married to a boy which will prevent the ‘engaged’ girl from freely choosing her future as her fate is sealed from the day of her birth.

Similarly, honour killings remain a strong issue in South Asia. The women being seen as carrying the honour of the family can be murdered if a family or the community considers that she is following a path different to what was expected of her. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 5,000 women die each year in honour killings worldwide. However, the actual number is likely to be much higher as the cases largely go unreported.

Another example of religion or tradition being invoked by the community to control the lives of the women was seen in a case reported in August 2010 from Sri Lanka. A husband was forced by community members of the local mosque to sign a document agreeing to the punishment of his 17-year-old wife for having given birth to a child as a result of an extra-marital relationship. The woman, who was sick, was then beaten 100 times with the hard centre stem of a coconut frond.

Similarly, in Bangladesh, the Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women expressed its concern in February 2011 that “despite the High Court’s decision that the extra-judicial punishments, fatwas, are illegal, there are reports of illegal penalties being enforced through shalish rulings to punish “anti-social and immoral behaviour”. In January 2011, a 14-year-old girl was “lashed to death” following a punishment given by a village court consisting of elders and clerics under the Shari’ah law, after being accused of having an affair with a married man.

In some countries the “traditions” invoked to maintain the women in a state of oppression benefit from the support of the authorities, like in Pakistan, or are even reflected in the legal framework like in Aceh where some of the criminal laws are based on the misinterpretation of the Shari’ah. A 2010 report by Human Rights Watch “Policing morality” on the law related to “seclusion” which makes association with a unmarried member of the opposite sex a criminal offense punishable by caning and a fine and to public dress requirement, two of the five Shari’ah laws in Aceh, revealed that these laws are abusively implemented by the authorities and document cases of aggressive interrogation, including beating of the suspects, forcing the suspects to marry and forcing women and girls to submit to virginity examinations as part of the investigation.

The Jirga courts in Pakistan oppress women’s rights and, though illegal, are tolerated or even supported by the authorities. Jirgas deny the equality between women and men, apply corporal or capital punishments upon women whose behaviour is seen as deviating from traditional standards and lack standards of fair trial. In July 2010, a woman was condemned to stoning to death by a Jirga merely for having been seen as walking alone with a man. In May 2010, a young couple was marked for death by a Jirga that included police officers because the woman had denied a suitor selected by her family in favour of her husband, who came from outside of the tribe. Despite an eventual Sindh High Court ruling in favour of the couple, community members and police continued to persecute the couple and the groom’s family. Legal and social complicity results in near impunity for those who continue to abide by the Jirga rather than law and perpetrates honour killings. The government has not been seen to take any sort of action to pronounce the Jirgas’ ruling as illegal and to dismantle them by taking action against the individuals engaged in running them.

Those cultural and religious representations remain strong obstacles in the way of women who want to take an active part in the future of their communities. Even in countries which are trying to achieve a 33% representation of women in the Parliament, such target remains very hard to reach; Nepal being the only Asian country to have achieved that goal so far. Women seeking emancipation are the target of those who want to maintain the patriarchal order of the society and see female emancipation as a direct threat to their own power and social status.

Acid attacks in Bangladesh and Pakistan against women who dare to say “no” to a marriage or a relationship are a case in point. Threats and harassment against women human rights defenders in Nepal further show the society resistance to those seen as challenging the established social order.

In some countries, women are considered as simple chattel that can be exchanged to maintain the relationship between families; to settle conflicts or a commodity that can, more simply, be sold. In February 2011, the AHRC documented a case of marriage which was opposed by the 70-year-old father of the bride in Pakistan. As “compensation” for the marriage and the loss of his daughter, the father demanded the barter of a girl from the groom’s family.

In South Asia, cases of dowry disputes and dowry deaths also reveal the value placed upon a woman’s life. These are cases where the groom’s family claims that they had not received enough material benefits to accept the woman into the family. Those claims may result in assault, mental and physical harassment of the bride, and ultimately, in her killing.

Further, Asia continues to suffer from a massive phenomenon of trafficking in women. In many cases the authorities cooperate with trafficking rings and brothels were women are kept, effectively imprisoned for sex work. Due to the irregular immigration of trafficked women, the victims often have no legal status in the country where they are trafficked to and risk detention should they try to escape or lodge a complaint with the local authorities. In Thailand, sex workers are particularly at risk of exploitation and stigmatisation with cases of arrest and humiliation commonly reported, while rape cases of women sex workers are not properly dealt with.

All the cases mentioned above clearly show a pattern that, although the attitude of state actors is primordial in dealing with cases of violence against women, the functioning of law enforcement agencies in practice reflects the patriarchal values of the society and further contribute to oppress the women. The systematic failures of the criminal justice systems have been exploited by perpetrators to deny justice and protection to the victims of gender-based violence and to maintain the women in a situation of vulnerability. For instance, in almost all the countries in Asia, authorities at all levels of the judicial system have denied assistance and justice to rape victims and protected the perpetrators, resulting in a de facto “decriminalisation of rape”. Victims of rape and gender-based violence seeking legal redress face harassment, threats from the authorities and community members and often the courage required to confront such obstacles to get justice is only rewarded with impunity for the perpetrators. This starts from the moment the victim makes the complaint of rape. In almost all of Asia there are incidents of police officers refusing to accept the complaint, forcing the victim to negotiate a settlement with the perpetrators or in specific countries even to marry the perpetrators.

Collusion between the perpetrators of rape and police officers is common. Further, the social stigma surrounding rape and women filing cases in the police station and economic dependency of women are the most important of all obstacles hampering the women’s access to redress.

In a case in Nepal last July, the police took the rape victim in custody twice at the demand of the perpetrators which resulted in having all the physical traces of rape disappear. In Sri Lanka, in January 2011, the family of a 23-year-old physically and mentally disabled rape victim was forced by the police to accept monetary compensation from the perpetrator as a settlement for the case. In Pakistan, in December 2010, a woman was raped by a local gangster with the help of two police informers and was forced by the police to withdraw her complaint. In India, women face additional risks at the hands of law enforcement officers than their male counterparts due to the risk of sexual harassment and even custodial rape. In a case reported on 1 February this year, once again from Assam state, the police officers assaulted and sexually abused a woman and her mother when the officers came to their house in search of a male suspect. In this case too, the police have refused to register a case against the accused despite written complaints.

These cases, from different corners of Asia, illustrate that protecting the right of women is intrinsically linked to the state of rule of law in the country, in particular to a sensitisation of the police and to the introduction of accountability within the ranks of law enforcement agencies.

All over Asia, the situation of women belonging to communities which are traditionally marginalized and discriminated against deserves a special mention as those women will be exploited at several levels with even less access to judiciary and state institutions than women belonging to the dominant majority in the country.

In India and Nepal for instance, women belonging to the Dalit or tribal communities are more vulnerable to rape as their lives and dignity are seen as less valuable and they have less access to judicial institutions. Nepal has also recently seen an increase in cases of isolated women, often widows and often from the Dalit community, being trashed, violently beaten, tortured and forced to eat human excreta after being accused of “witchcraft” by villagers. The Women’s Rehabilitation Center (WOREC) has documented 82 such cases within two years. In Pakistan, women from religious minorities are targeted, abducted and forcibly married to convert them to Islam. It is estimated that 20 to 25 Hindu girls are abducted each month and forcibly converted to Islam. In March 2010, the family of a 17-year-old Hindu girl who was kidnapped by three influential Muslim brothers and raped by one of them, was pressured into accepting her wedding to her rapist and her conversion to Islam by a jirga. Judicial and police inaction went as far as arresting the victim’s father under a fake case and intense pressure from ruling party members and local landlords prevented the family from seeking further assistance.

The targeting of women from marginalized castes or classes or religious and ethnic minorities is not an aimless and insignificant act; on the contrary it has calculated implications and impact. Raping or abusing the women aims at not only destroying the victim but also, through her, the community. Rape and violence against women has become an instrument of power in the hands of the dominant majority. The victimization of women from marginalized castes or classes contributes to the maintenance of power and the domination of “upper” classes or castes while the victimization of women from minorities, religious or ethnic, aims at destroying the whole structure of that community, integrating them into the “mainstream” majority through the destruction of their identity. This aspect is particularly evident in the case of Burma, where women from ethnic minorities are the target of systematic, state-induced campaigns of rape and other forms of sexual abuses by soldiers in order to “spread the blood” of the ethnic majority and to humiliate and oppress. “Licence to Rape”, a June 2002 report by the Shan Women’s Action Network documented 173 cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence, with 625 Shan girls and women victimized by Burmese soldiers from 1996 to 2001 and showed that rape was condoned as a weapon of war from the Burmese state in order to subjugate and control ethnic minorities. Documentation by women’s groups shows that such cases of rape; torture and killings of women continue unabated in other areas of ethnic conflict.

More generally speaking, women in areas of conflict suffer from specific abuses and often find themselves deprived of any legal remedy; in the South of Thailand, women are facing unrest and loss but have not been provided any kind of remedies. The Victim Protection Scheme is inappropriately implemented, which deprives the victims seeking justice with any kind of remedy. In Nepal, during the decade-long conflict, the women faced gender-based violence and sexual violence but such victims have remained invisible and absent of the government relief programmes and compensation schemes for conflict victims, a joint report by Advocacy Forum and the International Center for Transitional Justice found.

Gender bias is also visible in larger issues like poverty and malnutrition. For instance, in South Asia and South-East Asia, in both urban and rural poverty, often the direct victim of poverty and malnutrition is the women and/or the girl child. In most cases reported by the AHRC, the pattern shows that it is the mother and the girl child which face the worst brunt of poverty.

Women therefore suffer from multi-layered, multi-facetted discrimination and forms of violence in Asia. The malfunctioning of the rule of law framework is exploited by those who want to prevent women from playing a major role in the public sphere.

Nevertheless, throughout Asia, women continue to gather, organise and defend their rights and the rights of their community. The fight of those thousands of anonymous women not only contributes to the promotion of the “rights of women” but also to the advancement of democracy in their community as a whole.

In countries where reservations were made to ensure the representation of women in elected bodies, especially at the local level, women have been able to make use of such arenas to raise concrete issues of tremendous importance for the community, such as access to water.

In Nepal, women have played a tremendously important role in the popular uprising of 2006 which lead to the end of the conflict and the establishment of democracy in the country. Similarly in India, it is a woman, Ms. Iron Chanu Sharmila of Manipur, who has today become the beacon of hope and peace. Sharmila has undergone a ten-year-long fast in protest against the ongoing violence and impunity in India, committed both by the state and non-state actors. The state attempted to stifle her protest by keeping Sharmila in arbitrary and solitary detention in a hospital room for the past ten years in which she is force fed through a nasal tube. In Burma, it is also the fight of a woman, Aung San Suu Kyi that has become the incarnation of the hopes for peace, human rights and democracy of the people. In Sri Lanka, women activists and lawyers are taking a great role in the fight against torture and support to the victims. In Pakistan, it is a woman parliamentarian who had the courage to deposit a law in the Parliament seeking to amend the Blasphemy law under which religious minorities face persecutions.

On Women International Day, the AHRC calls for comprehensive action, from all forces of the society, to create the conditions for women to fully express their potential for better change.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Pakistan 2010: 19 media workers killed, 327 Wounded, 1500 retrenched

Islamabad, January 1, 2011

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has termed the year 2010 as one of the worst in the History of Pakistan which ushered into a grave yard for media related employees as 19 media persons lost their lives in target killing, bomb blasts, floods and suicidal attacks which is highest in this year in whole world.

According to the PFUJ as there was no protection of life, media persons continued to work under stress, and at least 19 media related employees lost their lives while at least 327 were wounded, tortured, and threatened by government agencies in Baluchistan. Over 238 media persons were implicated in criminal cases.

The year also witnessed record retrenchments of over 1500 media related employees including 850 media practitioners in the electronic and print media of Pakistan, without any legal formalities and payments of the legitimate dues.

The PFUJ further pointed out that despite heavy casualties of the media persons during performing the professional assignments the media houses have not taken any measures for their safety and training.

The brutality of the media tycoons can be judged from this hard fact alone that even cell phones and petty equipments are duty insured but they never bothered to realize the importance of human life which is far costlier than any material objects; and, did not care to provide insurance to media persons working in the hostile environments in the conflict zones.

The PFUJ further contended that the year 2010 proved another deadly year for media practitioners of Pakistan who were callously deprived by media owners of legitimate and fair wages, job security, life insurance, training, capacity building, while they were increasingly targeted by terrorists and pressure groups.

Highlighting ‘the plight of Pakistani media persons’ in the main representative body of the print and electronic media, the PFUJ observed during the whole preceeding year, media persons in Pakistan remained under clutches of ‘media owners’ and were forced to work without basic amenities including provision of clean drinking water, medical facilities, life insurance, security gadgets, wash-rooms, an unbiased gender policy, training for working in a hostile environment round-the-clock while media persons were employed on contract basis and deprived of benefits of provident fund, gratuity, pension, and no increase was made in their wages since July 1996.

‘A review of the year suggested that like the preceding years, from 1996 onwards, media persons were continuously denied their legitimate benefits by the owners, including a conducive working environment, security of job, wages under a government announced wage board and an unbiased gender policy, and the contract system introduced in media organisations by the media owners for media persons was not abolished’, the PFUJ asserted.

The PFUJ further pointed out that despite ever increasing incidents of killing, kidnapping, torture and intimidating, the media persons working in all parts of Baluchistan no remedial measures have been adopted by the concerned agencies to ensure their protection which is a constitutional as well as obligatory international protocol of the government.

Those killed during the proeceeding year include:
1. Hameed Marwat, TV artist (Quetta)
2. Ashiq Ali Mangi, reporter Mehran TV channel (Sindh)
3. Malik Arif, Samaa TV Cameraman (Quetta)
4. Azmat Ali, Correspondent Samaa (Orakzai Agency)
5. Ghulam Rasool Birhamani, reporter Hyderabad-based Daily Sindhu
6. Imran Ashfaq, correspondent Daily Assas (Karachi)
7. Shahid Square, correspondent Daily Assas (Karachi)
8. Faiz Mohammad Khan Sasoli, President Khuzadar Press Club
9. Abdul Haque, Security Guard, PBC Khuzdar (Baluchistan)
10. Asma Anwar of Nowshera
11. Mohammad Sarwar, Aaj TV crew driver (Quetta)
12. Cameraman Ejaz Ahmed Raisani (Quetta)
13. Misri Khan, senior journalists of Hangu (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa)
14. Mujeebur Rehman Saddiqui, senior correspondent Daily Pakistan
15. Mehar Mohammad Akmal, Reporter Punjab TV, Daily Asas
16. Abdul Hameed Hayatan, (Balochistan)
17. Altaf Chandio, President Mirpurkhas Press Club (Sindh)
18. Abdul Wahab, Express News (Mohmand Agency)
19. Pervez Khan, Waqt TV (Mohmand Agency)
20. Mohammad Khan Sasoli, correspondent Baluchistan Times, President Khuzdar Press Club.

The PFUJ said that ironically none of the killers of media practitioners who were killed after 9/11 were brought to justice so far which has aggravated the miseries of the deceased families as well as the media community. Moreover, majority of the media practitioners and media related employees who lost their lives were not compensated at par with the security personals.

“Situation in the Baluchistan province and Tribal Belts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhawa is very volatile for the media practitioners and a still more painful aspect of the same is that in both areas which are ridden by insurgency for almost over a decade, ninety-nine percent media practitioners of the same areas are neither regularly paid employees nor they are being provided any training for safety in the wake of reporting which further aggravated the safety of the life of the media persons”, said Shamsul Islam Naz, SG PFUJ.

The trend of kidnapping and torturing even killing has also attained a dangerous trend in these areas by unknown persons as well as security agencies yet there is none in the country to ensure the safety of the media persons.

Secretary Shamsul Islam Naz
Cellular +92(0)300 8665523 . +92(0)321 8665523

10,000 Ship breaking workers come together at Gaddani!!

Press Release, 5th July, 2010.

In a historic display of strength and unity, 10,000 ship breaking workers came together in Gadani today to protest deplorable working conditions and demand the fulfillment of repeatedly broken promises.

Even before the rally began, the massive congregation faced systematic harassment from the police and Anti Terrorism Task Force, who had arrived four hours in advance of the scheduled protest time of 10:30am. Not only did they attempt to physically force the protesters back to work, but led a baton charge on 150 workers, which resulted in several casualties. After wounding numerous protesters, security forces detained Edhi ambulances for a full 2 hours and prevented paramedics from tending to the injured.

Then in an attempt to intimidate the organizers and disperse the rally, the heavily armed police arrested, without just cause, the General Secretary of the Gadani Ship Breaking Democratic Workers Union (GDSBDWU), Tarhir Yusufzai and threatened to arrest the Deputy General Secretary of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), Nasir Mansoor. However, the sheer presence of thousands of workers forced the S.H.O. Amir Abdullah to back down from his confrontational stance and release Tahir Yusufzai.

A convention was held noting the long struggle of the workers. Nasir Manzoor from the NTUF, Tahir Yusufzai from GDSBDWU, Ghulam Mustafa from BNP all spoke at the convention.

The workers then commenced their 8km march along the Gadani shoreline at 10:45am and were joined by over 10,000 workers. Despite the squalid living conditions forced upon the workers for years past, they found joy in solidarity with their fellow workers and were in high spirits throughout the protest.

The ship breaking owners had previously agreed to meet the workers’ demands by 30th June in return for them calling off the strike scheduled from 16th to 30th June. The owners’ refusal to abide by the agreement and their underhand attempts to demoralize the union through physical threats and intimidation has only served to strengthen the resolve of the workers. Taking into account the owners’ lack of good faith and their deceitful efforts to deny basic rights to the workers, it was unanimously decided by all present that an indefinite strike be called from the 5th of July till the following demands were met:

100% increase in wages
Registration with Social Security and Old age Benefits Institutes
Medical Dispensary and Ambulance at each ship breaking yard
Clean drinking water and canteen at each yard
Appointment letter for every worker
End of contract (JAMADARY) system
Workers residential colony
Recognition of representative character of GSBDW Union
Occupational safety measures at work place
End of police harassment against workers

For more information, please call: Nasir Manzoor, Deputy General Secretary National Trade Union Federation at 0300-2449970

NEWS BREAK, Anne Patterson Blocks Shireen Mazari

U.S. Ambassador Forces Newspaper to Censor Known U.S. Critic in Pakistan

By Ahmed Quraishi

Finally, the Americans take their revenge. Dr. Mazari single-handedly threw cold water on Washington’s plan last year to send a rabidly anti-Pakistani US army general as defense attaché to Islamabad. The Pakistani government quietly accepted the appointment. But Dr. Mazari broke the story and aborted the plan. When the new pro-US elected government seized power, Mr. Zardari’s special assistant Husain Haqqani’s first order of business was to fire Dr. Mazari from her official post. And now the US ambassador succeeds in blocking her column. Welcome to the Banana Republic of Pakistan where soon US ambassadors will have the right appoint presidents and prime ministers. Some say they already do.

United States Ambassador Anne W. Patterson intervened with one of the largest newspaper groups in Pakistan to force it to block today a decade-old weekly column by a prominent academic and critic of US policies.

Dr. Shireen Mazari, the former director of the Islamabad Institute of Strategic Studies and a mordant critic of US blunders in Pakistan and the region, was stunned when her column failed to appear in today’s edition of the newspaper. This happened after the US ambassador sent a ‘private’ letter to the management of The News International, one of the largest English-language dailies of Pakistan.

This is a new high for American influence inside Pakistan.

Never before did a US ambassador manage to force such a change in a newspaper’s policy. For those who are new to Pakistan, this is equivalent to having Maureen Dowd or Tom Friedman’s column knocked off the pages of the New York Times because Dick Cheney does not like their criticism.

Unlike Ms. Patterson in Pakistan, her colleague in London, ambassador Louis Susman, could never dream of achieving a similar feat by, say, convincing The Times of London to block a column by David Aaronovitch. Or the US ambassador in Moscow, John Beylre, Jr., who could never even think of forcing Komsomolskaya Pravda to do anything remotely similar. They have Vladimir Putin in Russian who knows how to protect his country’s interest.

Only in Pakistan, where American meddling has reached alarming proportions and risks turning this second largest Muslim country and the world’s seventh declared nuclear-armed nation into another version of Latin America’s banana republics where Washington has been known to change governments at will.

The US achieved a feat last year when it forced the country’s military establishment under a weak and insecure Pervez Musharraf to strike a ‘deal’ to forgive the questionable illegal wealth and other criminal cases against several Pakistani political figures in order to help them come to power in exchange for supporting US policies in Pakistan.

Another major break for Washington is Pakistan’s acquiescence in the construction in Islamabad of what will soon become the largest US embassy in the world. Recently, members of privately armed US militias have been spotted in Islamabad, in some cases roughing up Pakistani citizens, without Pakistani government daring to take action.

But blocking Dr. Mazari’s column is a new high for American influence in Pakistani affairs.

She especially earned the ire of the Americans last year when she single handedly threw cold water on US plans to post a notoriously anti-Pakistan US army general to Islamabad. It was March 2008 when the new pro-US government in Islamabad allowed Washington to post Major General Jay W. Hood as the Chief, Office of the Defence Representative in Islamabad.

But Dr. Mazari broke the news of the appointment through her column, creating an uproar and forcing the Pakistani government to reject the appointment.

Dr. Mazari held a press conference today at the Islamabad head office of Pakistan Justice Movement, or PTI, a political party headed by cricket star Imran Khan where she is a senior official handling foreign policy issues.

Ambassador Anne Patterson is reported to have sent a letter to the management of the newspaper protesting at Dr. Mazari’s writings, especially on the question of the presence of Blackwater and other private American militias on Pakistani soil. Interestingly, Ms. Patterson said she did not want to see her letter published in the newspaper and insisted it be kept private. It is also not clear if Ms. Patterson actually threatened legal action or other form of protest or pressure if the newspaper continued to publish Dr. Mazari’s columns.

The newspaper editorial team is said to be ready to publish the blocked column later, possibly with some editing. Frankly, no one can blame a newspaper for protecting its interest when the very government of Pakistan seems incapable of protecting the national interest. Had Pakistan had a truly nationalistic government in Islamabad, one that inspired confidence, I can imagine that any newspaper would have politely deflected undue pressure from a foreign diplomat.

But the very fact that the column failed to run marks a victory for the US embassy and a fresh sign of the growing US influence and meddling in Pakistan’s internal matters.

It is not clear if Ms. Patterson sought the permission of the Pakistan Foreign Office before directly contacting a Pakistani newspaper to exert pressure.

This is the fourth attempt by the US Embassy to silence Dr. Mazari, whose incisive political commentary based on her close brush with power corridors in Islamabad over the years has given the Americans and the Brits a constant headache. Her columns are fodder for those who advocate a more nationalistic and Pakistan-centric approach in dealing with Washington instead of the current approach where the United States is reaping strategic benefits at the expense of Pakistan’s interests and stability.

In 2006, the US ambassador at the time, Ryan Crocker, is reported to have warned Pakistan’s foreign secretary Mr. Riaz Khokar, that he will consider Dr. Mazari’s writings to be reflective of official Pakistani thinking because Dr. Mazari was heading a think tank financed by the Foreign Office. The US diplomat demanded Dr. Mazari, according to her, be removed from office or told to stop criticizing US policies.

The foreign secretary resisted the pressure and Dr. Mazari continued her policy discourse. The interesting thing is that the first order of business for the present pro-US government in Islamabad after seizing power last year was to fire Dr. Mazari.

Her ousting was engineered by Mr. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington who is widely known in Pakistan as a staunch American apologist. Many jokingly call him ‘America’s ambassador to the Pakistani embassy in Washington.’ So it was no surprise that Dr. Mazari was fired as soon Mr. Haqqani’s government came to power.

I personally faced a similar situation when a US diplomat telephoned me in November 2007 to accuse me of spreading anti-Americanism on the state-run PTV. My crime was to start a series of talk shows discussing how our ally the US turned Afghanistan into a hub for anti-Pakistan forces in the region. The US diplomat, used a cheap trick to intimidate me when she asked, ‘Does Musharraf know what you’re doing?’

My answer was, ‘Does President Bush know when US media frequently runs anti-Pakistan articles?’

Dr. Mazari is not disheartened by this episode. ‘They might have knocked me off this time,’ she told me today after her press conference, ‘but the last round will be mine. The Americans can’t gag me in my own country.’ And that is exactly what the newspaper, The News International, has assured her of.

Pakistan Daily

Urgent Appeals: PAKISTAN Military ignores tribunal’s decision

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-003-2009
19 January 2009
PAKISTAN: Military ignores tribunal’s decision
ISSUES: Administration of justice

Dear Friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information regarding a case where the military officials are continuing to ignore a court order. The decision made by the Federal Service Tribunal (FST) concerning the employment of two peasants, formerly employed by the military, is yet to be complied with.

Mr. James Masih and Mr. Ghani Masih worked as dry stock attendants at the military farm in Panjnad, Okara district, Punjab province. They were fired by the military authorities (through an order dated April 29, 2004), on the charge of being the brothers of Mr. Younus Iqbal Masih. Masih is the chief of The Anjuman Mazaraeen Okara (The Peasant Association of Okara), a rights organisation that fights against the continued efforts of the Pakistan military to change their title of ‘tenant’, to that of ‘contractual labourer’.

At the beginning of the retrenchment process, military authorities (in a charge sheet dated 10 December 2002) claimed that the men’s performance and standards of discipline weren’t up to the required standard, and they were involved in undesirable activities. However at the end of the inquiry when the two were fired, it was put down to the fact that both men were still “enjoying good relations with (their) brother” and thus helping him in his “subversive activities.”

The brothers took their case to the Federal Service Tribunal, Lahore, which challenged the military with an impugn judgment (the verdict for one person applying to the other defendants in the case), and ordered them through the federal secretary of the defense ministry, to conduct a new, coherent inquiry. In the next charge sheet (February 13, 2004) the military authorities claimed that the brother in question “was engaged in subversive activities and (his) retention in service is prejudicial to national security. So, (he is) liable to be dismissed from service.”

After the victim submitted his reply, another inquiry was set in motion by the military authorities, led by Dr. Muhammad Amer Ayub, a veterinary officer. The vet concluded that the man had actively supported his brother Younus Masih and other tenants in their uprising against military farms management. They were dismissed from December 31, 2003.

The appellant filed his departmental appeal (May 13 2004) before the assistant director of headquarters at the military farm, but no decision came back to him. He then filed an instant appeal before the Federal Service Tribunal on July 28, 2004.

On November 6, 2008, the Federal Services Tribunal ruled that the firing of the man was illegal and that he should be reinstated, with the period since his dismissal treated and paid for as leave. The tribunal observed that: “we feel that (an) appellant should not be penalised for his hardship with his brother and father, and should not be made to pay for (their) sins.” Being an impugned judgment, the decision applies to all 32 persons who were retrenched by the military authorities during the 2001 movement of the peasants of military farms.

The military authorities and Ministry of Defense have refused to follow the decision of the Federal Service Tribunal, which is binding for every official ministry and departments. The victims remain jobless and are still barred from entering their former homes at the farm.

The military officials need to be taken to task and reminded of their role in the country. The brothers must be immediately returned to their jobs and homes, and compensated for the wages lost so far. The military officers also clearly need to be given something useful to do; it is unlikely that such activities can be held up as a worthy use of Pakistan’s defense budget.

The Punjab (Provincial) Board of Revenue has leased out large tracts of agricultural land, tilled by tenants and their forefathers for over 80 years, to military farms and other organisations like the Punjab Seed Corporation. The leases have already expired, but instead of vacating the land, the military have publicly claimed ownership of it. The military authorities have been pressing the Board of Revenue to transfer the ownership of these lands from the peasants to the military. Their latest move – the request of a permanent land transfer of over 20,000 acres in Okara and Lahore by the Ministry of Defense in February 1, 2000 – occurred just three months after the Musharraf coup. Nevertheless, the board refused (in a letter dated April 13, 2001).

In June 2000 the administration of Okara’s military farms–the largest of the many state farms spreads over 17,000 acres–told the tenants that they would no longer be considered as tenants but instead would have to sign limited-year contracts on their own land. They were told to pay cash rent to military authorities instead of the usual harvest shares. The tenants refused because they knew that while tenancy laws protected them from eviction, their jobs would not be safe as contract workers. The contract in question banned the personal use of trees and soil of the land, bound contractors’ loyalty and obedience to the military officers and made the contractor responsible for preventing crimes. The slightest breach of the contract would lead to its cancellation. As the situation has grown more polarised, officers have begun demanding the outright ownership of the land.

The total area under lease to military farms in various districts of Punjab amounts to 166,204 acres and the military argument, that the area is close to the border, only applies to 1,450 acres in the district of Kasur. In fact, like other exclusive defense housing societies found in major cities, these military farms have nothing to do with the defense of the country.

Please write a letter to the government authorities below, demanding the re-instatement of the two peasants at the military farm in Panjdnad, Okara, with back benefits from the day they were unjustly fired.

To support this appeal, please click here:

Closure of Girls’ Schools in Swat Condemned

Civil Society Strongly Condemns Closure of Girls’ Schools in Swat
Islamabad, 15 January 2009

All over Pakistan, huge numbers of civil society organizations, human rights activists, lawyers, teachers and concerned citizens protest against and condemn in the strongest terms, the barbaric, inhuman and un-Islamic act of blowing up and closing down girls’ schools in Swat, under the orders of a local Taliban group, led by Mullah Fazalullah.

We remind the Mullah that the first word of the Quran is “IQRA” and it is NOT confined to the male species. Neither are the Hadiths that enjoin on ALL to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave, even if it means travelling to China.

We most strongly condemn and protest against the sacking and thereby the loss of livelihoods of the thousands of women teachers of these schools. We strongly condemn and protest against Mullah Fazalullah’s forcing Swat’s industry owners to sack all their women industrial workers, who were the sole breadwinners of low income families living in dire poverty.

We are outraged at the Taliban’s brutal killing of a young woman and dragging out her body for a public spectacle. We are further outraged at the horrific photograph of the ban on women from markets and public places – as also the immediate action on the ban by intimidated traders.

We are profoundly angry at and strongly condemn the Taliban’s daily barbaric and inhuman execution of men in Swat and hanging up their dead bodies in Khooni/Zibah Khana Chowk.

We condemn the total absence of law and order, police, courts and district administration. We condemn the injustice of the Taliban’s decisions of “instant justice” and instant punishment.

We MOST STRONGLY protest against and condemn the professed helplessness, criminal silence and indifference of the Pukhtunkhwa ANP Government and the federal PPP Government. We condemn the total absence of the writ of the State, despite prolonged and ongoing military operations against extremist militancy in Swat and FATA. We also condemn these operations for their negative results, due to he Government and military’s appeasement policy and a lack of political will and resolve.

We strongly protest and condemn the deafening silence from the religio-political parties (former MMA coalition ruling Pukhtunkhwa since 2002) and the so-called ulema.

The brutal loss of life and livelihoods in Swat has reached gigantic proportions, but since neither the military nor the Taliban permit electronic media coverage, we do not see the daily brutalities in the manner in which Al-Jazeera, BBC & CNN have been covering Israel’s brutalities in Gaza.

Thus, there is an eerie silence on the killing fields of Swat, and the ruling ANP Government of the so-called secular, progressive party of Bacha Khan is enacting Shariah Laws and states on the record that once Shariah is enforced in Swat, as it has been in the rest of Malakand, there will be peace and tranquility.

We ask: peace and tranquility for whom? Not for the thousands of those killed, maimed, brutalized and turned out of their homes and the district. Not for the shelterless IDPs and refugees, not for the schoolgirls now at home, not for the jobless school teachers and factory workers. Only for the ANP, the PPP, and their military and U.S.A. masters.

Services Hospital nurse found dead in hostel room

Shaheed Bibi Farhat Zareen: Sahiwal

LAHORE: A 26-year-old Services Hospital nurse was found dead under mysterious circumstances inside her room in the hospital’s nursing hostel late on Friday.

The victim was identified as Farhat Zareen, a resident of Sahiwal.

Shadman Assistant Sub-inspector (ASI) Saleem said that fellow nurses had found the victim in a state of unconsciousness late on Friday night. They, with the help of security officials, rushed her to the hospital where doctors pronounced her dead.

Police officials took Zareen’s body to the city morgue for autopsy and informed her parents. The ASI said that it was not clear whether Zareen had been murdered or had committed suicide.

staff report

Afghanistan: Girl students and teachers maimed in acid attack

25/11/2008: Afghan authorities have arrested 10 Taliban insurgents who threw acid in the faces of schoolgirls in southern Afghanistan, an official said on Tuesday. (International Herald Tribune)

President Hamid Karzai ordered the arrest of the culprits and said they would be executed in public after the attack on eight schoolgirls and four female teachers in the southern city of Kandahar this month.

General Mohammad Daud Daud, the deputy interior minister tasked to deal with incident, said authorities had arrested 10 men in recent days in connection to the attack.

“The attack was the work of the Taliban and we have not finalised our investigation,” Daud told reporters in Kandahar.

The Taliban barred girls from education while they were in power from 1996 until U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the hardline Islamist movement in 2001, but the militants denied any involvement in the acid attack.

Violence has surged to its worst level this year in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s removal. The ongoing insecurity, as well as attacks targeting schools and teachers, have stopped tens of thousands of Afghan students attending classes.

(Writing by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by David Fox)

25 November 2008

Source: International Herald Tribune