Broadside fired at al-Qaeda leaders

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD – A number of senior al-Qaeda members who had earlier opposed the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and some of whom were recently released from detention in Iran, have produced an electronic book critical of al-Qaeda’s leadership vision and strategy.

The book, the first of its kind to publicly show collective dissent within al-Qaeda, was released last month. It urges the self-acclaimed global Muslim resistance against Western hegemony to open itself to the Muslim intelligentsia for advice and to harmonize its strategy with mainstream Islamic movements.

Analysts who spoke to Asia Times Online said that on face value the book did not indicate a spilt, rather an academic and “polite” review of al-Qaeda’s policies. However, at a later stage, such
discussion could lead to a division within al-Qaeda’s ranks in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region where the top leadership is stationed.

Twenty questions
Three of the top al-Qaeda decision-makers who opposed the 9/11 attacks plotted by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad were Egyptian Saiful Adil (Saif al-Adel), an important military planner; Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, once the chief of al-Qaeda’s religious committee that reviews all decisions; Suleman Abu al-Gaith, who was al-Qaeda’s chief spokesperson.

All three moved to Iran where they lived under limited restrictions until being released along with more than a dozen others earlier this year. (See How Iran and al-Qaeda made a deal Asia Times Online, April 30, 2010.) They then settled in the rugged Pakistani tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan that is home to the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda and related militant groups.

On November 15, some members of this group released Twenty Guidelines for Jihad on the Internet site The author is cited as Suleman, saying he was “al-Qaeda’s official spokesperson in 2001,” indicating a distancing from al-Qaeda’s organizational structure.

The preface of the Arabic-language book was written by Mehfuz bin Waleed (as Abu Hafs al-Mauritani is also known). He was the chief of al-Qaeda’s religious committee before 9/11, after which he was sent to Iran as al-Qaeda’s envoy in that country. He struck a deal with the government to allow the free movement of Arab families from Afghanistan to the Arab world via the province of Zahedan.

He was later joined by other al-Qaeda members, in addition to some family members of Osama bin Laden. They were all kept in guest houses in a designated colony, but were not allowed to leave Iran.

The website on which the book was released is owned and operated by Abu Waleed al-Misri, also known as Mustafa Hamid. He was a close aide of Bin Laden but fled to Iran before 9/11. He has written 11 books on Arab-Afghans. His latest book, Cross in the Skies of Kandahar, criticizes the al-Qaeda leader in particular and al-Qaeda in general, holding them responsible for the collapse of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan (Taliban regime), which fell in late 2001 following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11.

Hamid’s main criticism of Bin Laden is that he is authoritarian and refuses to take advice. He alleges that Bin Laden has placed himself as a superior to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, whom all Arab-Afghans recognize as their ameer or chief. Hamid narrates that while Bin Laden has pledged his allegiance to Mullah Omar, he does not follow his instructions and therefore deserves punishment.

Al-Qaeda at a crossroad
Gaith’s electronic book is ostensibly for tarbait (guidance) and is not written to directly malign al-Qaeda’s leaders – indeed, it does not name any of them. It is critical though, for example Gaith takes to task leaders who do not take advice. “They took decisions in haste that resulted in a big defeat.”

“They think that they are right all the time and they are encircled by a bunch of advisers who do not qualify to give advice. Ironically, this situation stands in the way of jihad, which belongs to the ummah [Muslim world] and their decisions affect the whole Muslim world. This is such a delicate matter as strategy is supposed to be consulted with all Muslim groups, scholars and the Muslim intelligentsia in general.”

This could be taken as an explicit criticism of al-Qaeda deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has condemned Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas in Palestine and severed all ties with them.

“It means isolation of yourself and the mujahideen from the mainstream Islamic movements and from the Muslim world. It makes the task easier for the enemy to isolate you and target you,” Gaith writes.

He stresses that the feelings of the ummah should be taken into account before any grand operation is carried out. “Your arsenal is supposed to be used against combatants only, not against innocent people. You mishandled operations and oppressed common men, while our role is supposed to be that of liberators against zulm [oppression].”

This is the first book by a member of al-Qaeda that cites early modern Islamic movement ideologues like Hasan al-Banna (founder of the Muslim Brotherhood), Muhammad al-Ghazali (Muslim Brotherhood Egypt), Syed Abul Ala Maududi (founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami in South Asia), and Gaith urges al-Qaeda leaders to follow the advice of these ideologues.

Gaith does not endorse the adherence to democratic systems adopted by some contemporary Islamic movements, and also condemns their relations with Muslim ruling regimes, but he stresses in the book that they still have a lot of merits and those merits should be appreciated.

“Definitely, we will fail if our leadership does not follow and practice the characters of good leaders and ideologues and if our leaders continue to believe that they are right all the time.”

Without naming Mullah Omar, Gaith underlined a necessity to obey his directives as a single central command. “All jihadi groups should be under one leadership, which must consult with experts and scholars from the whole ummah. They [leaders] are silent against some declared enemies of Islam while they openly mock and criticize Islamic groups.”

Potential split?
During the 1990s, at least 17 Arab groups operated in Afghanistan and while they were influenced by al-Qaeda, they operated separately. By the time of 9/11, the majority had merged into al-Qaeda, with exceptions such as al-Gama Islamiya al-Muqatilal (GIM), Jamaatul Toheed Wal Jihad (led by Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi who joined al-Qaeda very late after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003), beside hundreds of Arabs who independently joined the cause of jihad with the powerful Jalaluddin Haqqani.

After 9/11, even these independent operators had little choice but to operate with al-Qaeda as in the “war on terror”, all Arab-Afghans were seen as al-Qaeda. Many were arrested in Pakistan and abroad simply because they lived in Afghanistan. In a quest for a safe haven, they went to the Pakistani tribal areas and stayed in al-Qaeda’s camps because it was the only potent Arab organization left in the region that could provide them shelter. Many Arab-Afghans were opposed to al-Qaeda’s strategies, but they had no room to question them.

Now, with top al-Qaeda operators openly expressing criticism, such views could gain momentum. This could lead to reform of the most violent self-acclaimed global Muslim resistance movement against Western hegemony, or it might allow dissenters to side with mainstream Afghan-Taliban leaders and break with al-Qaeda.

Renowned Arab journalist Jamal Ismail, author of Bin Laden, al-Jazeera and Me who has met Bin Laden and interviewed Zawahiri, commented to Asia Times Online, “It is not a spilt [at this point], but a review. However, at a later stage, it might lead to a spilt if the advice [in the book] is not listened to, as well as other opinions from inside and outside of al-Qaeda.”

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief and author of upcoming book Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban 9/11 and Beyond published by Pluto Press, UK. He can be reached at


Information provided by

CPSHR (Vancouver) Supports Minority Rights in Pakistan

The Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights (CPSHR) Statement sent on the eve of Vancouver’s March 15 Candle Light vigil.

The Quran says: God forbids you not, with regards to those who fight you not for your faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for God loveth those who are just. (Quran, 60:8)

The Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights (CPSHR) stands in solidarity with the struggles of Pakistani people for human rights and the longstanding injustice to non-Muslims in Pakistan.

We condemn the murder of Minister Shahbhaz Bhatti, for speaking out against the Blasphemy Laws, preceded by the assassination of the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer who had taken up the cause of Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian labourer who is currently imprisoned awaiting death by hanging under the Blasphemy Laws, an injustice which has caused a litany of suffering among Pakistan’s religious minority.

CPSHR believes that people of all religions who suffer oppression and violence must place perpetrators accountable to humanity outside their religious claims. Any beliefs, seemingly based on the Quran, the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes oppression and injustice, is far from its calling.

We add our voice to all those who are campaigning for the repeal of Blasphemy Laws to protect Muslim and non-Muslim lives, minority rights, freedom of speech and democracy.

Stop the persecution of all minorities in Pakistan!

Release Aasia Bibi and all those being victimized by discriminatory laws!

Long live international solidarity!

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)

Pakistanis being beaten/killed in Bahrain‏

I urge you all to focus on whats going on in Bahrain – there is naturally a huge pro-govt and Anti-Govt riots going on but in the midst of the fray Pakistanis are being targeted and beaten and killed. In researching this issue online I heard both sides of the argument and was even at a time being blamed for taking sides but in the end I boiled down to to simply focusing on Human Rights abuses on Pakistanis.

I share two links here – One is an open letter of appeal from a Pakistani Journalist based in Bahrain Azizuddin Khattak who pleads for attention on this issue

Letter from a Pakistani Journalist in Bahrain appealing for Help

Second is an email from an anonymous doctor in a medical hospital in Bahrain, take the contents with a pinch of salt as it may seem fabricated, but my telephonic conversations with a few Pakistanis in Bahrain say that such similar incidents are happening and this is along the same lines
Shocking Attack on a Pakistani in a Hospital in Bahrain

The reason why such a situation is happening in Bahrain is that traditionally the Bahrain police recruits a large contingent of Pakistani / Punjabi / Bangladeshi officers enrolled, and since the past few days the government has taken a strong stance on the protestors, the protestors have reverted to going on a rampage targetting police as well as civilian Pakistanis based in Bahrain going house to house and brutally killing Pakistanis in an act of bloody revenge mixed with sectarian riots

Our focus as Pakistanis should be the safety of our Pakistani brethren as a priority, the local political issue is far more complicated then what meets the eye. Please appeal to your organizations & associated media outlets to cover this issue – Spread the word

If need be I can help furnish contact details of some Pakistanis who can be contacted in Bahrain to comment on this issue

Awab Alvi

‘Assassinated Pakistani minister discussed death threats on Radio India’: Gurpreet Singh

By Gurpreet Singh
March 3, 2011

Pakistan’s minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti—who was assassinated March 2 for suggesting changes in the country’s blasphemy law—was determined to pay any price.

In an interview with this reporter on Surrey-based Radio India in January, Bhatti acknowledged that he had received death threats from radical Muslim clerics.

“I have been told that I would be beheaded,” he said at the time. “But I am ready to pay any price and will continue to work to bring changes in the blasphemy law, which is affecting both the minorities and the majority.”

Bhatti was shot dead in a broad daylight in Islamabad. A Muslim extremist group, Tehrik-i-Taliban, has claimed responsibility for his murder.

Bhatti, the only Christian in the Pakistan cabinet, said on Radio India that he was receiving threats following the assassination of Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Taseer was shot by one of his own bodyguards on January 4.

At the time, Taseer was trying to help Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who is facing death sentence for allegedly making blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Mohammad.

Taseer’s assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, received commendation from many radical clerics in Pakistan.

Bhatti described Taseer as a martyr and suggested that those who glorified his killer are real blasphemers.

“The so-called custodians of religion should know that you can kill a person but not his ideas,” Bhatti said at the time.

He believed that the blasphemy law that was introduced by the late former Pakistani president Zia-ul-Haq to please Muslim fundamentalists. Bhatti suggested that it needs sweeping changes as it is being widely misused, particularly against minorities in the theocratic Muslim state of Pakistan.

“Though the law is also affecting the majority Muslim community…the minorities have to suffer twice,” he commented.

In Bhatti’s view, the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a liberal Muslim, whereas radical clerics are trying to turn the country into a Taliban state.

“We have to make a choice between a tyrant Muslim state and an open and modern state Jinnah wished to create,” Bhatti stated.

Prior to his assassination, he appealed for dialogue on the controversial subject and emphasized that a man-made law can always be changed according to circumstances.

In addition to Bhatti, Sherry Rehman, a female Pakistani MP, has also receiving threats for supporting a bill seeking to amend the blasphemy law. An edict has been issued against her by the fundamentalist clerics.

Gurpreet Singh is Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He’s working on a book tentatively titled Canada’s 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.

Repeal the Blasphemy Laws! Candlelight Vigil, Vancouver March 15/11

Protect Human Rights of Minorities in Pakistan!
Repeal the Blasphemy Laws!
Candlelight Vigil to Commemorate the Lives of all Victims of Blasphemy Laws
March 15th, 6pm
Outside the Pakistani Consulate, 510 W. Hastings Street
(corner of W. Hastings and Richards, across from SFU Harbour Centre)

As you may know, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was recently assassinated for speaking out against the Blasphemy Laws and the resulting ongoing persecution of religious minorities. This was preceded by the assassination of the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer who had taken up the cause of Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian labourer who is currently imprisoned awaiting death by hanging under the Blasphemy Laws. Countless other Pakistanis continue to be persecuted because of these heinous legal relics of the Zia dictatorship in conjunction with a dangerous and unconscionable appropriation of Islam, deliberately distorted for the sole purpose of political or economic gain.

We believe that it is the Blasphemy Laws themselves and the resulting persecution and violence that are un-Islamic and contrary to both the tenets of Islam and the founding principles of the nation. We stand in solidarity with the struggles taking place in Pakistan to ensure equality for ALL Pakistanis and feel that we must speak out strongly where other voices are being threatened into silence through harassment and direct death calls.

Through this vigil, we want to begin building alliances with sister organizations and supportive individuals for effective lobbying to put pressure on the Government of Pakistan, the Chief of the Army Staff, and the leaders of all political parties to repeal the Blasphemy Laws, and to abolish religious extremism and vigilantism. We believe, the Blasphemy Laws must be repealed in order to protect Muslim and non-Muslim lives, minority rights, freedom of speech and democracy.

Please stand with us. This issue requires your urgent support.

Protect Human Rights of Minorities in Pakistan!
Repeal the Blasphemy Laws!
Candlelight Vigil to Commemorate the Lives of all Victims of Blasphemy Laws
March 15th, 6pm
Outside the Pakistani Consulate, 510 W. Hastings Street
(corner of W. Hastings and Richards, across from SFU Harbour Centre)

Please join us in a candlelight vigil to
– Protest the persecution of all minorities within Pakistan
– Push for the repeal of the blasphemy laws and all laws that discriminate against all minorities
– Honour all lives lost to extremist violence including the recent assassinations of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti
– Support the release of Aasia Bibi and all those now being victimized by discriminatory laws

For more info
Facebook page:

Organized by
Ad Hoc Group For the Repeal of Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan
Vancouver, BC

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.

Shahbaz Bhatti murder: Churches announce 3-day mourning

Shahbaz Bhatti murder: NCJP update
March 2, 2011
by Citizens for Democracy

Churches announce three-day mourning: all missionary schools closed. Sunday March 6 to be observed as a day of prayer and fasting.

March 3: demonstration in Faisalabad , 11 am, starting from Catholic Church Railway Road to Press Club.

The Mirror Update (from the National Commission for Justice and Peace)

Assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti (1968-2011), Federal Minister for Minority Affairs

Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti Federal Minister for Minority Affairs was assassinated by unknown assailants on March 2, 2011, near his residence in I/8 Sector, Islamabad. He received 30 bullets fired by two gunmen with automatic rifle(s). He was rushed to a Hospital by his driver, and pronounced dead by the doctors.

While the Taliban claimed the responsibility, the attack was widely condemned at national and international level. President, Prime minister of Pakistan, Chief Minister Punjab, Muthida Qaumi Movement, Minister for Foreign Affairs Germany, Pakistan Muslim League N, Civil Society of Pakistan and Christian leadership has strongly condemned the assassination of Mr. Bhatti. His funeral is expected to take place on March 4, with the burial in Khushpur, his native village near Faisalabad.

The backdrop of the assassination is the need and demand to bring about changes in the blasphemy laws of Pakistan with their known abuse and discrimination.

After the assassination of Governor Salman Taseer who expressed sympathy for Aasia Bibi a Christian convicted under the blasphemy law, this is another attack on the freedom of expression and conscience of the people of Pakistan and sovereignty of the state. The extremist forces want to silent all enlightened and moderate voices. The country has lost a patriot, and a progressive voice.

Public reaction

* Demonstrations were held in Islamabad, Lahore Karachi, Multan, Quetta and other cities of Pakistan condemning the incident.

* The Churches have announced the closure of Christian schools, etc. throughout the country for three days mourning, while the Sunday (6th March, 2011) will be observed as a day of prayer and fasting.

* There will be a demonstration in Faisalabad on 3rd March, 11 am, starting from Catholic Church Railway Road to Press Club.


Drop Blasphemy Charges Against 17-Year-Old

Student’s Case Underscores Urgent Need to Repeal Abusive Law

(New York, February 2, 2011) – The Pakistani government should immediately drop blasphemy charges against a 17-year-old student and ensure his safe release from detention, Human Rights Watch said today.

The authorities arrested Muhammad Samiullah on January 28, 2011, and charged him under Pakistan’s “blasphemy law,” article 295-C of the criminal code, for allegedly including derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad in his answers on a written school exam in April 2010. According to press reports, police at Shahra Noor Jahan Police Station in Karachi registered a case against Samiullah after receiving a complaint from the chief controller of the intermediate level education board. On January 29, a judicial magistrate, Ehsan A. Malik, ordered Samiullah sent to a juvenile prison pending trial.

“Pakistan has set the standard for intolerance when it comes to misusing blasphemy laws, but sending a schoolboy to jail for something he scribbled on an exam paper is truly appalling,” said Bede Sheppard, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s bad enough that a school official flagged it, but for police and judicial authorities to go ahead and lock up a teenager under these circumstances is mind boggling.”

The police have said that they cannot report exactly what was written in the exam paper as doing so would also amount to blasphemy.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty to which Pakistan is a party, guarantees everyone under age 18 the right to freedom of expression, thought, conscience, and religion.

Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code makes the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy. Although this case involves a Muslim, Human Rights Watch has documented how the law is often used to persecute and discriminate against religious minorities in Pakistan.

Pakistan has applied the blasphemy law to children before, Human Rights Watch said. On February 9, 1995, Salamat Masih, a Pakistani Christian boy who was then 14 was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a lower court in Lahore, Pakistan, for allegedly writing derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad on the wall of a mosque. He was also sentenced to two years’ hard labor and fined. Masih was acquitted on February 23, 1995, because the court found that he was, in fact, illiterate. Masih then fled the country out of concerns for his safety. Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti, who acquitted Masih, was assassinated in his chambers at the Lahore High Court in 1997. The assassin, who was subsequently arrested, claimed to have murdered the judge as revenge for acquitting Masih.

Hundreds of people have been charged under section 295-C since it was added to the penal code in 1986 by Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the military ruler at that time. In 2009, authorities charged scores of people under the law, including at least 50 members of the Ahmadiyya religious community. Many of those charged remain in prison.

Pakistani and international human rights organizations have long called for the repeal of the blasphemy law. The law has come under renewed scrutiny in recent months as a consequence of a death sentence imposed on November 8, 2010, on Aasia Bibi, an illiterate farmhand from Sheikhupura district in Punjab province.

Extremists responded to government attempts to pardon Aasia Bibi with a campaign of intimidation, violence, and threats against critics of the law. On January 5, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was assassinated, and the man charged with the killing said he had committed the crime because Taseer had called the blasphemy law a “black law.” Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s former information minister who in November proposed a parliamentary bill to amend the law, has also received death threats, which Pakistan’s government has ignored.

“While Pakistan’s government keeps up the mantra that it will not allow ‘misuse’ of the law, government inaction has only emboldened extremists,” Sheppard said. “Until this law is repealed, it will be used to brutalize religious minorities, children, and other vulnerable groups.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on children’s right issues, please visit:

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Pakistan, please visit:

For more information, please contact:
In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-7908-728-333 (mobile)
In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson (English, Mandarin): +1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)
In New York, Bede Sheppard (English) +1-917-664-3727 (mobile)

No one has the right to term someone else a ‘blasphemer’

Press Statement: No one has the right to term someone else a ‘blasphemer’

Feb 2, 2011: Citizens for Democracy (CFD), an umbrella group of professional groups, NGOs, trade unions, student unions, political parties and individuals, expresses alarm at the growing trend to accuse individuals of ‘blasphemy’ – an accusation that in this current climate has become an incitement to violence and even murder.

The assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, and the orchestrated glorification of his murderer, has created an atmosphere of great insecurity in the country.

Those who have glorified the assassin as a ‘ghazi’ or hero are now using violence and threats of violence against those who term the slain Punjab Governor a ‘shaheed’ or martyr.

We demand that the murderer be tried according to law, and that those threatening violence also be dealt with according to law.

We believe that each citizen has the right to view or term anyone as a ‘ghazi’ or a ‘shaheed’ without fear of reprisals.

No one has the right to term anyone else a blasphemer or ‘gustakh’ – especially publicly – as such accusations have become an incitement to violence and murder.

Those who support such accusations are equally guilty of inciting violence and murder – whether they be senators, newspapers, television anchors and so-called ‘religious personalities’.

We urge all political parties, parliamentarians and senators to take a clear stand on this issue: No citizen has the right to cast aspersions at the faith and beliefs of any other citizen of Pakistan or to term someone else a ‘blasphemer’.

All such allegations will be viewed as incitements to violence and murder and may be proceeded against in a court of law.

From: Citizens for Democracy – a coalition of professional organisations, trade unions, political parties, non-government organisations and individuals including: Professional Organisations Mazdoor Federations & Hari Joint Committee (POJAC), an umbrella organisation including: 1. Sindh High Court Bar Association; 2. Pakistan Medical Association (PMA); 3. All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC); 4. Mutahida Labour Federation; 5. Karachi Union of Journalists; 6. Pakistan Workers Federation; 7. All Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF); 8. All Pakistan Clerk Association; 9. Democratic Labour Union State Bank of Pakistan; 10. UBL Workmen Union (CBA); 11. National Bank Trade Union Federation; 12. Karachi Bar Association; 13. Pakistan Nursing Federation; 14. National Trade Union Federation; 15. Sindh Hari Committee; 16. Govt. Sec. Teachers Association; 17. Pakistan Hotel And Restaurant Workers Federation; 18. Mehran Mazdoor Federation; 19. All Sindh Primary Teachers Association; 20. Sindh Professor Lecturer Association; 21. Malir Bar Association, Karachi; 22. Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF); 23. Railway Workers Union Open Line (cba) Workshop; 24. Mehran Railway Employees Welfare Association; 25. All Pakistan Trade Unions Organisations; besides other CFD members and endorsing organisations: 26. Awami Party; 27. Labour Party Pakistan (LPP); 28. Progressive Youth Front (PYF); 29. Communist Party Pakistan (CPP); 30. Peace and Solidarity Council; 31. Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education & Research (Piler); 32. Action Committee for Human Rights; 33. Dalit Front; 34. National NCommission for Justice and Peace (CJP); 35. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP); 36. Caritas; 37. Aurat Foundation; 38. Women¹s Action Forum (WAF); 39. People¹s Resistance; 40. Sindh Awami Sangat; 41. National Organisation of Working Committees; 42. Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF); 43. Child and Labour Rights Welfare Organisation; 44. Progressive Writers Association (PWA); 45. Port Workers Federation; 46. Shirkat Gah; 47. Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC); 48. Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA); 49. Sanjan Nagar Public Education Trust (SNPET); 50. Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network (PDSN); 51. Sindh Democratic Forum (SDF); 52. SAP-Pakistan; 53. AwazCDS-Pakistan; 54. GCAP-Pakistan; 55. Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF); 56. Labour Education Foundation (LEF); 57. Progressive Youth Forum; 58. National Students¹ Federation (NSF); 59. The Researchers; 60. Tehrik-e-Niswan; 61. Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD); 62. Crises Support Group of Residents for Defence and Clifton, Karachi; 63. Baaghi: A blog for secular Pakistan; 64. Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP); 65. Ansar Burney Trust International; 66. Viewpoint International; 67. Pakistan Youth Alliance

Citizens For Democracy