We had a good meeting yesterday in Karachi, convened by the newly formed Citizens for Democracy, to strategise about developing a long-term strategy to counter the ‘blasphemy law’ hype that has been created in Pakistan.
Some press reports this morning that used the info we sent them.
1. The News – lead story on City page today by Shahid Husain – ‘Tough struggle needed to reform blasphemy law’
2. Express Tribune: ‘Citizens for Democracy’ alliance formed to amend blasphemy laws
3. Daily Times used the info like a press statement: Citizens For Democracy meet at PMA House
Email sent to Citizens for Democracy e-group about the meeting yesterday:
Dec 26, 2010
I sent the following notes to some friends in the media – it’s not a press release but information they can use to make news items. Below it are notes for those who are part of the overall umbrella group Citizens for Democracy.
Citizens For Democracy meeting at PMA House, Dec 26, 2010, 4.00 pm
Notes sent to some friends in media:
The issue of the blasphemy laws has been controversial since the military dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq imposed additions B and C to the existing 295-A dealing with crimes related to offending religious sentiments. Since 1992 when death became the only sentence for those convicted under 295-Cl, over 30 alleged blasphemers have been murdered so far, many not even formally accused.
We re-capped points agreed upon at the previous meeting held at Karachi Press Club on Dec 19, convened by Professional Organisations Mazdoor Federations & Hari Joint Committee. These points include:
- The ‘religious’ right wing, despite never having won at the polls, wields disproportionate street power. They are coming out in big numbers and have chalked out a long programme to keep the pressure on against any repeal or amendment to the blasphemy law.
- There is confusion among people about these laws. People are afraid they will be seen as un-Islamic if they support repeal or amendment. They are afraid to come out into the street in support of something they are not convinced about.
- There is a need to highlight information about blasphemy cases, including the fact that cases are typically registered days later than alleged incident and that the blasphemy law is being used as a political tool to arouse passions and keep certain persons and parties in the limelight. Motives have been found to range from personal enmity, financial rivalry to land disputes.
- Go by Zardari’s public statements, not rumours that PPP politicians have been privately told to suppress the issue – remember he pushed through the Human Organs Transplant Law despite huge opposition, but it was the culmination of a campaign that lasted years. Getting the blasphemy law amended should also be treated as a long-term campaign.
- We need to support the government in its initiative to at least amend the law, even if this means coming across as pro-government. (This is not and should not be seen or projected as political support for any individual or party but for the wider issue and cause)
Further points agreed upon at the Dec 26 meeting were:
- Many organisations and groups have been urging repeal of the blasphemy law. At this point, however, there is an urgent need to agree that the law is being misused, that it needs amendments and that no one has the right to murder anyone regardless of what they say or believe.
- Urging debate and amendment to these laws does not mean encouraging ‘blasphemy’ or disrespect but ensuring that the law is not misused and injustice is not committed.
- Many people at this meeting have been discussing the issue with religious scholars and clerics who agree to these basic principles; it is time to bring their views before the public.
- Form a website or blog at which materials related to this issue will be posted, including all the e-petitions that are going around.
- CFD to organise a seminar in the first half of January to highlight issues raised and stimulate debate. The seminar may be followed by a demonstration.
- Seminars, information sessions and briefing meetings may also be held at colleges, universities and in different areas of the city and around the country in order to continue this information campaign about the issue of ‘blasphemy’ and its legal aspects.
- Meeting participants also expressed concern about the issue of the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) ruling against certain clauses of the Women Protection Act, and support for colleagues in Islamabad and Lahore who have protested this judgement.
- Justice (retd.) Shafi Mohammedi (ex Justice FSC) who also attended the meeting said that the 18th Amendment has brought the FSC under the ambit of the Supreme Court, and that the FSC ruling against Women Protection Act clauses can now be challenged before the SC.
(note for media ends; we also provided list of participating organisations)
Citizens for Democracy (CFD) preliminary meeting:
Some 35 participants from various organisations as well as individuals attended the first meeting of the CFD.
- On being requested, Dr Habibur Rehman Soomro presided over the meeting
- Noman Quadri was nominated as secretary CFD and accepted, to work with Beena Sarwar.
- INFORMATION: Noman Peter of CJP and Mansoor Raza to compile information in bullet points re blasphemy cases from reports they have already done, for easy reference. By end of month.
- PAMPHLET: Justice (r.) Shafi Mohammed is working on putting together material for a pamphlet which the CFD committee will review; hopefully get printed in time for seminar. Salim Akhtar to follow up and obtain by end of month. Material should be disseminated in Urdu, Sindhi and English.
- BLOG: Noman Quadri to make a blog for Citizens for Democracy where information can be posted up. ASAP.
- Noman Quadri to send information about previous meeting, plus Sherry Rehman bill tabulation, to those friends who were not on email list (who have given their contact details now). ASAP.
- SEMINAR: Seminar planned for Jan 14 or 15, 2011. Some folks had suggested that the seminar should not take place on a Saturday as it would be unlikely to be properly reported for newspapers the following day. However, after meeting, we agreed that this should not make a difference and we should go with whichever date we can get the venue.
- LPP PRESS CONFERENCE: Labour Party Pakistan will hold a Press Conference on the issue, to be supported by CFD, and all members requested to attend. Tentative date Jan 7 or 8, 2010. To be confirmed by Nasir Mehmood.
- DEMONSTRATION: We should aim to get 800-1000 people over to the seminar and go outside to demonstrate afterwards.
- FINANCES: Each affiliated organisation to contribute Rs 1000 each to start with. Beena & Noman to handle accounts, maintain log of money received & spent
- BEYOND CONVENTIONAL MEDIA: CFD affiliates should all make efforts to write articles, letters to editor etc. Dr Soomro said his letter to editor at Dawn re blasphemy is not being published. He will email it to the CFD list and we can also put it on the blog and post the link around. With the rise of the internet – even Pakistan has over 18 million internet users already – we do not need to limit ourselves to traditional media.
- E-PETITIONS: Nasir Arain had in the last meeting volunteered to download existing e-petitions. AHRC has also made one. All these should be compiled and put on blog under one tab.
- LOBBYING LEGISLATORS: Nuzhat Kidvai to work on the letter draft with inputs from others & obtain signatures. These letters may be presented to the MNAs, MPAs etc when the CFD delegation goes to visit. Sherry Rehman’s office to provide contact details. – Need to decide who will go and talk to legislators and when.
- NEXT MEETING: For many people Sunday is difficult, therefore the meeting may be kept on a Saturday. PMA House was agreed upon as the venue despite the traffic chaos around due to centrality as well as ample parking within premises. No date for decided for next meeting.
CFD seminar committee:
Nuzhat Kidvai, Salim Akhtar, Sharafat Ali, Nasir Mehmood, Mansoor Raza, Noman Peter, Dr Nisar Shah & William Sadiq along with Noman Quadri and Beena Sarwar to work together & coordinate on phone and email. Others may contribute or be coopted as needed.
- Sharafat Ali– to check venue availability – first choice: PIAC (does not entail tent & chairs costs etc – Rs 25,000 or so)
- Need to ensure security – scanner & guards (who will do this?)
Suggested speakers with those responsible for asking them about availability, with letter to be sent after availability is confirmed:
- Shahbaz Bhatti or Peter Jacob – Noman Peter & William Sadiq (to coordinate & ensure we get one or the other).
- Rasheed Rizvi, Justice Shafi Mohammedi, Raza Rabbani – Salim Akhtar
- Akhtar Hussain, Hasil Bizenjo – Nasir Mehmood
- Amar Sindhu – Nuzhat Kidvai
- Dr Khalid Zaheer – Noman Quadri
- Sherry Rehman, Nafisa Shah – Beena Sarwar
The meeting was attended by individuals and representatives of several trade, professional and non-government organisations listed below with contact persons:
- Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) – Dr Habib Soomro, Dr Samrina Hashmi
- Awami Party – Amar Azizi
- Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) – Nasir Mansoor
- Progressive Youth Front – Sherbaz
- Communist Party Pakistan (CPP) – Salim Akhtar
- Peace and Solidarity Council – Dr Nisar Ali Shah
- Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education & Research (Piler) – Sharafat Ali
- Action Committee for Human Rights – William Sadiq
- National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) – Ghani Zaman
10. Dalit Front – Mohan Jeevan
11. Commission for Justice and Peace (CJP) – Noel Alfonse
12. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) – Shams
13. Caritas – Riaz Nawab
14. Aurat Foundation – Mahnaz Rehman
15. Women’s Action Forum (WAF) – Nuzhat Kidvai
16. People’s Resistance – Noman Quadri
17. National Organisation of Working Committees – Omar Abbas
18. Sindh Awami Sangat – Aqeel Ahmed
19. Muttahida Labour Federation – Jaffar Khan
20. Child and Labour Rights Welfare Organisation – Tauqeer Abbas
21. All Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF) – Farid Awan
22. Pakistan Trade Union Federation – Ayub Qureshi
23. Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum – Saeed Baloch
24. Justice (r.) Shafi Mohammedi (individual capacity)
25. Beena Sarwar (journalist, individual capacity)
26. Shahid Husain, journalist (individual capacity)
Progressive Writers Association (PWA) & Port Workers Federation representatives were unable to attend but have agreed to support.