Strategising to counter ‘blasphemy law’ hype

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

Dear friends

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.

Beena.

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:

  1. Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) – Dr Habib Soomro, Dr Samrina Hashmi
  2. Awami Party – Amar Azizi
  3. Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) – Nasir Mansoor
  4. Progressive Youth Front – Sherbaz
  5. Communist Party Pakistan (CPP) – Salim Akhtar
  6. Peace and Solidarity Council – Dr Nisar Ali Shah
  7. Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education & Research (Piler) – Sharafat Ali
  8. Action Committee for Human Rights – William Sadiq
  9. 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.

(ends)

7 Responses

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by magneda2, beena sarwar and others. beena sarwar said: Notes from yesterday's mtg to counter #blasphemy law hype #Pakistan #CitizensforDemocracy #CFD http://bit.ly/hH5PGw #Karachi [...]

  2. It is now or never. It is encouraging that people are increasingly becoming aware of the evil effects of the patently unjust Blasphemy Law and they have started to take concerted action to get it repealed or at least suitabely modified. I hope we can beat the evil theocracy (Ulma-e-soo) on this point and open the door for a progressive and liberal Pakistan as envisioned by the Quaid.

    I wish you all the best.

  3. I think a Karbala is again goijng to be staged in the Islamic Republic when Yaziidi Mullah are out to vandalize the image of the prophet as ‘Rehmatulaalimin’ by supporting and abusing an unjust Blasphemy Law. It was aptly visualized by Allama Iqbal in his Couplet:

    “Klse khbar thi kih le kar charaagh-e-Mustafvi
    Jahaan mein aag lagaati phire gi Bulehbi”

    Magar qaafilah-e-Rehmatulaalimin mein ek bhi Hussain nahien bas kuchh bibieyaan hein Zeinab Bibi ki tareh in Yazidi mullaaon ke khilaf waavelah karti hui.

    Aur hamaare siaasat kaaron ko chhoriey woh to insaaniat ki touhiin hein. Aisey patah lagta he jeise qoum ke murdey par bhooki gidhen larh rahi hein.

    Excuse me for this rambling in Urdu and English mix in my effort to express my frustration at the insensitivity of the citizens in general, especially the young ones, who don’t realize what a Karbala we are facing to day.

  4. I wont pretend to understand what you guys are going thru exactly because I only have a superficial idea of how things are over there. I just came over after reading on yahoo abt Salman Taseer’s assassination by his own guard, because (reportedly) of his stand against this law.

    This is more than just an intellectual debate, ppl are ready to kill (and die) for it? You have my support. but I hope you stay safe.

    thanks,
    Jai

    • @Jai_C You just read the following to know what is going on in the Pakiland:

      http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011%5C01%5C07%5Cstory_7-1-2011_pg3_3

      Rem Wasay (I wonder if this is her real name) is a wonderful writer. What a tribute she paid to the fallen hero, the lone voice against blasphemy of humanity, a Hussain standing alone in the Karbala of the Pakiland, Who else he can be but Salman, the great, who sacrificed his life in attempting to save the life of a poor woman, Asiya Bibi, from Yazidi Mullah, who are trying to turn the religion of Nabi (Rehmatul-Aalimin) into a cult of killer Kali Devi.

      VIEW: The forever governor —Reem Wasay

      The underbelly of extremist Islam is swarming with individuals who would rather promote a desecrated dogma than salvage a strengthened sanctimony of compassion, human rights and tolerance

      “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

      Salmaan Taseer left the Governor House with both honour and dignity intact. In a country where the megalomaniac pull of power and politics has sold many souls to the devil, our forever governor was a force to be reckoned with. Contrary to popular opinion, Salmaan Taseer did not offend people – he intimidated them. In a society harnessed to hate, that is a dangerous precedent to set. Coming from a family distant from the flaws of feudalism, Salmaan Taseer was a rarity; he rose to gargantuan heights on no secondary shoulders but on his own two feet. Where dynasty and imaginary lineage have, for decades, mauled the mandate of true democracy and progress, Salmaan Taseer became a somebody from the long line of nobodies who live and rise among us. Defining a liberal Pakistani dream, Mr Taseer epitomised everything that this land promised its newly christened citizens back in 1947. His very existence demonstrated to people that even in this gloom and pallor of a state riddled with rustic curses, one man’s determination can free him of the antiquated sermon of submission that all us Pakistanis have fallen prey to. His life, travels, views, raw honesty, ascendance and dynamism emboldened the quiet moderates to voice their ideologies without fear for the very first time in a manner unheard of in a country rocked and ruled by men and women who have no identity because they have departed from integrity and progress. He was an intimidating man because he did not suffer the malaise of hypocrisy that has penetrated the pith and principle of most human beings in this land. He spoke his mind and he spoke it without fear, but with plenty of wit and, at times, stinging valour; it stung because he said what we all felt and knew was right but were too intimidated by the wrong factions to say it. Intimidation is a strange thing; it can either make you cower in submission or it can make you a gallant of Goliathan proportions.

      Salmaan Taseer intimidated his peers, his subordinates, his fellow liberals and even the swarm of extremists who orchestrated and celebrated his death but are, in actuality, responsible for making the man into the first true martyr for a more liberal, more just Pakistan. ‘Muslims’ are so fond of quoting worldly examples to expunge their irrationalities that I would like to take a leaf out of the bigot book for this. Many Muslims hold the opinion that God shows to the believers the true value of a man’s worth only in his death. Salmaan Taseer died fighting for a cause he believed in and that makes him a hero. Dear fanatics, what do you think God is trying to tell you? His last rites, the mammoth turnout of mourners to pay their final respects, a hero’s goodbye and the colossal grief that has confounded the country are not the reactions awarded to a sullied soul. In a nation where men and women have been booted out of power and governors have been unceremoniously kicked out of the Governor’s House – some without shoes on – Salmaan Taseer left with homage and honour. If we are so blinded by convictions, let us take stock of the man’s final farewell.

      The Blasphemy law has demonstrated in practice that it is not a devout law; it is atonement for the lunatics who achieve their only worth in life on the burdened back of our Prophet’s (PBUH) exploited honour. The underbelly of extremist Islam is swarming with individuals who would rather promote a desecrated dogma than salvage a strengthened sanctimony of compassion, human rights and tolerance. The real blasphemy does not take place in open fields between women of two different cultures, different beliefs and different opinions; it takes place in the house of God where different edicts are screamed from the speakers by men who have made themselves false prophets – as warned from the times of Abraham. Blasphemy occurs when the gunning down of a progressive is met with celebration instead of castigation and sanction instead of sentence. When mullahs incite further anger over the sands that falter on the grave of a man who had so much more to say, they practice blasphemy. They read upside down from their scriptures when they condemn any attempts at mourning and offering prayers for the fallen. They, by the very essence of their existence, are walking, breathing examples of blasphemy because they have intervened between God and man; they have demonised our own personal spirituality with their rituals, symbols, rules and rewards for violence. When a certain maulana on the television recently said that the governor’s death had no association with blasphemy but the anger generated in the people due to his “excessive” lifestyle, the bearded bastion’s arrogance screamed of blasphemy for he failed to grieve the death of a fellow citizen, something our Prophet (PBUH) would weep over. Such mullahs and radical rejectionists practice blasphemy by baying for the blood of a woman the governor died trying to set free.

      It is time we fought fire with fire. If they can call voicing an opinion blasphemy, we can demonstrate extremist existence as blasphemy. A voice of moderation and liberal ideas has been snuffed out between the thorny fingers of misconstrued and manufactured ideologies. His death must not be in vain. It is time the PPP sprout a spine and address the very laws their governor died to amend. In the end, he was the lone voice in a rampage of irrationality; his party deserted him but he did not abandon a just cause. Blasphemy is real when we do nothing over the death of a true progressive. Blasphemy becomes us when we sit back in silence and drown out the rabid, white noise of the mercenaries of the minarets by ignoring these issues, a stance that Salman Taseer did not take. He truly was “the last man standing”; let us pay due tribute and work to amend the cruelty that comes with the blasphemy clauses.

      The writer is an Assistant Editor, Daily Times. She can be reached at reemk80@gmail.com

  5. Why reform it? It is in total contradiction to Islamic teachings.

    Read this

    http://dinopak.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/the-blasphemy-law-of-pakistan/

    http://dinopak.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/why-blasphemy-law-is-not-islamic/

    http://dinopak.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/the-real-blasphemers/

  6. Great information :)

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