The week in “blasphemy” news #32

Bangladesh Prime Minister imagines land of social harmony, if only everyone would never have a debate about religion again

PM Hasina meets Hindu leaders, via

PM Hasina meets Hindu leaders, via

“No one in this country has the right to speak in a way that hurts religious sentiment,” she said while exchanging greetings with Hindu leaders on Thursday [3 September].

“You won’t practise religion – no problem. But you can’t attack someone else’s religion. You’ll have to stop doing this.

“It won’t be tolerated if someone else’s religious sentiment is hurt,” the prime minister said.

After the murder of secular blogger Niladri Chatterjee Niloy at his house in Dhaka on Aug 7, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and police chief AKM Shahidul Haque issued similar warnings.

Their comments drew much flak amidst no significant headway in the investigations into the murders of secular blog activists.

Niloy was the fourth secular blogger to be hacked to death this year. Avijit Roy, Oyasiqur Rahman Babu and Ananta Bijoy Das were killed the same way.

On Thursday, Hasina said: “We want that people will live in this country peacefully, and with rights. They will practise their own religion freely.”

And by “freely” she seems to mean, “without ever having to hear anyone say anything they might not like”, and by “practise their own religion” she appears to mean only to practise a narrow Islamist fundamentalism, since no one else will be able to air their views which would “offend” murderous hit squads.

In related news, further arrests have reportedly been made in connection with the murder of the four ‘atheist bloggers’ killed this year. Somewhat vaguely, we’re told “Police said at least 10 members of Ansarullah Bangla Team had been arrested since the killing of blogger Niloy Chatterjee on Aug. 7.” It should be recalled however that none of this year’s arrests for these murders has yet come to trial.

Pakistan: “Hasty” and “brutal” blasphemy charge against Christian labourer accused by business competitors

Even as continued persecution is driving an increasing number of religious minorities to seek asylum outside of Pakistan, recently police brought “blasphemy” charges against a Christian labourer, openly citing the need to appease a Muslim mob whipped up by his business competitors. The accused’s family were attacked. And yet no charges appear to have been brought against those who attacked his family or the mob that threatened to burn the accused man alive!:

Jamshed Masih told Morning Star News that local Muslims had entrapped his brother, 35-year-old Pervaiz Masih, in a false blasphemy case after he obtained a sand contract in Garra village, near Mandi Usmanwala in Kasur District, Punjab Province.

“We were unaware of the incident until the local Muslims, led by the village mosque’s Pesh Imam [prayer leader], started propagating on Tuesday [Sept. 1] that Masih had blasphemed against Islam’s prophet Muhammad during a discussion with some Muslims a couple of weeks ago,” Jamshed Masih said, adding that some 300 to 400 Muslims of the village and surrounding areas shouted chants against the Christians and vowed to avenge alleged “disrespect” of their prophet by burning his brother alive.

He said that Pervaiz Masih had obtained a contract for sand from a local dealer at a better price than that of his Muslim competitors, Haji Muhammad Jamshed and Haji Muhammad Bashir, and that since then they had nurtured a grudge against him. Jamshed and Bashir on Tuesday (Sept. 1) began spreading word that Pervaiz Masih had disrespected Muhammad, he said.

“A large number of Muslims gathered in the village and demanded Pervaiz be handed over to them,” he said. “However, we were able to move him to a safer location while the rest of us engaged the protesting mob in talks to settle the matter amicably.”

The mob agreed to allow Pervaiz Masih to give his version of the dispute, he said, “but later in the evening a contingent of local police raided our homes, thrashed our women and took two of my brothers with them when they were unable to find Pervaiz there.”

The accused Christian’s employer, owner of a brick kiln, the next day informed Jamshed and other Muslims that he had made Pervaiz Masih surrender to police, who immediately charged and jailed him to appease the Muslim mob and relieve pressure on them from various Islamist quarters, Masih’s brother said.

He said the entire family had been forced to flee the village due to fear of revenge attacks, “as the Muslims had said that they would treat them in the same manner as Christians of Lahore’s Youhanabad area who had lynched and burned alive two Muslims” wrongly suspected of involvement in twin suicide attacks on two churches on March 15.

Female relatives including a pregnant woman who harshly interrogated and beaten in the search for the accused:

“They cursed and abused us, and they kicked us in our abdomens and backs regardless of age or gender,” she said. “They did not even spare the children. At first I thought that I was going to lose my child, but thank God it is safe.”

She added that officers reviled the Christians for their faith.

“The police are supposed to protect the helpless, but they treated us as if we were all hardened criminals,” she said.

Another Christian woman in the village said officers did not spare her newborn daughter.
“I had a Caesarean last week, and my newborn daughter is just 8 days old,” she said. “I begged the police not to beat me, but they turned a deaf ear to my pleas and even hit my daughter during the attack. They just kept asking for Pervaiz Masih and would not listen to any of us.”

Attorney Aneeqa Maria, whose human rights group The Voice Society reached the village on Tuesday night (Sept. 1), confirmed that area Christians had been subjected to police brutality.

“Every Christian we met at Garra village had a similar story to tell us,” she told Morning Star News. “They were all tortured by the police for no reason other than that they are poor Christians who cannot fend for themselves.”

… “It’s tragic, though, that another member of the Christian minority community has fallen victim to the blasphemy law, which is often used to settle personal scores,” he said, pointing out how hastily police had registered the case under mob pressure. “I doubt that the police even bothered to investigate the charges against Pervaiz Masih before registering the case against him. This is sheer injustice with the victim and the community at large.”

Police chief Ali said Masih’s life would have been in danger if he had not been quickly arrested and kept in custody. He said he had ordered the release of Masih’s brothers, who had been taken into custody the night of the incident.

Pervaiz Masih’s wife said her husband makes little income working at a brick kiln in the village and traded in sand and soil for extra income. She recalled the case of Shama and Shahzad Masih, a young Christian couple who worked at a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan in Raiwind, also in Kasur District. A Muslim mob killed them and threw them into the furnace of a brick kiln on false charges of blasphemy last year.

“He occasionally trades in sand and soil to make extra money for the family, but his part-time business has now put his and our lives in danger,” Bibi said. “I just hope and pray that my husband is not killed for a crime he could not have possibly committed, because we all know what happened to Shama and Shahzad Masih.”

Courageous Pakistani human rights lawyer of 33 years: “my work is for humanity”, and re blasphemy law “There is a big problem”

Pukaar News interviews human rights lawyer and activist, Ansar Burney. He starts by saying that “My work is for humanity, there is no difference in any nationality and in any religion” and of the country’s various religious minorities: “they are just Pakistanis. There should be no discrimination with minorities… If you are in minority you are not getting justice. This is the responsibility of the government, to treat them first as human beings.”

Ansar Burney also explains his thoughts on the controversial Blasphemy law in Pakistan which has been condemned by many countries throughout the world: “I am not in favour of the blasphemy law, because in Pakistan and in other poor countries you can buy a witness and the witness while being paid 15,000 to 20,000 he will take out a Koran and even with it in his hand he will go in to a court and he will say whatever the prosecutor wants him to say in the court”

Another high profile case in Pakistan is the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was convicted of blasphemy by a Pakistani court, receiving a sentence of death by hanging. In 2009, she was involved in an argument with a group of Muslim women with whom she had been harvesting berries after the other women grew angry with her for drinking the same water as them. She was subsequently accused of insulting the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, a charge she denies, and was arrested and imprisoned.

“There is a big problem because the threats are with the judges as well, if he or she will release her there will be a big problem so now its depends on the president of Pakistan or the government of Pakistan what they are going to do, but for me, its not good what’s happening with Asia Bibi, because it was a fight over water not blasphemy,

“it was just a simple problem that was created by one Mula, I think there needs to be justice for her”

Talking about his hopes for Pakistan, Ansar said: “I am you and you are me, once you feel the pain of others and once you start giving happiness to others you will feel like a human being, if you give pain to others you are not a human being, giving a smile, giving happiness and try to be a family, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian they all are family, we should not hate anybody on the basis of religion or boundaries.[“]

Richard Dawkins does not like the sound of Quebec Canada’s proposed new quasi-blasphemy law

We’ve been following (and criticising) Quebec’s proposed Bill 59 in recent weeks, which appears open to conflating all criticism of religion with “hatred” and thus outlawing it.

Now, the British evolutionary biologist, popular science writer and atheist writer, Richard Dawkins, has weighed in, tweeting: “Quebec Blasphemy Law. As ignominious as “useful idiots” get. Blind and pathetic grovelling to the Islamist lobby.”

As Christian Post notes, Dawkins is far from the only source of complaint:

[Quebec Human Rights Commission] Head Jacques Frémont has noted that if made into law, the bill would grant the group the power to “sue those critical of certain ideas, ‘people who would write against … the Islamic religion … on a website or on a Facebook page.'”

Internet activity criticizing Islam could even be investigated if no complaints are filed.

An editorial by The Toronto Sun last week called Bill 59 an “attack on free speech.”

“Bill 59 sounds like something out of George Orwell’s 1984, a fictional novel which describes how a totalitarian state keeps its citizens oppressed by ruthless laws suppressing free speech,” the editorial said.

“Alternatively, it could be torn out of the pages of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, the fictional story of an individual prosecuted by an all-powerful state bureaucracy in which the precise nature of the charges against him are never made clear.”

International Blasphemy Rights Day approaches (30 September)

Our campaign partners at Center for Inquiry (US) look ahead to International Blasphemy Rights Day, 30 September, a day they began marking in 2009. Debbie Goddard explores the origin of the day. While Elizabeth K. Cassidy discusses the harms of blasphemy laws:

As I see in my work at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which monitors religious freedom conditions worldwide, blasphemy laws are an all-too-common official limitation on this right. More than fifty countries around the world still have criminal blasphemy laws, though some use them more than others. These laws usually are discriminatory on their face, protecting only one or some religions. And in countries where they are enforced, they often are applied unfairly, against members of some religious or belief groups and not others. They also foster vigilante and terrorist violence.

It’s part of the CFI magazine Free Inquiry special “blasphemy”-themed edition ahead of International Blasphemy Rights Day:

Screen_Shot_2015-09-09_at_11.59.21_AMAs atheist bloggers are being murdered with impunity by Islamists in Bangladesh, and nine years after the eruption of violence over “blasphemous” drawings of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish paper, Free Inquiry — the first national U.S. publication to reproduce the “Danish cartoons” — presents a provocative special issue on blasphemy and the global efforts to suppress dissent and criticism of religion. Just as in 2006, Free Inquiry breaks ground as the first national U.S. print publication to publish the controversial first-prize cartoon of the Garland, Texas “Draw Muhammad” contest, which was terrorized by a shooting attack in May.

Free Inquiry commemorates International Blasphemy Rights Day (IBRD) with a collection of powerful pieces on the absolute necessity of free expression, and the cultural capitulations that too often occur when some believers claim their religious sentiments are offended. IBRD was established by the Center for Inquiry in 2009 as a bold response to the worldwide crackdown on the right to free expression, to be held each September 30, the anniversary of the publication of the Muhammad cartoons in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten.

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Title: The week in “blasphemy” news #32
Date Posted: September 11, 2015
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Category: Round-ups

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