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DAGAinfo

17 January 2001
No. 117


In this issue:
  1. FEATURE
    The Blasphemy Law in Pakistan and its Impact
  2. NEWS in Brief
    China - Hopes dim for end to final talks
    Philippines - Philippines in turmoil over Senate decision
    Burma - What's behind the Burmese talks?
    Singapore - Politician urges Asian union
    Seatle - Is WTO in danger?
  3. Urgent APPEALS
    Pakistan - Activists arrested for protesting against Blasphemy Law
  4. ANNOUNCEMENT
    Internet Resource - Grave Diggers: A report on mining in Burma

 

1. FEATURE - top
 

The Blasphemy Law in Pakistan and Its Impact

By Naeem Shakir

The minorities in Pakistan are caught up in a grave situation, with gory incidents occurring. A wild wave of sectarianism has engulfed the society, which has resulted in unethical sentiments of religious prejudices. The armed religious extremists are playing havoc in the society. A situation of religious intolerance has spread suffocation in our lives. The doors of dialogue are being closed. Religious fundamentalism has grown beyond proportions. Muslim clerics are demanding complete imposition of Islamic Shariah in Pakistan, making it applicable also to the non-Muslim citizens.

The minorities in Pakistan have already suffered seriously on account of sectarian legislation which has thrown non-Muslim citizens out of the mainstream of national life. They are no more part of the mainstream activities of the state and are being discriminated against in all fields of life. The claim of the minorities as equal and respectable citizens is at stake. The life and property of people in minority community is no longer safe. A sense of insecurity is growing fast among the minorities.

The Christians are being roped in false cases under the blasphemy law. They are being murdered by zealots to win heavens for themselves. They take the law in their hands and do not even wait for the judicial verdict. The judgments of the superior courts have proved that this law on blasphemy is being ruthlessly abused for settling personal scores and, of course, for religious persecution. This law is proving to be a sword hanging on the heads of non-Muslims and the secular-minded people.

Bishop John Joseph, Roman Catholic Bishop of Faizalabad, who was an ardent spokesman for peace and inter-religious dialogue, had waged a struggle on war footing against fundamentalism, religious intolerance, and discriminatory laws, particularly against the amended provisions of the law about blasphemy. And in order to give an impetus to the struggle and focus world attention on this crucial issue, he sacrificed his life for the just cause on May 5, 1998. He shot himself right in front of the iron gate of the Sessions Court of Sahiwal, which convicted Ayub Masih a charge of blasphemy and sentenced him to death vide its judgment passed on April 27, 1998. This death sentence has once again raised fear and panic amongst the minority communities in Pakistan as the law of blasphemy casts the net wide open to rope in anyone - Christians and Ahmedias more easily, maybe due to personal malice or religious prejudice.

The death of Bishop John Joseph excited a wave of anger among the Christians. They spontaneously came on the roads to publicly mourn the death of their leader and demonstrate their will to continue the struggle against oppression and discriminatory laws, including the law on blasphemy. The peaceful processions were brutally suppressed by the police and the state apparatus.

In order to underplay the impact of the self-sacrifice of Bishop John Samuel, the Muslim clerics treacherously launched a move to field a counter version that the Bishop was murdered by a Catholic Father due to some rivalry. The print media was fully used by the clerics in a malicious way so as to diffuse the zealous spirit among the Christians. However, they have miserably failed in their nefarious designs.   

In order to get a clear picture about the law on blasphemy it would be better to discuss the issue in a broader perspective which will enable us to have a better understanding about the whole situation.

Pakistan came into being in 1947. It was earlier part of united India. The united struggle of people of India for independence was meant to overthrow the yoke of British colonial rule which prolonged for more than a century. On August 14, 1947 when people won independence, simultaneously the partition of India took place and thus a new state of Pakistan emerged. Though Islam was used as a catchword during the movement for Pakistan, the great leader and founder of this new nation, Mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, had categorically made it clear that the country will not be a theocratic state. In his presidential address to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan at Karachi, on September 11, 1947, he said, "We are starting with this fundamental principle that we all are citizens and equal citizens of one state. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state." It is however, most unfortunate that since the death of the Father of the Nation in September 1948, politics based on religious sectarianism has been in vogue in Pakistan. Politicians tried to take mileage on the basis of religion. This approach in politics has not only negated the fundamental principle (referred to above) but has also generated the baneful sentiment of religious prejudice among the people at large. Therefore, soon after his demise this infant nation was thrown out of the cradle of democracy. The country went into the hands of opportunists, fundamentalists and colonial agents.

Here, I would like to mention a crucial point: later on, a complete departure from the earlier spelt-out state structure was made. The net result was that the religion (Islam) was introduced in the socio-political corpus through an Objectives Resolution, which has served as a preamble to all the three Constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973. This Resolution, while speaking for Islam, however, in a sixth paragraph, provided that "an adequate provision shall be made for the minorities freely to profess and practise their religion and develop their culture". During the military rule of 1977-1987 the Objectives Resolution which was serving as a preamble to the 1973 Constitution was through a Presidential Order made substantive part of the Constitution by incorporation of Article 2-A.

While doing so, the word "freely" was deliberately deleted from the text. Now, it reads as "an adequate provision shall be made for the minorities to profess and practise their religion and develop their culture." It was a deliberate and dishonest act on the part of the military ruler to delete the word "freely". Earlier in the preamble of the Constitution of Pakistan, the word freely was present whereas in the new Article 2-A the word freely was missing. I think this is a singular example of reading history through prejudice. This deliberate deletion later had serious repercussions in our socio-political set-up. It introduced an element of religious extremism in our society. And from that point of time the treatment meted out to the non-Muslims citizens has been very harsh.

In order to remain in the seat of power General Ziaul-Herq, the military dictator collaborated with the religious fundamentalists. Those who were never voted for the Assemblies were brought to the corridors of power through administrative measures. The army General took upon himself the task of Islamising the society. In that process of Islamization, sectarian legislation was promulgated. 

First of all, he amended the Penal Code and introduced Islamic punishments in the form of Hudood laws. You may call it an Islamic Version of Criminal Law. The Offences Against Property (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance 1979 related to theft cases. "Hadd" means "punishment ordained by the Holy Quran or Sunnah". The punishment for theft liable to Hadd for the person committing the offence first time is amputation of his right hand from the joint of the wrist. And if such a person commits the offence a second time, he shall be punished with amputation of his left foot up to the ankle. The proof of theft liable to Hadd shall be the evidence of "at least two Muslim adult male witnesses who are supposed to be truthful persons who abstain from major sins". Section 25 of this ordinance says that the Presiding Officer of the court by which a case is tried, or an appeal is heard, under this ordinance shall be a Muslim.

The second Ordinance was called the "Offence of Zina" (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance of 1979. Zina was defined thus: "a man and a woman are said to commit Zina if they wilfully have sexual intercourse without being validly married to each other". The punishment provided includes stoning to death at a public place; or one hundred lashes with the whip at a public place.

The proof of Zina shall require the evidence of at least four Muslim adult male witnesses about whom the court is satisfied that they are truthful and abstain from major sins. The Presiding Officer of the court is required to be a Muslim.

Both these Ordinances are applicable to non-Muslims as well. The next law was Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order 1979. It prohibited the use of liquor and other intoxicants. The Christians may use liquor for religious ceremonies provided they are issued liquor permits by the government. The punishment provided for offences under this Order includes life imprisonment or imprisonment of not less than two years along with thirty lashes with the whip. For purposes of enforcing Hadd punishment the evidence of at least two Muslim adult male witnesses is required. As in other Hudood laws the Presiding Officer is to be a Muslim. The other Hudood laws relating to Qazaf (perjury) and "Execution of the Punishment of Whipping" were promulgated in 1979.

The Evidence Act was also Islamized thereby the credibility of a non-Muslim witness was brought down to a secondary position. The witness is supposed to be truthful who abstains from major sins as defined in holy Quran and Sunnah.

Thereafter the Islamic Shariah was made the supreme law of the land through Enforcement of Shariah Act 1991. The Shariah under this Act has been defined as the "injunctions of Islam as laid in the Holy Quran and Sunnah". Section 4 of this Act says, "While interpreting the statute-law, if more than one interpretation is possible, the one consistent with the Islamic principles and jurisprudence shall be adopted by the court". According to this Act, the education system, the judicial system, the economic system and the media shall be Islamized. The Act, however, lays down in a provision to section 1(4): "Nothing contained in this Act shall effect the personal laws, religious freedom, traditions, custom and way of life of the non-Muslims".

When every field of life is Islamized, how on earth can the non-Muslims lead their own way of life? There has been a serious invasion against the personal laws of non-Muslims. And the institution of marriage has been rendered as a fragile thing because the laws are interpreted according to the injunctions of Islam. I may inform you that ours is a feudal society. Abduction of non-Muslim women (who belong to the marginalized section of the society) is a common feature. The Muslim abductor forcibly takes away a married Christian woman. In order to avoid the rigours of penal law, he converts the abductee to Islam and undergoes the procedure of Islamic marriage with her. The whole exercise is undertaken in such a mechanical manner that the law is made a sheer mockery. It is practically a preparation of the required papers in this whole exercise. Since Islamic Shariah has become the supreme law, and the statute law is to be interpreted according to the injunctions of Islam, her earlier marriage under the Christian Marriage Act stands dissolved ipso facto. Why, because she has now embraced Islam and thus her personal law shall prevail. Islam does not allow a Muslim woman to get married with a non-Muslim man. Her fist husband being Christian shall cease to hold that marital status with her. This situation has many times created serious problems regarding custody and guardianship of minor children born out Christian wedlock.

The judicial system was completely disturbed. The Constitution was amended and Federal Shariat Court was constituted to adjudicate appeal of cases under Shariah law. Under Article 230-D of the Constitution, the Federal Shariat Court has been empowered to strike down any statute law which may be deemed repugnant to the injunctions of Islam. The establishment of Shariat Court has introduced a parallel judicial system and has dealt a serious blow to the supremacy of Parliament. It would not be out of place to mention here that although Shariah laws are applicable to non-Muslims but a non-Muslim lawyer is not entitled to appear as a legal practitioner before this Federal Shariat Court.

A stunning below causing serious damage to the socio-political status of non-Muslim citizen was administered through amendments to the electoral law in 1979. This amendment introduced an apartheid mode of separate electorates in the country vide President's Order 14 of 1985. The electoral laws were changed and framed in a manner which divided citizens on the basis of religion. The electoral lists have been separated as Muslim voters and non-Muslim voters. Both cannot vote for each other. At the time of general elections it appears as if two nations are living in this country. The delimitation of constituencies of non-Muslims is rather ridiculous. It's the whole country for National Assembly seats reserved for non-Muslims and likewise the whole of province for the reserved seats in Provincial Assemblies. The non-Muslim citizens stand marginalized under this apartheid mode of separate electorates as they have been thrown out of the mainstream of national life. They are no more part of the business of the state as their right of franchise has been subjected to religious classification. This renders them as second class citizens of the state.

The legislative measures introduced to Islamize the society leave no room for non-Muslims to freely profess and practise their religion. The sectarian legislation based on supremacy of one particular religion, i.e. Islam has promoted a culture of religious intolerance. Religion has played a vital role in human development but wherever and whenever it was used for purposes opposed to its inherent spirit of peace, brotherhood and social justice, it not only lost its relevance in the process of social development but its image was also tarnished in the minds of those who were subjected to oppressive measures adopted in the name of religion.

The law on blasphemy also belongs to this era when the country was under military rule. The subject law is part of the Penal Code of Pakistan. Its Chapter XV deals with offences relating to religion, which contains Sections 295 to 298. The British during their colonial rule framed the Indian Penal Code in 1860. The authors of the Penal Code deemed it proper to provide a preface to Chapter XV dealing with offences relating to religion. And the same is reproduced as under,

"The principle on which this chapter has been framed is a principle on which it would be desirable that all Governments should act, but from which the British Government in India cannot depart without risking the dissolution of society : it is this, that every man should be suffered to profess his own religion, and that no man should be suffered to insult the religion of another."

The British authors were conscious of the religious feelings of the people of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious Indian culture. And it was perhaps for this reason that the authors provided the afore-mentioned preface. Section 295 provided:

"Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both."

It may be mentioned here that these provisions still exist on the statute book as framed in 1860. During the independence movement in early twentieth century in India, religious decrees were also used to accelerate the pace of struggle. In those days different religious groups fanned religious sentiments of the people. However, the process of polemics continued in the society in an atmosphere of religious tolerance.

The British, however, were obliged to add a new section as 295-A because a Hindu writer (Raj Pal) published a book on Prophet Mohammed about which the Indian Muslims took serious exception as some objectionable material amounting to insult to the Prophet was observed. Agitation by the Muslims continued for some time. The writer was later murdered by a Muslim zealot (Illam Din). Resultantly the following section was introduced in 1927:

"Whoever with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of His Majesty's subjects, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine or with both."

As adapted in the Pakistan Penal Code the words "His Majesty's subjects", were deleted and "the citizens of Pakistan" were incorporated. At the same time a punishment of "ten years" was substituted in place of "two years" in the original. The change was effected through the Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Ordinance XXI of 1991.

A new Section 295-B was introduced vide Ordinance 1 of 1982 to deal with defiling of the Holy Quran. This section reads as follows:

"Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life".

As days passed, religious extremism grew. Religion was used in politics to steal a march over rivals. Gen. Zia formed a Parliament on the Islamic pattern, called Majlis-e-Shoora. Through this Assembly of chosen 'representatives' Section 295-C was added. It is reproduced as below:

"295-C: Whoever by word, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine".

Gen. Zia, through a constitutional amendment, constituted the Federal Shariat Court which under the new Article 203-D had the following powers and jurisdiction:

"203-D (1). The Court may (either of its own motion or on the petition of a citizen of Pakistan or the Federal Government or a Provincial Government) examine and decide the question whether or not any law or provisions of law is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam, as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet hereinafter referred to as the injunctions of Islam".

The story does not end here. A petition was moved before the Federal Shariat Court for declaring the punishment provided in Section 295-C, null and void, as the same was repugnant to Quran and Sunnah. The plea was made that the injunctions of Islam provide punishment in the form of Hadd only, and not otherwise, and that too in mandatory form - meaning thereby that the punishment of life imprisonment was void and thus be deleted and mandatory punishment of death be retained. The Shariat Court accepted the petition. The relevant part of the judgment of October 30, 1990, is reproduced below:

"In view of the above discussion we are of the view that the alternate punishment of life imprisonment as provided in Section 295-C PPC is repugnant to the Injunctions of Islam as given in Holy Quran and Sunnah and therefore, the said words be deleted therefrom".

"A copy of this Order shall be sent to the President of Pakistan under Article 203-D (3) of the Constitution to take steps to amend the law so as to bring the same in conformity with the injunctions of Islam. In case, this is not done by April 30 1991 the words 'imprisonment for life' in Section 295-C, PPC shall cease to have effect on that date".

Therefore, now there is only one punishment provided in section 295-C and that is the death penalty.

The rest of the amendment in this chapter particularly relates to Ahmadies in the form of 298-A, 298-B and 298-C. I will not discuss them now due to time constraints.

It would not be out of place to mention here that till the pronouncement of this judgment, by the Federal Shariat Court, which provide mandatory death penalty, no cases of blasphemy were reported to have been registered under Section 295-B or 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. The amended sections are so wide in their connotation, including 'innuendo' or 'insinuation', that to allege blasphemy against any one has been made so easy. The import of these provisions is quite vague in nature. These provisions are discriminatory as supposedly these are meant to Islamize the criminal law whereas these are applicable to non-Muslims as well. A non-Muslim is supposed to adhere to his own belief. And if a non-Muslim professes his belief publicly that would amount to blasphemy according to the amended provisions. Thus, these amendments in the Pakistan Penal Code relating religion have cast the net wide open to rope in anyone on mere allegation of blasphemy. And once someone is charged with this offence, he is doomed as the offence is non-bailable, the death penalty is mandatory in law, justice is being subjected to sectarian affiliation and because religious frenzy is being promoted in the society by the vested interests and the religious fundamentalists.

Since I have been involved as a defence lawyer in high profile cases about blasphemy, I have painfully experienced the tyrannical nature of this law. Apart from the accused, the lawyers, and even judges are not safe in this highly vulnerable situation. Before winding up I would like to give a few examples of blasphemy cases against Christians.

Tahir Iqbal was a Christian convert from Islam. He had suffered from paralysis. The lower part of his body had been paralysed rendering him invalid. He could not walk. He could not stand even. He used a wheel chair. He was an engine mechanic in the Pakistan Air Force. His conversion to Christianity had annoyed Muslims. He lived in the southern part of Lahore close to a mosque. The Muslim cleric in charge of that mosque finally decided to teach him a lesson. He got a case of blasphemy registered against him on December 7, 1990, alleging that "when he recites 'Azaan' (call for prayer) early in the morning in the mosque, Tahir Iqbal feels infuriated and starts abusing Prophet Mohammed at the top of his voice, imparts anti-Islamic education to children who come to him for tuition, has defiled Holy Quran by underlining with green marker, and thus has seriously injured our religious feelings."

He was arrested by the police on blasphemy charges and that's all. He was doomed. Despite his physical inability, he was not bailed out. As earlier stated, justice has been subjected to sectarian affiliations. A very crude example may be cited of Tahir Iqbal. The Sessions Judge who dismissed his bail application on July 7, 1991, passed the following order:

"Learned counsel for the petitioner has conceded before me that the petitioner has converted as Christian. With this admission on the part of petitioner's counsel there is no need to probe further into the allegations as contained in the FIR because learned DDA has disclosed that charge has already been framed and the accused is facing trial. Since conversion from Islam to Christianity is in itself a cognizable offence involving serious implication, I do not consider the petitioner entitled to the concession of bail at this stage".

Though it is needless to comment, it may be mentioned that no law in Pakistan has yet been framed which makes conversion from Islam to Christianity a cognizable offence. The case was fixed for recording of prosecution evidence on July 21, 1992, before the Sessions Court. When I, as the defense lawyer, appeared in the court I was informed by the State Counsel that the accused had died in the jail the previous night. Tahir Iqbal was poisoned to death in jail under a conspiracy about which he had informed all authorities concerned beforehand. He was killed because he had embraced Christianity.

Chand Barkat, 28, a bangle stall holder in Mangle Bazar, Karachi was charged with blasphemy by a co-bangle vendor because of professional jealousy. Arif Hussain used to sit beside him for selling bangles in the bazar. He did not tolerate women going to Chand Barkat, a Christian, for buying bangles. One day Arif warned him to quit that place as otherwise he would teach him a lesson. Chand Barkat did not leave the place. Arif involved Chand Barkat in a case of blasphemy on October 8, 1991, alleging that he used derogatory language against Prophet Muhammad and his mother. He was charged under Section 295-C. Chand Barkat was acquitted by the Sessions Court for want of evidence.

Gull Masih of Faisalabad was charged under section 295-C for using sacrilegious language about the Prophet and his wives on December 10, 1991. The complainant Sajjad Hussain, had a quarrel with him over repair of a street water tap. Out of this quarrel had emanated the blasphemy case. Gull Masih was tried under the blasphemy law and sentenced to death by the Sessions Court, Sargodha, on November 2, 1992. This death sentence created a commotion. Human Rights organizations and the Church agitated against the death sentence. We filed a criminal appeal in the High Court against the judgment of the Sessions Judge. Gull Masih was bailed out neither by the Sessions Court or by the High Court. I moved an application for early hearing in the High Court but it took two years for the final hearing. The appeal was heard by the Division Bench of the Lahore High Court, which held that it was a case of no evidence and thus set aside the death sentence and acquitted Gull Masih. It became difficult for Gull Masih to come out of jail as religious fundamentalists had warned of dire consequences. He had to be kept under tight security. Later, in order to save his life, arrangements were made for his exit quietly. He is now in Germany on asylum.

Naimat Ahmar 43, a Christian teacher and a poet and writer of Faisalabad, was butchered by Farooq Ahmad, a young member, of a militant religious group (ASSP) on the premises of office of the District Education Officer, Faisalabad, at 10 a.m. while on duty. The religious zealot killed him because the deceased had reportedly used highly insulting remarks against Islam and Prophet Mohammed. No case of blasphemy was registered against the deceased. He was not tried by any court. The young religious extremist, as briefed by his organization, took the law in his own hands and killed the poet, writer and teacher, leaving behind a widow and four children. The killer was charged with murder. He made a confession. He was garlanded in jail by religious clerics. The statement of the killer was published in the press that by killing a blasphemer he had won heaven.

The trial court sentenced him to fourteen years’ imprisonment. His appeal to set aside the sentence is pending in the High Court, and I am representing the complainant who is the younger brother of the deceased.

A minor, Salamat Masih, 12 years old, along with Manzoor Masih, 37, and Rehamat Masih, 42, of Gujranwala, were charged with writing derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed on the wall of the mosque of the village where they lived. All the three were in fact illiterate and did not know to write. The case of the minor became a high-profile case in the world media.

We got the case transferred to Lahore through the High Court because each time we went to the Sessions Court in Gujranwala, religious extremists would gather in front of the courtroom with banners urging immediate execution of the alleged blasphemers. They used to pose threats to the lawyers coming from Lahore and none of the local lawyers dared to defend the accused. The case was later heard by the Sessions Judge of Lahore. The court, on our request, provided police guards to escort the accused and their lawyer from his office to court and back to his office. On June 5, 1994 the three accused were brought back by the police guards to my office, and after staying for about half an hour they left for their place of hibernation. They had hardly crossed about 500 yards away from my office when they were attacked by armed religious militants with guns. Manzoor Masih died on the spot while the other two accused and their escort, John Joseph, sustained grievous injures. The murder of Manzoor Masih increased the sense of insecurity among Christians. There was countrywide agitation by the Christians demanding repeal of the blasphemy law and security to their lives in the country.

The Sessions Court of Lahore, convicted the remaining two accused and passed death sentence against them. The death sentence against the minor attracted the attention of human rights activists the world over. The High Court, however, while adjudicating their appeal against conviction, acquitted them declaring that it was a case of no evidence. They had to flee the country to save their lives. They are also living in Germany on asylum. One of the senior judges of the Division Bench, which acquitted the two Christians, was murdered by a religious extremist on that very account.

Bantu Masih, 80, and Mukhtar Masih, 50, were arrested on the allegation of committing blasphemy. Both died under police custody. Bantu Masih was stabbed by a fundamentalist in the presence of policemen. He later succumbed to his injuries whereas Mukhtar Masih was tortured to death at the police station. There are many other cases of like nature against Christians, Muslims and Ahmadis. The plight of Ahmadis is much worse. The record shows that such cases were framed maliciously for settling personal scores or for religious persecution. The Christians are demanding repeal of the amended provisions of the law on blasphemy, but the Muslim fundamentalists are threatening that in case the law is repealed or changed they would overthrow the government. They are also using threatening language for the non-Muslim citizens among whom sense of insecurity is growing fast.

I hope that the examples of these cases would help better understanding of the situation we are faced with. We are in difficult times. We need support from around the world from all those who respect human rights, as their strong voice does have an impact on the forces who are responsible for this situation. We, however, know that basically it is through the political struggle launched by secular and progressive forces that we can make our society tolerant and civilized.

Thank you very much for providing me an opportunity for sharing the pains of my people.

**[Mr. Naeem Shakir is a Human Rights lawyer in Pakistan. The above article was presented at a consultation organised by the CCA in May 1998. It is being reproduced to help us better understand the recent arrest of Fr. Arnold Heredia. See Urgent APPEALS below.]

 

2. NEWS in Brief - top
 

CHINA

HOPES DIM FOR END TO FINAL TALKS OVER WTO

Beijing's hopes of concluding its World Trade Organisation accession talks by this month are quickly fading with the imminent change of administration in the United States and lingering disagreements on key issues.

Although officials continued to put on a brave face, a final protocol on China's entry appeared months away as the present round of negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland, have been under way since last Wednesday.

The talks had reached another make or break point as Chinese and European Union officials voiced frustration at their US counterparts. The US delegation did not have any representatives that appeared to have the authority to make a deal.

Observers have speculated that the Clinton administration had hoped for a final agreement as part of its legacy, which ends on 20th January.

US president-elect George W. Bush last week named free trade advocate Robert Zoellick as the next US trade representative, replacing the high-profile and controversial incumbent Charlene Barshefsky. Also missing from the talks was Rita Hayes. The US permanent representative to the WTO had been recalled to smooth the transition.

Beijing had hoped to wrap up the talks by April and was at loggerheads with the US over state subsidies to agriculture issues and China's entry status as a developing country.

[Source: SCMP]

 

PHILIPPINES

PHILIPPINES IN TURMOIL OVER SENATE DECISION

Thousands of opponents of Philippine President Joseph Estrada returned to the streets after prosecutors said a Senate impeachment court decision pointed to his likely acquittal on corruption charges.

Protests erupted in the capital, Manila, and in several provincial cities after the Senate court voted not to unseal key bank records the prosecution said would prove that Mr Estrada had kept an account for 3.3 billion pesos (HK$527 million) in violation of anti-graft laws.

Witnesses reported Mr Estrada opponents, who turned out in their thousands, marching towards a Manila highway where hundreds of thousands of Filipinos launched a 1986 "people power" revolt that toppled late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The Senate, sitting in judgment on Mr Estrada, voted 11 to 10 not to open crucial bank records allegedly showing wealth amassed by him while in office. It accepted defence arguments that the records were not part of the original impeachment dossier.

Opposition groups, including leftist militants, have vowed to intensify protests calling for Mr Estrada's resignation. Senate President Aquilino Pimentel has resigned in protest at the decision.

Mr Estrada himself, who denies charges of corruption, bribery, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the constitution, met his top military and police advisers to draw up stepped up security around Manila.

General Lacson said Mr Estrada specifically ordered the police to secure Manila's elevated trains to prevent a repetition of December 30 bomb attacks on one of the trains and other targets which killed 22 people and wounded more than 100. Troops set up barricades around the presidential palace. "We are on a heightened alert," General Lacson said.

The trial itself came to an abrupt halt a day after all 11 prosecutors resigned en masse saying that the Senate decision foreshadowed Mr Estrada's eventual acquittal. The Lower House will now have to appoint new prosecutors from other congressmen for the trial to continue.

Mr Estrada will be removed from office if convicted by a two-thirds vote of the 22-member senate on any one of the four charges against him.

[source: SCMP]

Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines have issued the following statement:


WE ARE ANGRY! WHERE CAN WE TURN TO?

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines, the largest aggrupation of mainline Protestant and non-Roman Catholic Churches in the country, expresses its disgust and anger at the shameful turn of events in the impeachment proceedings.

As church people,

  • We endeavored to give the legal process a chance;
  • We prayed for wisdom for all those involved in the proceedings;
  • We added our voices to the burgeoning outcry of the people in a peaceful attempt to make the President listen;
  • We held our anger at bay, exercised patience and sobriety as the trial unfolded.

But to no avail.

January 16, 2001, Day 23 of the Presidential Impeachment Trial, will go down in history as one of the blackest days of the year. That day only confirmed what we already knew all along. Joseph Ejercito Estrada would be let off the hook. On that day, eleven Senator-Judges blatantly and unashamedly gave proof that justice could be bought with the glitter of pesos and cents. Using legalese, they concealed the truth to protect a Magistrate who had long been rejected by the people. By so doing, they have tossed their promises to serve the people into the dustbin of oblivion. All their talk of having the people's welfare at heart is now no more than a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. Their credibility is at its lowest ebb.

In our indignation, who can we turn to now?

TRUE

We recognize the valiant efforts of the ten Senator-Judges who could not be bought and who had a modicum of principled decency to vote "Yes". We applaud all those who walked away from their responsibilities and positions in a public display of their disgust over this travesty of justice.

BUT

It is faith in our people that we are turning to now. They who are determined more than ever, to overthrow the systems of corruption, oppression and domination.

It is faith in God that we are turning to now. Our God who is a strategic ally of our quest for justice and truth.

It is faith in ourselves that we are turning to now. We who will sustain this expression of protest until the "mighty shall be put down from their thrones..."

The final verdict on the President is not yet known. But we have a foreshadowing of it. While we await that day of reckoning, having no illusions that the political situation will be overturned...

  • We will continue to invoke God's wisdom in the facing of these days...
  • We will reach out to our constituents and unify ourselves in a common understanding of the events and the appropriate response to these...
  • We will pour out into the streets to clearly express our principled collective rage.

God calls us now to be with our people in their struggle to remove the man who symbolizes corruption and moral decay and to begin the process of social renewal. We must go in obedience to that call.

 

MS. SHARON ROSE JOY RUIZ-DUREMDES
General Secretary

THE MOST REV. TOMAS A. MILLAMENA
Chairperson                    

 

BURMA

WHAT'S BEHIND THE BURMESE TALKS?
By Larry Jagan [BBC]

The international community has cautiously welcomed the news that Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has met the country's military leaders. This was the first such face-to-face meeting for more than six years and therefore must be significant. It is thought General Khin Nyunt was involved in talks

At least the two sides appear to be talking to each other - that's something that hasn't happened since before Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest in mid-1995. But many people of course remain sceptical that a real dialogue has actually begun. Burma's military rulers have in the past tried to exploit developments for their own purposes.

At present it is certainly in their interests to show they are being more conciliatory towards the opposition leader. Burma's military rulers are worried about the potential impact of the International Labour Organisation's decision late last year to urge their members to step up pressure on Rangoon to end forced labour and improve its human rights record. They fear that many countries might consider imposing economic sanctions against Burma.

At the same time it's quite clear that the other South East Asia leaders have been telling the Burmese Government privately that they should be more conciliatory towards Aung San Suu Kyi. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a long-time supporter of Burma, has led the way in this. Mr Mahathir is one of Burma's strongest allies. The UN envoy Razali Ismail said Mr Mahathir's visit to Burma last week had been important in helping break the country's political deadlock. It is probably no coincidence that immediately on his return from Rangoon, Mr Mahathir announced plans to bring in workers from Burma for the construction, manufacturing and plantation industries. This will earn much needed foreign currency for Burma.

Sources in the opposition National League for Democracy say their position has always been clear; Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD have consistently appealed to the generals to enter a dialogue. The problem has always been the military's reluctance to do so. But it does appear that Aung San Suu Kyi has been more conciliatory towards the military recently. This certainly seems to have been the case during the recent visit of her son Kim, his partner and her grandson, when Aung San Suu Kyi allowed the military to make the travel arrangements. Some Rangoon residents are now speculating Aung San Suu Kyi has been mellowed by the time she spent with her grandson in December.

But the major problem for Aung San Suu Kyi now is where can this dialogue process go. Only in December, at the EU-Asean meeting in Laos, the Burmese foreign minister said the government was happy to talk to Aung San Suu Kyi provided she admitted she was wrong.

While talks may be under way there is no evidence Burma's military rulers are considering giving up power or even sharing it. They have increased the strength of the army and are busy building an organisational structure to support them. The United Solidarity Development Association or USDA - the government's so-called grassroots civilian organisation - is growing and boasts more than 10 million members.

The military is also building hospitals and schools for its own use, opening medical colleges and technical institutes. But the army knows there are still major issues it hasn't been able to tackle such as the country's massive Aids epidemic, the crisis in education with most universities still effectively closed, and a rapidly deteriorating economy. The military rulers may feel these are issues which they can discuss with Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD without compromising their hold on power.

The UN envoy Mr Razali seems to have finally helped start a dialogue of sorts between the two sides. Although there are few details of what he discussed with both parties, he says he's keen to find ways of strengthening the process. He says he's also prepared to travel anywhere in the region if it will help maintain the momentum. UN sources say he's planning to visit China shortly. Beijing has been one of Burma's most ardent supporters since the military coup in 1988 brought the current crop of generals to power.

While it's obviously good the generals and Aung San Suu Kyi are talking, the international community will also expect early signs of concrete results. Releasing the opposition leader from virtual house arrest and freeing other NLD leaders who are currently detained would seem like a good place to start.

 

SINGAPORE

POLITICIAN URGES ASIAN UNION
Source: AP

Singapore has recently proposed an Asia-wide bloc similar to the European Union, saying the region must work together to thrive in an increasingly technological world.

Yeo Cheow Tong, minister for communications and information technology, said Asia should build a model of "regionalism" similar to the European Union's, but not necessarily of the same "brand".

Asian leaders have often said that their idea of regionalism is purely economic, unlike Europe's which includes political and human rights issues. Yet even economic integration in Asia isn't nearly as advanced as Europe's, with much work still do be done before free-trade zones are created.

Mr Yeo said during a Japan-Singapore symposium in the Southeast Asian city-state that the Asians were nowhere near the level of European regionalism. He added that it was "crucial" for Asia to create a similar regional marketplace.

Despite Asia's "distinct and segregated countries", Mr Yeo said the region's nations faced "similar, serious problems, which increasingly cannot be solved internally". Wealthier nations in Asia should share their know-how with developing nations to keep them falling behind.

Mr Yeo also defended Singapore's relentless pursuit of bilateral free trade agreements and said other Asian countries should do the same.

Singapore, which recently concluded a free-trade deal with New Zealand and is working on others with the United States and Mexico, has been accused of pursuing bilateral free trade agreements at the expense of multilateral free-trade agreements in Southeast Asia.

Mr Yeo said an Asian union would help the region better face the challenges and opportunities presented by globalisation. He said Asian countries needed to help each other to narrow the digital divide and to stop talented Asians from heading West.

 

SEATLE

IS WTO IN DANGER?
January 02, 2001
by Stephen H. Dunphy

A year after global trade talks collapsed here, a new pattern of negotiations is emerging that could pose a greater threat to the World Trade Organization than even the wildest hopes of its opponents.

Increasingly, the 140 members of the WTO are entering into smaller-scale trade accords among themselves, or are pushing ahead with plans to do so. As a result, the WTO estimates those agreements now cover as much as three-quarters of world trade, and market barriers are dropping from East Asia to Latin America.

Mike Moore, the director general of the global trading body, warned recently that there is a "growing danger" that the surge in trade agreements "could come to be seen as a substitute for multilateral liberalization rather than a complement to it".

The U.S. alone has signed accords with China, Jordan and Vietnam in recent months, and is negotiating with Chile and Singapore. It has opened its markets to sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean Basin, and next April will consider forming a Free Trade Area of the Americas - a tariff-free zone that would cover the entire Western Hemisphere, from Canada to Argentina.

Last week, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky praised the deal with Jordan, calling it a model for how bilateral accords could help protect the environment and ensure labor standards are followed.

Japan has abandoned its long-standing policy of multilateral-only trade liberalization to consider agreements with Singapore and Korea, while the European Union is in the process of establishing a Euro-Mediterranean free-trade area by 2010.

Some experts like the bilateral deals because trade is booming. The World Bank said trade will expand 12.5 percent this year - the fastest growth in more than three decades. The WTO estimates trade growth this year at more than 10 percent.

While some regional pacts can be good, they run risks. Trade economists say regional trade pacts can result in one country granting preferences to another and buying goods from it that should really be purchased elsewhere.

That could have a huge impact on big trading ports. The Port of Seattle had at least some trade with more than 150 countries or regions last year, ranging from $27.5 billion with Japan to $7 million with Moldova.

Moore and WTO officials argue that the system in place since the end of World War II has worked well and should not be abandoned. The facts seem to point that way. Trade is up 16 fold since then, growing every year since 1945. The free movement of goods and services across borders saves the average consumer in the U.S. about $2,000 a year. Countries like South Korea have moved from poverty with per capita annual income of less than $100 to the ranks of the wealthy developed countries in a generation, largely through the ability to trade.

But these bilateral agreements - deals between two countries - are being looked at more and more by big nations, especially the U.S. and the European Union. The deals allow them to get things it wants - agreements on labor standards and the environment - which it cannot get in bigger multilateral deals.

Even disputes are moving outside the WTO. The U.S. may challenge how Airbus uses government loans to finance its proposed A380, a super jumbo that would compete with Boeing's 747. U.S. and EU trade officials discussed the financing during high-level meetings in Washington this week. But both sides - and Boeing - do not want the dispute to become a full-blown trade battle.

In addition to the list of country-to-country agreements regional agreements are growing as well. Among them: Mercosur, the free-trade area that includes Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American countries, is negotiating to add Chile to its membership.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has proposed an East Asia free-trade zone, while Australia and New Zealand are seeking to open Asian agriculture markets.

Mexico has signed accords with the EU and the smaller European Free Trade Area. And the Andean and Central American common markets have reaffirmed their commitments to regional free trade.

The growth in regional trade accords could help build the political case in the U.S. to push again on multilateral-trade negotiations. Starting a new round of global trade talks won't be easy.

The WTO meetings in Seattle failed partly over a U.S. proposal to include labor and environmental standards in future trade accords. That plan was supported by many of the tens of thousands of street protesters who tried to shut down the meetings. Yet it drew fire from developing nations, which saw it as a veiled attempt to deprive them of their chief competitive advantage: low labor costs.

China's imminent accession to the WTO might also complicate things. China is "big enough by itself that we need some time to concentrate on it," one official said. "Integrating 1.5 billion people into the system will be a huge boost to world trade" on its own.

Negotiations under way at the WTO in two areas - agriculture and services - are likely to run into resistance early next year. "When horse trading begins in earnest in agriculture and services, we are likely to experience a sharp slowdown," said one WTO official. "Up until now, the work of those negotiating groups has gone well, but we have largely been in a phase of both information gathering and presentation of offers. It will not be until March that the real dealing is due to start."

Meanwhile, the bilateral deal making continues. The U.S. and Singapore are near an agreement on a free-trade pact.

[Source: Seattle Times]

 

3. RESOURCES Received - top
 

DAGA receives a lot of juournals, periodicals, newsletters and many other forms of printed resources from its network of Action Groups in Asia and around the world.  Please click on "Resources" in the left bar for an extended listing.

 

4. Urgent APPEAL - top
 

PAKISTAN: Fr. ARNOLD HEREDIA ARRESTED WITH OTHERS FOR PROTESTING AGAINST THE MISUSE OF BLASPHEMY LAW

Well-known Christian human rights activists Fr. Arnold Heredia, former Executive Secretary, Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf, Karachi (Committee for Justice and Peace), Aslam Martin, Project Coordinator, Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf, Karachi and Riaz Nawab of Caritas Pakistan, Karachi along with 14 Muslims were arrested on January 10, 2001, during a peaceful protest procession against the ill use of the Blasphemy Law.

This Law has been misused against many Pakistanis and especially against the religious minorities, who are more vulnerable. From January to October 2000, 38 cases are reported to have been filed against 58 people including 3 women. Five cases have been filed against 6 Christians.

The demonstration was called by the All-Faith Spiritual Movement (AFSM), a conglomeration of people of all faiths with a common goal of fighting against exploitation in the name of religion. The demonstrators gathered at Empress Market in Saddar, Karachi around 4:15 p.m. and intended to proceed towards Governor’s House to present their memorandum that a high level committee should be constituted to review all cases filed and decided under the blasphemy act.

A large contingent of police had awaited for the demonstrators’ arrival at Saddar. About 300 protesters were forcibly dispersed when the police and law enforcement agencies resorted to baton-charge and lobbed teargas shells.

Seventeen people were arrested and charged under Section 144 of the Pakistan Penal Code. This is the first time in the history of Pakistan that a Catholic priest was charged under this section while protesting for the rights of minorities.

Fr. Arnold is a renowned scholar, a social scientist, a journalist and a strong believer of interfaith harmony. He served Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf (Committee for Justice and Peace) for 28 years. He is also a council member of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Fr. Arnold along with the other detained protesters was presented before the magistrate and applicaiton for bail has been rejected. The police have asked for 6 days remand. Bail will be granted on January 16, 2001 if no further extension for remand is requested by the police.

Fr. Arnold received minor injuries during the arrest. A few days before his arrest, he had gone through a serious surgery. He is not in good health but morally and psychologically he is very sound.

ACTION REQUESTED:

Kindly write letters to express your concern and request for the following:

  • Condemning the attitude of the administration and police and the arrest and baton charge resorted on the peaceful procession on Wednesday January 10, 2001
  • Immediate and unconditional release of the detainees
  • Withdrawal of all false charges against the detainees
  • Repeal of the blasphemy laws

SEND LETTERS TO:

1. Gen. Pervaiz Musharaf
The Chief Executive of Pakistan
Chief Executive’s Secretariat
Islamabad
Pakistan
Fax: (92-51) 9270205
E-mail: ce@pak.gov.pk

2. Col. (R) S.K. Tressler
Federal Minister
Sports, Culture, Minority Affairs and Youth
Islamabad - Pakistan
PH: (92-51) 9210108
Fax: (92-51) 9224697

3. Gen. (Retd) Moin Uddin Haider
The Interior Minister
Islamabad
Pakistan
Tel: (92-51) 9212026
Fax: (92-51) 9202642

4. Mian Mohammed Sumro
Governor of Sindh
Governor House
Karachi
Pakistan
Tel: (92-21) 9201201-5
Fax: (92-21) 9201218

5. Diplomatic Representatives of Pakistan in your country.

Thank you for your continued support. For more information, please contact:

Samson Justine
Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf
3/12, Rimpa Plaza
M.A. Jinnah Road
Karachi 74400
Pakistan

Tel: (92-21) 7725144
Fax: (92-21) 7734170
E-mail: idara@fascom.com

 

5. ANNOUNCEMENT - top
 

GRAVE DIGERS: A REPORT ON MINING IN BURMA
writen by renowned mining author Roger Moody, is now on-line.

"Grave Diggers", written by Roger Moody, gives an overall analysis of mining and mining companies in Burma. It examines in the roles of the companies involved and their relationship to the Burmese military dictatorship. Also presented are the social impacts, in particular the spread of HIV/AIDS through heroin use among miners, and the disintegration of communities with the discovery of rubies.

Moody reviews in detail the historical development of the industry and mining regulations in Burma, "the least developed or sound of any in the world", according the report's author. Examples are provided of the inadequacy of the regulations and the loopholes they offer. The author then examines companies active in the country (chiefly the Canadian and Australian mining industry), their role, and why they have been permitted to operate under militarized conditions. Canadian stock markets, where much of the investment is raised, Canadian law and the industry itself come under scrutiny.

The report concludes with accounts of the deplorable conditions of miners and affected communities in Burma. Moody examines the hazards of methods employed at Monywa and offers evidence of serious human rights violations, safety breaches, and serious ground water pollution. Finally, the conditions of mines elsewhere in Burma are presented, including the breakdown of village communities in Shan State, and an interview with a Burmese mining engineer who describes how primitive mining standards has jeopardized lives and the environment.

You can get to the report by visiting a portal on the Canada Asia Pacific Resource Network:
http://www.caprn.bc.ca/campaign/burmamines/

 


END

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