8 Apr 2011

Pakistan police arrest six for contracting marriage for girls aged 3 and 6 to settle family feud caused by brother

Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty - April 8, 2011

Six Pakistanis Arrested For Arranged Marriages Of Children

Police in northern Pakistan have arrested six people, including an imam, on charges of contracting four underage children to get married in order to settle a family feud, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

Two sisters -- 3-year-old Darwesh Bibi and 6-year-old Fazeelat Bibi -- were engaged to two boys from another family to resolve a dispute between the families, who live in the Dera Ismail Khan district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Police officials said the local "panchayat," or council, announced the decision after the brother of the two girls, Barkatullah, was found guilty of "wrongdoing" against the other family.

The decision to engage the four children was made under a local ritual called "vani" or "swara," which is banned under Pakistani law. It entails forcing women and girls under the age of consent into marriage to settle family feuds.

Police in Dera Ismail Khan have opened criminal cases against 14 people. Police said six of them have been arrested and ongoing investigations will lead to further arrests.

Muhammad Ashraf, the police chief at the Saddar police station in Dera Ismail Khan, told RFE/RL that the incident took place in the village of Got Kala.

"Two underage girls were engaged. One was three years old and the other was six years old," Ashraf said. "I went there and after confirmation, I arrested the mullah and six more people from both families. Some more arrests will be made. This is against the law and we took action."

The incident is the third of its kind in Dera Ismail Khan or the surrounding area in the past year.

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  1. Actress gets death threats in Pakistan nude cover shoot row

    by Saeed Shah, The Guardian December 12, 2011

    The Pakistani actor at the centre of a controversy over a "nude" picture on the cover of an Indian magazine has hit out at the "stone age" attitudes that have seen her plagued by threats and condemnation. Veena Malik appeared on the cover of the Indian edition of FHM magazine apparently adorned with nothing but a tattoo that reads ISI – the initials of the military's feared spy agency.

    She claims the magazine airbrushed out the thong she was wearing. But her appearance has led to accusations that she has betrayed her country; her father has disowned her, and she has received death threats, in a country where Islamist extremists are a genuine danger.

    Even the military establishment has got involved. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is blamed in India for sponsoring terrorism. A text message sent to local journalists from the Pakistani military's public relations machinery complained that the affair was "the height of humiliation for Pakistan, done by a Pakistani on Indian soil".

    In an emotional interview with the Guardian from Mumbai, where she is working on three films, Malik said that despite the threats, she was not scared and would return to Pakistan.

    "The things I have done in life, I have the guts to stand by. This is my body; this is my life," she said. "This is my body, and I will take advantage of it if I want to. And it's a very beautiful body. But I will not allow any man out there to morph my pictures and put it on the cover, just to sell their magazine. They are gaining. I'm losing."

    The magazine the Indian version of the British men's monthly FHM maintains that Malik consented to the nude picture, which appears on the front of the December issue. The actor and the magazine are unable even to agree on her age, with the magazine saying she is 33 while she insists she is still in her 20s. They are suing each other for £3m in a bitter exchange of lawsuits. She revealed that she had even consulted a UK law firm about taking FHM to court in Britain.

    Malik has been vilified at home, and argues that no-one is willing to hear her side of the story.

    "I'm living my life on my own terms," she says. "If somebody does not agree with that, if somebody does not want to understand, it's pretty OK with me. I did not commit any crime in my life. If some mullah on the TV today says shoot the girl, they will shoot me. But the guy who removed my clothes using some technology, at least say something against him. This attitude, I'm sorry, is in the society. When they say they have become modern, grown up, that's wrong. They still live in the stone age."

    In a country that is becoming more conservative, women are increasingly covering up in Pakistan, some by choice, others through intimidation. Nudity is unknown, even in Pakistan's "porn" films. ...

    "My choice was a bikini shoot. And I did a bikini shoot. They removed my bikini, later on. It was not a topless, and not a nude, shoot. It was a completely covered shoot," said Malik. "When the upper portion of the model is completely covered, by the hands, you can't call it topless." ...

    She sent blood pressures racing in Pakistan by starring in an Indian reality TV show in which she appeared to be canoodling with an Indian actor. Undaunted, she appeared on a Pakistani television channel at the start of this year to debate with a mullah who accused her of "insulting Pakistan and Islam", only to tear him apart in a blistering, hour-long verbal assault, telling him there were bigger problems in Pakistan to worry about, including the rape of children in Islamic seminaries.

    read the full article at:


  2. Chained and in tears: Children found in basement as police raid Islamic school thought to be a 'Taliban training centre'

    By DAMIEN GAYLE, Daily Mail UK December, 14 2011

    Forty-five students, among them young children, were discovered held in chains in a basement when police raided an Islamic seminary in Pakistan last night.

    The male students, some said to be as young as 12 but appearing even younger, were found in what amounted to a dungeon at the Madrassa Zakarya in the Sohrab Goth district of Karachi.
    Led barefoot from their prison, captives told officers they had suffered regular beatings and been hung upside down as a form of punishment.

    Others said they had been visited by Taliban fighters and that 10 of their fellow students had disappeared in recent months.

    One boy said that visiting Taliban members had told them to 'prepare for battle'. Some Pakistani madrassas have long been suspected of grooming Islamic militants.

    Police arrested a cleric and two others at the scene, but the madrassa's administrator managed to escape during the raid, Pakistan's Express Tribune reported.

    Local police Superintendent Rao Anwar told the paper: 'Those recovered are aged between 12 and 50 years and are mainly of Pakhtun ethnicity.
    'A few drug addicts and mentally challenged persons were also among those who were recovered.'

    'It seems that the administration was running a sort of religious school-cum-rehabilitation-centre and were receiving considerable sums of money from parents of those kept in for that purpose.'

    Sanaa TV, a local station, showed footage of the raid and the chained students, who danced and cried as police began to free them.

    'We were kept in chains and hung upside down and beaten with sticks if we didn't comply. We were told that we would be given training to fight in Afghanistan,' one boy said.

    Another told how Taliban fighters had visited the seminary, led prayers and told them to prepare for battle.

    The raid came after an anonymous tip-off to authorities. Police official Mukhtiar Khaskheli told Agence France-Presse that a full investigation would probe any possible links with militants.

    'The madrassa officials claim that they had chained those students because they were drug addicts and they wanted to rehabilitate them and make them better Muslims,' he added.

    According to the Press Trust of India, most of the captive students had been brought to Karachi from remote parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province, a hotbed of Taliban activities.
    'What we have learnt is that the parents used to pay the seminary for the education of their children who were sent to Karachi to get religious education,' a police official told the agency.
    Pakistani government records seen by AFP suggest there are 15,148 seminaries in Pakistan, with more than two million students.
    But officials suspect many more unregistered schools exist, providing the children of Pakistan's poverty-stricken majority with the only education they can afford.

    see photos at:


  3. Film on disfiguring acid attacks gets Women's Day TV premiere

    By Nazima Walji, CBC News March 8, 2012

    This International Women's Day, the U.S. cable network HBO and its Canadian counterpart are airing an Oscar-winning documentary that aims to raise awareness about a barbaric form of domestic violence that affects women in many parts of the world but doesn't get enough attention: acid attacks.

    The annual celebration of women that is marked each March 8 around the world is meant to highlight women's achievements but also to reflect on the current status of women around the world and their ongoing efforts to achieve economic equality and freedom from the many human rights abuses they still face.

    Saving Face, a film directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge that won the Academy Award for best documentary short last month, examines the practice of acid violence — the deliberate use of acid to harm and disfigure another human being, in most cases, women. It depicts stories of the many women in Pakistan who have become victims of this kind of abuse, mostly at the hands of their husbands and other relatives.

    Surgeon repairs acid disfigurement

    Obaid Chinoy, a Pakistani-born journalist who became a Canadian citizen after moving to Toronto in 2004, explained what drove her to make the film in a February 2012 interview with Rick MacInnes-Rae of CBC Radio's Dispatches.

    "I was born and raised in Pakistan," she said. "I had quite an emancipated childhood, and to find that women in Pakistan still have to go through a brutal act such as acid violence really shook me."

    The documentary follows Mohammad Jawad, a Karachi-born, London-based plastic surgeon with the Acid Survivor Foundation, which assists women who have been injured in acid attacks.

    "Dr. Jawad has worked miracles on women who have had acid attacks," Obaid Chinoy said. "In London, he fixed the face of Katie Piper, a very famous model whose boyfriend threw acid on her on the streets of London, and that's when he became interested in victims of acid violence.

    "And when he heard that in his home country of Pakistan, there were such attacks, he started travelling back to Pakistan."

    For the many of victims of acid violence, it is the coming to terms with their new and very different circumstances after the attack that is the most painful and difficult aspect of their experience to adjust to.

    "Ruksana and Zakia, my two main characters in the film, spoke of how they didn't want to leave their home for months after," Obaid Chinoy told MacInnes-Rae. "They felt that they needed to be ashamed. They felt that, somehow, they had caused this, and that's was what was evident in almost all the survivors that we spoke to."

    Women, children targeted

    It's not surprising that the overwhelming number of victims of acid violence are women and children, and their attackers often target the head and face in order to disfigure and blind them.

    Acid attacks are carried out for various reasons, but most commonly, they are committed by the victim's own relatives as retribution for some perceived slight against the family's honour. The effects are always horrific: damaged skin tissue, exposure and dissolving of bones, permanent scarring and blindness.

    Cases of acid violence happen all over the world and have been documented in Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the West Indies and the Middle East.

    In Pakistan, about 150 women are reported to have been victims of acid violence.

    "Those are documented numbers," Obaid Chinoy said. "But, of course, there are undocumented numbers, because acid violence is usually carried out by members from one's own family, and given the culture that exists in Pakistan, many are hesitant to press charges against the perpetrators. So, we believe there are dozens more that go undocumented."

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    Justice for victims rare

    In Saving Face, viewers meet 39-year-old Zakia, whose husband threw acid on her face because she wanted a divorce, leaving the left side of her face completely melted away.

    Jawad explained her condition in an interview with CBC Radio's The Current on March 2, 2012.

    "Not only [her] eye … eye socket, eyebrows, lid, everything was gone, and she had a severe distortion on the left side of her face," he said.

    Typically, assailants who carry out acid attacks receive minimal punishment, but Zakia's case proved unique, and it became a catalyst for legal and political change in Pakistan.

    "I'll never forget the look on Zakia's face when she heard her husband would be given two life sentences," Obaid Chinoy told Dispatches. "It's so rare for women to get justice in Pakistan. She felt that, finally, someone had done something to say that this was her husband's fault."

    Last year, two pieces of legislation that aim to address violence against women were passed unanimously by Pakistan's parliament: the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill and the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill.

    The former recommends sentences of 14 years to life in prison and fines of up to one million rupees (around $20,000) for the perpetrators of acid attacks.

    Step in the right direction
    Obaid Chinoy notes that she can see Pakistanis' views on domestic violence changing.

    "You are finding more women who are vocal, who are speaking out against it," she said. "You're finding women in parliament who are empowered to draft these laws and bring them forward."

    Obaid Chinoy said she applauds Pakistan's current government for addressing women's rights and is hopeful for the future, but she also understands that change will not happen overnight.

    "Legislation is one thing, but there needs to be widespread education about what happens to a woman when acid is thrown on her," she said.

    The film was released in the U.S. in November 2011, but with Thursday's premiere on North American television, a larger audience will now be able to view Saving Face and see firsthand the extreme version of domestic violence that many women in Pakistan face.

    Obaid Chinoy remains positive and is confident that the practice of acid attacks will eventually be eradicated, though it will likely take a long time for that to happen.

    "But if more women were educated, then we are one step closer to putting the country back on its right foot," she said.

    Obaid Chinoy's film is one part of that education and awareness-raising effort that could help ease the suffering of women not just in Pakistan but in other countries where acid attacks happen.


  5. Honor Killings Claimed 900 Lives In Pakistan In 2011

    Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty March 22, 2012

    At least 943 women and girls were murdered across Pakistan last year for allegedly defaming their family's honor, according to a report by the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

    The figure includes the deaths of 93 minors and seven Christian and two Hindu women.

    Most of the women killed were accused of having "illicit relations," some 200 of marrying without permission.

    Most of the women were killed by their brothers or husbands.

    Some victims were raped or gang-raped before being killed.

    The HRCP reported 791 honor killings in 2010.

    Despite the rising number of reported killings, the HRCP praised parliament for passing laws enhancing women's rights.


  6. Pakistani girl accused of Qur'an burning could face death penalty

    Jon Boone in Islamabad, The Guardian August 19, 2012

    An 11-year-old Christian Pakistani girl could face the death penalty under the country's notorious blasphemy laws, after she was accused by her neighbours of deliberately burning sacred Islamic texts.

    Rifta Masih was arrested on Thursday, after complaints against her prompted angry demonstrations. Asif Ali Zardari, the president, has ordered the interior ministry to investigate the case.

    As communal tensions continued to rise, about 900 Christians living on the outskirts of Islamabad have been ordered to leave a neighbourhood where they have lived for almost two decades.

    On Sunday, houses on the backstreets of Mehrabadi, an area 20 minutes' drive from western embassies and government ministries, were locked with padlocks, their occupants having fled to already overcrowded Christian slums in and around the capital.

    One of the senior members of the dominant Muslim community told the Christians to remove all their belongings from their houses by 1 September. "I don't think anyone will dare go back after this," said one Christian, Arif Masih. "The area is not safe for us now."

    A few brave souls have stayed behind, but shopkeepers have refused to serve their Christian neighbours or supply them with water. Locals say only about 10% of families in the area are Christian, renting cramped houses from Muslim landlords. They tend to do dirty, menial jobs such as sewer maintenance.

    Relations between the communities had been simmering for months after complaints were made about the noise coming from three churches in the area during religious services. Two of the landlords who owned the buildings had already ordered an end to worship and some services were forcibly broken up.

    But there was no indication that all the Christians would be forced out so suddenly until Rifta was accused of the provocative act of burning the sacred words of Islam.

    It sparked immediate demonstrations by crowds estimated at between 600 and 1,000 people, some of whom blocked the nearby Kashmir highway, the major road running west out of the capital.

    The police, initially unwilling to take action, eventually charged the girl with blasphemy and took her into custody. The rest of the community, including her parents, fled.

    As with many other aspects of the incident, there is disagreement about exactly what was burned. Some say it was a small pocket book of Qur'anic verses. Others claim it was pages of the Qur'an. Either it was a relatively small quantity of ash carried in an earthenware dish, or it was around half a kilogram of refuse that filled a small plastic shopping bag.

    Hammad Malik, a 23-year-old with a shaven head and bushy beard who is deemed a "scoundrel" by the Christian community, said he saw Rifta walking out of the tiny, single-room dwelling where she lived with her parents and sister at some time after 6pm. He said it was pure chance that he noticed her bundle.

    "I looked at it but did not know exactly what it was but I could see it had words written in Arabic," he said.

    He concedes that no one actually saw her burning anything as the offence allegedly happened inside the house, and she was caught while finding somewhere to throw away the remains. However, the local mullah claims there was a witness: another young girl who caught her in the act and then ran to the mosque to raise the alarm.

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    One thing the Muslim community does agree on is that claims in the local media, sourced to the police, that the girl has Down's syndrome are false.

    "She is a completely normal girl," said Kamran Khan, cousin of the Masih family's landlord. As the largely male and grownup crowd gathered outside the house, a girl who said she knew Rifta said she did behave oddly – she talked to herself and walked in a peculiar way.

    The other point of general agreement is that "the law should be followed". Unfortunately, the law in question is Pakistan's blasphemy law, which has a proven track record of ensnaring people on the flimsiest of evidence and being cynically used to intimidate communities or settle quarrels over money and property.

    Even though no one has yet been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, long prison terms are common – one Christian couple was sentenced to 25 years in 2010 after being accused of touching the Qur'an with unwashed hands.

    There have also been cases of people killed by lynch mobs demanding instant punishment. Daring to criticise the law is incredibly risky and few do it.

    In 2011, Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab province, was gunned down by his own bodyguard after he spoke out against the case of Aasia Bibi, another Christian woman accused of blasphemy.

    The Christian community of Mehrabadi says the whole thing is a plot. They too have conflicting accounts of what happened. In one version, according to priest Boota Masih, a Muslim neighbour asked the girl to throw out the ash into which the desecrated pages had been placed.

    Either way, one hotly contested incident involving a very young girl looks set to change the complexion of the neighbourhood for ever.

    "They have done this to provoke the Muslims, like they have with their noisy banging and singing from their churches," said a local mullah, who would not give his name. "We are not upset the Christians have left and we will be pleased if they don't come back."


  8. Pakistani President Seeks Report On Girl's Blasphemy Case

    By Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty August 23, 2012

    Pakistan's president has called on officials to explain the arrest on blasphemy charges of a Christian girl with Down syndrome.

    The girl -- reportedly just 11 or 12 years old -- allegedly burned pages inscribed with verses from the Koran.

    Police said the girl, Rimsha, was arrested in a Christian slum of Islamabad on August 16 and remanded in custody for 14 days.

    A crowd of angry Muslims had demanded she be punished.

    State-run media reports said President Asif Ali Zardari has taken "serious note" of the case and called on the Interior Ministry to submit a report.

    Some reports suggested the girl had been burning papers collected from the rubbish for cooking when someone entered her house and accused the family of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Koran.

    Rimsha's house was locked from the outside on August 20 and no one was at home, a reporter for the AFP news agency said. Neighbors were reluctant to speak about the incident, saying that they had not witnessed the alleged desecration themselves.

    A senior official of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, told AFP that Christians who fled for shelter with relatives elsewhere in Islamabad were now gradually returning to the slum called Mehrabad.

    The girl has Down syndrome -- a condition which causes various degrees of learning difficulties -- and is not yet a teenager.

    The Women's Action Forum, a leading Pakistani organization fighting for the rights of women, condemned Rimsha's arrest.

    Spokeswoman Tahira Abdullah demanded her immediate release and expressed outrage at the "total inhumanity" of the men who lodged the case with police.

    The 2011 assassinations of a leading Pakistani politician and a Christian cabinet minister have been linked to their public opposition to strict antiblasphemy laws. They had taken up the plight of a Christian mother sentenced to death for blasphemy in late 2010. She remains in prison.

    The murders renewed concerns about religious intolerance in Pakistan, where minority groups have faced numerous attacks by militants of the Sunni Muslim majority.

    Last month, a mob snatched a mentally unstable man from a village police station and beat him to death in central Punjab Province after he allegedly burned pages from a Koran.

    Under the blasphemy laws, a conviction for defaming Islam or desecrating the Koran can be punishable by death.

    With reporting by AP and AFP


  9. Police: Muslim cleric framed girl in Pakistan blasphemy case

    From Nasir Habib, CNN September 2, 2012

    Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani police say a Muslim cleric planted evidence to link a Christian girl to blasphemy -- a new twist in a case that has fanned flames of religious tension in the country and attracted worldwide interest.

    The imam, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, will himself face blasphemy charges for tearing pages out of a Quran to use as evidence against the girl, Islambad police chief Bin Yamin said.

    The latest development may make it easier for the girl, 14-year-old Rimsha, to be released on bail at her next court hearing.

    Police arrested Rimsha last month after a neighbor accused her of burning pages containing texts from the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

    Rimsha had two shopping bags with her: one containing ashes and the other, the partially burned pages, police said. She had gathered the paper as fuel for cooking, authorities said.

    Even though Rimsha's lawyer said no one actually saw the girl burning the papers, the neighbor went to Chishti -- the neighborhood cleric -- with the bags for safekeeping as evidence.

    Chishti wasn't certain that simply burning pages with texts from the Quran would be enough to convict Rimsha on blasphemy charges, said Munir Jaffery, the investigating officer in the case.

    So, the imam added two pages from the holy book itself to the bag to bolster the case, Jaffery said.

    Police arrested Chishti on Saturday after three witnesses told a judge about the imam's actions.
    He was sent to jail for 14 days, accused of evidence tampering.

    Chishti has denied the allegation, authorities said.

    Yamin, the police chief, drew a distinction between the accusations against the two, saying Rimsha is a simple-minded minor, while the imam is highly educated in religious studies and indulged in the act of blasphemy willfully.

    Insulting Islam provokes widespread and immediate reaction in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim nation. Its controversial blasphemy law makes the crime punishable by death. Critics have said the legislation is being used to entrap minorities.

    Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, who criticized the law, was shot to death by his security guard last year. A Pakistani court then suspended the guard's death sentence.

    In Rimsha's case, about 150 people gathered on August 17 -- the day she was arrested -- in the area where the neighborhood's Christian population lives and threatened to burn down their houses, police said.

    Her relatives have gone into hiding.

    During a tense hearing Saturday, Muslim lawyers demanding that Rimsha remain in jail got into a shouting match with the judge. They provided a list of reasons the girl should be detained, including questioning whether the girl gave her lawyer the power of attorney.

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    A judge ordered investigators to get more details on her power of attorney and postponed the hearing to Monday.

    Before Saturday, a decision was supposed to come Thursday, but was deferred so authorities could answer questions about her medical history.
    "All these are the delaying tactics by the lawyers of the complainant to keep the girl in jail," said her lawyer, Tahir Naveed Choudhry.

    Her lawyers dashed into a car and sped off after the hearing Saturday for safety reasons. Rimsha did not attend.

    Pakistani authorities have come under pressure to guarantee Rimsha's safety amid concerns that if she is released on bail, angry Muslims will seek retaliation.

    Choudhry has sought bail, saying she is legally a minor and should be reunited with her parents rather than kept in a jail with adults.

    He cited a report by an independent medical board stating that the girl is 14. The doctors who examined her also concluded that her mental age was lower than her chronological age and she suffers from Down syndrome, he said.

    Police have said the girl is illiterate and denied knowing there were Quran verses on the documents she allegedly burned.

    Choudhry says he expects the trial to last as long as two years. Rimsha would remain in custody for its duration if bail is denied, he said.

    If she is tried as a minor, she might receive a milder sentence if convicted. As an adult, she faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for blasphemy, the lawyer said.

    The imam's arrest may prompt a reexamination of the allegations against the girl, authorities said Sunday.

    "We have strong evidence against (the cleric)," said Naveed Chaudhry, an adviser to Pakistan's president. "(Rimshi's) lawyer is going to court for bail. She might be released by Monday based on this evidence."


  11. Pakistan frees Christian girl accused of burning pages of Islam's holy book


    RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - A young Christian girl accused of burning pages of Islam's holy book was freed Saturday from a jail near the capital where she had been held for three weeks, a Pakistani jail official said.

    The release a day after a judge granted her bail is another step closer to ending an episode that has focused an uncomfortable spotlight on Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, which can result in life in prison or even death for defendants. Many critics say the laws are misused to wage vendettas or target Pakistan's vulnerable minorities like the Christians.

    The jail official, Mushtaq Awan, said the girl left the prison in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near Islamabad amid tight security.

    An Associated Press reporter on the scene said she was taken from the prison in an armoured vehicle and whisked to a waiting helicopter while covered with a sheet to protect her identity.

    A Muslim cleric from her neighbourhood was arrested last week for planting evidence to incriminate the girl, an about-face in a case that has drawn strong international condemnation. Even in Pakistan where there is significant support for punishing people accused of desecrating the Qur’an or insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammed, the girl's age and questions about her mental state have earned her a degree of public sympathy often lacking in other blasphemy cases.

    Her lawyers say they will now push to have the case against her thrown out entirely.

    "Her parents were with her when she was freed from the jail, and she has been taken to a safer place," said a member of her legal team, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry.

    The girl's release came a day after a judge in Islamabad granted bail to the mentally challenged girl, a move hailed by the human right activists and representatives of Pakistan's minority Christian community. Bail is rarely granted in blasphemy cases, and the decision signals a degree of sympathy that could result in all the charges being dropped.

    The girl, who medical officials say is 14 years old, was arrested Aug. 16, shortly after hundreds of angry Muslims surrounded her house, and accused her of burning pages from the Qur’an, an act punishable by life in prison. Her lawyer has denied the allegation.

    But in a sudden turn-around, police arrested a cleric after a follower from his mosque accused him of stashing pages of a Qur’an in the girl's bag to make it seem as if she burned them. He allegedly planted the evidence to push Christians out of the neighbourhood and is now being investigated for blasphemy himself. He has denied the allegation.

    The arrest was applauded as a rare occurrence when blasphemy accusers are held responsible for false claims.

    In his ruling granting bail, the judge wrote that the arrest of the cleric cast serious doubt on the prosecution's case. He also said she was a minor, had mental challenges and that it was "not believable" that she had intentionally burnt the Quranic verses. On those grounds, he decided to grant the bail.

    The tight security present during her release is a sign that authorities are taking her safety seriously in light of previous attacks on people accused of blasphemy. Two prominent politicians were gunned down last year for suggesting the blasphemy laws should be amended to prevent misuse. The killer of one of the politicians was later lauded by supporters who threw rose petals whenever he appeared at court.

    A man in the central Pakistani city of Bahawalpur was beaten to death in July by an angry mob after he was accused of blasphemy.


  12. Malala Yousafzai: Pakistan activist, 14, shot in Swat

    BBC October 9, 2012

    Gunmen have wounded a 14-year-old rights activist who has campaigned for girls' education in the Swat Valley in north-west Pakistan.

    Malala Yousafzai was attacked on her way home from school in Mingora, the region's main town.

    She came to public attention in 2009 by writing a diary for BBC Urdu about life under Taliban militants who had taken control of the valley.

    A Pakistani Taliban spokesman told the BBC they carried out the attack.

    Ehsanullah Ehsan told BBC Urdu that they attacked her because she was anti-Taliban and secular, adding that she would not be spared.

    Malala Yousafzai was travelling with at least one other girl when she was shot, but there are differing accounts of how events unfolded.

    One report, citing local sources, says a bearded gunman stopped a car full of schoolgirls, and asked for Malala Yousafzai by name, before opening fire.

    But a police official also told BBC Urdu that unidentified gunmen opened fire on the schoolgirls as they were about to board a van or bus.

    She was hit in the head and, some reports say, in the neck area by a second bullet, but is now in hospital and is reportedly out of danger. Another girl who was with her at the time was also injured.

    Malala Yousafzai was just 11 when she was writing her diary, two years after the Taliban took over the Swat Valley, and ordered girls' schools to close.

    In the diary, which she kept for the BBC's Urdu service under a pen name, she exposed the suffering caused by the militants as they ruled.

    She used the pen-name Gul Makai when writing the diary. Her identity only emerged after the Taliban were driven out of Swat and she later won a national award for bravery and was also nominated for an international children's peace award.

    Correspondents say she earned the admiration of many across Pakistan for her courage in speaking out about life under the brutal rule of Taliban militants.

    One poignant entry reflects on the Taliban decree banning girls' education: "Since today was the last day of our school, we decided to play in the playground a bit longer. I am of the view that the school will one day reopen but while leaving I looked at the building as if I would not come here again."

    She has since said that she wants to study law and enter politics when she grows up. "I dreamt of a country where education would prevail," she said.

    The BBC's Orla Guerin in Islamabad says that Malala Yousafzai was a public figure who didn't shy away from risks and had strong support from her parents for her activism. Indeed, her father, who is a school teacher, expressed his pride in her campaigning.

    In a statement about the attack, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said: "We have to fight the mindset that is involved in this. We have to condemn it... Malala is like my daughter, and yours too. If that mindset prevails, then whose daughter would be safe?"

    The Taliban, under the notorious militant cleric Maulana Fazlullah, took hold of the Swat Valley in late 2007 and remained in de facto control until they were driven out by Pakistani military forces during an offensive in 2009.

    While in power they closed girls' schools, promulgated Sharia law and introduced measures such as banning the playing of music in cars.

    Since they were ejected, there have been isolated militant attacks in Swat but the region has largely remained stable and many of the thousands of people who fled during the Taliban years have returned.

    To view the video in this article go to:


  13. Swat Jirga Forces Family To Marry Off 6-Year-Old Girl To Settle Feud

    By RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty November 07, 2012

    The parents of a 6-year-old girl in Pakistan's Swat Valley say tribal authorities are forcing them to marry off their daughter to resolve a family feud.

    A jirga tribal assembly in the village of Ashari ruled that the girl, Bibi Roza, should be married to a member of a rival family in order to resolve a dispute between the two clans.

    The parents have appealed to a Swat court to have the ruling overturned, and local police now say they will attempt to block the wedding, which is scheduled for November 11.

    Swara, the practice of exchanging women and girls to settle personal feuds, is common in Swat and other parts of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

    But exchanges involving girls as young as 6 are considered extremely rare.


  14. Blasphemy laws are darkening Pakistan's skies

    A Lahore girls' school has been burned to the ground and an astronomer's family arrested because of this tool of intolerance

    by Salman Hameed The Guardian UK November 9, 2012

    I first met Umair Asim 15 years ago after an astronomy talk I gave in Lahore, Pakistan. He peppered me with questions about telescopes, astrophotography and the physics of stars. In the following years, Asim finished a masters degree in astronomy and went on to establish a sophisticated observatory on the roof of his house.

    But what truly lights up Asim is his passion for public education. During the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) in 2009, Asim helped lead and organise numerous public observations in Lahore as well as in government schools in smaller cities and towns in Punjab. Wherever he went, he would bring his telescope with him. During IYA, it was a common sight to see Asim standing in front of an audience of 500, first explaining to them basic principles of astronomy and then entertaining long lines of people – from ages eight to 80 – to show them craters of the moon and rings of Saturn.

    It is not hard to explain where his passion for public education comes from. His parents established Farooqi Girls' High School 34 years ago. It is now considered one of the premier private schools in Lahore. Asim also serves as vice principal and I get emails from him when a student or students from the school would take top positions in the province-wide exams.

    But on 31 October the school was burned to the ground by a crowd who had heard it was accused of blasphemy. Lab equipment and computers were looted. Hundreds of library books – obviously with little use to the mob – tossed into the fire. Some even tried to pull the marble tiles off the floor.

    The blasphemy accusations are not related to astronomy. Instead, they centre on a teacher at the school, Arfa Iftikhar. In a rush for the start of the Eid holiday, she accidentally missed a page while copying a homework assignment for the class. Her mistake merged a line about the prophet of Islam with the lines of a chapter on beggars. A parent of one of the students in her class noticed it, and the chatter of blasphemy spread quickly.

    It did not matter that this was an unintentional mistake. In the current climate, it is comically easy to accuse someone of blasphemy in Pakistan. In fact, in this instance, the blame was also extended to the school administrators, including Asim.

    The accused teacher is now in hiding and the police have arrested the 77-year-old principal of the school. He also happens to be Asim's father, and his appeal for bail has been denied by the court. Asim and the rest of his family are now in "protective custody".

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  15. continued from previous comment...

    It might be easy to blame religion here. But this is not a battle between freethinkers and religious zealots. Asim and his family are pious Muslims. The students at the school start their day with the name of God. I don't know the accused teacher, but it is quite likely that she also belongs to a religious middle-class family. Intentionally committing blasphemy against the prophet would be appalling to all those involved.

    The burning of the school is probably about a clash between the upwardly mobile, educated middle class and the frustrated, poor and uneducated lower class. The school's success and resources – and that also for a girls' school – must have elicited envy. The mistake by the teacher provided the excuse to use the blasphemy law to vent their frustration.

    This blasphemy law is devouring Pakistani society from within. It is an all-purpose tool in the service of intolerance. It has often been used against religious minorities, but Muslims are paying the price as well. The repeal of the law, unfortunately, is unlikely. Some voices critical of the law have already been silenced by intimidation and violence, such as the assassination of the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer in 2011.

    Maybe the school will recover, and the damages will be covered by donations of concerned individuals. There have already been counter-protests. Two days after the burning of the school, about 2,000 women – mostly former and current students – gathered near the school holding placards demanding the release of the principal and the reopening of the school.

    But what is the future of Asim, his family and the accused teacher? With the charged emotions around blasphemy, once accused, it is virtually impossible to ever be safe afterwards, even if the court clears your name. Like the era of European witch trials, Pakistan is going through its darkest phase.

    If she is lucky, the accused teacher will be able to find asylum out of Pakistan. Asim's father, now sleeping on the floor of a jail cell, will have to cope with the fact that all the effort that he and his wife poured in for those past 34 years is gone.

    And Asim – one of Pakistan's brightest gems – must be wondering if he will ever feel safe in a country where he shared his love for astronomy with so many people.


  16. Pakistan drops blasphemy case against Christian girl

    Charges dropped against Rimsha Masih, who was accused of burning pages of the Qur'an, after protests from Islamic clerics

    by Jon Boone in Islamabad The Guardian November 20, 2012

    A Pakistani Christian girl accused by her neighbours of burning sacred Islamic texts has had blasphemy charges against her dropped by the Islamabad high court.

    Rimsha Masih is believed to be one of the few people to escape prosecution under the country's religious laws, which have been subject to widespread abuse and false accusations.

    The initial police report against the girl was quashed this week, more than three months after she was accused of carrying charred Qur'an texts near her house in a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad. The conclusion to the high-profile case came after rare public opposition to a blasphemy case by senior Islamic clerics.

    Sympathy has been heightened by claims, which have been questioned by some, that Masih is mentally impaired and has Down's syndrome. And, in an extraordinary development, three officers from the local mosque accused the neighbourhood's mullah, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, of planting pages of the Muslim holy book among the charred refuse Masih had been carrying to strengthen the case against her.

    Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, one of Masih's lawyers, said the testimony of a local police officer, who told a court hearing there was no evidence against the girl, had been crucial.

    The officer appeared to have decided to arrest Masih in mid-August amid concern for her safety. At the time members of the majority Muslim community in the Mehrabad district had been protesting against her and blocking one of the main roads to the capital.

    Chaudhry had little hope Masih's case would be a catalyst for changes to religious laws, which were strengthened during the conservative rule of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s, when blasphemy became a capital offence. "It is very difficult to change these laws in Pakistan," he said. "But this judgment will set a precedent so that other cases can be properly investigated and pursued."

    There has been strong opposition from hardline conservatives against any reform to laws, which, experts say, are fraught with problems, including the difficulty of examining evidence in court for fear of repeating any alleged blasphemy and finding defence lawyers prepared to take on blasphemy cases.

    In 2011, Salman Taseer, a businessman and governor of Punjab province, was gunned down by one of his guards after he spoke out against what he had described as the "black law".

    There is concern for the safety of Masih, who has been living in an undisclosed location since her release from bail in September. "While I'm thrilled to hear the charges have been quashed, my foremost concern at the moment is her safety," said Tahira Abdullah, a rights activist in Islamabad. "Others have been acquitted before but they have not lived to tell the tale."

    The incident has damaged relations between Muslims and Christians in Mehrabad. Chishti has long campaigned against the Christian minority, most of whom are the descendants of low-caste Hindus and earn money as sweepers or sanitation workers.

    He has complained about the noise made by services held at its tiny churches and, before his arrest, had welcomed the departure of most of the area's Christians as a result of Masih's arrest.

    Although many have since returned to their homes, the Christian population has shrunk as many families opted to relocate to other parts of the capital amid safety concerns.

    A decision over the fate of Chishti, who has been released on bail, has not been made. His prospects of freedom have improved after witnesses retracted allegations against him. He retains strong support among many Muslims in Mehrabad.


  17. Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy now living in Canada

    Rimsha Masih and family at undisclosed location in Toronto

    by Laura Lynch, CBC News June 29, 2013

    A Christian girl who was falsely accused of blasphemy in Pakistan has fled to Canada, CBC News has learned.

    Rimsha Masih, 14, was charged with blasphemy in 2012 for allegedly burning pages of the Qu’ran.

    Muslim cleric Khalid Jadoon was arrested on suspicion of framing Rimsha Masih. (Faisal Mahmood/Reuters )
    Although she was acquitted, supporters say her family decided to live in hiding after continued threats.

    The family made the secret journey to Canada just weeks ago – arriving at an undisclosed location in Toronto, according to Peter Bhatti, who runs a Christian organization that is helping them settle in Canada.

    Bhatti says that Masih, her parents and her brother and sister had to leave Pakistan in order to have safe, secure lives.

    Their journey to Canada comes after Masih’s case sparked an international outcry when she was arrested last August.

    A neighbour claimed she had burned pages of the Qu’ran. Masih – said to have Down syndrome – spent 25 days in an adult prison before being freed on bail.

    The incident fuelled new calls for reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which have often been used to target religious minorities and to settle personal scores.

    Police believe Rimsha may have been framed by a cleric who desecrated the Qu'ran himself and then tried to make it look as if the girl did it.

    Bhatti said the girl and her family have been granted special permission by the federal government to live in Canada and that they are all relieved and happy. He said the 14-year-old is thriving in her new home.

    "She is doing wonderful. She is studying in school, every day, she going to school, she is learning, she is starting talking more," he told CBC's Laura Lynch.

    Still, Bhatti refuses to say where she is, citing worries that she could still be a target for extremists.

    Officials in Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office have refused to comment on Masih’s case, citing privacy concerns.


  18. Two teenage sisters shot dead in Pakistan for dancing in the rain

    Five gunmen killed Noor Basra, 15, Noor Sheza, 16, and their mother, Noshehra, after a video of the three dancing in traditional garb in the rain went viral. It is believed stepbrother Khutore ordered the death as an 'honor' killing for the video. He has since been arrested.


    Two teenage sisters have been shot dead in Pakistan for allegedly dancing in the rain.

    Sisters Noor Basra, 15, Noor Sheza, 16, and their mother, Noshehra, were shot dead by five gunmen after a video of the two girls enjoying the rain shower in traditional dress spread throughout their conservative northern town.

    The sisters' stepbrother is now being blamed for ordering their deaths on June 23 in an effort to restore the family's "honor" six months after the video surfaced.

    That 22-year-old stepbrother, Khutore, has since been arrested for carrying out the attack according to police.

    "It seems that the two girls have been murdered after they were accused of tarnishing their family's name by making a video of themselves dancing in the rain," an officer confirmed to News24Online.

    In the video the two girls are seen wearing traditional shalwar kameez trouser suits and green and purple headscarves.
    Around them are two younger children they run after while directly outside their home in Chilas.

    One girl momentarily breaks from their dance to flash a smile at the camera.

    This latest tragedy comes one year after four women were executed for singing and dancing with men at a wedding in a remote village of Kohistan in northwest Pakistan.

    Tribal elders ordered the women to be shot dead for allegedly tarnishing their families' names by their acts of "fornication."

    Women and men dancing is a strict violation of Sharia law with about a thousand "honor killings" taking place in Pakistan annually to amend acts like this, according to women's rights group the Aurat Foundation.

    Of those killings committed nearly 77 percent end in the acquittal of criminals, according to Human Rights Commission activist Tahira Abdullah.


  19. New Muslim superhero is a Wonder Woman-like education warrior

    by Richard S. Ehrlich, Religion News Service August 9, 2013

    Pakistan’s new animated television series, “Burka Avenger,” features a female Muslim teacher disguised in a tight black outfit with a cape and ninja-style head cover who throws heavy books and sharp pens at men who oppose education for girls.

    The fictional show coincides with the real life of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani student who was shot in the head in an unsuccessful bid to kill her because she spoke out in support of girls’ education.

    The Burka Avenger has been mostly victorious against her Taliban-like enemies during the first two shows, which began on July 28.

    “Soon we will have an international launch,” the show’s Facebook page said on Wednesday (Aug. 7).

    “We will make sure that everyone gets a chance to watch Burka Avenger fight for justice, peace and education for all.”

    The show broadcasts in the Urdu language, but offers a 2-minute 10-second trailer in English on YouTube. It airs on Geo Tez, part of the GEO network, at 6 p.m. prime time on Sundays in Pakistan.

    Aaron Haroon Rashid, the British-Pakistani pop singer, popularly known as “Haroon,” began creating the show in 2010.

    Set in a “land of Halwapur,” the Burka Avenger leads three idealistic schoolchildren who speak about the importance of education for women, while their violent enemies say girls should not go to school.

    Those foes include Baba Bandook, an evil magician with vampire teeth armed with a flamethrower.

    Bandook’s ally is a bald, corrupt politician wearing a dollar sign medallion necklace who wants to close the school and steal its money.

    Rashid sings a theme song, which includes a chorus in English: “Don’t mess with the lady in black.”

    “She doesn’t punch,” Rashid told CBS News. “She doesn’t hit, she doesn’t kick, she doesn’t shoot anybody. All she does is clonk people on the heads with books or throw pens.”

    “So there’s an underlying message with that — the importance of education — and the pen is mightier than the sword.”

    But the burka, also spelled burqa, has some activists concerned — not the Taliban, but a handful of Western-educated Pakistanis who object to the sheetlike covering worn in public by many devout Muslim women.

    Marvi Sirmed, a human rights activist, told CBS the burka is “a tool of oppression” and “a symbol of submission of women.

    “It cannot be used as a tool of empowerment,” Sirmed said.

    Rashid defended the character’s costume. By day, the avenger is also a mild-mannered teacher named Jiya. In that role, she does not wear a burka or a headscarf.

    But by night, her black burka is tight, instead of the traditional baggy style, and shows only her eyes and fingers, which are adorned with matching black nail polish.



  20. Pakistan cleric cleared in blasphemy case

    He had accused Christian girl of carrying around burned pages of Qu'ran

    The Associated Press August 18, 2013

    A Pakistani court on Saturday dismissed charges against a cleric who accused a young Christian girl of blasphemy and who was arrested last year for allegedly forging evidence against her, his lawyer said.

    The case had brought new spotlight on Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, sections of which carry the death penalty or life imprisonment. However, the laws retain broad support in this country, where Islamic conservatism is on the rise alongside extremism and many Muslims are highly sensitive about their faith.

    The lawyer, Wajid Gilani, said the district judge in Islamabad on Saturday granted the motion to acquit his client, cleric Khalid Chishti, after the judge ruled that the prosecution had not brought forward sufficient evidence.

    Chishti was the imam, or prayer leader, at the mosque in the mixed, Muslim-Christian neighbourhood of Maherabadi in the Pakistani capital.

    He had accused the young girl of burning pages of Islam's holy book last year. He said a man had allegedly brought him a plastic bag containing some burned papers and ash, claiming the girl had been carrying them around.

    The bag was submitted as evidence to the police and subsequently the girl was arrested to pacify the angry mob in the neighbourhood.

    But then, the cleric himself was arrested and accused of planting pages of the Qu'ran in the bag. The girl was released on bail after spending three weeks in jail and subsequently found shelter in Canada along with her family.

    After the girl's arrest, most of the other Christian families fled the Islamabad neighborhood where the incident happened, fearing retribution. They took refuge in a forested area in central Islamabad but were kicked out of the area the following day by angry residents.

    Meanwhile, there were contrary reports about the girl — some said she was 11 years old and has Down's syndrome; a medical board said she was about 14 and that her mental age didn't match her physical age.

    The defence lawyer, Gilani, insisted on his client's innocence and claimed police had implicated Chishti in false charges.

    "My client was innocent from the very beginning and he had to suffer for no crime," said the lawyer.

    The prosecutor and the investigating officer could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

    Rao Abdur Raheem, a lawyer for the man who brought the initial complaint against the girl, questioned who had burned the Quran since Chishti was exonerated and the girl had been released previously.

    "My case is still there, blasphemy occurred but who should we now blame for it," asked Raheem.

    Human rights activists say Pakistan's blasphemy laws are too broad and vague, and are often used by people trying to settle scores with rivals or target religious minorities, who make up 5 percent of Pakistan's 180 million people

    Few leaders in this predominantly Muslim country have shown willingness to tackle the contentious issue, especially after two prominent politicians who criticized the blasphemy law were murdered in recent years. One of the politicians was shot by his own bodyguard, who then attracted adoring crowds.


  21. Boys Response to Blasphemy Charge Unnerves Many in Pakistan

    By WAQAR GILLANI and ROD NORDLAND, New York Times January 18, 2016

    LAHORE, Pakistan — Late one night, the imam Shabir Ahmad looked up from prayers at his mosque to see a 15-year-old boy approaching with a plate in his outstretched left hand. On it was the boy’s freshly severed right hand.

    Mr. Ahmad did not hesitate. He fled the mosque and left the village, in eastern Punjab Province.

    Earlier that night, Jan. 10, he had denounced the boy as a blasphemer, an accusation that in Pakistan can get a person killed — even when the accusation is false, as it was in this case.

    The boy, Anwar Ali, the son of a poor laborer, had been attending an evening prayer gathering at the mosque in the village, Khanqah, when Mr. Ahmad asked for a show of hands of those who did not love the Prophet Muhammad. Thinking the cleric had asked for those who did love the prophet, Anwar’s hand shot up, according to witnesses and the boy’s family.

    He realized his mistake when he saw that his was the only hand up, and he quickly put it down. But by then Mr. Ahmad was screaming “Blasphemer!” at him, along with many others in the crowd. “Don’t you love your prophet?” they called, as the boy fled in disgrace.

    Anwar went home, found a sharp scythe and chopped off his right hand that same night. When he showed it to the cleric, he made clear it was an offering to absolve his perceived sin.

    The police quickly caught the mullah and locked him up, but local religious leaders protested, and the authorities backed down and released him. After the international news media began picking up on the story over the weekend, the authorities rearrested Mr. Ahmad on Sunday, holding him on terrorism and other charges.

    “There is no physical evidence against the cleric of involvement, but he has been charged for inciting and arousing the emotions of people to such a level that the boy did this act,” the district police chief, Faisal Rana, said.

    The boy’s family, however, argues that the cleric did nothing wrong and should not be punished.

    “We are lucky that we have this son who loves Prophet Muhammad that much,” Muhammad Ghafoor, Anwar’s father, said in a telephone interview. “We will be rewarded by God for this in the eternal world.”

    Anwar, too, declined to make any charge against the mullah. “What I did was for love of the Prophet Muhammad,” he said.

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  22. Blasphemy is a toxic subject in Pakistan, where a confusing body of laws has enshrined it as a potentially capital offense but also makes it nearly impossible for the accused to defend themselves in court. Even publicly repeating details of the accusation is tantamount to blasphemy in its own right.

    Such cases almost never make it to court, however. The merest accusation that blasphemy has occurred has the power to arouse lynching or mob violence.

    The governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his own bodyguard in 2011, after Mr. Taseer criticized the country’s blasphemy laws and defended a Christian woman who had been falsely accused under them. The assassin is a national hero to many devout Pakistanis: His jail cell has become a pilgrimage site, and a mosque was renamed to honor him.

    On Monday, Pakistan lifted a three-year-old ban on YouTube, which it had shut down because of accusations of airing anti-Islamic videos. The government announced that Google, which owns YouTube, had agreed to give it the right to block objectionable content. The Pakistani government blocks thousands of web pages it considers offensive.

    “We have become a society so intoxicated by negative things in the name of religion that parents feel proud of sending their children to jihad and to die in the name of such activities,” said I.A. Rehman, the secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “The government needs to do more to educate people and to speak out against extremism.”

    Anwar Ali did not even go to a hospital after his amputation, but had his right arm’s stump bandaged at a village clinic and went home. Family members buried his hand in the village graveyard.