Time to Act
The fear that more lives would be lost became an unfortunate reality with the assassination of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti. And yet more lives are at stake, with hate mongering and misinformation going unchecked.
If anything, Bhatti’s death has further strengthened the resolve of many to fight back harder against the growing extremism in the country. Within hours of his assassination, vigils and protests were held across the country, and memorials are still being held. Now, a letter campaign has been initiated by Citizens for Democracy (seehttp://citizensfordemocracy.wordpress.com) which has already been endorsed by over 800 people and 80 organisations online.
On Saturday, March 12, this campaign will assume the shape of a public event. Opposite Park Towers, Karachi, from 11am to 7pm, you will be able to come sign the letter (see below) and post it to the President, Prime Minister, Interior Minister, Chief Justice and heads of all political parties. Come tell them you expect them to take a clear stand and swift action; you want safety and protection to be guaranteed, and sanity to be restored.
It’s time to join hands and become a force to be reckoned with.
Open letter to The President, Prime Minister, Interior Minister, Chief Justice, and heads of all political parties, Pakistan
Re: Murder of Shahbaz Bhatti and demand for action against calls for violence and vigilante action
The murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, again highlights the rampant lawlessness in Pakistan and the impunity with which the “forces of violence” act against “whoever stands against their radical philosophy,” to quote the late Mr Bhatti. These “forces” find fertile ground to operate in an atmosphere where calls to vigilante action are publically made and celebrated.
We urge the government and its functionaries to swiftly apprehend, charge, try and punish Mr Bhatti’s murderers, and also to take immediate measures to curb this trend.
We urge all political parties and parliamentarians to take a clear stand on this issue: No citizen has the right to cast aspersions at the faith and beliefs of any other citizen or to term someone else a ‘blasphemer’.
We urge the federal and provincial governments, the judiciary and the security and law enforcement agencies to ensure protection for those, like former information minister Sherry Rehman, who are publicly threatened by extremists
Some immediate steps that must immediately be taken include:
1. An urgent and meaningful shift in the long-standing policy of appeasing extremists, by the security establishment, the judiciary, the political class and much of the media, with a few honourable exceptions.
2. Hold accountable and charge under the law those who incite hatred and violence; zero tolerance for any public labeling of anyone as ‘blasphemer’, which in the current situation is an incitement to murder, even brazen declaration of criminal intent and commission of a crime. Some recent examples of such incitement are:â€¨- Maulana Yousuf Qureshi, Imam of the Mohabbat Khan Mosque, Peshawar, announced a Rs 500,000 award for the murder of Asia Bibi if the Lahore High Court acquitted her of blasphemy (reported on December 3, 2010, a month prior to the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer; some newspaperseven wrote editorials supporting this call for murder.)â€¨- Banners placed at public places in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi-Islamabad by “Tehreek-e-Nifaz-Tableegh-e-Islam” terming Tehmina Durrani as Pakistan’s Taslima Nasreen and demanding that she be hanged. These must be removed forthwith and the organisation, and administrative officers who allowed these banners to be placed, proceeded against.
3. Prevent the rising number of ‘blasphemy’ cases being registered, by laying down and enforcing a law whereby no such cases may be registered without being inquired into by a judicial magistrate.
Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.