Kia ora and hello
This is the first newsletter for 2004. An enjoyable lunch was shared at Middleton’s on 25 January and those who gathered decided to make a group booking at Circa Theatre to see Brian Sergent’s first play The Love of Human Kind on 15 February. Our meeting on the 25 January was timely, as an e-mail was received on 24 January informing us that Dr. Younus Shaikh the Pakistani doctor jailed for blasphemy, had been acquitted and released from jail in great secrecy on 21 November 2003. NZ Humanist members had written to the NZ government to support him and Dr. Shaikh has thanked this effort. (See accompanying page) Our recent Committee/Council meeting decided to expand the newsletter to 2 pages. The 2nd page being articles from the various publications we receive. We have extra copies of some Humanist publications. If you would like to receive this material as part of a round robin system please let me know.(via post or e-mail) If I have a list, I can send off material and that person can pass it on to the next person
March monthly meeting Monday 1 March. Turnbull House. Topic:
Darwin’s birthday was on 12 February 195 years ago. A discussion on Darwin and evolution and subsequent developments in evolution and genetics.
Radio Access 11am 783 kHz Sunday 14 March. Issues affecting Humanism.
Committee / Council Meeting: Sunday 14 March 10.45 AM at Nigel’s 5/26 Buller St Wellington.
AGM’s for 2004 Our last AGM in April 2003 was held over from October 2002 as there was unexpected ill health of Council members. To return us to an August/October AGM we will hold two AGM meetings this year as follows:
AGM 1 2004 will be held Saturday 3 April not Sunday 4 April as first advised. This is because 4 April was booked by another organisation. Our venue is the Senior Citizen Room on the Mezzanine Floor of the Wellington Public Library. Parking is available in the Library building basement. The proposed AGM programme is as follows:
10:30am: Celebrations: a discussion
12:00 Noon Lunch. There is a Cafe within the Library complex
1.30 pm AGM with financial report for year ending June 2003
following the AGM a shared meal at The Mexican Cafe or other eatery to be discussed at the time. More information will be in next newsletter.
AGM 2 2004 will be held Sunday 25 July. John Tamihere, Associate Minister of Maori Affairs will address us. Details later. The financial report for year ending June 2004 will be presented. An election of Officers will take place at this meeting.
Eileen Bone Humanist Trust Scholarship for 2004 The selection process is in progress.
For your amusement: contributed by Barry Engel Christchurch. Q. Why is religion so holy? A. Religion made its money out of people with holey clothes.
Iertinsetng Rsraech: Aoccdrnig to a rscheearer at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.
Campaigning for the Release of Dr Shaikh
IHEU is proud to have been able to play the lead role in the campaign to secure the release of our colleague Dr Younus Shaikh. Dr Shaikh had been languishing in prison in Pakistan for over three years, most of that time on Death Row. He was arrested on trumped-up charges of blasphemy on 4 October 2000, tried, and sentenced to death in August 2001. He appealed, but the appeal court judges failed to agree on the verdict. In October 2003, a third Appeal Court judge annulled the death sentence but sent the case back to the lower court for retrial. Younus Shaikh was finally acquitted and released on 21 November 2003. Following his release, he spent some time in great secrecy visiting family and friends in Pakistan before moving to a new home in the west.
IHEU became aware if Dr Shaikh’s arrest the day it happened. We immediately launched a worldwide campaign to try to secure his release- Demonstrations were organized outside the Pakistani Embassies in London, Washington, and several other western capitals. An intensive letter-writing and email campaign was initiated through over 100 organizations, both IHEU members and kindred groups- A concerted diplomatic effort was mounted, involving contact with government officials in over 20 countries, and a face-to-face meeting with Pakistan’s President Musharraf to bring pressure to bear on the Pakistani government.
We maintained constant communication with Dr Shaikh throughout his ordeal by means of letters and through jail visits by colleagues. Everyone concerned was deeply impressed by the remarkable courage he displayed. His letters dealing not only with his personal situation but with political issues and world affairs generally, were models of lucidity. It was hard to imagine them being penned in a cramped, fetid cell in Death Row in temperatures sometimes reaching 46C.
IHEU spent over three years drawing the world’s attention to Dr Shaikh’s case, and coordinated with the Sea of Faith and Amnesty International. We must particularly mention the tireless efforts of our Executive Director. Babu Gogineni, whose energy, drive, and determination for the cause never flagged. But finally it is our colleagues in Pakistan (who for security reasons will remain unnamed) and Dr Shaikh’s lawyers, who are the real heroes — taking immense personal risks to uphold the principles of civilized society and the rights an innocent and courageous man.
From: International Humanist News February 2004
From Younus Shaikh: Thank You!
I want to thank you, the many thousands of my supporters, who have campaigned for so long to secure my release from jail in Pakistan where, for the past two years, I have been under sentence of death on a charge of blasphemy.
My case was a travesty of justice. A loyal and law-abiding Pakistani, Muslim by birth, a medical doctor and college teacher, I was an innocent victim sentenced to death on false and fabricated charges under the infamous Pakistani Islamic blasphemy law, 295-C of the Pakistani Penal Code. I was convicted on mere suspicion, and trumped-up allegations of utterances I was supposed to have made at a lecture that did not actually take place. My accusers were mischievous fascist fundamentalist mullahs who did not hear or witness anything themselves. They were aided by Pakistan’s ultra-corrupt and high-handed Islamic Police. My lawyers were subjected to mafia-style harassment regarding their children; with the Pakistani Taliban demonstrating their power with verbal violence outside the trial court.
The appeal court gave judgement in my case on 10 October 2003, expressing its dissatisfaction with the verdict of the lower court and sending the case back to the lower court for retrial. The retrial was held in three sessions in November. This time I conducted my own defence. I was acquitted after the third hearing on 20 November and released amid much secrecy the next day. Following my release, I visited family and friends in Pakistan before moving to Europe.
I am grateful for the demonstrations, letters, phone calls, interviews with the media and meetings with diplomats made by so many of you. Thousands of you copied your letters of protest to IHEU and I shall be emailing all of in due course to give you my personal thanks. IHEU has been in touch with me throughout these past three years. The campaign IHEU organised to secure my release, and Levi Fragell’s visit to Pakistan and consultation with lawyers kept my morale up during the dark days. I would also like to thank the diplomats and government officials from many countries and in particular, Norway, France, Switzerland, New Zealand, the United States, and the United nations, who made representations on my behalf to the government of Pakistan, and those who have offered me a new home in the west.
Dr M. Younus Shaikh, 5 January 2004.
From: International Humanist News February 2004
Pakistan’s Infamous Islamic Blasphemy Laws
This article was written by Dr Younus Shaikh and mailed from the Central Jail, Rawalpindi, while he was awaiting the outcome of his appeal against the death sentence. Unlike his previous article ‘The Gods of War published under a pseudonym in the August 2003 issue of INN, we are delighted to be able to publish the present article under his own name following his release from jail.
Like the infamous anti-female Pakistani Islamic Hudood ordinance (which prescribes capital punishment for victims of rape as well as for those involved in normal male-female sex with consent), the iniquitous Pakistani blasphemy laws are being pressed into service against women for resisting sexual harassment (The Dawn, 7 August. 2003).
Like the Hudood ordinance, the blasphemy laws are manifestly unjust man-made laws, projected as divine, in order to promote religio-political tyranny and hegemony. These fascist laws were the illegitimate creation of the Islamist Pakistani dictator General Zia ul Haq, who introduced these repressive and controversial laws without public discussion or approval by a constitutionally elected parliament. These illiberal laws continue to play havoc ‘with the lives of countless Pakistanis and their families.
“The most shaming item listed in the Amnesty International Report (2002) is ‘Abuse of Blasphemy Laws’. If there are black marks against the human rights record in this country (Pakistan), blasphemy laws must take the pride of place in the list… These laws are intrinsically susceptible to abuse and are systematically abused with impunity against [liberal Muslims and] members of minority religious communities [like Christians, Ahmadis, etc.], wrote Ardeshir Cowasjee, a celebrated columnist in the Karachi daily, The Dawn, on 1 June 2003. He goes on:
These laws … are used with impunity against minority religious communities by those motivated by personal enmity, by those motivated by monetary material or political gain. One detestable fact is that accusations are normally accepted uncritically by the prosecuting authorities out of fear of threats, intimidation, injury or even loss of life should they fail to accept hem. Also, those accused are often subjected to vile treatment because of the emotional manner in which charges are brought forward and publicized.
Many lawyers and members of the lower judiciary exhibit open bias against those charged, and local lawyers often refuse to take up blasphemy cases. Trials are invariably highly disorderly and the courts are often packed with the local clergy and their illiterate brainwashed followers all baying for the blood of the accused.
… in 2002, with a war being waged against terrorism, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, as records the AI Report, ‘several men were sentenced to death for blasphemy, and others accused of blasphemy were killed, some in circumstances suggesting official complicity or acquiescence in the killings. One man sentenced to death was later found to be a lunatic. This is quite usual, as it is never taken into account by the courts that no sane man, knowing the consequences, would even contemplate blasphemy. In June last year a prisoner jailed and sentenced to death for blasphemy was shot dead in jail and that was the end of the matter. In July, a man who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy, and freed on hail because of his mental state, was stoned to death by a mob on the call of a local Muslim clerk. The police remained inactive.
Mr Asghar Ali Engineer, the world-renowned Islamic scholar had this to say (The Dawn, 15 July, 2003):
As a Muslim and a student of Islam, I don’t consider death penalty for blasphemy as the correct thing… This blasphemy law is basically political. The gross misuse of this law is taking place against Muslims. Even indirect inferences are drawn and the accused is arrested under Blasphemy Law and two judges pass the death sentence under public pressure. It brings bad name to Islam. It has tarnished Pakistan’s image very badly in the world. The world thinks that Pakistani Muslims have no tolerance.
To date, almost all cases registered under the iniquitous Blasphemy Laws have proved to be false and concocted out of malice, mischief, or misunderstanding. The trials have been unfair; defence lawyers have been harassed; trial courts have been under religious pressure or threat; the judgments of courts against those accused have been arbitrary, whimsical, biased, or based on mere conjecture or on the flimsiest foundation: naked and transparent injustice in the name of Islam, the sentences of death have been virtual juridical murders. The victims of this horrible injustice have been made to suffer long years of unnecessary, unjustifiable, and inhuman torture on mere allegations by Islamist mullahs and the Islamist state apparatus, denied even the most basic of legitimate facilities and needs even when suffering from disease, distress, or disability. Victims have been harassed, ridiculed, blackmailed, man-handled, threatened, and even murdered in prison.
Recently two women were indicted under the Blasphemy Laws in Lahore, one, allegedly, for resisting gang-rape by the police, the other for refusing illicit sex (adultery) with a neighbour. What a novel Pakistani way of earning heavenly bliss and spiritual elevation, and of glorifying Islam! Truly the menace of the Blasphemy and Hudood Laws, and their flagrant abuse, is the biggest and blackest stigma on the face of Islam, of Muslims, and of Pakistan.
Death cell, Central Jail, Rawalpindi
18 October 2003
From: International Humanist News February 2004