Religious Persecution in ‘Secular’ Turkey

Death Penalty for Internet ‘Crimes’

Iran’s parliament is set to debate a draft bill which could see the death penalty used for those deemed to promote corruption, prostitution and apostasy on the Internet, reports said on Wednesday.

MPs on Wednesday voted to discuss as a priority the draft bill which seeks to “toughen punishment for harming mental security in society,” the ISNA news agency said.

The text lists a wide range of crimes such rape and armed robbery for which the death penalty is already applicable. The crime of apostasy (the act of leaving a religion, in this case Islam) is also already punishable by death.

However, the draft bill also includes “establishing weblogs and sites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy”, which is a new addition to crimes punishable by death.

Those convicted of these crimes “should be punished as “mohareb’ (enemy of God) and “corrupt on the earth’,” the text says.

Under Iranian law the standard punishments for these two crimes are “hanging, amputation of the right hand and then the left foot as well as exile.”

The bill — which is yet to be debated by lawmakers — also stipulates that the punishment handed out in these cases “cannot be commuted, suspended or changed”.

Internet is widely used in Iran despite restrictions on access and the blocking of thousands of websites with a sexual content or deemed as insulting religious sanctities and promoting political dissent.

Blogging is also very popular among cyber-savvy young Iranians, some openly discussing their private lives or criticising the system.

Human rights groups have accused Iran of making excessive use of the death penalty but Teheran insists it is an effective deterrent that is carried out only after an exhaustive judicial process.

The number of executions soared last year to 317 amid a campaign which the authorities said was aimed at improving security in society, and was sharply up on 2006 figures when Amnesty International recorded 177 executions.

All legislation in Iran has to be rubber-stamped by a conservative clerical watchdog before it is written into law. The Guardians Council vets bills to see if they are in line with the constitution and Islamic law.

Blaming Others (Farooq Sulehria)

The Amnesty International report on human rights for the year 2007 is out. The Muslim world constitutes, as usual, bleakest chapter. Every single country across the Muslim world has been pointed out by the Amnesty International either for executions and torture or discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities. Punishments never handed down even during the Stone Age, have been awarded in 21st century Muslim world. In one case, two Saudi nationals were awarded 7,000 lashes. Yes, 7,000. And executions? Well, 335 in Iran, 158 in Saudi Arabia and 135 in Pakistan. Violation of human rights, it seems, is the only thing that unites the otherwise divided Muslim world.

The report is no exception. The Muslim world cuts a sorry figure every time a global watchdog releases its findings. Freedom of expression here remains curtailed, Reporters Sans Frontieres annually reports. Regarding freedom of expression, there is a joke often told in Arab world. At a meeting, a US journalist says: “We have complete freedom of expression in the US. We can criticise the US president as much as we like.” The Arab journalist replies. “We also have complete freedom of expression in Arab world. We can also criticise the US president as much as we like.”

Similarly, it is either Bangladesh or Pakistan or Nigeria which is on top of Transparency International’s corruption indexes. However, when Nobel laureates gather in Stockholm every December, Muslim scientists and writers are conspicuous by their absence. In case, as Naguib Mahfouz is crowned, he is stabbed and rendered paralysed. The irony, or tragedy, is that his attacker had not even read his excellent books. Or we disown Dr Abdul Salam just because he belonged to the Ahmadiya community. Salam’s case deserves special mention since it underlines the absurdity that characterises this part of the world.

When all else fails, “Jews” and “Christian” West are there to lay the blame for all our ills. Conspiracy theories instead of scientific, rational thought holds sway across much of the Muslim world. And every time a rights abuse is highlighted in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, a typical Muslim answer is: Look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Chechnya. True, imperialism and Zionism have a hand in our predicament. However, there are many wounds one can only describe as self-inflicted.

Take, for instance, the Iran-Iraq war, one of the last century’s bloodiest conflicts. There is no denying the fact that the United States backed the Saddam regime. But it was the Arab sheikhdoms, panicked at the Iranian revolution, that stoked the flames of war. And, ironically, now in the post-Saddam era when the “Christian” West has written off Iraq’s Saddam-era debt worth $66 billion, Iraq’s Arab brothers refuse to write off that country’s $67 billion loans.

Similarly, last century’s bloodiest Muslim genocide was not carried out by Serbs, Israelis, Americans, Europeans or Hindus. It was Pakistan’s military that refused to respect a democratic verdict and plunged East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, into an ocean of blood. Millions were killed, maimed, raped and rendered homeless. Luckily, Pakistan has a “Hindu” neighbour. “Hindus are born enemies of Islam’. Hence, Pakistani children are now taught that a Bengali traitor (revered by Bengalis as founder of Bangladesh), in connivance with our “Hindu” neighbour, dismembered Pakistan. Ironically, of all her South Asian neighbours, Pakistan enjoys most cordial relations with the world’s only Hindu state, Nepal. The other big genocide was perpetrated by Indonesia. The target was: its own citizens who were members of the Communist Party.

Figures are not available but Israel perhaps cannot match Iran in executing Arabs. Iran’s confessional regime is a champion of the Arab cause in Occupied Territories but Arabs of its Khuzestan province are regularly sent to the gallows. Seizing the opportunity, one may also point out how only recently Afghan refugees were driven out of Iran as if Afghan refugees were not as Muslim as Palestinians. And, by the way in the fallen “Emirate of Afghanistan” itself, Hazaras were slaughtered by the Taliban in their thousands almost a decade ago – mainly because Hazaras are Shia. In Iraq, more people have been killed in Shia-Sunni clashes than in resisting the US occupation. Shia-Sunni clashes in Pakistan have claimed more lives than those lost in its wars against India. Ironically, this only “nuclear power” of the Muslim world is not being occupied on its eastern front by its “Hindu” neighbour but is losing territory on its western front to its own citizens.

One can mention from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait to the recent Hamas-Fatah infighting (a shameful tribute to Israel on its 60th anniversary). The list is long. Indeed, unending. However, the solution to all our problems is always simple: return to an imagined past which, mercifully for the people of the seventh century, never existed. Every time, a scientist in the West is ready with an invention, our readymade answer is: we knew about it 1,400 years ago what the West has found only now. We kill Theo van Gogh when confronted with a film. We burn down our own cities in response to a blasphemous and racist caricature. Still, we refuse to understand that our answer to every “provocation” is either a fatwa or mindless violence – perhaps because creativity is anathema to us. Not because we lack fertile minds, but because we lack liberation and freedom — liberation from self-imposed mental, moral, and cultural censors. And freedom to think and express. Time to heed the great Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, who said:

Five thousand years

Growing beards

In our caves.

Our currency is unknown,

Our eyes are a haven for flies.

Friends,

Smash the doors,

Wash your brains,

Wash your clothes.

Friends,

Read a book,

Write a book,

Grow words, pomegranates and grapes,

Sail to the country of fog and snow.

Nobody knows you exist in caves.

People take you for a breed of mongrels.

This great article appeared in the The News International:
http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=118852

Death Sentence for Blasphemy (Pakistan)

A Pakistani judge sentenced a Muslim man to death Wednesday on charges he insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, a court official said.

Falk Sher, a court administrator, said Judge Shoaib Ahmad Roomi also sentenced the man, Shafeeq Latif, to life in prison and fined him $75,000 on a separate charge of desecrating pages of Islam’s holy book, the Quran, in 2006.

Latif was accused of making derogatory remarks about Muhammad.

The trial was held in the eastern city of Sialkot after police arrested him in a nearby village.

Latif’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment, but Sher said the defendant had the right to appeal.

Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone who insults Muhammad can be punished by death. Scores of people, including Muslims and minority Christians, are facing trial under the laws, which human rights groups have demanded be abolished.

New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the government on Tuesday to abolish the death penalty in a country where nearly a quarter of all inmates are on death row.

Sudan On The Brink

By Stephen Brown
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, June 16, 2008

It just shows what is wrong with our media.

The front pages of most newspapers last week carried a story about a horrific plane crash in the Sudan that cost 100 lives. While this tragedy was certainly newsworthy, hardly a single media outlet has been covering the real story in Africa’s largest country that could turn into a human catastrophe for millions of its non-Muslim citizens.

A twenty-year civil war between the Sudan’s Arab and Islamic North and Christian and animist African South that ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 is set to explode again. Fighting broke out last month between the North’s Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the armed forces of southern Sudan, in the oil-rich Abyei region, resulting in dozens of deaths.

The Abyei region, located between North and South, is technically part of northern Sudan, having been transferred there by the British colonial power in 1905. According to the CPA’s Abyei Protocol, which was put into the accord at America’s insistence, the Abyei area, which is inhabited mainly by Africans of the Dinka tribe, is supposed to hold a vote to decide whether it wants to join the South. In 2011, the entire South Sudan will have its own referendum on independence.

Disgracefully, the world hardly noticed that the town of Abeyei was destroyed in May by aggressive federal forces, which are controlled by the ruling National Congress Party in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, located in the North. As usual, it was the civilians who suffered the most. More than 100,000 Dinka, according to one report, were driven from their homes. Many Dinka arrived in refugee camps with little or no belongings with some grieving for their children who were lost in the flight.

Roger Winter, a highly respected expert on the Sudan who was once appointed Special Representative of the Deputy Secretary of State for Sudan by the Bush administration, visited the area a few days after the attack by the government’s army, which now occupies the ruined and looted town.

“The town of Abyei has ceased to exist,” stated Winter in his report. “Brigade 31 of the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, has displaced the entire civilian population and burned Abyei’s market and housing to the ground.”

Such Arab atrocities are nothing new to southern Sudan’s black African population. This large area of about 227,000 square miles and 11 million people was once one of the main sources of slaves for the Islamic world until British colonization put a stop to the inhuman practice. But when the British left and the Sudan was granted its independence in 1956, the Arab North’s oppression of the non-Muslim, African South quickly picked up where it left off.

As a result, African Sudanese almost immediately formed a resistance movement that fought a civil war against the Arab North that ravaged the South and ended with a peace treaty in 1972. During that time, the odious custom of slave raiding also returned, supported by the Arab world’s new oil wealth. In 1962, a Swiss journalist recorded that hundreds of black African Sudanese were enslaved and sent to northern Sudan, and some even further on to Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other oil sheikdoms.

An Italian journalist, who was in the Sudan in 1966, wrote “…the Arabs continue in the Sudan what could be called their national sport, hunting slaves, and the bondage of Negro Sudanese who are guilty of not only of having a black skin but also of not being Muslim.” Arab slavers even had the audacity to seize a Sudanese African member of the pre-independence legislature and put him up for sale for $1,600; but he managed to escape.

All in all, it is estimated that between 500,000 and one million people died in Sudan’s first civil war.

The second civil war, which ended with the 2005 CPA, began in 1983 when the Khartoum government threw out the 1972 peace accord, squashed the South’s constitutional guarantees, declared Arabic the country’s only official language and made sharia the law of the land. In other words, everyone, both North and South, had to become Muslim and Arabic. This was reinforced when the northern government declared jihad against the South in 1989.

In this second round of civil strife, the racial and religious hatred of the Sudanese Arab for the Sudanese African was in full evidence. More than two million southern Sudanese perished and another two million were displaced, becoming exiles in their own country, as the Islamic government embarked on a policy of genocide.

Evidence of this genocide was on display last January in the United States when dozens of young, southern Sudanese men gathered at Harry S. Truman College in Chicago to celebrate their common “birthday” (since they fled the war as children, many do not know their real birthdays). They form part of the 20,000 “Lost Boys” who had fled to Ethiopia, walking hundreds of miles across harsh and dangerous terrain to avoid almost certain death. The last eight years, the United States has taken in about 4,000 of these refugees, many of whom have gone to college themselves in their new country.

Again, like in the first Sudanese civil war, the slave trade made its loathsome reappearance. Francis Bok, whose story was told in Front Page Magazine, became its most visible representative in the United States. Captured in a slave raid at age seven, the southern Sudanese Dinka boy spent ten cruel years as an Arab slave before he escaped and eventually made his way to America where he has testified across the country and before Congress about his barbarous experience.

With such a record of savage brutality, one wonders why the media, the Bush administration and the rest of the world for that matter, remain silent as the Sudan appears to be sliding into a horrific and unthinkable third civil war. It is all the more puzzling when one considers the justifiable media attention given to, and the international condemnations made, concerning the Darfur conflict.

President Bush himself enjoys great prestige among the people of South Sudan for having helped bring about the 2005 CPA treaty; so much so that the African inhabitants there want to see the Republicans stay in the White House under John McCain. They well remember President Clinton’s bombing of Serbia to force the end of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, while he undertook no action on their behalf against a Khartoum government that was much more inhumanly ferocious and merciless.

‘The Democrats did nothing for us,” said a southern Sudanese journalist. “They were not interested.”

Winter believes the reason the Bush administration’s inaction is that it will soon be out of power and is in “meltdown mode”, which Sudan’s Islamic government well recognises. Moreover, President Bush is currently attempting to “normalize” relations with the Khartoum regime, probably as part of his overall strategy in the War on Terror, holding talks to this end in Rome in April and May. As a result, Bush does not wish to endanger these efforts by vigorously responding to the Abyei attack.

This is disappointing. Appeasement and inaction never work and will only encourage the predatory Arab Khartoum government to commit more depredations against a people that would make natural allies of America, especially if and when they get their own country. Already, the northern leaders are refusing to accept the Abyei’s boundaries that were set by an international committee, a term of the Protocol.

To their credit, during the recent primaries the three main candidates, John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, issued a joint declaration saying they will “…continue to keep a close watch on events in the Sudan and speak out for the marginalized peoples.” They also condemned the Sudanese government for breaking the CPA. Hopefully, their actions will match their words after January’s inauguration.

Abyei has been called the cornerstone to peace for the Sudan. What happens there will determine whether the Arab North sincerely desires peaceful co-existence with the South. But a southern Sudan army spokesman ominously says the population displacement in Abyei indicates the Khartoum government is actually preparing “a final solution.”

If this is the case, western media outlets should be calling politicians in their countries to account for their inaction regarding the developing human catastrophe in South Sudan. They should also be putting the Khartoum government under the microscope of international criticism and be calling for sanctions. In the long term, the world press’ duty will be to monitor closely the previously agreed referenda in Abyei and the South Sudan to ensure the will of these long-suffering peoples is respected.

Twice in the past half century the African people of the southern Sudan have called for help against a murderous racial and religious hatred that has left their country littered with killing fields; but the West and its media scarcely heard them. So to ignore any aggression by Khartoum’s Arab regime that may cause such heart-rending appeals to be made a third time is both unpardonable and unconscionable.

Why Islamists Persecute the Baha’is

By Amil Imani

Ideas and beliefs, including religion, are the software that determines how we behave. And some of the software of the past is no longer working because it is out of phase with the needs of the time as well as infected with destructive viruses.
Even a cursory look is enough to show that the software of Islam, over time, is so greatly manipulated by numberless sects, sub-sects and schools that it can hardly be considered a unitary belief system. And people are their ideas. Any assault on beliefs and ideas provokes the assailed to action.

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Religious Persecution (Algeria)

Four Algerians who converted to Christianity have been condemned to prison and heavy fines, while two others were set free after renouncing their conversion.

The defence lawyer said the four were charged with “illegally practicing a non-Muslim faith,” the French news agency AFP reported.

Attorney Khelloudja Khalfoun said one of the converts was sentenced to six months in prison and fined USD3,087, while the other three were sentenced to two months in prison and fined USD1,544 each.

The four converts, who were condemned by a court in Tiaret, refused to deny their faith, in contrast with the two others who were freed. Kheloudja told AFP that he would appeal the verdict, since only the ones who admitted they had converted were found guilty.

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