Three Updates: Good News and Bad

By Irfan Khawaja
May 18, 2004

Given the paucity of good news nowadays, it may be worth reporting on some good news of interest to ISIS-types.

Younis Shaikh Freed

Perhaps the most conspicuous bit of news—most likely known to most ISIS-frequenters but worth making explicit on the site—is the acquittal and freeing of Dr. Younis Shaikh, the Pakistani physician accused of blasphemy. Dr. Shaikh was imprisoned in October 2000 for a crime too absurd to bear repetition, and remanded to solitary confinement in August 2001 for reasons no mortal has been able to divine. He was, after considerable pressure from the secular humanist community and other concerned parties, acquitted and then released in some secrecy in November 2003. He has now left Pakistan for Europe. A link to Mukto-Mona’s website below discusses the case in more detail.

Hasan Family Private Relief Bill Advances

In March 2003, I cross-posted a piece at ISIS and at Pakistan Today entitled, “Waqar Hasan, H.R. 5711, and the Meaning of ‘American Justice,’” discussing the predicament of the Hasan family of Milltown, NJ.

To refresh memories: Waqar Hasan, a Pakistani immigrant, was gunned down by a white supremacist in reprisal for the 9/11 attacks. While he had a green card, his family’s immigration status depended on his, and was effectively nullified by his death; that, in turn, prompted the possibility of the Hasan family’s deportation to Pakistan. In response, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) sponsored a “private relief bill”—then called H.R. 5711—to make the surviving Hasan family eligible for the status of permanent residency. In the meantime, I’ve corresponded a bit with Rep. Holt, whose tireless energy on the Hasan’s behalf is to be commended. As it happens, the Hasan family’s plight is also to be discussed in a forthcoming documentary film (for which yours truly was interviewed).

I recently received an email from Shai Goldstein of the Anti-Defamation League of New Jersey suggesting that Rep. Holt’s private relief bill, now called HR 867, has cleared some major procedural hurdles, and is almost certain to pass by the end of the year.

Siamak Pourzand, Iranian Prisoner of Conscience

Unfortunately, the good news is tempered by the bad; ease, to turn a Quranic saying on its head, seems to be followed by hardship.  

A few days ago, I found myself corresponding serendipitously with Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, daughter of Siamak Pourzand, head of the Tehran Artistic and Cultural Center, who was abducted by the Iranian Motalefeh in November 2001, and remains at present a prisoner of conscience in Tehran. I’ll discuss his case in some detail in the near future, but given its urgency—and its dispiriting similarity to the case of Dr. Shaikh—it’s worth mentioning now, however briefly.  The link below to Banafsheh’s essay in National Review tells the story with eloquence and passion; the link under that describes the campaign for Mr. Pourzand’s freedom. I’ve thrown in a link to Amnesty International’s page for good measure. With some luck, perhaps the secular humanist community and concerned others can do for the Pourzand campaign what we (perhaps?) helped to do for Dr. Shaikh.

References

Mukto-Mona on Dr. Shaikh:

http://www.mukto-mona.com/news/shaikh_free.htm

“Waqar Hasan, HR 5711, and the Meaning of American Justice”:

http://www.secularislam.org/articles/khawaja2.htm

HR 867 Bill Summary and Status:

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d108:HR00867:@@@L&summ2=m&

Rep. Holt’s page on the Hasan family:

http://holt.house.gov/display2.cfm?id=4037&type=Home

Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, “Let My Father Go,” National Review, (January 12, 2004):

http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/zand-bonazzi200401120840.asp

The Free Siamak Pourzand Campaign:

http://www.idhbb.org/uk-page3.1.pour.htm

Amnesty International on Siamak Pourzand:

http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE130252004?open&of=ENG-IRN