DR. SHAIKH SENTENCED TO DEATH
Dr. Younis Shaikh, a teacher at a medical college in Islamabad and founder and president of Enlightenment, the Pakistani-based International Humanist and Ethical Union member organization, was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a court in Pakistan on August 18. He has one week to appeal this sentence. (See the New York Times International section Aug. 20, 2001).
Dr. Shaikh was arrested on October 4, 2000, by Islamabad police for allegedly saying that the Prophet Mohammed did not become Muslim until the age of 40 (which was when he received his first revelation) and that his parents were non-Muslims (as they died before Islam was proposed by the Prophet). According to the report in the NYT, "The Movement for the Finality of the Prophet, well known for pursuing blasphemers, filed a criminal complaint and sent a mob to the college and the local police station, threatening to set them on fire."
Hundreds of people have been convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan, among them moderate Muslims, Christians and members of other religious minorities. The law they are prosecuted under is extremely ill defined. Frequently, people don't know beforehand that they are committing an offence. While we do not know if Dr. Shaikh will face execution in the short time allowed for his appeal or whether he will languish in jail, we do know that we must mobilize immediately to bring this travesty to the attention of the world community.
YOUR HELP is urgently needed to bring political pressure to bear on Pakistan to stop the death sentence from being carried out. Protests are being planned in London and Oslo.
PLEASE ACT NOW:
1. If you live in the U.S., please contact the U.S. State Department by calling Sec. Colin Powell at (202) 647-4000 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Contact the President of the United States by calling (202) 456-1414 or email him at email@example.com.
3. Contact your U.S. Senators and ask them to contact the State Department to bring pressure to bear.
4. Contact Ambassador Dr. Maleeha Lodhi at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Washington, D.C. at (202) 939-6200 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you live outside the U.S., please contact the appropriate government agency to call this matter to their attention or see www.iheu.org for further information.
INTERNATIONAL HUMANIST AND ETHICAL UNION
47 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8SP, UK
Tel: + 44 20 7831 4817
Fax: + 44 20 7404 8641
E Mail email@example.com
For immediate release 00.01 19 August 2001
A strong multi-national protest is being made against a death sentence just given to a peace activist in Pakistan and described as an affront to civilised society.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), together with Amnesty International and the Sea of Faith, is protesting against the conviction for blasphemy and the death penalty handed down to Dr.Yunis Shaikh. (18 August, Pakistan).
Peace Activist and founder of the Progressive, Humanist group 'Enlightenment', Dr. Yunis Shaikh has also been fined an equivalent of US$1500 by the Additional Sessions Judge, Islamabad, Mr. Safdar Hussain Malik. An intimidating group of fundamentalist clergy made their presence felt throughout the open court trial to both the judge and the defence. The final two sittings of the Court itself were held in camera, and conducted in the premises of the Adiala jail itself where Dr. Shaikh has been held since his arrest in October 2000. (For background to this case, please see this article: http://www.iheu.org/shaikh/IHNarticle.htm ).
Death Penalty for stating the obvious
"Civilised people will shudder at the news that in this century a human being can be tried and sentenced to die by the state merely for saying that neither Prophet Mohammed nor his parents could logically have been Muslims before Islam was revealed to the Prophet," said Levi Fragell, President of IHEU. The other charges of blasphemy against Dr. Shaikh's remarks - supposedly made in the course of a routine class-room lecture he gave in a Medical college where he was a lecturer in Physiology - are described by the IHEU as equally ridiculous and malicious.
None of those who complained to the police were eyewitnesses to the alleged offence: the complaint was lodged by leaders of the Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-i-Nabuwat (Committee for the Protection of the Finality of the Prophethood), a organization that is known to have harassed and attacked non-orthodox Muslims in the past.
Judges under threat from zealots
Human Rights activists closely monitoring the trial point out that one of the witnesses to the prosecution was completely discredited, as it was shown that he was not present in class on the day Dr. Shaikh supposedly made his "blasphemous remarks". Unfortunately, even this made no difference to the judge. A Human Rights activist writes, "The lower courts are always very scared of letting off accused blasphemers. Many of the judges have been bumped off when they gave decisions in favor of such persons. Why should they stick their neck out?"
Dr. Shaikh has been given only one week to appeal in the High Court, as opposed to the 30 days that is usual. While so far no one has been hanged for a blasphemy conviction in the country, hundreds of Pakistanis languish in jail after being accused of, or convicted of, blasphemy. Convicts are locked up in extremely small "death cells", where prisoners can barely stand.
Pakistan sliding towards the excesses of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan
Babu Gogineni, Executive Director of IHEU, and International Advisor to the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief, today expressed concern at the evolution of the Pakistani state since independence, when it had a modern, secular constitution that safeguarded the rights of all citizens, to its present condition, where fundamentalist agitation and Shari'a law conspire to deny basic human rights and freedom of thought and speech. "Pakistan, the birth place of the Taliban which infests Afghanistan today, is itself sliding down the slope and is on the way to becoming an international pariah. The blasphemy law in Pakistan is an affront to civilization"." said Babu Gogineni.
Campaign for Dr Shaikh
The international campaign for Dr. Shaikh will be coordinated by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), in close cooperation with Amnesty International and the Sea of Faith Network. Supporters are asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org if they can help in any way. World-wide demonstrations in front of the Pakistani Missions and Consulates are being planned.
The IHEU is calling on Western democratic governments to put pressure on the Pakistani government to get the death sentence commuted, and to provide a safe haven and refuge to Dr. Shaikh.
IHEU advocates abolishing of all blasphemy laws all over the world and the separation of religion and state in every country, which alone can guarantee democratic and civilised freedoms to citizens of all religious faiths, and those with none.
For interviews and information Tel: 07801570150 in the UK.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is shocked by the conviction for blasphemy, and the award of the death penalty, to Dr. Yunis Shaikh on 18 August 2001 in Pakistan. Peace Activist and founder of the Progressive group 'Enlightenment', Dr. Yunis Shaikh has also been fined an equivalent of US Dollars 1500 by the Additional Sesions Judge, Islamabad, Mr. Safdar Hussain Malik. While a group of murderous and menacing fundamentalist clergy was present throughout the open court trial, thus intimidating the judge and the defense, the last two sittings of the Court itself were held in camera, and conducted in the premises of the Adiala jail itself where Dr. Shaikh has been lodged since his arrest in October 2000.
The civilized world should shudder at the news that in this Century a human being can be tried and eventually be killed by Pakistan's brutal Islamic State for merely saying that neither Prophet Mohammed nor his Parents could logically have been Muslims before Islam was revealed to the Prophet. The other charges of blasphemy against Dr. Shaikh's r emarks - supposedly made in the course of a routine lecture he gave in a Medical college where he was a lecturer in Physiology - are equally ridiculous and malicious.
None of the complainants to the police were eyewitnesses to the alleged offence: the complaint was lodged by leaders of the Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-i-Nabuwat (Committee for the Protection of the Finality of the Prophethood), a conservative organization that is known to have harassed and attacked non-orthodox Muslims in the past. In the course of the trial, one of the witnesses to the prosecution was completely discredited, as it was shown that he was not present in class on the day Dr. Shaikh supposedly made his 'blasphemous remarks.'
Unfortunately, none of this made any difference to the judge. A Human Rights activist writes "the lower courts are always very scared of letting off accused blasphemers. Many of the judges have been bumped off when they gave decisions in favor of such persons. Why should they stick their neck out? Particularly when they know that a recourse to higher courts would be available to the convicted person."
Dr. Shaikh has been given a week's time to appeal in the High Court, as opposed to the 30 days that is usual. While so far no one has been hanged due to blasphemy convictions in the country, hundreds of Pakistanis languish in Pakistan jails after being accused or convicted of blasphemy. Convicts are locked up in extremely small 'death cells' where prisoners can barely stand. If we do not act now, Dr. Shaikh— the most modern minded of all the blasphemy-accused so far— will meet with a similar fate.
We have a duty to try and save the life of this affable, peace loving and courageous Doctor who has a deep commitment to the welfare and freedoms of his fellow citizens— some of the poorest people in the world.
1). Write to your Prime Minister / Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Members of Parliament, urging them to put pressure on the Pakistani Government, asking for Dr. Shaikh's immediate release. In the past, some blasphemy accused have been permitted to leave Pakistan and seek asylum in Western countries. E Mails of your Country's Head of State can be found at http://www.councilfire.com/whos_list.html. In many countries the Head of State may be different from the Executive Head. In which case, send your e mail to both.
2). Demand that your country's diplomats based in Islamabad attend the High Court trial as observers when the appeal is heard, so that the international pressure will result in a fair trial.
2). Write to President Musharraf of Pakistan about the contempt Pakistan's blasphemy legislation has to international human rights standards as regards freedom of and from religion, and freedom of expression. E Mail email@example.com.
4). Write to your local and/or national newspaper calling for an end to blasphemy laws in Pakistan and elsewhere, and focusing on the Dr. Shaikh case.
Please COPY ALL YOUR E MAILS, LETTERS, LETTERS TO EDITORS, COMMUNICATIONS to firstname.lastname@example.org from where the international campaign for Dr. Shaikh will be coordinated by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), in close cooperation with Amnesty International and the Sea of Faith. We need copies of your communications to add weight to the campaign work.
Please spread this alert far and wide, inviting people to send support e mails for the campaign to email@example.com. Details of Dr. Shaikh's case can be found at www.iheu.org/Shaikh. Please recruit as many signers to the on-line petition as possible which will soon be set up on the IHEU website at www.iheu.org. If you are able to contribute financially towards the costs of the defense, or if you can organize a protest demonstration outside a Pakistan Consulate or Embassy, please send an e mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
IHEU advocates abolishing of all blasphemy laws all over the world and strict separation of religion and state in every country, which alone can guarantee democratic freedoms to citizens of all religious faiths, and those with none.
As from: (address omitted)
On 18th August in Pakistan, Dr Younus Shaikh, a medical lecturer, was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death.
His crime? He is alleged to have made derogatory remarks about the Prophet, namely that neither Muhammad nor his parents could have been Muslims before the Prophet received his revelation from Allah. To most of us, this would appear to be simple common sense. He is also alleged to have said that before becoming a Muslim, the Prophet would not be likely to have been circumcised or to have shaved his armpits.
Dr Shaikh does not remember even saying so much, but simply having answered questions in his class about the practices of the Prophet's tribe. In any case, by calling his alleged remarks blasphemy, his accusers show their ignorance of true Islam. They appear to be trying to make the Prophet into a divine figure, to whom no normal humanity can be attributed, expressly against the teachings of the Qur'an.
His trial and conviction are a travesty of justice. As usual, in such trials, the court was packed with menacing fundamentalists. One of the prosecution witnesses was completely discredited, since it emerged that he had not been present in class on the day when Dr Shaikh was alleged to have committed the offence.
Hundreds of people have been convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan, among them moderate Muslims, Christians and members of other religious minorities. The law is extremely ill-defined, so that no-one knows beforehand if he or she is committing an offence. People acquitted of blasphemy have often been killed by mobs, and judges are subject to intimidation. The Minister for Religious Affairs is on record as saying that most blasphemy prosecutions originate from "ill will and personal prejudice". There is no doubt that the existence of the law and its operation in practice constitute an abuse of human rights.
Pakistan nurtured the appalling Taleban of Afghanistan. The increasing power of similar fundamentalists in Pakistan gives cause for concern that the country could follow the same path as Afghanistan. I hope that moderate Muslims in Britain and all who care for human rights will join the campaign to save Dr Shaikh.
Excerpts from letters written by Dr. Shaikh
to Dr. Paul Kurtz 6/2/92
"Thank you very much for your kind letter and moral support. I really feel myself as a member of the Humanist Family. I've received letters of support from all over the world and I am much obliged. Although we are swimming in a sea of ignorance and darkness, with your encouragement and moral support, we will meet any challenge in the way of enlightenment, together."
to Tim Madigan 3/22/92
"We are a humanist minded secular organization amidst a medieval style Islamic fundamentalism. I've been declared non-Muslim for my humanist and secular activities concerning civil and human rights; and social, moral and economic sanctions are being imposed on me as persecution, as on other freethinking individuals. In this religious darkness, imposed in the name of Islam and supported by Christian clergy, we need the support of humanist and secular individuals and organizations from all over the world."
An appeal of the death sentence handed down in Dr. Shaikh's blasphemy trial has been filed with the high court within the one week deadline. We must continue to exert pressure on the government of Pakistan to set aside this verdict and death sentence.
The New York Times ran an editorial critical of Dr. Shaikh's death sentence under Pakistan's blasphemy law in its August 30th edition. This is an encouraging indication that the plight of Dr. Shaikh is getting the kind of international attention it needs and deserves.