Pakistan and Legalized Religious Persecution
by Ali Sina
Imagine one evening you hear a knock on the door. When you open it, a group of armed men with police uniforms enter your house, beat you and handcuff you. Your wife and children are terrorized, but they are told to shut up or they too will be beaten.
Thoughts rush to your mind. You try to figure out what did you do to deserve this treatment. You have been an upright citizen all your life. In fact you have been a human rights activist and have received an award for your services. You have been a respected speaker. Could all this be a mistake?
You ask the officers about the charges. Their response sends chill down your spine. You are being accused of blasphemy. You are a non-Muslim living in a Muslim majority country and all it takes for you to lose your freedom, job, friends, social standing and even life is for someone to report to authorities that you have spoken opprobriously of Muhammad and hence have injured the religious sensitivity of Muslims.
This is the nightmare that minorities in Islamic countries face. The charge does not have to be true. It could be that someone owes you money and he wants to get rid of you. It could be that someone offered to buy your land, which you refused to sell at the price he was offering. Or maybe someone does not like you because you are a human rights activist fighting for the rights of the oppressed minorities.
Abuses such as this happen on daily basis in Pakistan. More than two years ago, it was the turn of Hector Aleem. Aleem was taken to custody. He was brutally beaten by the police and thrown in a prison cell.
In Pakistan, if you are accused of blasphemy you are guilty until proven otherwise. But to prove your innocence it takes years and thousands of dollars. The lawyers' fee is exorbitant, whereas the wages in Pakistan are extremely low.
Aleem's family has spent all its wealth in legal fees to prove the innocence of their father. Hector's wife earns the meager salary of a nurse. The two elder daughters work but there are five mouths to feed and the legal fee is eating up everything they earn.
More than a year ago, when the case went to the court for the first time, the prosecutor, himself a mullah, did not find enough evidence against Aleem to support his charges. However, he warned the judge that should he release Aleem, the angry mob huddled inside and outside the court may kill him and the judge also may not fare better. This is exactly what happened on July 19 of this year to two Christian brothers, who were gunned down by Muslim militants when they left the court under police custody after a trial hearing in Faisalabad city, Punjab province.
So, Aleem was sent back to jail to face more beating in the hands of his jail keepers. They even told him that they would kill him before setting him free. Aleem's family appealed the court's ruling and a second hearing was arranged. This is where we are at now. The new lawyer is confident, but of course he has to be paid first and his fees are beyond what this impoverished family can afford.
A kind man from Australia has offered to sponsor Hector Aleem and provide him with a working visa. But first Aleem must be released. More than $7000 dollars are needed just for the legal fees. This is a large sum for a nurse with four children. Mehwish, Aleem's older daughter, has set up a paypal account for those who want to help. Here is the account: http://tinyurl.com/hectoraleem. Please click on it and pay generously. This is Mehwish's email address:Mehwishaleem@gmail.com.
The blasphemy law is an affront to human rights. It is devised to legally persecute the minorities. Even if you are not guilty you'll be annihilated before you prove your innocence. The objective of the blasphemy law is to get rid of the minorities by incriminating them one by one.
Isn't it time for the governments of the free world to demand Pakistan to put an end to legalized religious persecution? Pakistan is recipient of large sums of aids from the western countries and particularly from USA. But its only contributions are to persecute the minorities and to produce terrorists.
Please contact your member of parliament, your congressman and the senators in your country and ask them to demand the release of Hector Aleem and to raise the issue of human rights abuses in Pakistan. It is time for the European Parliament, the US congress and the Parliaments in Canada and Australia to condemn the blasphemy law and demand its immediate repeal.
It is a shame that the same governments that swiftly pass laws to protect Muslims against criticism of Islam, find no courage to stand up for the human rights of minorities in Islamic countries. Aren't human rights more important than beliefs? Where is the outcry of the parliamentarians, presidents and prime ministers of the free world vis-à-vis these human rights abuses?