LoC: Line Of Control, Really? Then Us It! Kashmir-Jammu

My Philosophy On This Issue

This commentary is admittedly by a person who has never stepped foot in the region. My opinions formed are from thousands of miles away, formed by TV News slots and articles I have read. I look for only one thing, and that is peace. I look for the day that no one will ever need to defend themselves, because it is the day there is no such thing as an aggressor. I am realistic to the lack of love between segments of Pakistan and India. There has been bitter issues throughout the region for centuries, there is little love loss between many of the people who favor Islam and those who favor Hindu or even the Buddhist  Seventy years ago when India and Pakistan were formed it was a bitter and bloody divide.

 

As you probably know, most of the people on the Pakistan side of the LoC are people who believe in Islam. Also, almost all of the people on the India side of the LoC are Hindu. If the LoC has any real meaning, if it has been good enough for a temporary fix, cement the foundation in concrete and use it now, mark it with a forever marker. Here in the U.S. this would not be Constitutional but maybe there? Can the two governments work out a deal where all Hindu people in Pakistan are given free, peaceful, safe passage out of Pakistan to India on the India side of the LoC. India should do exactly the same thing, all of the people who are believers in Islam and would prefer to be citizens of Pakistan should go and do so. My suggestion for the leaders of Pakistan and of India, make the LoC, the final border between the two Countries. This is a harsh thing that I suggest I guess you call this segregation but in some cases of physical hatred, safety of all must come first. Learn to grow, to become peaceful neighbors and trading partners. Or, you can just go on as is, hating and killing, you, your wife, your kids. I pray that we can all find peace, before and after we die.

 

 

Vietnam Is Becoming Asia’s Most Aggressive Maritime Nation After China  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ASIA FOREIGN AFFAIRS, FORBES)

 

Asia #ForeignAffairs

Vietnam Is Becoming Asia’s Most Aggressive Maritime Nation After China

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Activists chant anti-China slogans during a rally in Hanoi on March 14, 2016, to mark the anniversary of a 1988 battle in the Spratly Islands, a rare act of protest over an issue that has come to dog relations between Hanoi and Beijing. (HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)

China has stoked many of Asia’s maritime sovereignty disputes by reclaiming land to build artificial islands and, in some cases, adding military infrastructure to those islands. To rub in the message that it has the more power than anyone else in the widely disputed, 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea, the Beijing government glibly sails coast guard ships around the exclusive ocean economic zones of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Off its east coast, China routinely passes boats through a tract of sea disputed with, and controlled by Japan.

But let’s linger on another country for a second – Vietnam.

A fisherman and his son try to fix the roof of their boat on Thuan Phuoc port in prior to the next fishing trip on August 30, 2016 in Danang, Vietnam. (AFP/Getty image)

The country with a 3,444 kilometer-long coastline shows every sign of being Asia’s second most expansion-minded maritime power after China.

Here’s the evidence:

  • Last year the American Center for Strategic & International Studies said Vietnam had landfilled more South China Sea islets than China itself, though China’s method was probably more destructive. It holds 21 tiny islets in the Spratly archipelago, more than any of its regional rivals.
  • This year Vietnam renewed a deal with the overseas subsidiary of state-owned Indian oil firm ONGC to explore for fossil fuels under the ocean floor. Beijing will likely bristle at this move because it too claims waters off the Vietnamese east coast as part of its position that 95% of the whole sea is Chinese, but Vietnam has not backed down. In any case, India is Vietnam’s new best friend — to wit its call in July to step up a year-old partnership.
  • Vietnamese fishing boats, a large share of the 1.72 million that trawl the South China Sea, have been sent off by other coastal states and as far off as Indonesia and Thailand, scholars who follow the maritime dispute say. Two Vietnamese fishermen turned up dead 34 kilometers from the Philippines last month in what’s believed to be an incident involving an official vessel from Manila. Fish were 10% of Vietnam’s export revenues as of a decade ago, the University of British Columbia says in this study. “Fish stocks in Vietnam have been depleted, so they have to venture further away to continue their business,” says Le Hong Hiep, a fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. “As they venture further away it’s easier for them to get into other countries’ waters and they commit illegal fishing.”
  • Vietnam protests when Taiwan makes its presence felt on Taiping Island. Although Taiping is the largest feature in the South China Sea’s Spratly archipelago, Taiwan has little clout in the bigger sovereignty dispute and has even used its Taiping facilities to help Vietnamese fishermen in distress. But the Vietnamese foreign ministry formally protested at least once in 2016 and again in March this year when Taiwan had a live-fire military drill. “They said Taiwan’s activities violated its sovereignty,” said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the College of International Affairs at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “Whenever Taiwan makes a move, Vietnam always protests. It’s been like that all along. Vietnam is pretty assertive.”
  • China has to watch it, too. China is using economic incentives to get along with other South China Sea states but things keep going wrong with Vietnam. In June, a senior Chinese military official cut short his visit to Vietnam as the host was looking for oil in disputed waters, and in August foreign ministers from the two countries cancelled a meeting – presumably over their maritime disputes — on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations event.

Vietnam’s maritime muscle makes a lot of sense. The country of 93 million people is on the move economically, dependent on the sea. Nationalism is growing, too, and citizens believe the government should gun hard for its claims.

Middle-East Plans Genocide Against Kurdish People: World Stays Silent

Genocide Is Being Planed Against The Kurdish People

 

The President of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan has for a long time been committing mass murder against the thousands of Kurdish people who live within the borders of Turkey. He and his government consider these people as his  enemy when these people really only want peace and a small piece of the land they already live on, to be their own. The Kurdish people are the fifth largest ethnicity in the middle-east, yet they technically have no homeland.

 

Now that the Kurdish people in Iraq have voted to ‘take’ the piece of land they already live on as their own Nation, more than just Erdogan’s hate has been turned upon these people. There are millions of Kurdish people who live in the region of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey so now these countries leaders are going to ban together against the Kurdish people also.

 

Hypocrisy Against The Kurd’s

 

Particularly in Iraq the Kurdish people have helped the Government in Baghdad to stay alive, and in power. Even the governments in Iran and Syria have greatly benefited from the Kurdish people fighting against the oppression of ISIS. Particularly in Iraq the governments military ran like scalded dogs when they were attacked by Isis. If not for the Kurdish fighters the ISIS fighters would right now have Baghdad as their Caliphate capitol. The government in Baghdad owes the Kurdish people their very lives yet they collude with Asps in Iran, Syria and Turkey to eliminate them. If it had not been for the Kurdish fighters all of these aforementioned countries would have had to have spent billions of more dollars and thousands of their won lives in defeating ISIS and kicking them out of their own countries. There are two other groups that I have not yet mentioned in this situation and that is the Hezbollah government in Lebanon and the government in Washington D.C..

 

Personally I first remember hearing of the Kurdish people in about 1990. What I have learned during this time is that the U.S. Government has used them in a ‘proxy since’ for at least this long and before it. We have used them and their desire for freedom and democracy as a tool of the CIA to fight against extremest in that area of the world. We make promises to them over and over again, then turn and walk away from them when they need us the most. Today, we send them items like military trucks and some small arms in their fight for their won right to life as a free people. The United States and the U.N. should at this very moment be working out a plan with the other countries in this region to create a Kurdish homeland, one homeland, not a ‘homeland’ inside all of the different countries.

 

Does the U.N. and the United States just stand by and allow a total elimination of millions of people whose only crime is wanting to be a free people? It is just my opinion but to me this whole region would be better served, the people of all of these countries would be better served with a peaceful Kurdistan as a neighbor, than to have another un-needed war. Give to these people the land they already possess as a thank you for the sacrifices they have given to help keep these other governments in power, especially concerning Iraq. It is the only intelligent path to be taken, one of free trade with all their neighbors along with friendship between the people and the governments. The other path leads only to genocide and if this is the chosen path that the War Drums beat, the leaders of the U.N. and in Washington should be taken to Times Square and flogged publicly with the tongues of the World for their hypocrisy. Then deported to live with their friends in Gaza City.

 

 

Free Speech Does Not Harm Minorities Or Majorities, It Protects Them

(THIS IS A COMMENTARY FROM SOHRAB)

 

The rising tide of anti-free speech sentiment on the American left has now engulfed the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU’s principled position on the First Amendment has long seen it come to the defense of Nazis, neo-Confederates, and sundry other groups with rancid ideologies. But now it is facing pressure, from within and without, to dial down its commitment to free speech for all.

The New York Times on Wednesday reported on an open letter, circulating inside the ACLU, that urges the organization’s leaders to balance free-speech rights against racial equality. The writers argued that “our broader mission—which includes advancing the racial justice guarantees in the Constitution and elsewhere, not just the First Amendment—continues to be undermined by our rigid stance.”

Meanwhile, at the College of William and Mary last week, Black Lives Matter activists heckled and silenced Claire Gastañaga, an ACLU representative who was to speak on “Students and the First Amendment.” These spectacles have become commonplace on university campuses, but the latest footage is chilling all the same.

When it became clear that she was being “no-platformed,” Gastañaga said: “I’m going to talk to you about knowing your rights, and protests and demonstrations, which this”—meaning the gathering BLM intifada—“illustrates very well.” But she got further as the mob began howling: “ACLU, you protect Hitler too!”; “The revolution will not uphold the Constitution!”; “Liberalism is white supremacy”; and so on. Afterward, the BLMers went so far as to prevent individual students from asking Gastañaga their questions.

Give the William and Mary BLMers points for honesty. At least they made it clear that their real beef is with America’s constitutional order. Like all totalitarians, they see things like free speech and due process as pesky obstacles on the path to utopia. More dismaying is that some ACLU staffers—and I’m willing to bet they tend to be the younger ones—have come to view free speech as inimical to free speech.

This is a grave mistake. In fact, free speech is the best tools for securing other rights, including the right to equal treatment before the law. This is why free-speech rights were high on the civil-rights movement’s list of demands. As Martin Luther King noted in 1968:

If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could . . . understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.

If America is going in an ugly majoritarian dimension, as liberals fear, then it is all the more crucial to rally to the First Amendment. That means defending the right of unpopular groups and minorities so as to secure it for everyone. The fact that young lawyers at the ACLU—the ACLU!—don’t understand the ideas behind the First Amendment is a reminder that the country is in a very dark place.

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Two Years on, the Stakes of Russia’s War in Syria Are Piling (Op-ed)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MOSCOW TIMES)

 

Two years ago, on Sept. 30, 2015, Russian warplanes launched their first airstrikes in Syria, plunging Russia into a civil war that had already been festering for four years.

Moscow intervened in Syria vowing to fight Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, terrorist groups banned in Russia. Its objective was to transform its relationship with Washington and Brussels by disarming an imminent threat to the West after it had hit Russia with sanctions for the Kremlin’s “adventures in Ukraine.”

Days before the airstrikes began, Putin delivered a speech at the United Nations General Assembly calling for a united front against international terrorism, framing it as the modern equivalent of World War II’s coalition against Hitler.

But two years later, Russia’s hopes of winning concessions in Ukraine for its campaign against Islamic State have come to very little. Putin’s strategic alliance with the United States never materialized.

Russia, however, has met two less lofty goals. One was to rescue the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, Moscow’s longtime ally, from the inevitable defeat at the hands of an armed Sunni rebellion.

Moscow leveraged its ties with Iran, another regime ally, to deploy Shia militias from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight the Syrian rebels. This allowed Moscow to send a modest ground force to Syria — artillery and some special operations forces — without a large footprint.

Russia helped Assad recast the civil war and the popular uprising against his regime as a fight against jihadi terrorists by focusing its airstrikes over the last two years on moderate Syrian rebel groups, while paying little attention to Islamic State.

This rendered the conflict black and white — a binary choice between Assad and jihadists. It allowed Moscow to sell its intervention as support for Syria’s sovereignty against anarchy and terrorism. Russia made clear that it saw the path to stability in the Middle East as helping friendly autocrats suppress popular uprisings with force.

At home, the Kremlin sold its Syrian gambit as a way of defeating terrorism before it reached Russian soil. Russia, after all, needed to prevent Russians and Central Asians who joined Islamic State from returning home to wreck havoc at home soil.

Moscow was also able to use Syria as a lab for its newest weaponry.

By workshopping newly-acquired precision cruise-missile strikes, Russia joined the United States in an exclusive arms club. Showcasing military prowess, while keeping casualties figures low — some 40 Russia servicemen died in Syria — it was able to win public support at home for the intervention.

But perhaps most importantly, the Kremlin’s intervention in Syria has reaffirmed Russia’s status as a global superpower which is capable of projecting force far from its own borders.

Andrei Luzik / Russian Navy Northern Fleet Press Office / TASS

While Moscow may have been offended by former U.S. President Barack Obama’s dismissive description of Russia as a “regional power,” it impressed Arab leaders with its unwavering support for Assad, which was important at a time when U.S. commitment to allies’ security and the stability in the region was in doubt.

Moscow’s backing of Assad ensured it had channels with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, despite their support for Syrian rebels. It was even able to convince the Gulf to wind down its support for the opposition as a Russia-led victory for the regime became inevitable.

Russia’s alliances with Jordan and Egypt proved useful in setting up direct lines to armed opposition groups to reach de-escalation agreements. And even as it fights alongside Shia Iran, Moscow has avoided being drawn into a sectarian proxy war with Sunni Arab states.

Russia’s most stunning diplomatic coup was to change Turkey’s calculus in the war from a proxy adversary into a major partner in securing the decisive victory in Aleppo. Through the Astana process, Russia alongside Turkey wound down fighting with moderate rebels.

Russia’s victory in Syria was helped by Washington’s decision not to immerse itself into Syria and a war by proxy with Russia. Instead, the U.S. focused its military operations on defeating Islamic State in eastern Syria.

Now, with de-escalation in western Syria, regime forces and Russian airpower are turned to defeating Islamic State, which has brought them into contact with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advancing from the northeast as part of their offensive to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State.

The potential for a U.S.-Russia kinetic collision in Syria with unpredictable consequences is escalating. This highlights the looming endgame in Syria and the choices Moscow and Washington will have to make moving forward.

Washington needs to decide whether it wants to stay in Syria for counterinsurgency operations to prevent the re-emergence of Islamic State. It may also decide to block Iran from establishing the “Shia land bridge” from the Iraqi border to the Mediterranean.

But this entails supporting the SDF and helping them control sizeable real estate northeast of the Euphrates river and blocking regime forces and Russia from advancing east.

Moscow needs to decide whether it wants to be dragged into Assad and Iran’s strategy of ensuring a complete military victory in Syria and preventing the opposition from exercising any autonomous self-rule. That could see Russia pulled into a nasty proxy fight with the Americans.

Two years after Russia intervened in Syria, the war may be winding down. But the stakes for Moscow and Washington are stacking.

The views and opinions expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.

Related

China’s Censorship Keeps Growing Under Trumps “Friend” Dictator Xi Jinping

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHINA HERALD AND THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Monday, August 21, 2017

The first fallout of the CUP censorship – Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson

The decision by the Cambridge University Press to bow to Chinese censorship and block over 300 articles on its China site has shocked the academic world. Journalist Ian Johnson, author of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, reports on the issue for the New York Times and tested from Beijing what he could no longer get.

Ian Johnson:

Until now, foreign academic presses were largely immune to this sort of censorship. In recent years, the websites of most foreign news organizations have been blocked in China, as have social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and the search engine Google.

But because of their small readership, and high subscription costs (one China Quarterly article costs more than $20), academic journals were not targeted.
The new measures seem in line with announcements made by President Xi Jinping in February 2016 that all media content on any platform must come under the Communist Party’s “guidance.”
“The same rules apply to any foreign content, academic or otherwise, that is accessible within China,” said David Bandurski, the co-director of the China Media Project and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin. “Given Xi Jinping’s determination to rein in dissenting views in the information space, foreign publishers are misleading themselves if they believe they can escape pressure like that facing China Quarterly.”
Searching for the word “Tiananmen” at the journal’s main page yields 50 results, with the top two relating to the “Tiananmen Papers,” a 2001 compilation of secret documents that is widely considered essential for understanding the events of 1989. Other top hits include an assessment of China’s universities in the aftermath of the student-led movement, and the effect of the crackdown on relations with Taiwan.
Performing the same search within China, however, yields only five hits, either tangential mentions or urban-planning articles about the square.
The block appears to go beyond Cambridge University Press’s website to include searches through third-party databases, including JSTOR, a digital library that academics around the world use to perform full-text searches of nearly 2,000 journals, including China Quarterly.
As of Friday night, it was unclear whether all JSTOR access was now blocked in China.
After news of the censorship spread, academics inside and outside China expressed alarm.
Ian Johnson is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

Are you looking for more stories by Ian Johnson? Do check out this list.

China Is Working Hard On Surveillance Technologies Against Their Own People

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Maya Wang is senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. As part of a new multimillion-dollar project in Xinjiang, the Chinese government is attempting to “build a fortress city with technologies.” If this sounds Orwellian, that’s because it is. According to the Sina online news portal, the project is supposed to strengthen the authorities’ hands against unexpected social unrest. Using “big data” from various sources, including the railway system and visitors’ systems in private residential compounds, its ultimate aim is to “predict … individuals and vehicles posing heightened risks” to public safety.

And this isn’t the only project in China that aims to expand surveillance while denying people privacy rights. Across the country, local governments are spending billions of dollars implementing sophisticated technological systems for mass surveillance. The consequences for human rights are ominous.

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Beijing’s impulse to surveil is certainly not new. But mass migration and privatization during the transition to a market economy have undermined the power of older practices that allowed the state to keep tabs on people, such as the “hukou” residency registration system. To bolster and broaden surveillance, the Ministry of Public Security turned to new technologies, launching the Golden Shield Project in 2000. The project aims to build a nationwide, intelligent digital surveillance network capable of identifying and locating individuals, as well as offering the state immediate access to personal records at the push of a button.

This dystopian project is bearing fruit. China’s pervasive Internet censorship and its use of countless security cameras in public spaces are well known. Recent reporting reveals authorities’ aspirations to enable facial recognition through upgraded cameras, to calculate citizens’ “social credit” scores based on economic and social status and to establish a national DNA database that logs genetic code irrespective of anyone’s connection to a crime.

But we still know little of China’s full range of efforts to revolutionize surveillance. We have few details about China’s use of voice and speech recognition. There has not been any investigation into China’s nationwide “safe city” projects that vow to promote public safety using technology. We know even less about how China plans to use big data for crime prediction.

What we do know is that China has no effective privacy protections and that it often treats peaceful speech as a crime.

It is also worrying that some of these systems are designed to identify “focus personnel” — a catchall term for both those with a criminal record and those whom authorities deem threatening or antisocial, including peaceful critics, political activists, minorities or people with a drug use record.

The story of Wu Bing may offer a taste of what is to come. Wu is one of nearly 3 million individuals whose name is logged into a police database known as the “Online Dynamic Control and Early Warning System for Drug Addicts.” Wu kicked the habit in 2005, but whenever he uses his ID — when he checks into a hotel, for example — the police are alerted and sometimes force him to take a drug test.

What’s worse, the Chinese government is promoting its surveillance model abroad. It has pushed the concept of “Internet sovereignty” — the idea that, instead of a free World Wide Web, a country’s rulers should determine what netizens can say and read. And its efforts are aided by Chinese companies eager to peddle their wares. In 2014, a Human Rights Watch report found that Chinese telecom giant ZTE sold technology and provided training to monitor mobile phones and Internet activity to Ethiopia’s repressive government. Meanwhile, closed-circuit television cameras and monitoring systems made by Chinese companies — some high-definition and equipped with facial and movement recognition powers — have been sold to countries around the world, including BrazilEcuadorKenyaand Britain.

But we are beginning to see a backlash against Chinese companies with strong ties to the Chinese government, prompted by security concerns. In July 2017, Germany became the first European Union nation to tighten rules on foreign corporate acquisitions; this ensures that Germany retains control over critical technologies, including artificial intelligence applications. Others, including the United States and Britain are mulling similar restrictions.

Yet foreign governments need to take stronger and more systematic action. They should first understand and review the ways in which the transfer of technologies used for abusive purposes is taking place. The United States needs to review and enhance a long-standing ban on exporting policing and “crime control” equipment to China. The sanctions, passed in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, have been largely ineffective in preventing U.S.-based companies from selling software and hardware for surveillance purposes. That review should ensure that the list of equipment barred is regularly updated or supplemented to cover the latest technologies and that the sanctions are vigorously enforced.

If the Chinese government’s Orwellian drive at home does not alarm the international community, its willingness to export that approach should. It’s not just the liberty of people in China at stake — it is the liberty of people across the globe.

China Jails 3 Hong Kong Pro-democracy Activists

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SOUTH CHINA MORNING STAR)

 

Thousands decry jailing of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in ‘biggest protest since Occupy’

Demonstrators march to express outrage at sentences handed to former student leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 6:36pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 10:57pm

A march held in the blazing afternoon heat on Sunday to oppose the recent jailing of Hong Kong political activists was “the biggest protest since the 2014 Occupy movement”, according to organisers.

They said the turnout was higher than expected, but they were unable to come up with an estimate. Police put the figure at 22,000.

Led by pro-democracy groups including the Civil Human Rights Front, League of Social Democrats and Demosisto, crowds marched from Southorn Playground in Wan Chai to the Court of Final Appeal in Central, where a rally was held.

Many brandished yellow umbrellas – a symbol of the Occupy pro-democracy movement – while others donned mock prisoners’ outfits and makeshift cages over their heads.

They held placards branding the imprisonment of Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang last week as acts of “political persecution”.

The activist trio were given jail sentences of between six and eight months by the Court of Appeal for storming the Hong Kong government ­headquarters compound at ­Tamar during an illegal protest that triggered the 79-day Occupy sit-ins.

Procession leaders, which included pan-democratic lawmakers and activists, held a long banner that read “no crime for fighting against a totalitarian government” as they shouted slogans calling for the release of the “political prisoners”.

Occupy student leader Lester Shum, one of the spokesmen for the organisers, said he believed the march was “certainly the biggest protest since Occupy in 2014”.

“The big turnout tells those in prison that they’re not alone. There are many Hong Kong people supporting them outside,” he added.

One participant, retiree Chan Cho-tak, said it was a shame the government had utilised legal means to suppress young activists. “The judges were wrong to send them to jail. What the young people did was for the good of Hong Kong.”

Another marcher, office worker Chu Ming-tak, 24, said the ruling had made him lose confidence in the city’s judiciary. “I hope the higher court can rectify the mistake,” he added.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said the guilty verdict for the activists was expected but that public fury was caused by what some felt was a harsh punishment, prompting more people to take to the streets in protest.

The Court of Appeal’s decision to jail Wong, Law and Chow marked a victory for the government, which had appealed to have tougher punishments imposed after a lower court last year gave the trio community service or suspended jail terms.

Separately, public prosecutors also succeeded in revising the punishments for 13 activists involved in a protest at the city’s legislature against a development project in Hong Kong’s northeastern New Territories in June 2014.

Joining Sunday’s march was former Civic Party legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee. She said criticism of the sentences was not a personal attack on judges.

The criticism was aimed at Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and the Department of Justice, she said.

She rejected claims that there had been no political considerations in the court rulings. “You can’t prove there were none, either,” Ng said.

A government spokesman said any allegations of political interference in the courts were unsubstantiated and groundless and that the court’s judgment had sufficient legal justification.

Additional reporting by Phila Siu

Top 5 Worst Countries With Blasphemy Laws: All Are Islamic Nations

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

 

Top 5 Worst Countries With Blasphemy Laws Ranked by USCIRF, One Christian Nation Listed at No. 7

(PHOTO: REUTERS/FAYAZ AZIZ)Protesters gather to condemn the killing of university student Mashal Khan, after he was accused of blasphemy, during a protest in Peshawar, Pakistan, on April 20, 2017.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued a report on blasphemy laws around the world, with the top five worst-scoring nations all seeking to protect Islam.

“In all five of the worst-scoring countries (Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Qatar), the blasphemy laws aim to protect the state religion of Islam in a way that impermissibly discriminates among different groups,” a press release from the organization stated on Wednesday.

The major report found that 71 of the world’s 195 countries have blasphemy laws, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment and death.

USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark said that religious freedom should protect people’s rights to express their thoughts and beliefs, even those that others may find blasphemous.

“Advocates for blasphemy laws may argue that they are needed in order to protect religious freedom, but these laws do no such thing. Blasphemy laws are wrong in principle, and they often invite abuse and lead to assaults, murders, and mob attacks. Wherever they exist, they should be repealed,” Mark insisted.

Christians and other religious minorities have been targeted by such blasphemy laws in Pakistan where they’re punished any time an accusation of having insulted the Islamic faith is lobbed against them.

In June, a Pakistani Christian father was arrested on charges of blasphemy after he asked a Muslim man to pay for a bicycle that he had repaired the week before, but was then accused by the same man of insulting Islam.

Islamic hardliners have also taken justice into their own hands. In one instance in November 2014, a Christian couple was burned to death by a mob after they were accused of having desecrated the Quran, a claim that turned out to be false.

Iran, which persecutes Christians, Baha’is, and other minorities, has threatened to execute anyone who’s accused of insulting the Islamic faith.

The Iranian government has been particularly concerned about the rise of Christianity in the country, especially among youths. This has led to Islamic seminary officials calling on the government to “stop the spread” of the faith.

Though the majority of high-ranking countries beyond the top five focused on defending Islamic sensibilities, Italy and its blasphemy laws protecting the Roman Catholic Church also scored a high ranking, coming in at number seven.

Article 403 of Italy’s criminal code reads:

“Anyone who insults the State religion in public by offending those who profess it shall be subject to a prison sentence of up to two years. Anyone who insults the State religion by insulting a minister of the Catholic Church shall be subject to a prison sentence of one to three years.”

USCIRF noted in its report that most of the blasphemy laws that it studied were “vaguely worded,” and failed to specify intent as part of the violation. It added that a majority of blasphemy laws are embedded in the criminal codes of countries, with 86 percent of nations with such laws threatening imprisonment for offenders.

“Though implementation varies, countries from Switzerland to Sudan persist in outlawing expression of views deemed ‘blasphemous,'” Mark added.

“Some countries, including Canada, have such laws but do not actively enforce them. We call upon those countries to set an example for the others and repeal their blasphemy laws. And we call upon all countries to repeal any such laws and to free those detained or convicted for blasphemy.”

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

Pakistan Marks 70 Years Of Independence Yet It Is Still A Bastion Of Hate Toward Minorities

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

 

As Pakistan Marks 70 Years Of Independence, Its Minorities Struggle For Space

People pose in front of Pakistan Independence Day signs in Lahore. The country, created in 1947 as a homeland for South Asia’s Muslims, celebrated 70 years of independence on Aug. 14.

Diaa Hadid/NPR

The children pile into the stadium in shiny clothes, clutching green-and-white Pakistani flags. Their parents light the area with cell phones to record the event as they scream, chant and cheer, watching soldiers close a gate that separates India from Pakistan.

In the evening ritual at the Wagah-Attari border, near Lahore and Amritsar, soldiers from both countries high-kick, shake their fists, then shake hands – and slam the gate shut.

It is deeply visceral for many Pakistanis: an acknowledgement of their border, of a plucky country they feel they have sacrificed so much to create.

Left: Youths sell paraphernalia in the colors of Pakistan’s flag to celebrate its Independence Day on Aug. 14. Right: An anonymous mask in Pakistan’s national colors of white and green lies on the grass of a park in Lahore.

Diaa Hadid/NPR

Pakistan was imagined more than 70 years ago by a stern, British-educated, whiskey-drinking Shiite lawyer. Muhammad Ali Jinnah hoped for a nation as cosmopolitan as he was. He led the fight to carve the country out of British-ruled India. In a new, independent India, Muslims were fearful that they would be dominated by a Hindu majority.

But in the decades since, the sense of who is a citizen in the Muslim state hasn’t been resolved. The question has come at a high price: Although Pakistan’s constitution specifies the protection of minority rights, “the government limited freedom of religion,” according to the State Department. The country’s tiny minorities of Sikhs, Christians and Hindus are vulnerable to persecution. Certain laws, such as blasphemy laws, are often used to target them.

As a boy in 1947, Muhammad Hanif Qureshi — now 83 and shown here with his great-niece and great-nephew in their home in Lahore — fled Amritsar. The area encompassing Amritsar and Lahore saw some of the worst violence of Partition.

Diaa Hadid/NPR

Within the Muslim community as well, the definition of who exactly is a Muslim has narrowed.

The seeds of Pakistan’s intolerance were sown within the country’s very ideology as a Muslim state, says Taimur Rehman, a political scientist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

That intolerance was “inherent in the very way in which Pakistan was created and the very purpose which it was supposed to serve of being a Muslim state,” he says. “By its very definition, it has already singled out a community in opposition to another one,” he says, referring to Muslims and Hindus. “And it’s very easy for that community to be to be narrowed further.”

Over the decades, he argues, the narrowing has been exacerbated by the military, Pakistan’s most powerful institution, which cultivated hard-line Islamists to wage a jihad in the disputed region of Kashmir, among other things.

A member of Pakistan’s tiny Sikh minority stops in Lahore’s Gurudwara or Sikh temple. Sikhs have a centuries-long presence in Lahore, but most fled for India in 1947.

Diaa Hadid/NPR

This has given right-wing religious groups outsize influence. “Despite never having won an election,” Rehman says, “they are nonetheless able to dictate the narrative in the country because of the support that they have from the military establishment.”

Perhaps none have suffered more than members of a small Muslim sect, known as Ahmadis, whose beliefs clash with the dominant Sunni version of Islam. They played a key role in founding Pakistan. They are a community of over-achievers: An Ahmadiphysicist, Abdus Salam, received one of only two Nobel prizes awarded to Pakistanis.

But the state declared Ahmadis as heretics via a constitutional amendment in the 1970s and restricted their rights further in the 1980s. They’re not allowed to call themselves Muslims, and can’t refer to their houses of worship as mosques. Over the years, militants have attacked their mosques and targeted them in killings.

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A Hindu shrine in Lahore was rebuilt after it was burned down more than a decade ago during a period of communal tensions. Now it’s guarded by two state employees. A handful of worshipers come on Tuesdays.

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In a leafy suburb near Lahore, the Khans live in a two-story home behind a high gate that’s firmly bolted. Mrs. Khan stands on the balcony every morning, waiting for her husband to return from prayers at their local mosque. She’s terrified that somebody will kill him.

“We are frightened,” she says. “For the life.” (Her first name isn’t being published out of concern for the family’s safety.)

Most of her family already fled overseas.

So far, Mrs. Khan insists on staying. She runs a clinic that dispenses free medicine to her poorer neighbors. “If I go, the people will suffer,” she says.

She doesn’t want to “just sit and eat” in exile. “This is not the meaning of life.”

She’s also worried about her nephew. Twice, somebody threw a note into his house warning him to convert to Sunni Islam — or die. He hides out here when he’s afraid.

He repeatedly tried to flee Pakistan – but he says the U.K., Sweden and Canada all rejected applications.

The roots of intolerance run deeper than just how Pakistan defines itself as a Muslim state, says Anam Zakariya, an oral historian in Islamabad.

She traces it back to Pakistan’s birth story – at the time of Partition, in 1947, when millions of Hindus and Sikhs fled to India and Muslims to Pakistan. Mobs raped and butchered each other — around a million people died.

But Zakariya says those events are pushed aside. Pakistan focuses on celebrating its creation – and emphasizes how Muslims were victims.

“Now if it’s your biggest victory to date,” Zakariya says, “you have to make sure that the bloodshed is portrayed to the younger generations as perpetrated by Indians — Hindus and Sikhs.”

Laborers work to prepare the new Pakistan history museum in Lahore’s Greater Iqbal Park. The museum — a project of the provincial government and the private Citizens Archive of Pakistan — will be the first to look at Partition through the stories of those who witnessed it.

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It’s to drive home the point: “And that’s why there was a need to create Pakistan.”

There are challenges emerging to that narrative. In a sprawling park in the heart of noisy, smoggy Lahore, a museum will soon open that will look at Partition through the stories of the people who witnessed it. It’s a collaboration between the Citizens Archive of Pakistan, a nonprofit, and the government of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.

“This is the first place in the entire country where you’ll experience what the refugees in 1947 experienced,” says Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker and head of the Citizens Archive.

Being exposed to stories from survivors of Partition will help create a more inclusive Pakistan, she believes, but it’s a race against time – the people who lived through Partition are fading away.

And 70 years on, the very idea of what Pakistan is meant to be – an Islamic state, in opposition to Hindu-dominated India – feels hard to shake.

Aya (right), 19, partially covers her face as she poses alongside her sister Sania, 22, and their mother. They visited a shrine in Lahore with their family patriarch Abdul Aziz, who remembers tending fields alongside Hindus before British-ruled India was partitioned.

Diaa Hadid/NPR

Near the museum construction site, the Abdul Aziz family huddles under a shelter as a sudden summer rain drenches the park. Their patriarch, Yousef, isn’t sure of his age, but says he used to work in fields alongside Hindus – and so he predates Partition. When the Hindus left Pakistan, he said, Muslims became free.

“We are now in a country where we can say, ‘There is no God but God and Muhammed is his messenger,'” he says, reciting the Muslim declaration of faith.

In Pakistan, he says, “There is no idolatry” – a reference to polytheist Hinduism.

His granddaughters Sania, 22, and Aya, 19, nod in agreement. He says he’s proud of Pakistan, which he describes as a “fort of Islam” where it’s safe for his grandchildren to grow up.

Sania says she’s not interested in a museum. She’s already heard her grandfather’s stories of Partition, and she’ll tell them one day to her own children.

Besides, she says, “I know history — the Islamic history of Pakistan.”

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