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EU Envoy’s threat of trade sanctions played crucial role in Asia Bibi’s freedom

EU Envoy on religious freedom, Jan Figel, meets with Asia Bibi’s lawyer Saif ul Malook in Lahore, December 2017. (Photo: Jan Figel)

World Watch Monitor—Freed Pakistani Christian Aasiya Noreen, known to the world now as Asia Bibi, has pleaded for the many others like her accused of blasphemy who, she says, are still “lying in jail for years – their decisions should also be done on merit. The world should listen to them.

“The way any person is alleged (to have committed) blasphemy without any proper investigation, without any proper proof, that should be noticed. This blasphemy law should be reviewed and there should be proper investigation mechanisms while applying this law. We should not consider anyone sinful for this act without any proof.”

She made this appeal from her refuge in Canada through a series of answers she provided to the UK’s Sunday Telegraph.

Shortly afterward, the European Post released a video that it says was provided by Noreen, in which she speaks in her native Urdu about her faith and urges fair treatment for anyone accused of a crime.

It’s hard to get a specific tally of the numbers known to be imprisoned, either awaiting trial -sometimes for years – for blasphemy, or already convicted. Many are Muslims. One figure World Watch Monitor saw quoted but could not get confirmed, after Asia Bibi was finally freed in May, was that Christians make up 17 of the 40 current ‘blasphemy’ prisoners. Christians form around 2% of Pakistan’s total population according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, its Co-Director Gina Zurlo told World Watch Monitor.

One couple who hit the spotlight immediately after Asia Bibi’s acquittal was Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife, Shaguftah, of Gojra, Punjab, both accused of sending blasphemous text messages. Shafqat has to use a wheelchair and has a catheter, after his backbone was fractured in an accident in 2004. Shaguftah was the main breadwinner for their four children.

Lawyer Saif ul-Malook, who – at the risk of his own life – defended Asia Bibi and successfully argued her appeal in Pakistan’s Supreme court, then promptly left Pakistan for the Netherlands (he was reported to have said that he was forced to flee) but said that he would return if her successful appeal was challenged. At the same time, he said he would now take up Shafqat and Shagfuftah’s case.

‘Justice and dignity for all Pakistanis’

The Sunday Telegraph article also referred to the crucial role for Asia Bibi’s freedom played by the EU Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), Jan Figel, from Slovakia, who’s worked tirelessly on her case, as well as for prisoners in Sudan and other countries.

He told World Watch Monitor that he had tried to visit Pakistan in his new role ‘from the start’ but that it had taken a year until a Pakistani high-level delegation (Minister of Trade and Attorney General) had visited his Brussels office. They invited him to Pakistan.

(In May 2018 Pakistan’s then-Minister for Interior, Ahsan Iqbal, who is known to support minority groups, survived an assassination after meeting with a group of Christians. Seven years earlier both the then-Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, and the Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were targeted and killed for defending Asia Bibi). That particular Islamist network has many members outside Pakistan.

Following her acquittal Asia Bibi was detained for another seven months. Mr. Figel told the Sunday Telegraph “I think Imran Khan’s government and Pakistan’s military used this delay to get the situation in the country under real control.”

In December Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau publicly announced willingness to offer asylum at the Peace Centennial of World War I.

In January, in Pakistan’s capital, the “Islamabad Declaration” signed by over 500 Muslim clerics, publicly condemned terrorism, violence committed in the name of religion and fatwas (sacred edicts) widespread by radical Islamic leaders. Fides reported that “observers said it represents a turning point especially in the attitude towards religious minorities and sects such as Ahmadi Muslims. In fact, Fides wrote, ‘the Declaration recognizes that Pakistan is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, and notes that “it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the protection of the life of non-Muslim citizens in Pakistan”’.

In February, Pakistan’s Attorney-General again visited Brussels where he again met Jan Figel; the latter tweeted that he raised the fact that Asia Bibi, now freed by the Supreme Court, was still detained in effective ‘house arrest’.

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Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari also visited Brussels. Figel liaised with Asia Bibi herself via Muhammad Amanullah, a human rights activist.

The EU Envoy confirmed directly to World Watch Monitor that the UK was not on the list of possible countries for her asylum, but that ‘there were a lot of rumours and problems around this’.

Asia Bibi was announced to have finally left Pakistan on 8 May, although it was not clear for a few days whether she had in fact joined her daughters who were already in exile in Canada.

Figel told WWM “Canada deserves international acknowledgement for its spirit of solidarity and real hospitality, also for the professionalism of its diplomacy and its immigration services. Security conditions are crucially important for Asia Bibi and her family”.

On June 25, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, signed the Fourth EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP) with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini in Brussels.

Amongst points relevant to Asia Bibi’s plight were to “Develop mutually agreed co-operation on the implementation of the UN Security Council on Women, Peace and Security”, and (under ‘Democracy, Rule of Law, Good governance, and Human Rights’) the plan mentioned “Working together to ensure…protection of human rights at national and international levels” and “Enhancing…inter-faith dialogue and understanding to promote tolerance and harmony”.

EU Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief – role

Jan Figel, a former EU education and culture commissioner, was appointed in May 2016 when the post was created by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Twice extended for an additional year, Figel’s current mandate ends next month.

A report by Polish MEP Andrzej Grzyb, accepted by the European Parliament, but yet to be formally implemented, argued that Figel had “developed effective working networks” within the EU institutions and praised him for “continuous engagement and co-operation and complementarity of actions with the EU Special Representative for Human Rights”.

It also recommended that the Special Envoy’s role needs to be substantially reinforced, and that his new remit should include extending his term to match that of Commission’s five-year term, and “consolidated with sufficient human and financial resources”.

Figel does not currently have a budget and formal status in the EU institutions, beyond serving as a special advisor to the EU’s Development Commissioner. His staffing budget covers minimal assistance, less than the German government’s Commissioner for Global Freedom of Religion.

Campaigners also argue that freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) is not given the importance it deserves in the EU institutions.

The MEPs’ report also recommends the setting up of a “regular advisory working group of member states’ FoRB institutions and European Parliament representatives, together with experts, scholars, and representatives of civil society, including churches and other faith-based organisations”.

After the US, Canada was among the first countries to appoint a Special Envoy who could focus on the issue of Freedom of Religion or Belief, Andrew Bennett, although his role per se did not last into Justin Trudeau’s government. Since then, the UK has appointed Lord Ahmad to the first-ever UK FoRB role, the need for which has recently been highlighted by the Bishop of Truro’s independent review into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s response to the persecution of Christians globally.

This summer, the Netherlands has appointed its own Ambassador with an emphasis on FoRB, Jos Douma, a former Ambassador to both Iran and the Holy See.

ASIA BIBI HAS LEFT PAKISTAN FOR CANADA


(Voice of the Persecuted) ASIA IS FREE!

Dawn News reports that Asia Bibi is free, has left the country and traveled on her independent will.

After nine years on death row, Asia Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on October 31, 2018. Following widespread Islamic hardliner protests and death threats, she was released from Multan women’s prison on November 7th and flown to Islamabad to an undisclosed location amid tight security.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) who is also a radical cleric, instigated country-wide protests following the high court ruling and demanded she be hung. The protests halted daily life in major cities throughout Pakistan. Schools, shops and businesses were forced to close. The group also called for the murder of the Supreme Court judges.

Authorities began a nationwide crackdown and arrested the radical leader and over 1000 other leaders and supporters of the Islamist party to end the radical protests. The cleric’s arrest ignited violent clashes with police and injuries were reported.

After 9 years of affliction for her faith in Christ, repeated death threats and living under protective custody since November, Pakistani government officials have confirmed she has left for Canada.

The Guardian quoted her Muslim lawyer, Saif Ul Malook,

“It is a big day. Asia Bibi has left Pakistan and reached Canada. She has reunited with her family. Justice has been dispensed.”

He said that Bibi’s safe arrival in Canada was the result of hard work by activists, foreign diplomats and others who stood by her in hard times and worked for her freedom.

Click here to read how Saif Ul Malook’s described Asia’s amazing faith, strength and a dream she shared with him. Be encouraged!

From the time Malook agreed to defend Asia, his life has been constantly under threat. He was forced to flee Pakistan for the Netherlands in December 2018.

Asia is finally free to be reunited with her family, heal from the horrible injustice against her and worship freely. Let us praise the LORD for this outcome and pray no harm will come against her or her family. Rest in HIS arms, dear Asia. Please keep our Pakistani brothers and sisters in your prayers.

Yonge-Dundas Square concert ban Christian bigotry

Yonge-Dundas-Square-Toronto

Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto Ontario Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Canada. Let’s call it like it is: Our society views some cultures and creeds as more equal than others. Simply put: Christians are fair game for unfair treatment.

The latest case of unabashed anti-Christian bigotry hails from the heart of our nation’s most populous city. A Christian concert has literally been banned from Toronto’s public square.

Voices of the Nations (VOTN) has been using city property since 2006 for their annual multi-denominational event that celebrates Christianity through peaceful praise and worship. While the group used Yonge-Dundas Square for the past five years without issue, the City of Toronto is refusing to grant VOTN a permit for next year’s music festival. Read More

TORONTO CANCELS JESUS PARADE

Though other parades and protests have been permittted the City of Toronto is saying a parade celebrating Jesus can’t proceed because of construction. Will media coverage change their mind?

UPDATE: 

TORONTO – Praise Jesus, it looks like the parade is back on.

Sources tell the Toronto Sun that an arrangement has been worked out between organizers of the cancelled Jesus in the City parade and City of Toronto staff.

The group tried to persuade the city to offer another route but, up until Thursday, they were told this was not possible.

Enter Mayor Rob Ford, who told the Sun he wanted the parade back on and called a meeting of all involved. READ MORE

“He was animated” and vocal, McVety said of the mayor. “He made it clear to city staff he wanted to find a solution.”

Before noon Thursday, that solution was worked out.

Boko Haram: Allah says we should decapitate, amputate & mutilate

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As the year rounds of with celebrations and expectations for a great year ahead, the leader of the radical Islamic sect, Boko Haram, have contorted a new kind of promise to the list of savage acts: Decapitation, Amputation and Mutilation. Abubakar Shekau appeared in a new video. READ MORE

Canada adds Boko Haram on terrorist list

Boko Haram has waged an insurgency in Nigeria for four years.

The government of Canada has announced that it has listed Boko Haram as a terrorist group under its criminal code.

This follows the November decision of the United States government to designate Boko Haram and it’s splinter group, Ansaru, as foreign terrorist organisations.

A statement released by the Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Steven Blaney, said Canada has listed Boko Haram and The Caucasus Emirate (a group in Russia) as terrorist groups. READ MORE

Coptic activists demanding the Canadian Parliament to help Egypt

Canadian Unity Flag

Coptic activists and organizations in Canada announced today they are working hard for the conference held on November 19 in the Canadian Parliament under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Canada, and in the presence of Jason Kenny, Canadian Labour Minister, Chris Alexander, Immigration Minister, and Bob Descartes, member of the Canadian Parliament, Secretary of the Canadian Foreign Minister.

They decided to dedicate all their efforts for the upcoming conference which should concentrate on serving Egypt and the Egyptian army as well as helping the Coptic Christians in Egypt who are being persecuted and killed in cold blood.
Coptic organizations in Canada are going to demand support for the Egyptian revolution and government, and to acknowledge the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist group.

Rimsha falsely accused of blasphemy in Pakistan now in Canada

Rimsha

Source

A Christian teenager who was accused of blasphemy now resides in Canada with her family

Rimsha Masih, the teenage Pakistani girl who once faced the possibility of the death penalty because she was accused of insulting Islam, is living in Canada with her family, a Canadian religious-rights organization says.

Peter Bhatti, executive director of International Christian Voice, told World Watch Monitor on Saturday that Rimsha and her immediate family are settled in the Toronto area, with the permission of the Canadian government. They have been in Canada for about a month, he said.

Rimsha was arrested in August 2012 and accused of burning the pages of some Islamic texts.  She was jailed after angry crowds threatened to burn Christian homes in the sector of Islamabad where her family lived, according to press reports at the time. Her detention sparked international outcry about the application of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws, and prompted Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to order an investigation of the case. She faced the prospect of being tried as an adult until the court ruled that she is a minor.

The case against Rimsha collapsed after police were informed the cleric of the mosque in Rimsha’s area had planted the burned pages on her. Pakistani courts eventually threw out the charges against the girl, citing a lack of evidence.

Bhatti led a delegation of International Christian Voice executives to an August meeting in Canada with Pakistan’s consul general to “express the feelings of Pakistani Canadian Christians regarding Rimsha Masih’s case,” according to the organization’s website.

Peter Bhatti’s older brother, Paul Bhatti, is Pakistan’s Minister of National Harmony and Minority Affairs. Peter’s younger brother, Shahbaz Bhatti, was Pakistan’s federal minister for minority affairs, and a high-profile critic of the way the country’s anti-blasphemy laws were being used to marginalize Pakistan’s religious minorities, including Christians. Shahbaz was assassinated in 2011; a letter left at the scene said those who try to change Pakistan’s blasphemy laws would be killed.

Peter Bhatti, now a Canadian citizen, said he has lived in Canada for more than 10 years. He said he approached Jason Kenny, Canada’s immigration minister, to assist with the relocation of Rimsha’s family.

Glenn Johnson, spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, told World Watch Monitor on Friday that Canada’s privacy laws forbid release of details about individual cases.

Bhatti said Rimsha and her family now are living in a three-bedroom apartment. She is enrolled in school, he said.

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