Wednesday, November 5, 2014
A woman has set herself on fire outside Bulgaria's presidential headquarters in Sofia, in an apparent repeat of a series of self-immolations last year driven by poverty in the crisis-hit Balkan country, the interior ministry has said. Live television footage showed firefighters carrying a burned woman on a stretcher and loading her into an ambulance. The victim, a 38-year-old woman according to the ministry, was badly burned but alive, the hospital said. "I was standing here when all of a sudden she lit up like a torch, her legs were kicking," a shocked elderly man told Kanal 3 television. The woman's identity and the motives behind her desperate act were unclear. The incident was a reminder of a series of self-immolations last year when at least six people died after setting themselves on fire in public between February and May.
Thousands of anti-capitalist protesters gathered in central London last night, as part of the annual global Million Masks March organised by the Anonymous network.Banners and placards in hand, protesters descended on Trafalgar Square before marching towards Parliament Square at 6.30pm. Despite an earlier warning from Scotland Yard to Anonymous that it had powers to remove facial coverings ahead of the march, many wore the Guy Fawkes masks which have become the group’s signature. The masks became a symbol of civil disobedience following the 2006 film V for Vendetta, based on the comic book of the same name. The movie depicted a totalitarian vision of Britain, where protesters donned Guy Fawkes masks and gathered on 5 November to rally against their oppressors. On the protest route in London, demonstrators chanted anti-establishment slogans as they walked. There was a heavy police presence at both Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square, as well as along Whitehall, following a plea from Scotland Yard earlier today that activists co-operate with officers. Despite a chorus of boos and whistles as an officer from the Metropolitan Police warned protesters about their behaviour over a loud hailer, the protest began peacefully. Later, some marchers left Parliament Square for Buckingham Palace, with some kicking and dragging security railings on the way as the chanted "one solution, revolution." As they neared the Palace, they were confronted with a large police presence and plastic cones and road signs were thrown at officers who had their batons drawn. The mood then calmed, with many protesters sitting down in front of the police, before they moved off again. Throughout the evening, protesters showcased their banners and masks on social media. Anonymous, which describes itself as a “movement” with an “undefined and fluid” leadership, said demonstrators were protesting against austerity, infringement of rights and mass surveillance. It added that this year’s protest would have “bigger banners, louder voices, more people and a louder system”. Steve Foster, a 36-year-old storeman from Liverpool, came to the capital to attend the event. “The inquiry into institutional paedophilia is probably the main reason (why I am here),” he told reporters. "I am actually a victim myself, though not institutionally, when I was a kid. "I want to see a real inquiry and I want to see prosecutions and people jailed in the establishment, where we all know it is rife. That is my biggest reason." Asked about the nature of the protest, he said: "I think everyone wants it to go peacefully really, just a peaceful demonstration." The Metropolitan Police said in a statement they had attempted to contact organisers of the event ”without success“ and added that they have imposed an order across Westminster between 5pm yesterday and 2am today which provides powers to remove masks when police fear a crime will be committed.
Republican leader challenges president to compromise with Congress after Democrats’ bruising defeat while Obama concedes electorate sent clear messageThe jubilant leader of the Republicans in the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, on Wednesday challenged Barack Obama to find common ground with Congress after the Democrats’ crushing defeat in the US midterm elections threatened to test the limits of the president’s power during his final two years in office. In an ambitious speech hours after his party gained control of both houses of Congress, McConnell warned Obama not to “poison the well” by pushing forward with unilateral action on immigration reform, and promised to introduce legislation that would permit the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, bitterly opposed by environmentalists. Obama, meanwhile, conceded that the electorate had sent the Democrats a message, inflicting a rout on the party that was far worse than expected. Speaking in Louisville, after defeating a well-funded challenge from Kentucky secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell called on Obama to take his lead from previous administrations that had to deal with a Congress dominated by opposing parties. “Reagan and Clinton are good examples of accepting the government you have rather than fantasising about the government you wish you had,” said an unusually joyous McConnell. “I am hoping [Obama] will decide to move to the centre.” Taking questions at a more downbeat White house press conference on his election defeat, Obama made similar, if equally familiar, calls for bipartisan deals, citing pet projects such as on trade liberalisation, tax reform and infrastructure investment. He also called for progress in areas that may prove more controversial: authorisation on military force in Iraq and Syria, extra funding for an expanded Ebola response and the passage of a new budget. Obama acknowledged that Republicans had a “good night” after the elections, and sounded a conciliatory note. “I have a unique responsibility to try to make this town work,” said the president. “To everyone who voted: I hear you.” Democrats woke up to the political equivalent of a pounding hangover on Wednesday after defeats more numerous and deeper than many had feared, while Republicans rode a wave of victories that gave them significant momentum going into the 2016 presidential elections. Republicans gained seven Senate seats from Democrats, cementing the GOP’s power base on Capitol Hill. They were poised to take an eighth, Alaska, and if they win a runoff in Louisiana, Republicans would command a 54-vote majority in the Senate. On a night of few positives for Democrats, Republicans also outperformed them in most of the 36 governors’ races, clinching victories in Democratic strongholds including Massachusetts, Maryland and Illinois. “This is ugly,” one top Democrat involved in the party’s election strategy told the Guardian in the early hours of Wednesday morning. “It is so much worse than we expected.” On the face of it, Obama and McConnell’s response to the results was to call for common ground. But both also made clear their desires to pursue policies they know are unacceptable to the other – a conflict that is likely to face its first test over immigration reform, where the president has promised Latino groups that he will take unilateral executive action to legalise many undocumented migrants in the absence of agreement from Congress. McConnell fired a shot across Obama’s bows over the threat. “Choosing to do a lot of things unilaterally on immigration wold be a big mistake.” he said. “It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull ... It poisons the well.” More progress seems likely over the Keystone XL pipeline project, which Obama praised as “one small aspect of broader trend that I consider positive for the American people”. The Republican election gains could finally force a resolution of the proposed pipeline, six years after the Canadian company began work on the project, which would pump crude from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf coast and is a powerful symbol for Republicans and energy state Democrats. Opponents say the project would expand production of a very dirty fossil fuel and worsen climate change. Obama could still veto Keystone as incompatible with his climate change agenda. Even with their electoral gains and support from conservative Democrats, the Republicans do not have the votes to override a presidential veto. The Republican party chairman, Reince Priebus, told MSNBC he thought Obama would be forced to greenlight the pipeline. “I actually think the president will sign the bill on the Keystone pipeline because I think the pressure – he’s going to be boxed in on that, and I think it’s going to happen,” Priebus said. As they engage in damage limitation, Democrats will in the next few days argue that their defeats in the House and Senate were expected and consistent with historical trends. Yet the scale of Tuesday’s Senate defeat, on a tide of support for Republicans that rippled across House and gubernatorial races, will be hard for them to play down. The extent of the defeat will also be a cause for concern for Hillary Clinton, the heir-apparent for the Democratic presidential nomination, who, along with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, stumped for several of the party’s Senate candidates who lost badly. The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, widely seen as a potential candidate for the party in the 2016 presidential elections, said he was delighted with the result and urged Obama to work with the new political reality in Washington. “The president took a beating last night, and the fact is, you’ve got to sit down then with the folks on the other side and say to them, ‘OK, let’s see what we can agree on together’,” he told ABC.
Big changes are underway in U.S. politics as the balance of power shifts away from the president’s party. For the first time in eight years, the Republican Party has a majority in the Senate, picking up seven more seats to a total of 52 seats in the 100-member Senate. They also bolstered their majority in the House of Representatives. CCTV America’s Jessica Stone reported this story from Washington, D.C.
Tuesday’s midterm elections turned into a rout for Republicans and a nightmare for Democrats, especially President Barack Obama. Republicans got the wave they were hoping for and nearly ran the table on the close Senate races. And they did even better than expected in the 36 races for state governor around the country. Make no mistake—what happened on Tuesday was the equivalent of a political earthquake and the aftershocks will be felt in Washington for the foreseeable future. The Republican path to a Senate majority ran through several Democratic seats in so-called Red States where Republicans have been strong in recent elections, including the 2012 presidential race. Republicans easily won key Senate races in Arkansas, West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota. They also won Democratic Senate seats in key swing states like Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina – states that were essential building blocks for Obama’s 2012 re-election and which will play a key role in the 2016 presidential race as well. In short, Republicans easily won where they should have (Republican-leaning states) and did better than expected in so-called battleground states where presidential elections are won and lost. That sets them up for potential good news in 2016. Republicans also won governor’s races in strongly Democratic states like Maryland, Massachusetts and even the president’s home state of Illinois. They also prevailed in a close race in Florida and easily secured re-election for Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Walker may now be tempted to join the growing list of potential GOP presidential contenders for 2016. Referendum on Obama The number one factor helping Republicans this year was President Obama’s poor public approval ratings, averaging just over 40 percent in recent national polls. Exit polls of voters who cast ballots on Tuesday confirmed that many Republicans and independent voters saw the election as a referendum on the president, something Democrats had long dreaded. Voter concerns about the economy, health care and foreign policy also factored into the results on Tuesday. About two-thirds of the country believes the country is headed in the wrong direction, despite the fact that the jobless rate is declining and the economy is growing at a decent clip. Foreign policy, a strength for the president in his re-election two years ago, was more of a negative factor this year. Concern about the threat posed by the Islamic State in the Middle East and the administration’s handling of Ebola contributed to a public perception that the White House was not in control of possible threats to the U.S. That in turn led to voter anxiety and doubt, factors that always hurt incumbents. The irony is that public views of Congress in general and Republicans in particular are even worse than those of the president. But in a midterm election, the historical trend is for voters to take out their frustrations and anxieties on the incumbent in the White House, and that is exactly what happened this year. More uncertainty ahead Now that Obama has suffered the strongest political rebuke of his presidency, what are his options? Republican control of the Senate, combined with an enhanced majority in the House of Representatives, gives them more power to block the president’s legislative agenda. The president must now assess whether it’s time to reach out to Republicans on some issues, say tax reform and trade, or hunker down, particularly when it comes to the budget and immigration reform. Republicans have some decisions to make as well. Exit polls showed voters are frustrated with partisan gridlock in Washington. They want Congress and the president to work together to solve the nation’s problems, not fighting endless partisan battles over health care, taxes and climate change. The incoming Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, must consider when to simply block the president’s agenda and when the time might be right to work with the White House and Democrats. In his victory speech McConnell said neither he nor the president will see the world differently in the wake of Tuesday’s results. But he also added, “We do have an obligation to work together on issues where we can agree.” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told VOA’s Senate Correspondent Michael Bowman the results show that “two-thirds of America thought the country was going in the wrong direction. They wanted a change in direction and now it is up to Republicans to bring that change.” The recent track record in Congress suggests the likelihood of more partisan gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. But Senator McConnell is also acutely aware that Republicans will be held accountable for what they do over the next two years and that could be a key factor leading up to the presidential election in 2016. Republicans are desperate to win the White House back two years from now. They’ve seen that no matter how well you do in congressional races, the presidency remains the real seat of power and that lasting political change stems from winning the White House and using that as a national mandate for action. But McConnell also faces challenges from Tea Party supporters within his own Republican caucus, some of whom are likely presidential contenders in 2016. They include Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. It was only a year ago that a government shutdown pushed by Tea Party supporters in Congress badly damaged the Republican brand. How McConnell balances both blocking the Obama agenda and keeping some of the more conservative Republican senators in line over the next two years will be a major political challenge. Shaping Obama legacy There is little doubt that Tuesday’s results mean that the president faces a difficult final two years in office. Like most presidents near the end of their time in office, he will be concerned with shaping his political legacy. That means protecting his signature health care law from renewed Republican attack in both the House and Senate. A Supreme Court vacancy, should one occur, could also spark a major battle over Senate confirmation. The midterm setbacks for Democrats will no doubt figure in any assessment of President Obama’s political legacy, said author Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington. “Barack Obama is not the catastrophic incompetent that his detractors want to depict him as,” Miller said. “But nor is he the redeemer or the savior that his adherents wanted. There is a sense of emptiness and disappointment between what was promised and what was delivered.” President Obama’s first test may come on immigration reform. Will he go ahead with unilateral action likely to antagonize Republicans? Or might some mainstream Republicans be willing to compromise on modest measures that could enhance their party’s ability to woo Hispanic voters two years from now in the presidential race? The election results also appear to have had an impact even on Democrats who were able to prevail. New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen narrowly beat back a strong challenge from Republican Scott Brown and is taking a decidedly centrist view of the path forward. “I will work with anyone in the Senate—Democrat, Republican, Independent—to get things done,” she said. Finally there is the complicated question of the relationship between the president and the woman who Democrats overwhelmingly want to succeed him—former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Given the results on Tuesday and the clear public unhappiness expressed with President Obama, Clinton will have to find ways to separate herself from the Obama presidency if she runs. The president, for his part, may have to accept some of that pushback while at the same time figuring out what he can do over the next two years to pave the way for a Democrat to succeed him in the White House. The politics of the 2014 midterms are inextricably linked to the presidential contest in 2016. In the wake of Tuesday’s results, Republicans understandably feel a surge of momentum in taking the Senate and showing Democrats they can compete in swing states like Iowa, Colorado and North Carolina. That should set them up to be very competitive for the White House two years from now, provided they nominate the right candidate. Presidential race looms The Republican search for a standard bearer begins now. Many Democrats already believe they already have the right candidate—Hillary Clinton—assuming she runs. But Democrats also remember that Clinton was a heavy favorite for the party nomination in 2008 and lost to Obama, who at the time was a long shot challenger. For 2016, Democrats may be thinking it’s time to go back to the future. For Republicans, the future looks brighter—but still uncertain.
ON election night 1994, as Republicans recaptured the House for the first time in 40 years, I stood in the audience and watched my client Newt Gingrich, who would soon become speaker of the House, declare the beginning of the “Republican revolution.”
I knew immediately that the smartest man I had ever worked for was making the worst rhetorical blunder of his career. Nobody voted Republican to start a revolution. They did so because they were fed up with a Democratic president overreaching on health care and a government seemingly incapable of doing even the smallest thing effectively. We all know what happened when Mr. Gingrich tried to turn his rhetoric into action.
Sound familiar? No one is quite saying “revolution” this week, but Republicans across the country, in their glee over Tuesday’s elections, are coming dangerously close to making the same mistake.
True, there will now be more Americans under Republican representation than at any time in decades. And the re-elections of G.O.P. governors in blue states like Michigan and Wisconsin are certainly a validation of their policies. It was a tsunami; someone needs to get the Democrats a towel. But that anti-Democrat wave was not the same as a pro-Republican endorsement. In many races that went from blue to red, Republican success was hardly because of what the G.O.P. has achieved on Capitol Hill. In fact, if Americans could speak with one collective voice — all 310 million of them — this is what they said Tuesday night: “Washington doesn’t listen, Washington doesn’t lead and Washington doesn’t deliver.” Purple states tossed out their Democratic senators for being too close to Washington and too far from the people who put them there.The current narrative, that this election was a rejection of President Obama, misses the mark. So does the idea that it was a mandate for an extreme conservative agenda. According to a survey my firm fielded on election night for the political-advocacy organization Each American Dream, it was more important that a candidate “shake up and change the way Washington operates.”I didn’t need a poll to tell me that. This year I traveled the country listening to voters, from Miami to Anchorage, 30 states and counting. And from the reddest rural towns to the bluest big cities, the sentiment is the same. People say Washington is broken and on the decline, that government no longer works for them — only for the rich and powerful.They voted out those who promised to do more in favor of those who said they would do less, but do it better. That’s why the Democratic candidates for governor who condemned their opponents for spending too little on education, transportation and programs for the poor and unemployed still lost. The results were less about the size of government than about making government efficient, effective and accountable. Our election night survey showed that 42 percent chose their Senate candidate because they hated the opponent more. One pre-election poll had over 70 percent willing to throw everyone out and start fresh.Winning on Election Day is not the end. The objective can’t be just to bide time for the next election; that’s a losing strategy. The mission has to be a restoration of confidence in the future. The question is: What can Republicans at all levels do to make this happen, and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past?First, hold Washington accountable. From the cover-ups of veterans dying while being denied care to using the I.R.S. to target conservative groups, recent scandals highlight the chasm between hard-working taxpayers and Washington. But this also means holding your colleagues accountable. No turning a blind eye to broken promises. If you’re truly different, act truly differently.Second, make the people’s priorities your priorities. In our survey, the top priorities were making the government more efficient and controlling spending. So tackle deficits and the national debt, and root out the waste and abuse of government programs. Reduce the crippling red tape and regulations that are strangling small businesses. As the House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, said, show that a Republican Congress has both the wisdom to listen and the courage to lead.Third, stop blustering and fighting. Americans despair of the pointless posturing, empty promises and bad policies that result. Show that you are more concerned with people than politics. Don’t be afraid to work with your opponents if it means achieving real results. Democrats and Republicans disagree on a lot, but there are also opportunities of real national importance, like national security and passing the trans-Atlantic trade deal. Aside from a small activist constituency, Americans are not looking for another fight over same-sex marriage or abortion. This isn’t to say that voters want their leaders to co-opt their convictions. People are simply tired of identity politics that pit men against women, black against white, wealthy against poor. More than ever, they want leadership that brings us together. This isn’t about pride of ownership regarding American progress; this is about progress, period. Americans don’t care about Democratic solutions or Republican solutions. They just want common-sense solutions that make everyday life just a little bit easier. But they can’t get their houses in order until Washington gets its own house in order.
President Barack Obama and his powerful U.S. Senate adversary struck a conciliatory tone on Wednesday, but Obama's plans to proceed with new immigration rules foreshadowed a bumpy start to his relationship with a Republican-controlled Congress.
According to reports, the United States has turned to Iran in a bid to help jump start the fledgling economy of Afghanistan. The move was reportedly made by Pentagon to seek out business relations with Afghanistan’s western neighbor by establishing a special task form. Iran has been asked by the special task force to estbalish a pharmaceutical company in Afghanistan and develpe four mines, the Wall Street Journal reported. This comes as Washington has levied strict sanctions on American companies doing business in Iran. The trade value between Afghanistan and Iran has hit $4 billion annually with Iranian officials saying that the growth was noted in trade deals, including transit of goods and fuel products. In the meantime, Afghanisan is expected to find new sea routes through Iran’s Chabahar port after the Indian government approved a plan to develop the port. The port will be developed by an Indian joint venture company with an investment of $85.21 million and operate the port for 10 years. Chabahar port is located in th sistan-Baluchistan province in southeastern coast of Iran which is considered to be a strategic utility for India. The port is having a distance of 883 km to Zaranj district of western Nimroz province which could link the major cities of Afghanistan, Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif to sea routes through Zaranj-Delaram road.
Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudhury Nisar Ali Khan was quick to condemn the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh for handing down death penalty to the Jamaat e Islami Chief Matiur Rahman Nizami. The minister talks about 'forget and forgive.' He is surprised by Bangladesh government digging up the graves of the past and reopening old wounds. Too bad he can't see the deep wounds that still remain open for every Bangladeshi who witnessed 1971, especially those who were victims of the excesses committed by Razakars and al-Badr under the umbrella of Jamaat e Islami in 1971. He is obviously also blind to the reaction of Bangladeshis around the country at the verdict. The sense of relief, closing deep and long wounds, and putting to rest those who lie in those graves in peace from here on -- that is how Bangladeshis received the news of the verdict. We as a nation will wait for each verdict yet to come to be the same -- death penalty for the killers. Majority of the population of Bangladesh want to bring closure to the episode of 1971 and that can only be brought about through trial and punishment of the Razakars, al-Badr, and their masters. The minister is right -- it must be put to rest. The sooner these criminals are punished -- which can never be equal to the punishment meted out to Bangladeshis in 1971 -- the better. We want to move forward and we cannot do so with the killers flying the flag of Bangladesh on their roof tops and their cars, still living freely while our loved ones keep turning in their graves in pain. The trials and punishments should have come and gone long, long, ago. Alas, that did not happen. Now it is here. Those of us who lived through the nightmare of the war of 1971finally see justice being done. The images of torture and killing cannot be erased from the memory of those who live. That is why it amazes us to see the language used by a minister who flies the flag of Pakistan on his car! Matiur Rahman Nizami and his cohorts should have been flying the flag of Pakistan in Pakistan. They fought for Pakistan against Bangladesh. We are saddened to see Chaudhury Nisar Ali Khan's hands full with fifty dead bodies and scores injured because of a suicide bomb blast at the Wagah border between India and Pakistan. Perhaps he can now understand the pain of those who have lost their loved ones, even if it is a miniscule reflection of the larger picture of what happened in Bangladesh 43 years ago. Perhaps he will do his best to find the perpetrators and punish them with death penalty. After all he is the Minister of Interior! The questions I will ask him are: Will he forgive and forget the incident that took the lives of fifty innocent people? Will he not seek maximum punishment allowed by law for the perpetrators, whoever they may be? Will he stop pursuing the case if it is the JI of Pakistan behind the heinous attack? Will he give up without getting to the roots of the attack if it takes Pakistan fifty years to catch them? http://www.thedailystar.net/op-ed/forget-and-forgive-a-clich-48744
Global rights watchdog Amnesty International has asked Pakistan to bring those responsible for the killing of a Christian couple, accused of blasphemy, to justice. "Those responsible must be brought to justice and the Pakistani authorities have to ensure at-risk communities are proactively given the protection they need. "This vicious mob killing is just the latest manifestation of the threat of vigilante violence which anyone can face in Pakistan after a blasphemy accusation, although religious minorities are disproportionately vulnerable," David Griffiths, Amnesty International's Deputy Asia Pacific said yesterday. The Christian couple was yesterday thrashed and burnt alive by a group of angry Muslims in Pakistan's Punjab province for allegedly desecrating the Quran. The horrific crime was reported from the villages of Kot Radha Kishan of Kasur district, some 50 kilometres from Lahore. "This type of violence is fuelled by Pakistan's repressive blasphemy laws, which add to the climate of fear for religious minorities. A mere accusation of blasphemy is often enough to put a person and their wider community in danger. "In this case, a mob appears to have played judge, jury and executioner. The blasphemy laws violate international human rights law and standards and should be reformed as a matter of urgency to provide effective safeguards against their abuse, with a view to their eventual repeal," Griffiths said. Amnesty said that consistent failure by the government to tackle violence in the name of religion has effectively sent the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and excuse them as defence of religious sentiments. The Punjab provincial government has reportedly set up a committee to fast track the investigation into the killings and ordered additional police protection to Christian neighbourhoods in the province. "The local government's response is encouraging but it remains to be seen what comes of the investigation. "The climate of impunity around violence against religious minorities in Pakistan is pervasive, and it is all too rare that those behind attacks are held to account," said David Griffiths.
The Pakistani government has increased its efforts to restrict access to content on Facebook that it believes is blasphemous or critical of the state, data released by the social networking website revealed on Tuesday.The Facebook ‘Government Requests Report’ shows that during the period Jan-June this year, the Pakistani government sent a staggering 1,773 requests to Facebook to restrict content, up almost 10 times from just 162 such requests during the July-Dec period in 2013. “We restricted access in Pakistan to a number of pieces of content primarily reported by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Ministry of Information Technology under local laws prohibiting blasphemy and criticism of the state,” said Facebook. Facebook curtails access to pages and posts by users from within Pakistan at the government’s request through a non-transparent agreement with the PTA. No details of the requests, or specific content restricted were provided by the social networking giant. Pakistan sent the third largest number of requests globally for content restrictions in the Jan-June 2014 period. India sent the highest number of such requests – 4,960 – in the first half of this year, with Facebook saying most of them related to “local laws prohibiting criticism of a religion or the state.” Turkey made 1,893 such requests, the second highest number in the world, under “local laws prohibiting defamation or criticism of Ataturk or the Turkish state”. In the first half of 2014, the Pakistani government also sent 116 requests for personal data of 160 users or accounts, with Facebook saying it produced data in 35.34 per cent of requests. Facebook says governments make these requests as part of official investigations, and that the vast majority relate to criminal cases. “In many of these cases, these government requests seek basic subscriber information, such as name, registration date and length of service. Other requests may also seek IP address logs or account content,” it says. In the second half of last year, the Pakistani government sent 126 such requests seeking information for 163 users, with 47 per cent requests producing data. Only 35 such requests were sent in the first half of 2013. “Despite the government's claim that Pakistan is a democratic country, this trend of curtailing freedom of expression is against all democratic and political norms and unacceptable for any democratic society,” says Shahzad Ahmad, Director for Pakistani digital rights group Bytes for All. Shahzad says digital rights groups in Pakistan are trying to tell the government that censorship is not a solution but a problem in itself. “We have concrete examples from the past that there have been attempts to block political expression, including that from Balochistan. About two months ago, several pages were blocked which also included Roshni, the page for left-liberal rock band Laal, and others. We saw that there was nothing blasphemous on these pages — they were pages of political expression, against fanaticism and promoting religious harmony. “Except for Laal, none of these pages ever came back online,” he says. Reuters adds: Facebook said requests by governments across the world for user information rose by about a quarter in the first half of 2014 over the second half of last year. In the first six months of 2014, governments around the world made 34,946 requests for data. During the same time, the amount of content restricted because of local laws increased about 19 per cent. “We're aggressively pursuing an appeal to a higher court to invalidate these sweeping warrants and to force the government to return the data it has seized,” the company said on Tuesday. Google Inc reported in September a 15 per cent sequential increase in the number of requests in the first half of this year, and a 150 per cent rise in the last five years, from governments around the world to reveal user information in criminal investigations.
Pakistan: Baloch Are Left With No Option But To Approach International Court Of Justice: Akhtar Mengal
Sardar Akhtar Mengal, chief of Balochistan National Party (BNP) has said that Baloch are left with no option but to approach the International court of Justice (ICJ) to seek justice. Akhtar Mengal issued a press statement on Monday in which he stated that establishment is using policy of victimization to push Baloch to the wall. Kidnapping and dumping of mutilated bodies of political activists in Balochistan is continuing unabated, said Akhtar Mengal. In last few days two members of BNP have been kidnapped and mutilated bodies of three others have been recovered, lamented Akhtar Mengal. “Baloch People have the right to approach ICJ against the issue of Extra-judicial Killings, enforced disappearances and human rights violations because Judiciary in country has failed to deliver justice,” stated Akhtar Mengal. Akhtar Mengal strongly criticized the apathy of Dr. Malik and Nawaz Sharif government in ignoring the atrocities committed against the activists of BNP. He further said that there is no difference between PPP, PMLN and Musharraf government when it comes to treating the Baloch. Mr. Mengal rubbished the claims of provincial government that security situation in Balochistan is improving. He reiterated his firm belief that all hardships notwithstanding, BNP will continue its peaceful struggle for protecting the rights and resources of Baloch people.
By Ajit Kumar Singh At least 60 people, including children and women, were killed and more than 150 persons were injured when a suicide bomber detonated his suicide vest in the parking area, at least 500 meters from the Wagah Border on the Pakistan side, at around 5:45pm [PST] on November 2, 2014. The death toll in the incident is likely to rise as many of the injured were in critical condition. Wagah, a town on the outskirts of Lahore, the provincial capital of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, falls along the India-Pakistan border (on the Indian side lies Amritsar in the Indian State of Punjab). Indian and Pakistani Forces hold a flamboyant flag-lowering ceremony at Wagah every day. Giving details about the incident, Inspector General Police (IGP) Punjab, Pakistan, Mushtaq Ahmad Sukhera stated, “A large number of people were returning after watching Rangers flag ceremony at Wagah border when a suicide bomber blew himself up near one of the exit gates. At least 15 to 20 kilogrammes (of) explosives have been used in the blast, showing some of the explosives was in his suicide jacket and remaining he might have carried.” This particular attack reemphasizes the deepening anarchy across Pakistan, with terrorists operating at will, even within Pakistan’s ‘stable’ Punjabi heartland. In the current year, Pakistan has already recorded a total of 4,260 terrorism-linked fatalities, including 1,458 civilians, 459 Security Force (SF) personnel and 2,343 terrorists [all data till November 2]. 4,897 fatalities, including 2,756 civilians, 602 SF personnel and 1,539 terrorists were recorded in the corresponding period of 2013. Meanwhile, reports indicate that intelligence agencies had informed the Punjab Government about the possibility of a terror attack targeting Shias, religious personalities, public processions and important buildings, during Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar), between October 24-November 23, 2014. Indeed, the Federal Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, on November 2, 2014, noted that the Ministry of Interior had issued a warning of a suicide bombing in Lahore. IGP Sukhera claimed there was specific intelligence that terrorists could target the Wagah border post. Nevertheless, the attack took place despite the Government’s claims that it was ‘ready to meet any eventuality’. On October 27, 2014, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had asserted that “foolproof” security arrangements had been made in the Province to maintain law and order during the holy month of Muharram. A day earlier, Lahore Capital City Police Officer Muhammad Ameen Vance had claimed that foolproof security arrangements were finalised to cope with any untoward incident in the Provincial Capital during Muharram. IGP Sukhera argued, “The Rangers had made stringent security measures but it was difficult to check suicide bomber.” The Wagah attack is not an incident in isolation and, in fact, demonstrates the widespread vulnerability across Pakistan, and the inherent weakness of the state. While Punjab has long been thought to be relatively insulated from the wider movements of insurgency and terrorism that have engulfed the country’s other three provinces, this seat of military and political power in Pakistan has demonstrated increasing evidence of growing volatility. Just in 2014, Punjab has already recorded a total of 162 fatalities, including 122 civilians, 18 SF personnel and 22 terrorists, as against 55 fatalities, including 43 civilians, four SF personnel and eight militants in the corresponding period of 2013, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal. Moreover, Punjab also recorded four suicide attacks, resulting in 82 fatalities, as against no such attack in the corresponding period of 2013. However, terrorists had carried out a suicide attack outside an Imambargah (Shia place of worship) at Gracy Line in Rawalpindi, on December 17, 2013, killing four persons. Likewise, four explosions, resulting in nine fatalities, were recorded in 2013 (till November 2), but the number of blasts as well as resulting deaths have witnessed a steep escalation in the current year, with at least 15 explosions registered, resulting in 49 fatalities, thus far. The numbers clearly suggest a rapidly deteriorating security environment in Punjab. Meanwhile, three terrorist formations have claimed responsibility for the attack. The al Qaeda affiliated anti-Shia group Jandullah, claiming responsibility for the attack, declared that it was in retaliation to the ongoing military operations – Zarb-e-Azb and Khyber 1 – in the North Waziristan and Khyber Agency, respectively, of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). [Operation Khyber 1 was launched by the Pakistan Army on October 31, 2014]. Later, ‘rubbishing’ the Jandullah claim, Jamat-ul-Ahrar (Group of the Free Ones), a breakaway faction of the TTP, claimed that the attack was engineered by “our friend Hafiz Hanifullah” in retaliation against operation Zarb-e-Azb, and had been carried out to send a bold “open message to Governments on both sides of the border”. JuA ‘spokesman’ Ehsanullah Ehsan declared, “It was a suicide attack and the target were the Pakistani Security Forces protecting the Shia community.” Another group introducing itself as the TTP’s Mahar Mehsud faction also called reporters to claim responsibility for the attack. Correctly identifying the actual perpetrators of the attack will be crucial in view of Islamabad’s ‘new policy’ on fighting terror. Interestingly, on February 26, 2014, while unveiling its first ever counter-terrorism policy, Pakistan announced that “every act of militant violence would be met with retaliation on their bases”. Federal Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had then announced, “We have made a significant shift in our policy, now we will react to each and every act of terrorism in the country with an attack on the headquarters of the militants along the Afghan border. Whenever there is a strike anywhere, we will target the headquarters of the militants and it is because of this new policy that we have been carrying out precise strikes in the tribal areas.” Operations in the tribal areas of FATA have been ongoing for last over four months. According to most reports, all the terror groups which have claimed responsibility for the Wagah attack are headquartered in these areas only. Since these areas are already under attack, “without any discrimination”, according to Islamabad’s past claims, it is not clear what impact the ‘targeting of militant headquarters’ could possibly have. Crucially, SAIR has noted earlier that operations in the tribal areas have amounted to little more than pointless symbolism and the Wagah incident demonstrates that the operational capacities even of TTP-linked groups remain substantially untouched. Pakistan’s broader strategy of sponsoring and protecting Afghanistan- and India-oriented terrorist formations, of course, remains entirely unchanged, creating an environment that allows anti-Islamabad groups to flourish as well.
Pakistan's Shia Genocide : Takfiri terrorists attack Shia mourners with bombs; two martyred in Orakzai
At least two Shia Muslims were martyred and several were injured after Takfiri Taliban terrorists attacked on Ashura procession with mortar shells in Orakzai Agency in Pakistan’s Northern area, The Shia Post reports. In terrorist attacks Miramat Ali S/O Hussain Khan, aged 20 years and Ghulam Abbas S/O Ezan Ali, aged 14 years were martyred. Both martyrs were resident of Dara Mani Khel Kalaya area or Orakzai. According to details, the Shia Muslims were taking Ashura procession on their way to Imambargah, the takfiri terrorists attacked on them with mortar shells and rocket launchers. Despite of heavy firing and bomb attacks on Ashura procession the Shia mourners of Imam Hussain AS continued their Azadari and chanted slogans Labaik Ya Hussain (AS). “There were seven huge bomber were fired on mourners and four vehicles were also came under attack” an eye witness said.
Pakistan's Cruel Muslim Fanatics - PCC Holland Chapter strongly condemn live burning of Christian couple
Parvez Iqbal, President, Pakistan Christian Congress Holland Chapter in his message to, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab and Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Pakistan has strongly condemned live burning of a pregnant Christian woman Shama Bibi together with her husband Shahzad Masih were burnt alive by a Muslim Extremists and local population of the area on the instigation of Yousaf Gujjar owner of the Brick Factory and his manager with false allegations of violation of blasphemy and setting fire on to pages of Quran in a Brick factory of Muslim owner in Chak Number 58 near Kot Radha Kishan of District Kasur in Punjab Province is shining day light and in presence of huge Muslim population. As per information group of Muslim religious brutally tortured Shahzad Masih and his wife Shama Bibi before throwing both of them in high flames of Brick factory. Until their last efforts, Shahzad and Shama were trying to explain their innocence and crying of help for mercy but the Muslim Peoples were enjoying and shouting “Allah hoo Akbar” (God is Great) Including local police and notables of the area no one stepped forward to hear their cries and save them. Local police arrived on the spot of incident after more than half an hour when Muslim Peoples burnt innocent Christian couple. Police Check Post is located on a distance of minute and easily visible from the brick factory. Police officer and his staff were on duty but kept their eyes closed and mouth zipped despite keeping their oath to protect Local population in time of their troubles and danger, but intentionally police officials became an eye witness of this historical and tragic incident of burning a Christian couple live like sticks despite doing their job to safe Christian couple. Still, Staff of Local Police is trying to protect their religion fellows despite registering a case, arrest of culprits and bringing the issue to its true justice to avoid repetitions of such satanic incidents by the Muslim Peoples and their religious leaders. Parvez Iqbal, in appeal to Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab and Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Pakistan and Political Leader to take due interest and fastest action to file a criminal case against Yousaf Gujar, his manager, and all those who were involved in throwing innocent and poor couples in Flames, all of them were arrested with immediate effect and after completion of all legal proceedings true and speedy justice be given to Christians in Pakistan and all due protection and safety be assured to the Families of Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi. IF NOT SO, Christians will feel that misuse of blasphemy laws all over in Islamic Republic Pakistan by the Muslim Extremists and Religious leaders has a support of Government and Law enforcement of Agencies.
In Pakistan, 17 people are on death row for blasphemy, and dozens more have been extrajudicially murdered.Rashid Rehman, a 53-year-old lawyer, was known throughout the south of Pakistan's Punjab province as a staunch defender of human rights, representing peasants, workers, women and members of religious minorities in cases against their alleged oppressors for over 20 years. When people had nowhere else to turn, local rights activists say, they came to Rehman. But that door has now been closed. Late on May 7, Rehman was shot and killed in his Multan office by unidentified assailants. His crime? Defending Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer who had been accused of committing blasphemy by hardline student groups in March last year. "Rashid was the master of so many virtues. He had a huge heart, and he had a great intelligence. He even made people laugh. He was a very good man, but he was also serious and committed to his work. He lived for it all, and died for it," Zaman Khan, an official at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, of which Rehman was the Multan co-ordinator, told Al Jazeera. Rehman, who had earlier been threatened in open court by the complainants in the case, has become the latest person to be extrajudicially murdered in a case related to Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws, which often rile public sentiment. Since 1990, at least 60 people have been killed outside the Pakistani justice system in cases relating to blasphemy, according to the Islamabad-based Centre Research and Security Studies (CRSS). The list includes lawyers, alleged blasphemers and even politicians calling for amendments to the law. That last category includes former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and former Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti.
Judges and lawyers under threatcritics say the laws, at least one section of which carries a mandatory death penalty, create an atmosphere of religious intolerance. "While purporting to protect Islam and the religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority, Pakistan's blasphemy laws have in fact fostered a climate of religiously motivated violence, and are used indiscriminately against both Muslims and non-Muslims," said Jan Wetzel, an Amnesty International researcher. "They violate the basic human rights of freedom of religion and thought. These laws are often used to make unfounded malicious accusations to settle personal scores in land and business disputes [and] are also arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary." While the core of Pakistan's blasphemy laws date back to 1860, during British rule, military ruler Zia-ul-Haq made a raft of changes in the late 1970s and 1980s. As a result, while there were only seven blasphemy cases lodged from 1851-1947, there were 327 such cases from 1977-2012, according to the CRSS. Currently, there are at least 17 people convicted of blasphemy on death row in Pakistan, with another 19 serving life sentences. The issue runs deeper than the volume of cases, however. Many lawyers told Al Jazeera that because blasphemy cases often inflame public sentiment, they are seldom dealt with fairly by the courts. "The main issue that you face is a general mindset within the court, especially after Salman Taseer's murder, that it's a matter that has become so sensitive that nobody really wants to touch it," said Muhammad Ali*, a Lahore-based lawyer who frequently deals with blasphemy cases. Ali said the burden of proof in blasphemy cases was low and that despite the fact that it was difficult to prove blasphemy allegations, lower court judges - often under threat themselves - felt pressure to convict. "If someone commits murder, you know there is a body. You see a body. You know by looking at it that … there was some wrong done. With blasphemy, there is no real proof needed. It's clearly his word against yours, and based on that little thing you are killing someone. The burden to prove is so easy and open. Especially mentally ill people who have been accused, they cannot defend themselves. It's too easy to prove someone to be a blasphemer," he said. That's an assessment with which Fatima Butt*, a lawyer currently representing several people either alleged to have committed blasphemy or convicted of having done so, agrees. She said, however, that the fact that blasphemy cases often gain traction in the public sphere is pushing judges towards convicting the defendants. "There are two kinds of judges in this blasphemy field. [There are] those who genuinely have their hands tied behind their backs, because there is a threat to their lives. But there's a fair amount of lawyers, prosecutors and judges who are making a name for themselves by … sentencing blasphemy convicts," she told Al Jazeera. One of Butt's clients is Muhammad Asghar, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who was convicted of having committed blasphemy by a Rawalpindi court in January, and now faces the gallows. Butt listed a litany of irregularities in Asghar's case, from the constitution of a medical board to certify his sanity in the presence of a mob calling for him to be publically lynched, to an adversarial judge who, at one point, kicked Asghar's legal team out of the court. "We were forcibly kicked out of court. Our client was screaming that he did not agree to this, that [the state-appointed counsel] was not his attorney," Butt said. Pakistan's religious parties all support the blasphemy laws in their current form. Jalil Jan, a spokesperson for the Jamaat Ulema Islami-Fazl (JUI-F), a religious political party, said the laws "are part of the constitution of Pakistan, and we made it a part of the constitution with much difficulty ... We will fight to keep the law as it is. This is Allah's work, to fight against those who would insult the prophet." "The state is the only one who can punish people, but the state must punish on [blasphemy] cases," Jan told Al Jazeera. "If it does not, then these sorts of incidents [of vigilantism] will definitely happen." In September 2013 the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body that advises parliament on the Islamic aspects of laws, recommended against any amendment to the blasphemy laws. 'A tool to settle scores' Butt, like Rashid Rehman in Multan, has faced death threats throughout her representation of Asghar. She said that when it came to appeals, she was often unable to find high court judges who were willing to hear the case, due to its sensitive nature. This is a common problem, lawyers in the field say, and one that other high-profile blasphemy case convicts are also facing. That unwillingness to be associated with the case does not seem to extend to the other side. For example, Mumtaz Qadri, the policeman who shot dead Salman Taseer for his opposition to the blasphemy laws, was showered with rose petals by many lawyers on his way to his court proceedings. Qadri was convicted of murder, and is imprisoned in the same Rawalpindi jail where Asghar is incarcerated. The former policeman has developed a following as a religious hero, lawyers say. "Mumtaz Qadri, his cell is about 12 metres away from the blasphemy cell. So the blasphemy convicts are kept near him, where he can roam around freely, while they can't roam around anywhere because they're considered to be 'under threat'," said one lawyer who frequents the Adiala Jail premises to meet clients. One lawyer said that the threat of lynching for those accused of blasphemy, whether they are in or out of jail, "is very real". Lawyers also said that blasphemy laws are often used as a mask for other disputes. In Asghar's case, for example, the complainant who accused him of blasphemy was also engaged in a property dispute with him. "This has become a tool to settle personal scores. You will not see any genuineness in any of these cases," said Khan, the HRCP official. Threat of 'vigilante justice' International law experts, meanwhile, including those at the United Nation's Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), say blasphemy laws are incompatible with human rights commitments. "Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)]," the UNHRC has said. "Pakistan's laws and practice are particularly egregious [with regards to blasphemy], with its constantly-abused law penalising blasphemous acts with the death penalty or life in prison. In addition to state enforcement, mobs feel enabled, under the cover of this law, to mete out vigilante justice against individuals deemed to have committed blasphemy," noted the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in its annual report this year. Despite those commitments, however, the blasphemy cases in Pakistan continue to pile up, often for seemingly innocuous incidents. The CRSS has documented cases in which blasphemy cases have been lodged due to the design of an Ahmadi mosque, the throwing away of a visiting card in a dust bin, a Christian pastor quoting the Holy Quran, the naming of a child and even spelling errors. In the latest example, Pakistani police on May 12 lodged a blasphemy case against 68 lawyers protesting against the allegedly illegal detention by police of a colleague. Their crime? Raising slogans against the local police chief, Umar Daraz. Activists from a banned Sunni Muslim sectarian group who lodged the case said the slogans hurt their religious sentiments, because "Umar" is also the name of a revered follower of the Prophet Muhammad. And for those who protect the rights of alleged blasphemers, there appears to be no-one to protect them. "With blasphemy, whenever I go to court, I am always considered to be the enemy … I was actually asked in one of the cases, 'How much money have you sold yourself for?' There are people there representing murderers and rapists, and that's fine, but you represent a blasphemer and people then question your integrity. That question should never come up with a lawyer," said Ali. "[Rashid Rehman's killing] sends a message that there should not be rule of law. What was his fault? His fault was that he was fighting rule of law. He was offering legal help to his client to give him access to justice under the law. That was his biggest fault, and that is why he gave his life," said Khan.