Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pakistan may abolish blasphemy laws?

This could be of considerable interest if it goes through - might it knock the use of these laws in Afghanistan, for example, on the head?


Pakistan to Abolish Blasphemy Laws

Dan Wooding and Sheraz Khurram Khan

ASSIST News Service

January 19, 2009

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- The Federal Minister for Minorities, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, has said that Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws 'will be abolished.'

Talking to ANS by phone the minister said he was struggling to ensure religious freedom, human dignity and social justice in Pakistani society.

“Religious minorities have been neglected, victimized and oppressed in Pakistan,” he said. “They have faced constitutional and institutionalized discrimination and inequality but our government is committed to address the long-standing issues of minorities. We are making all-out efforts to uplift and empower minorities.

Shahbaz Bhatti maintained that minorities have played a crucial role in Pakistan’s growth and nation building.

“Pakistan would not have risen on the map of the world without the crucial contribution of minorities,” he stated.

He recalled that minorities had cast their decisive vote in partition of the province of Punjab.

The Minister said he had come to parliament to advocate the case of the oppressed and the down-trodden people. He said he would never hesitate from giving any sacrifice for his people.

On Wednesday, January 14, a group of Christian lawyers from different parts of Pakistan held a meeting in Islamabad to discuss the issues being faced by religious minorities of Pakistan. The lawyers discussed minorities-related problems at length. The meeting also discussed steps taken by the Pakistan Peoples Party government for the betterment of religious minorities of Pakistan. After the meeting, they then visited the Federal Minister for Minorities, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, at his office.

“We, Christian lawyers, appreciate President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani for taking concrete steps such as the allocation of a five percent job quota for minorities, the declaration of August 11 as Minority Day, minorities representation in Senate, increase in minorities reserved seats in provincial and national assemblies, declaration of official celebration of religious festivals of minorities and review of all discriminatory laws facing minorities,” said a resolution which was passed unanimously by the lawyers.

The lawyers said they appreciated induction of Mr. Bhatti as Federal Minister for Minorities’ Affairs and put their full confidence in his leadership.

“We appreciate his long struggle to uplift and empower religious minorities. We also assure the present government that we will remain with the government through thick and thin under the leadership of Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti for the equal rights of religious minorities of Pakistan,” the resolution added.

It also said, “We extend our full support to the present democratic government which is committed to fulfill the vision of founding father Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. We pledge to continue our efforts for supremacy of constitution, sovereignty of parliament and establishment of enlightened and moderate society which is free from every type of discrimination and inequality.”

Those who attended the meeting included Advocate Azra Shujaat, Jamshaid Rehmatullah, Aamir Jacob Randhawa, Eric Alam Sandhu, Sadqain Gardner, Rai Zafar Naveed Bhatti, Sohail Shahzad Advocate, Javed Masih, Qaisar Haroon Gill advocate, Ruth Bashir Advocate, Shazia Gulzar Advocate and Haroon Suleman Khokhar.

Copyright 2009 ASSIST News Service

Friday, January 09, 2009

Libel tourism - another case to follow

While, according to Justice Eady, it is "fashionable to rail against libel tourism" English law will not bar it - at least not in the case that 'Magic' Alex Mardas, long resident in Greece, has now brought against the International Herald Tribune (published in France) and the New York Times. One to follow...


Monday, January 05, 2009

ECHR defamation cases: imprisonment & enforced apologies

In the recently decided case of Mahmudov and Agazade v. Azerbaijan, the European Court of Human Rights reaffirmed that imprisonment is not a permissible sanction in defamation cases. Unfortunately, it also continued to rule it out altogether, stating that imprisonment may be permissible "where other fundamental rights have been seriously impaired, as, for example, in cases of hate speech or incitement to violence" (para. 50). Note that this does not limit imprisonment to situations of hate speech - hate speech is given as one example. While this certainly hints in the right direction, it is still not the kind of unequivocal language one might expect from a human rights court and gives government the opportunity to keep the sanction of imprisonment on the books. Not helpful...

Meanwhile, in Kazakov v. Russia, the Court offers this interesting statement: "to make someone retract his or her own opinion by acknowledging his or her own wrongness is a doubtful form of redress and does not appear to be “necessary”". Given that 'forced' apologies are a common feature of the defamation law in many European countries, this statement may have interesting ramifications for future cases.