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Minutes of the First Meeting held at Karachi Press Club

December 30, 2010

Minutes of meeting convened by Professional Organisations Mazdoor Federations & Hari Joint Committee (POJAC) to discuss proposed amendments in the ‘blasphemy law’ and to strategise on how to deal with the issue, Dec 19, 2010 Karachi Press Club

The Progressive Writers’ Association sent a message saying that they supported the efforts being made by this forum regarding the blasphemy law, but had another meeting with regards to the Faiz Centenary events being planned for 2011.

Noor Mohammad, President, Port Workers Federation and Makhdoom Ayub Qureshi Pakistan Trade Union Federation (info secy) came to express support but had to leave in order to attend the Faiz meeting.

People raised very valid points and observations. There was general agreement on the following:

  • The ‘religious’ right wing, despite never having won at the polls, wields disproportionate street power. They are coming out in big numbers and have chalked out a long programme to keep the pressure on against any repeal or amendment to the blasphemy law.
  • Those who believe the law is wrong, or is being misused, do not have that much street presence. Holding demonstrations at this point may be counter-productive. The huge numbers on the other side will give the impression that retaining these laws is what ‘Pakistanis’ want.
  • There is confusion among people about these laws. People are afraid they will be seen as un-Islamic if they support repeal or amendment. They are afraid to come out into the street in support of something they are not convinced about.
  • In the current situation, to demand outright repeal is unrealistic.
  • Geo campaign against Hudood laws was effective but it came on the heels of years of campaigning by NGOs and activists and was initiated at a time when Hudood laws were not such a hot political issue. We need such a campaign about blasphemy laws but media is unlikely to take up this particular issue, it is too ‘hot’ at present. However, we can push for media to cover activities like seminars at which we invite prominent speakers they cannot ignore
  • There is a need to highlight information about blasphemy cases, including the fact that all are registered 3-5 days later by mischief makers
  • Even if law is amended/repealed, the atmosphere has become very dangerous. Need to counter vigilante action and mob rule through public awareness, education, legal changes.
  • No point in preaching to the converted, need to convert fence-sitters and ant-amendment/repeal folks
  • Go by Zardari’s public statements, not rumours that PPP politicians have been privately told to suppress the issue – remember he pushed through the Human Organs Transplant Law despite huge opposition, but it was the culmination of a campaign that lasted years. This should also be treated as a long-term campaign. (Law minister has been reined in, is not making pronouncements any longer)
  • Politics is about power. We need to collect power even if it is moral, ethical power and not street power.
  • We need to support the government in its initiative to at least amend the law, even if this means coming across as pro-government. (This is not and should not be seen or projected as political support for any individual or party but for the wider issue and cause)

Following are the basic points agreed upon with suggested action points and those who will take it forward:

Point raised Action point Who When
1.

We need to build up support repeal or at least amendment of these laws through a long-term awareness campaign, not a one-off event.

 

Signature campaign: print out the existing e-petition campaign that has thousands of signatures and present it to government Naeem Sadiq tbd
2.

Need to educate politicians and police on the issue

 

Educate politicians

Organise a briefing/info session for Sindh MPAs to start with, aim to get Sindh Assembly to pass resolution to support the amendment bill

Nuzhat Kidvai

Nasir Mansoor and others

3 WAF wrote a letter to MPAs, MNAs that should be followed up Re-work WAF letter to take to Sindh MPAs Nuzhat Kidvai with Naeem Sadiq
4 Police are quick to register FIRs for blasphemy cases (not so for other cases). Say they ‘protected’ accused from mob violence by registering FIR – not necessarily

Educate police

Hold briefing sessions with police to sensitise them on the issue

5 Push for the onus of proving an accusation should be on accuser, not on accused, who must be presumed innocent until proven guilty (included in amendment bill).

Support blasphemy law amendment bill

 

6.

Every govt has allowed lawbreakers to get away with inciting or enacting violence.

 

Take action against the maulana who announced a Rs 5 lakh reward for the murder of Aasia Noreen

Push for existing laws regarding perjury, incitement to violence, hatred, murder, to be implemented and those involved in such actions and false accusations punished.

7 Obtain support of religious scholars who have already agreed that the law needs amendment. Seek out ulema and religious scholars who are willing to listen to reason, with a view to eventually (after getting several on board) go public.

Salim Akhtar & others are working on this

 

8

Several ulema are already on board eg. Ghamdi, Zaheer, Khalid Masood.

Council of Islamic Ideology has also called for amendment in law as reported in papers of Dec 19 – Tribune report at http://bit.ly/eAqn4c

Publicise these statements Everyone
9

There is no capital punishment for blasphemy in Quran & Sunnah.

WAF was about to hold a seminar on blasphemy law when floods hit. All the material is ready and can be utilised immediately including video, blasphemy fact-findings report etc.

Organise information seminar (first of several all over Pakistan) to discuss the issue, including religious scholars who have said blasphemy law needs amendment; highlight the fact that all blasphemy cases are registered 3-5 days later by mischief makers etc

 

10 Need to study information about blasphemy law & who it affects. Mansoor Raza’s report for Justice and Peace Commission contains such info. HRCP has also got a lot of information. Extract information from these reports for dissemination Mansoor Raza & Beena Sarwar
11 Need to build a broad-based alliance on this issue (Joint Action Committee is no longer active and perhaps the does not convey the pro-activeness we want to project. Citizens for Democracy is broad but at the moment its focus is the blasphemy law).

Convert this meeting into a body, forum or joint platform that will incorporate POJAC as well as NGOs and individuals under a name to be mutually agreed eg. Citizens for Democracy

 

Nasir Mansoor to bring left parties & trade unions

Everyone to tell other like-minded groups and individuals

Next meeting Sunday 4 pm at PMA House, to involve more people

POJAC (Professional Organisations Mazdoor Federations & Hari Joint Committee) member organisations:

  1. Sindh High Court Bar Association
  2. Pakistan Medical Association
  3. All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation
  4. Mutahida Labour Federation
  5. Karachi Union of Journalists
  6. Pakistan Workers Federation
  7. All Pakistan Trade Union Federation
  8. All Pakistan Clerk Association
  9. Democratic Labour Union State Bank of Pakistan

10.  UBL Workmen Union (CBA)

11.  National Bank Trade Union Federation

12.  Karachi Bar Association

13.  Pakistan Nursing Federation

14.  National Trade Union Federation

15.  Sindh Hari Committee

16.  Gov. Sec. Teachers Association

17.  Pakistan Hotel And Restaurant Workers Federation

18.  Mehran Mazdoor Federation

19.  All Sindh Primary Teachers Association

20.  Sindh Professor Lecturer Association

21.  Malir Bar Association, Karachi

22.  Pakistan Trade Union Federation

23.  Railway Workers Union Open Line (cba) Workshop

24.  Mehran Railway Employees Welfare Association

25.  All Pakistan Trade Unions Organisations

Those present at the meeting included:

Lawyers Nadir Burney and Ali Kabir Shah (both with Five Rupees blog), Nuzhat Kidvai of WAF; from PMA Dr Habib Soomro, Dr S. Tipu Sultan, and Dr Samrina Hashmi; journalists Khurshid Abbasi (KUJ), Gul M. Baloch, Asim Ghani and Beena Sarwar; Nasir Mansoor and Mushtaq Alishan, LPP; Saleem Akhter, POJAC, Noman Quadri, student; Noor Mohammad, President, Port Workers Federation, Makhdoom Ayub Qureshi, Pakistan Trade Union Federation (info secy), and Naeem Sadiq, Nasir Arain, Sana Maniar, and Mohd. Nafees.

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