Pakistan Christian teen detained over ‘Koran burning’

In Pakistan, it is illegal to drink, eat or even smoke in public during Ramadan. You can be sent to jail, heavily fined, or may even be beaten by vigilantes.

Pakistani police have arrested a Christian teenager after he was allegedly caught burning pages of the Koran. It’s the latest incident in Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy-related arrests and vigilante killings.

Pakistan Blasphemie Proteste gegen Mädchenschule in Lahore (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Police said Sunday that Asif Massih, an 18-year-old member of the minority Christian community, was caught “red handed” desecrating the Muslim holy book, the Koran. The incident took place in the central Punjab province.

“On the night of August 12, police received a complaint that a Christian boy has been found burning pages of the holy Koran outside the shrine,” Asghar Ali, a police official, told the AFP news agency.

Another security official, Pervaiz Iqbal, said a crowd of 200 people had gathered outside the police station demanding that Massih be handed over to them for vigilante punishment.

“We then secretly moved the culprit to the police station in Wazirabad where he was interrogated and confessed to his crime,” Iqbal said.

A sensitive matter

Massih was charged under section 295-B of Pakistan’s penal code that makes the death sentence mandatory for insulting Islam.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where around 97 percent of its 180 million inhabitants are Muslim. Rights advocates have long been demanding a reform of the controversial blasphemy laws, which were introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.

Activists say the laws have little to do with blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas. Religious groups oppose any change to the blasphemy law and consider it necessary for Pakistan’s Islamic identity.

In April, 23-year-old journalism student Mashal Khan was killed by a vigilante mob over allegations of blasphemy in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Mardan.

At least 65 people have been murdered by vigilante mobs over blasphemy allegations since 1990.

Living in fear

Pakistan’s Christians and other religious minorities complain of legal and social discrimination. In the past few years, many Christians and Hindus have been brutally murdered over unproven blasphemy allegations.

One of Pakistan’s most high profile blasphemy cases is that of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was found guilty of committing blasphemy while working in the fields in 2009 and was sentenced to death. In 2014, her death sentence was upheld by the Lahore High Court. Amnesty International called the verdict a “grave injustice.”

Read: Asia Bibi’s appeal against death penalty – A test case for Pakistan

In one case, a young girl between the ages of 10 to 14 years with Down syndrome, was accused in August of 2012 of burning pages upon which verses of the Koran were inscribed. Rimsha Masih was taken into police custody and only released months later, when charges were dropped. The case caused an uproar in her home town and beyond and sparked riots and violence against Christians in the region. In 2013, she and her family relocated to Canada.

In 2014, a Christian couple was beaten to death for allegedly desecrating a copy of the Koran. Their bodies were subsequently burned in a brick kiln.

State support

Pakistan’s liberal activists blame their country’s authorities for emboldening religious fanatics.

In June, a Pakistani court sentenced a man to death for committing blasphemy on Facebook.

“This vigilantism is being supported by the state as well as the judiciary. Religious clerics are fanning hatred. Even the civil society has failed to perform its duties,” Aatif Afzal, an Islamabad-based rights activist and communication strategist with a media development organization, told DW.

Government critics and secular writers in Pakistan fear religious extremists and the government alike when it comes to blasphemy allegations, which are enough to put them in prison or get vigilante mobs to lynch them.

Read: Blasphemy allegations – the new way of muzzling free speech in South Asia

The “abduction” of liberal bloggers in January – allegedly by Pakistan’s security forces – and the lynching of a secular journalism student shocked activists and the journalist community in Pakistan. There has been increased social media vigilantism, which is forcing critics of the government and military as well as human rights activists to censor their thoughts and words.

Activist Afzal says that blasphemy violence will not stop in Pakistan until the government takes firm action against vigilantism and those who wrongly accuse people of blasphemy.

“It can be a defining moment in Pakistan’s war against religious extremism. But I am afraid the political parties will not act. They are only interested in securing their vote bank,” Afzal told DW, adding that Pakistani civil society will continue to build pressure on the government to reform blasphemy laws.

International Furor Erupts Over Embryo Jewelry Business

Baby Bee Hummingbirds, which founder Amy McGlade told me is a “two-mama small business,” hand makes rings, necklaces, and earrings using baby hair, breast milk, “loved ones ashes,” and discarded embryos

LIFE | Company that makes pendants from discarded embryos vows to forge ahead. Written by Samantha Gobba

An Australian company has pledged to continue creating jewelry from human embryos despite facing international backlash.

Baby Bee Hummingbirds, which founder Amy McGlade told me is a “two-mama small business,” hand makes rings, necklaces, and earrings using baby hair, breast milk, “loved ones ashes,” and discarded embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF).

After couples succeed in having a child with the help of IVF, they often have a number of unused embryos. If the couple doesn’t want to implant any more of their children, they pay a yearly fee to leave them frozen, donate them to another couple to implant, thaw them and have them thrown away, or now, thaw them and have them made into jewelry.

Family Research Council’s Arina Grossu told me she found the work “sickening and disturbing,” and she’s not alone.

Last month, Baby Bee Hummingbirds offered a discount for jewelry made with embryo ashes to “make the process more affordable and easier on families.” After the Australian site Kidspot featured their products in a story of one of their customers who now wears the ashes of seven embryos around her neck on a pendant, people flooded the company’s inbox with disapproval.

“We have received thousands of vile, cruel, and unimaginable emails and messages,” the company posted on Facebook on Saturday. “Death threats and hate have flooded our accounts.”

The owners vowed to ignore the outcry and “follow our hearts and those that seek our service” to keep making embryo jewelry.

In the Kidspot article, the featured couple chose not to donate their embryos created during six years of IVF treatment, pay the yearly storage fee, or have any more children themselves. The embryo jewelry “brought me so much comfort and joy,” Belinda Stafford said.

“My embryos were my babies—frozen in time. When we completed our family, it wasn’t in my heart to destroy them,” Stafford said. “Now they are forever with me in a beautiful keepsake.” Grossu sees it differently.

“In creating the jewelry, she’s actually destroying them,” she said. “I think what this couple is grappling with is that they have made human beings and, in a sense, they are trying to assuage their own consciences about them.”

She said she fears the publicity the company is getting may encourage others to start making embryo jewelry and promulgate the “philosophy of commodification,” or making and destroying humans at will.

“We have to go back to an understanding of the dignity and value of each human life, even when that human being is just a few days old, and respect the dignity, the beauty, of that human being,” Grossu said.

Christians should walk alongside those couples who struggled with infertility and have undergone IVF treatment, showing them options that don’t destroy embryos, she said: “We have to act differently toward those new human beings, those little embryos.”

 

Oklahoma Police Chief Defends Posting Bible Verses After ACLU Threatens to Sue

The Mounds Police Department Facebook page features a banner depicting a police officer with angel wings, and has continued posting Bible verses and calls for prayer despite the controversy.

Mounds, Oklahoma, Police Chief Antonio Porter defended himself amid lawsuit threats from the American Civil Liberties Union, which criticized him for posting Bible verses on the police department’s Facebook page and questioned whether the department can protect non-Christians.

Porter said in an article in News on 6 on Friday that he starts each day by reading his devotional.

“Right after that, I immediately post them on Facebook and on LinkedIn,” the police chief said.

He said that his intention at first was not to get a “bunch of likes,” but revealed that the response from the town community has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I would hear stuff like, ‘Wow, I needed this.’ It would just hit right to their heart,” he said.

The ACLU, which often challenges institutions it deems are violating the separation between church and state, sent Mounds Mayor Rosa Jackson a letter on Wednesday, arguing that the Facebook Bible verses represent “direct advocacy for the Christian religion,” calling them “inappropriate” and “unconstitutional.”

“By promoting one specific religion on its official Facebook page, the Mounds Police Department has established clear preference for that faith above other faiths and above no religious faith at all. This kind of government interference with our religious freedom is simply not permissible under United States or Oklahoma law,” wrote Brady Henderson, the ACLU of Oklahoma’s legal director.

“In addition to the clear violation of one of the central tenets of American government, freedom of religion, the actions of the Mounds Police Department call into question whether or not the department can be trusted to adequately protect all those living under its jurisdiction, including members of minority faiths and those of no religious faith at all,” Henderson continued.

“By establishing a preference for the Christian faith, the department undermines confidence in their ability to perform their duties in a manner consistent with our understanding of one of our most basic and cherished liberties.”

The Mounds Police Department Facebook page features a banner depicting a police officer with angel wings, and has continued posting Bible verses and calls for prayer despite the controversy.

“Matthew 21:22: All things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive,” one post on Friday read.

Another one from Wednesday quotes 2 Corinthians 4:8-10: “We are pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not to despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed; always carrying in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”

Porter said in an interview with FOX23 that he is not concerned about ACLU’s letter.

“With all the negativity in the world, it is time for people to start coming together with positive words and prayer,” he stated.

[written by Stoyan Zaimov]