The Federal Shariat Court in Islamabad, in yesterday's hearing of its full bench, cleared Zafran Bi Bi of all charges and acquitted her. Zafran, who had been accused of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning in early May, is free at last!
This is the victory of rationalists from all over the world, who reacted to our call and expressed their deep concern about Zafran's fate and the state of human rights in Pakistan in nearly three thousand e-mail letters to President Musharraf during the last weeks, demanding his intervention. On 2 June, one day after receiving our last Bulletin, the President issued a public statement, assuring that "they (the Federal Shariat Court) would not allow the sentence to be carried out" - and in fact, in the sweeping decision of 7 June, Zafran was awarded a first-class acquittal.
The victory which we could achieve together with hundreds of Human Rights and Women's Rights activists in Pakistan, who have put up a courageous and determined fight at the home front, is a triumph over the forces of religious extremism and the brutal and inhuman social order they try to enforce wherever they are powerful enough. Though Zafran Bi Bi's case has become an encouraging symbol and a mile stone in this fight, time has not yet come to celebrate. As long as the draconian Quran-based hudood law remains in force and is used as a ready weapon to suppress thousands of women in the country, our victory remains a temporary one.
The hudood ordinance was installed under the military regime of General Zia ul Haq in 1979 and opposed by Human Rights and Women's Rights advocates ever since. It bans all kinds of extramarital sexual contacts and is used especially for the suppression of women. Women are nearly always taken as the guilty part, even if, as in Zafran Bi Bi's case, they are victims of rape! The hudood laws don't make any difference between consensual and forced sexual contacts. Thousands of women in Pakistan are accused of zina (adultery) every year and many of them are kept in prison for 10 to 15 years. Though the law gives judges the option of condemnation to death by stoning, such a condemnation did not occur since the early 80s. Zafran Bi Bi's case marks a strengthening of the religious right, which is trying to increase its influence again.
Reacting to the massive protest against the conviction of Zafran Bi Bi, the Council of Islamic Ideology, Pakistan's top religious body, has announced a basic review of this law. This unusual move is again a great victory. But reviewing is not enough. The hudood law as well as the entire religious based legal system has to go and make place for a modern and secular legal system, if Pakistan is to free itself from the clutches of religious obscurantism.
Dr Shaikh is still in the death cell...
Rationalist Dr Younus Shaikh, founder president of The Enlightenment, the Pakistani organization for the promotion of secularism, scientific temper and reason, is still languishing in the death cell. He was arrested in 1999 and accused of blasphemy. On 18 August 2001, the lower court condemned him to death. The appeal filed by his family in the High Court is still in pending. The case is moving very slowly. Dr Shaikh's life is in danger, not only because the death sentence could be confirmed, but also because the fundamentalists are after his blood and may be waiting for an opportunity to "implement Allah's will" on their own.
Rationalist International and several other organizations world-wide have been campaigning vigorously for the release of Dr Shaikh ever since his arrest.We request you to join us in our efforts for his rescue and for the abolishing of the draconian blasphemy law in Pakistan.
For more details of the case of Dr Shaikh, please visit the web site of Rationalist International http://www.rationalistinternational.net.