Bulletin # 111 (6 July 2003)



Afghanistan: Government orders editor’s arrest for blasphemy

Tom Flynn now Honorary Associate of Rationalist International

Pakistan: Courageous moves against the new Taliban

"Missing Link" established in Ethiopia


Afghanistan: Government orders editor’s arrest for blasphemy

The new US-backed government of Afghanistan has banned the weekly Aftaab for publishing "sacrilegious" articles. All copies of the journal have been confiscated from stands and vendors. Chief editor Sayed Mir Hussein Mahdavi and his Iranian assistant Ali Reza Payam Sistany were arrested in Kabul June on 17 on orders of the government and interrogated by the office of the Attorney General. There were no written arrest warrants issued before the arrest. The two journalists are currently held in the Kabul detention center, waiting for their fate. They are accused of violating the press law of the Islamic state, which prohibits in its Article 31 offences against Islam. The Supreme Court of Afghanistan can straight away open blasphemy trials against alleged offenders proposed by the government and decide their punishment.

Rationalist International strongly condemns the arrest of the two journalists and the act of press censorship. In a letter to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Sanal Edamaruku, President of Rationalist International, wrote: "After the long and dark phase of religious despotism, Afghanistan needs nothing more urgently than freedom of expression and freedom of press to recover and create a positive future for her people. We call upon you to use your high office to guarantee these basic rights and prevent a return to the old Taliban practices of brutal suppression in the name of religion. We request you urgently to drop all charges against Sayed Mir Hussein Mahdavi and his assistant Ali Reza Payam Sistany and release them without delay."

Protest letters demanding the immediate release of the journalists have also been sent by the USA-based Committee to Protect Journalists (PCJ) and the press freedom organization "Journalists without borders" in France.

"Religion plus governance is equal to despotism", is according to deputy information and culture minister Abdul Hamid Mubariz one of the "sacrilegious" remarks, leading to the arrest. "These are sensitive and blasphemous issues about which we cannot remain indifferent", the minister said. Mahdavi’s supporters say the government clearly misuses the press law and tries to settle private accounts under the cover of religious concern. Mahdavi is a reformist who does not hide his conviction that Afghanistan needs a secular government. Moreover he is an uncompromising writer, who keeps public memory open like a gaping wound. He bluntly criticizes Taliban leaders (many of them back in office) and many of the anti-Taliban politicians alike for working "at the cost of the blood of the people". In his article "Holy Fascism", which appeared on 11 June in Aftaab, he accused leaders of the Northern Alliance including former President Rabbani and present Vice President Khalili for the role they played during the civil war between 1992 and 1996, which killed more than 50,000 people and brought the Taliban to power.


Tom Flynn now Honorary Associate of Rationalist International

Tom Flynn
Tom Flynn

We are pleased to announce that Tom Flynn, Editor of the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry, has joined Rationalist International as an Honorary Associate.. Tom Flynn is the author of several books and hundreds of articles in the field of rationalism (or call it: secular humanism) and is presently editing the New Encyclopaedia of Unbelief (updating and substantially extending Gordon Stein's work). His sometimes jovial and humorous, yet deeply committed, knowledgeable and competent contributions have earned him respect inside and outside the movement. He calls himself a "fully recovered catholic".


Pakistan: Courageous moves against the new Taliban

The Supreme Court of Pakistan may put a stop to the implementation of Islamic law in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). On 2 June 2003, the NWFP, ruled by the Islamic hard liner coalition Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), became Pakistan's first province adopting Shariat. It is also setting up a religious police force for the implementation of Taliban rules [see Bulletin # 110].

The passage of the Shariat Bill by the province assembly, however, was unconstitutional and un-Islamic, says a Constitutional Petition, meantime moved in the Supreme Court by eminent lawyer and university teacher Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khaki. According to the petition, filed under Article 184 (3) of the Pakistan Constitution, provincial assemblies do not have the legislative competence to pass such bills. Decisions regarding Islamization are a national matter, resting with federal institutions only. Dr. Khaki asked the Supreme Court to decide as a question of public interest, if any province assembly, dominated by small sectarian groups, though not provided in the constitution has the right to implement its own brand of Islam and Shariat.

"The members of the ruling parties in NWFP are neither educated nor developed enough to understand Islam and the contemporary issues of the modern world", says Dr. Khaki. "They belong to a particular school of thought and sect as they are trained in orthodox and outdated systems of madrasas" (Quran schools). In another Constitutional Petition, Dr. Khaki has recently challenged the educational background of 65 legislators of the MMA, demanding their disqualification. The petition holds that certificates issued by religious institutions are not equivalent with academic degrees, which have been mandatory for all candidates in the last election. The majority of the MMA leaders including their top brass tried to present religious titles, certified by religious organizations, for the university degree MA Arabic/Islamic studies. They are therefore ineligible to become members of assemblies and Senate.

The Supreme Court has sent notices to the legislators concerned to prove their educational status. Anticipating a favorable decision of the Supreme Court, an election tribunal of the Peshawar High Court has already disqualified one of the legislators of the NWFP assembly. The MMA has announced nation wide protest.

Dr. Aslam Khaki is well known for his courageous fight against fundamentalism. He has been defense lawyer in many blasphemy trials, among them the trial against Dr. Younus Shaikh. Neither Dr. Khaki's wisdom and commitment, nor an enormous wave of international protest against this case prevented, however, the death sentence against Dr.. Shaikh in August 2001. After two years and despite two appeals, Dr. Shaikh is still on the death row [details about the case in our web site www.rationalistinternational.net]


"Missing Link" established in Ethiopia

With the discovery of three fossilized skulls of a man, a woman and a child in Ethiopia, Palaeoanthropology has made a great leap forward. Or better to say, backward: The new ancestors of ours lived about 160,000 to 154,000 years ago and are by far the eldest known representatives of our species, at least 30,000 years elder than all other traces of Homo sapiens discovered before. In the timetable of Evolution, Homo sapiens idaltu ('elder' in local Afar language) has been established in the midst of the big black hole gaping between the earliest of the so far known modern humans and their not-yet-human predecessors. His position is very close to the legendary missing link.

"We've lacked intermediate fossils between pre-humans and modern humans, between 100,000 and 300,000 years ago. Now the fossil record meshes with the molecular evidence", said Prof. Tim White from the University of California at Berkeley, head of the international research team that made the path breaking discovery. The history of evolution has left its marks in our genetic code and biology has begun to read them. Studies of human DNA throw new light on the stations of our long journey through changing forms of life, supporting research in the field of Palaeoanthropology.

The discovery of the Ethiopian skulls provides striking evidence for the 'Out-of-Africa' theory, which holds that the cradle of humankind stood in Africa, from where the species in its early stages set out to spread around the world. Reports published in the last issue of the magazine Nature present details of the excavation near the village Herto, 140 miles northeast of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. Along with the skulls, the more than six hundred Stone Age tools could be secured, providing valuable clues about 'Herto man's' life. The skulls bore cut marks, most likely inflicted in the cause of mortuary rituals - possibly also an evidence for cannibalism. The skull of the six - or - seven year old child had to be reconstructed from more than 200 pieces, scattered in the sediment over a wide area - a puzzle work of more than three years.

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President: Sanal Edamaruku
Honorary Associates
Dr. Pieter Admiraal (The Netherlands), Prof. Mike Archer (Australia), Katsuaki Asai (Japan), Sir Hermann Bondi (UK), Prof. Colin Blakemore (UK), Prof. Vern Bullough (USA), Dr. Bill Cooke (New Zealand), Dr. Helena Cronin (UK), Prof. Richard Dawkins (UK), Joseph Edamaruku (India), Jan Loeb Eisler (USA), Prof. Antony Flew (UK), Tom Flynn (USA), Jim Herrick (UK), Christopher Hitchens (USA), Ellen Johnson (USA), Prof. Paul Kurtz (USA), Lavanam (India), Dr. Richard Leakey (Kenya), Iain Middleton (New Zealand), Dr. Henry Morgentaler (Canada), Dr. Taslima Nasreen (Bangladesh), Steinar Nilsen (Norway), Prof. Jean-Claude Pecker (France), James Randi (USA), Prof. Ajoy Roy (Bangladesh), Dr. G N Jyoti Shankar (deceased, USA), Barbara Smoker (UK), Prof. Rob Tielman (The Netherlands), David Tribe (Australia), K Veeramani (India), Barry Williams (Australia), Prof. Richard Wiseman (UK) and Prof. Lewis Wolpert (UK).

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