Bulletin # 146 (19 August 2005)



Pakistan: Author gets life term for "blasphemy"

Pakistan: Another blasphemy accused escaped fury of fundamentalists - for now

Iran: Two teenagers hanged

USA: Center for Inquiry granted representation at united Nations

USA: Nothing unconstitutional about the Pledge, says court

Nigeria: Pastors rob bank to build church

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Pakistan: Author gets life term for "blasphemy"

An anti-terrorist court in Karachi has sentenced the author of an allegedly blasphemous book to life imprisonment. The 40-year-old writer Younis Sheikh - a namesake without family relations of well known blasphemy law victim Dr. Younus Shaikh - was arrested some months back in Karachi while distributing his book about the Quran and the Islamic justice system. The book has the title "Shaitan Maulvi" (Satanic Cleric). The author had printed 5000 copies, which were seized by the police.

After the trial on 11 August, public prosecutor Naimat Ali Randhawa explained, the author had been found guilty of committing blasphemy as he described the four Imams, who were respected and recognized the world over as the third generation of interpreters of Islam after Prophet Mohammed, as Jews. According to the public prosecutor, it was another act of blasphemy that the author claimed that the punishment of stoning to death for adultery was not mentioned in the Quran.

Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Rationalist International, in a letter to the Pakistan government demanded the immediate withdrawal of the case against the author of "Satanic Cleric". He sharply protested against the misuse of the Anti-Terrorist law to persecute a critic of the degenerated religio-legal Sharia system. If Pakistan wishes to be considered a civilized society by the world, Edamaruku wrote, it has to end the discriminative and primitive way of functioning and guarantee freedom of expression and free flow of opinions.

Dr. Younus Shaikh, Pakistani rationalist, physician and Honorary Associate of Rationalist International, declared his solidarity with the accused author Younis Sheikh. He also pointed out that this was the first time in history that such a case was taken up by an Anti-Terrorist Court. Younis Sheikh was a peaceful man, an author and hotel manager in Karachi, he said. His book had nothing to do with terrorism. It was a very dubious legal procedure to invoke an Anti-terrorist court and the Anti-terrorist law. In such cases, Dr. Shaikh said, there was usually no lawyer available to plead the case and the state provided a solicitor, who would not actually defend the accused, but play into the hands of the prosecution. Dr. Shaikh called for wide publicity for the case.


Pakistan: Another blasphemy accused escaped fury of fundamentalists - for now

In Nowshera, in the fundamentalist-ruled North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), a 60-year-old Christian man accused of blasphemy was released on bail on 6 August. Judge Rafi Ulla braved the fury of the extremists, who chanted slogans and shouted threats outside the protected courthouse, and accepted Masih's appeal. The jail superintendent himself sneaked the Masih, who stood under mental shock, out to his waiting friends and urged them to take him to a safe place, as his life was in danger. Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the ruling fundamentalist six-party alliance, was demanding the death sentence for Masih."

Yousaf Masih was arrested on 28 June 2005 for allegedly desecrating the Quran. A sweeper by profession, he had been asked at his workplace to burn some papers. Later it was alleged that there had been some Quran verses among the burnt papers. Beaten up by the police and threatened by the Islamists, the weak elderly man, a heart patient, suffered a severe shock. After bail was granted, he and his family went into hiding.


Iran: Two teenagers hanged

Iran: Two teenagers hanged
Iran: Two teenagers hanged

The photo shows two young men, identified as "M.A." (18) and "A.M." (16), who were hanged in Mashhad on 19 July for havin sex with each other. According to reports of the Iranian Student Press Agency ISNA, which has also taken photos of the execution, the two teenagers were convicted under Islamic Sharia law, which punishes homosexual acts with death. During the trial, they admitted their sexual contact, but said they didn't know it was a capital offense. They also said that sex among youngsters was very common in Iran.

The judge refused to consider the age of the accused and sentenced them to death by hanging, violating the international agreements signed by Iran, which ban death sentences for youths under 21 years. Iranian human rights campaigners estimate that since 1979, when Islamic clerics seized power in Iran, more than 4,000 homosexuals - male and female - have been executed.


USA: Center for Inquiry granted representation at United Nations

Rationalist International congratulates the Center for Inquiry (CFI), founded and chaired by Prof. Paul Kurtz, for being granted "special consultative status" as a non-governmental organization (NGO) under the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The CFI is now entitled to designate official representatives to UN headquarters in New York and UN offices in Geneva and Vienna. It can participate in conferences and briefings open to NGOs, and generally present the scientific, skeptical, and secular humanist perspective to the international community.

Professor Paul Kurtz, Honorary Associate of Rationalist International, commented: "In an age of clashing fundamentalisms and unprecedented missionary evangelism, the commitment to secular government and freedom of conscience should be heard. In the coming century of bio-genetic science, scientific inquiry offers great opportunities for humankind and should be encouraged, not censored. Scientific rationalism needs to be present in deliberations at the UN." The Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York, is home to the Council for Secular Humanism, founded in 1980, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, founded in 1976, and the recently formed Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health. Research and educational projects focus on three broad areas: religion, ethics, and society; paranormal and fringe-science claims; and medicine and health.


USA: Nothing unconstitutional about the Pledge, says court

The USA remains "one nation under God" - and school children in Virginia have to keep on reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning as prescribed by the Virginia pledge law. Despite the reference to God, a three judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied that there was anything unconstitutional about the pledge and rejected the claim of Edward Myers from Sterling. Myers, a father of three little boys, had sued the Loudoun County School on behalf of two of them, 11 and 9 years old, for indoctrination with a "God and country" worldview.

The court ruled that the character of the pledge was purely patriotic and that "the inclusion of those two words [under God]..... does not alter the nature of the pledge as a patriotic activity."

"The problem is that young school children are quite likely to view the pledge as affirming the existence of God and national subordination to God," said Edward Myers lawyer David Remes. "The reference to God is one of the few things in the pledge that children understand." Myers belongs to the Anabaptist Mennonites, a Christian sect that gives special importance to the separation of state and religion, guaranteed in the First Amendment of the US-Constitution.

In summer 2002, the Supreme Court dismissed the case of the atheist physician and lawyer Michael Newdow against pledge reciting in public schools. Newdow had won in a federal appeals court in California. The judgment, conceding that "the phrase 'one nation under God' implies a government endorsement of religion", unleashed a wave of criticism and controversy. The US Senate passed a resolution against it, the Republican members of the House staged a demonstration, and George W. Bush announced that he would get this "ridiculous judgment" overturned. It was taken back under political pressure after one day. The Supreme Court later dismissed Newdow's appeal for lack of standing: he did not have custody of his daughter, on whose behalf he had sued her school [See report in Bulletin # 99].


Nigeria: Pastors rob bank to build church

Two pastors in Ondo State in southwest Nigeria have confessed to robbing a bank in order to raise funds for building their own church. Pastor Matthew Adeniji and Pastor Akeem Anjorin were among the members of a gang of seven, who robbed the NBN bank in the state capital Akure of 25 million naira ($ 188,000).

"I bought three cars with my own share of the money," Pastor Akeem told journalists proudly after his arrest. "I still keep other money that Pastor Matthew and I want to use in building our church, because we had plans of opening our own church." The two pious robbers are members of the "World Soul Winning Evangelical Mission" in Ibadan. Life behind bars is nothing new for them. Before starting their now interrupted career as church fathers, they had already spent some time in jail together. After their release they had turned born-again Christians and joined the Evangelical mission.

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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), Dr. Younus Shaikh (Pakistan), Barbara Smoker (UK), Richard Stallman (USA), Prof. Rob Tielman (The Netherlands), David Tribe (Australia), K Veeramani (India), Barry Williams (Australia), Prof. Richard Wiseman (UK) and Prof. Lewis Wolpert (UK).