Dr. Muhammad Younus Shaikh, a British educated medical doctor, and a professor of Physiology in a Medical College at Islamabad has been found guilty in a blasphemy case, filed a year ago under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal code, by a district court Additional Session Judge Mr. Saddar Hussain Malik and has been pronounced death sentence as well as a fine of US$ 1500.00 on 18th August, 2001. He has been allowed to appeal to the high court within a week (usually a month is given).
46 year old Dr. M. Younus Shaikh, born in 1955 is an ardent champion of liberal democracy, freedom of thought, rationalism, secularism and women's liberalism. Being a humanist, he believes that state and religion should be separated in a true democratic state. Inspired with these ideas Dr. Sheikh founded an organization called "Enlightenment", the Pakistan-based International Humanist and Ethical Union member organization through which he has been trying to propagate his ideas of democracy, liberalism etc. In public meetings and newspaper articles he has been championing the cause of women in Pakistan, denouncing the religious orthodoxy, fundamentalism and superstitions. While only a handful of people dared join his group openly, but he has many silent supporters who want that something must be done to save Pakistan from the clutches of Mullahs and Talebanism. He also founded another organization called the South Asian Fraternity, through which he wants to promote understanding, goodwill and friendship among the South Asians. He says, " We are loyal nationals of Pakistan as well as patriotic citizens of the World."
Dr. Shaikh closely worked with the sister organizations of the subcontinent as for example, Enlightenment has close contact with Indian Rationalist Association. In January, 1999 he actively participated in the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) conference in Bombay, India. For his secular activities which the Mullahs have interpreted as anti religious, anti Islam, and anti Pakistan. Many a times he and his old parents have been threatened by the fundamentalists; twice he lost his job until finally he was arrested on October 4, 2000 for his alleged 'blasphemous remark' about Prophet Muhammad (Sm.). The blasphemy accusation case against him was instituted by the police on the ground of his alleged remark in a class room. The case was registered in Islamabad's Margalla police station. According to the blasphemy law police can arrest an accused any time without warrant. Dr. Sheikh could not arrange effective legal defense, as most of the lawyers in Pakistan do not dare appear for the defendant for fear of becoming target of the Pakistani Mullahs and fundamentalists. When he was presented before the court on October 19, 2000 an aggressive group of about 20 clerics of the Islamic fundamentalist organization Majlis-i-Khatam-i-Nabuwat were present and tried to exert pressure on the magistrate. The process of fanatic pressure and mob mobilization continued throughout. During trial period he was cut off from all contacts except with his close family members and some human right personnel.
Like us entire civilized world should shudder at the news that in this century a human being can be tried for saying things borne and facts. The other charges of blasphemy against Dr Shaikh's utterances - allegedly made in the course of a routine lecture he gave in the classroom are equally ridiculous and malicious. None of the complainants to police were eyewitnesses to the alleged offence. The complaint was lodged by leaders of the Majlis Tahaffuz Khtm-i-Nabuwat (committee for the protection of the finality of the Prophethood), a conservative organization that is known for its notorious activities directed against religious minorities and non orthodox Muslims. In this connection NYT reports, " The Movement for the Finality of the Prophet, well known for pursuing blasphemers, filed a criminal complaint and sent a mob to the college and the local police station, threatening to set them on fire. In the course of the trial, one of the witnesses was completely discredited as it was revealed that he was not present in the class on the day. But this didn't have slightest effect on the learned judge who remarked in his verdict that Younus deserved to be hanged for making derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad."
Hundreds of people have been convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan, among them liberal and moderate Muslims, Christians and members of other religious minorities. The law itself is confusing, ill defined. Frequently, people don't know beforehand that they are committing an offence.
Dr. Shaikh, a bachelor, is now awaiting his death sentence to be executed in a condemned (death) cell. He is not even allowed to carry pen with him, and not allowed to see any one except his intimate family members. Two appeals have been filed on Dr Shaikh's behalf, one by his family another by human rights activists. Dr. Shaikh needs legal aids and financial help. Fortunately Advocate Mr. Abid Hasan Manto, Pakistan's well-known and respected civil liberation lawyer agreed to defend the case of Shaikh at the higher court free, who accepting case remarked, " It is my duty to defend Dr. Shaikh '. The influential 'Friday Times' of Islamabad has carried an extensive report on the case.
A team of dedicated Human Rights activists is working hard to provide support: moral, ethical, legal and financial, for Dr Shaikh in Pakistan, risking themselves in the process
Case of Tahir Iqbal, a Christian convert from Islam, and a paralysed young man of Lahore. He was allegedly accused of his blasphemous action: "has defiled Holy Quran by underlining with green marker, and thus has seriously injured our religious feelings", says the FIR, filed on December 7, 1990. Tahir case is a typical example where the justice has been subjected to sectarian affiliations. Although he is physically disabled, his bail petition was rejected, and the sessions judge passed the following remarks, "....since conversion from Islam to Christianity is in itself a cognisable offence involving serious implications, I do not consider the petitioner entitled to the concession of bail at this stage". But his trial could not be completed as he was poisoned to death in the jail before the day of court hearing fixed on July 21, 1992.
Case of Chand Barkat, 28, a Christian bangle stall holder, Mangal Bazar, Karachi. Out of jealousy, a nearby stall holder, Arif Hosain threatened him to leave the place or face severe consequences. When Barkat refused to comply with his order, Arif filed a blasphemy case against Barkat on 8th October 1991, alleging that he used derogatory remark against Prophet Muhammad (Sm.) and his mother. Fortunately he was acquitted by the lower court, a rare instance, for want of evidence.
Case of Gull Masih, again a Christian of Faisalabad. He was charged with a blasphemy case under section 295-C for using sacrilegious language about the Prophet and his wives on 10th December 1991. The complainant had a quarrel on some personal matters that led him to file a case. He was sentenced to death (November 2, 1992). The high court however released him for want of evidence after two years. The fundamentalists threatened to finish him off if and when he comes out of the jail. The humanists managed an asylum for him in Germany.
Case of Naimat Ahmed, 43, a Christian by faith, a dedicated teacher, poet and writer. He was alleged to have uttered highly blasphemous remarks against the Prophet and Islam. But this time the complainant, Farooq Ahmed, a zealous member of militant religious group (ASSP) did not go to the police, instead he took the law in his holy hand. Naimat was brutally killed by him. The murderer confessed that by killing a blasphemer he had won heaven.
Case of Salmat Masih, a minor of 12 years old along with Manzoor Masih, 37, and Rehamat Masih, 42 of Gurjanwala. All three were charged with writing insulting remarks against The Prophet on the wall of the village where they lived. In fact all of them were illiterate and did not know how to write. On June 5, 1994 while the three accused were leaving the lawyer's office in Lahore under police escort, a group of armed religious militants attacked them and killed Manzoor Masih. The other two and their escort John Josseph received grievous injures. The sessions court of Lahore passed death sentences to the remaining two accused. Fortunately again the high court released them. They fled the country after release. But a religious extremist, on that very account, murdered one of the senior judges of the Division bench, which acquitted the two Christians.
Case of Bantu Masih, 80, and Mukhtar Masih, 50. They were arrested for committing alleged blasphemy. Both were killed during police custody: Mukhtar was tortured to death at the police station, while Bantu, the old man was stabbed to death by a religious extremist in the presence of policemen.
Last month the Lahore high court upheld, for the first time, the death penalty awarded by a lower court in 1998 to Ayub Masih in a blasphemy case. Masih was reportedly accused of blasphemy following a land dispute with a Muslim landlord. The case has a sad story associated with it. When the verdict of the lower court in Faisalabad, pronounced death penalty in 1998, the Roman Catholic bishop John Josheph, who was present at the court, was so depressed that he shot himself to death in front of the courthouse. Bishops last words were, "Ayub, I am offering my life for you".
Press statement of a group of intellectuals from Bangladesh on Dr Younus Shaikh
(English version of the statement)
"We learned with deep anxiety and concern that a lower court in Islamabad recently has pronounced death penalty on Dr. Younus Shaikh under the blasphemy law prevailing in Pakistan. Forty-five years old Dr. Shaikh, a UK trained medical doctor is a teacher of Physiology in a Medical College in Islamabad. We wonder what is happening in the so called Islamic State of Pakistan where the words: freedom of speech, religious tolerance, freethinking and secularism are taboo. The offence that Dr. Sheikh has committed in the eye of the Mullahs is that he nourishes and nurture the noble concepts of freethinking, liberal democracy, mutual tolerance and respect among peoples irrespective of their religious faiths, and freedom of speech. He is the founder President of the organization "Enlightenment", a centre for cultivating freethinking and rationalism coupled with humanism. This is a member organization of London based International Humanist and Ethical Union -through which Dr. Shaikh has been propagating his humanistic ideas and ethics of human rights. These activities of Dr. Sheikh are the real offences to the eye of the theocratic Pakistani Government which more or less represents fundamentalists.
We have no language to deplore the verdict of the lower court; -this verdict of the court we regard is a judicial murder. We appeal to Pakistani President General Musharraf to drop this so-called blasphemy case against the innocent victim and urge upon for his immediate release. We also urge upon the Pakistani Government to repeal this malicious and ill-defined law(s) and release all the convicts & accused under trial forthwith.
We also appeal to our President and the Chief Advisor to the President to take up the matter with Pakistani Government at the highest level to secure immediate release of the dedicated humanist Dr. M. Younus Shaikh of Pakistan.
Professor Kabir Choudhury, National Professor, Writer, Dramatist, Intellectual, Cultural Personality, Educationist
Professor Zillur Rahman Siddiqui, Ex Vice Chancellor (J.N.U), Professor, Writer, Intellectual, Educationist
Professor Salahuddin Ahmed, Historian, Professor, Intellectual, Educationist
Professor Ajoy Roy, Scientist, Professor, Writer, Intellectual, Educationist
Professor Anisuzzaman Professor, Writer, Intellectual, Educationist, cultural personality
Professor Sirajul Islam Choudhury, Professor, Writer, Intellectual, Educationist
Professor A.M.M Harun ar Rashid, Scientist, Professor, Intellectual, Educationist
Professor Akhteruzzaman, Botanist, Professor, Educationist
Professor Rangalal Sen, Social Scientist, Professor, Educationist
Professor Muntasir Mamun, Historian, Professor, Popular writer
Mrs. Rezoana Choudhury Banya, Singer (Tagore songs), Cultural Personality
Shri Ramendu Majumdar, Dramatist, Actor, Cultural Personality
Mr. Jamil Choudhury, Linguist, Vice President, National Tagore Songs Conference Association, Cultural Personality
Poet Shamsur Rahman, Poet, Writer, Cultural Personality
Sayed Shamsul Huq, Novelist, Poet, Dramatist, Cultural Personality
Shri Santosh Gupta, Journalist, Columnist, writer
Shahriar Kabir, Journalist, writer
Mr. Wahidul Haque,Tagore songs Specialist, President, National Tagore Songs Conference Association, Cultural Personality
Rokeya Kabir, President, Nari Pragati Shangha (Women Progressive Society), Cultural Personality
Mrs. Sanjida Khatun, Tagore songs specialist, Cultural Personality, Vice President, National Tagore Songs Conference Association.
Mrs. Shyamali Nasreen, Teacher, Educationist.
Mr. Badruddin Hosain, Columnist, writer, Educationist Educationist.
|Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka, September 17, 2001|