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Blasphemy Law victim Asia Bibi’s Plight triggers Demonstration in Australia

Asia Bibi has suffered the ignominy of seven years of imprisonment on trumped up charges because her faith was offensive to Muslims

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Aasiya Noreen, better known as Asia Bibi. Wikimedia

October 8, 2016: Pakistani Christians have expressed great joy and fear on news that Aasiya Noreen, better known as Asia Bibi- Pakistan’s most famous blasphemy law victim will finally have her long awaited Supreme Court appeal heard during the second week of October. Now it seems that the whole world is joining the protest.

To fight against the Pakistan Blasphemy law, Australia has also come forward to show their protest by organising a rally recently. The rally started at 11am on the steps of the Parliament House of NSW 6 Macquarie St Sydney. Followed by which a petition was presented to the Pakistani Consulate at 109 Pitt St Sydney at 12.30 pm – a short walk from Parliament house.

The plight of a Pakistani Christian mother of five who has been jailed for seven years under the notorious blasphemy laws of Pakistan, has led to a demonstration in Sydney Australia. The demonstration coincides with the start of a Supreme court appeal against the blasphemy charge laid against her.

We ask Australians to Step Up and involve themselves in the Campaign To Save Asia Bibi From the Blasphemy Death Sentence and oppose Sharia Law in Australia, says Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA). He has also made efforts to give voice to Asia Bibi’s sufferings:

“Asia Bibi has suffered the Injustice of five years imprisonment for a made up crime. A cultural faux pas and innocuous comment made while being attacked, led to her being raped her children sexually molested and her arrest under the draconian blasphemy laws of Pakistan for good measure.
‘As a devout Christian, she continues to believe God will free her from her ignominious incarceration. She prays daily and has placed her life and her family before God.”

“I have spoken to Pakistani government officials and the judiciary. All I have spoken to are shocked at the ongoing abuse of her liberty. Yet her tragedy continues and I have come to the conclusion that all I have been receiving is diplomatic lip service, devoid of passion for justice.”

“Her story is one of oppression and discrimination and despite international pressure, statutory authorities and the Government of Pakistan have failed her, just as they have failed all minorities in Pakistan.”

Protesters are calling for the Australian Government to intervene on behalf of Asia Bibi, who they say was falsely accused of denigrating the Islamic prophet Muhammed. They seek diplomatic engagement between the Australian Government and Pakistani Government to ensure that Asia has a fair trial and that her family. the judiciary and legal team representing her are fully protected from any violence from hard-line Muslims in Pakistan.

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Demonstrators are also demanding the Australian Government ensures that the principle of ‘one law for all’ is maintained in their country. The preservation of the democratic nature of Australia as a nation and the condemnation of Islamic Sharia law for its imposition on the freedom and equality of adherents and non-Muslims, wherever Sharia is observed.

A letter with these aim is to be submitted to Parliamentarians based at Parliament House of New South Wales. The letter will also call for Australian Government to reconsider the $49 million dollars of aid given to Pakistan. With a desire that the aid be terminated unless Pakistan significantly improves its poor human rights record.

Asia Bibi. Twitter
Asia Bibi with her children. Twitter

Australian Justice of the Peace, Michael Andjelkovic, said:

“This case demonstrates the cruelty, unequality and divisiveness of Blasphemy Law under islamic sharia law towards non muslims and is something that we do not want in Australia.”

During the protest Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, will lead a delegation to the Pakistan Consulate in Sydney, where a petition calling for freedom for Asia Bibi will be submitted. The electronic petition can be signed by(clicking here)

Wilson Chowdhry further said:

“Asia Bibi has suffered the ignominy of seven years of imprisonment on trumped up charges because her faith was offensive to Muslims.

“People of good conscience everywhere have demanded justice for Asia, moved by the plight of an innocent mother of five.

“Pakistan’s government have failed in their duty to Asia and the Christian minority amongst them as a whole, their failure has been a blight on Pakistan’s already tarnished reputation.

“Please pray that this appeal is expedited and that the judge is able to reach a rational verdict, based on evidence heard without any duress. “

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He added: “Major donors such as the UK and the USA are starting to use aid as leverage for better human rights, and as a major donor to Pakistan ($47 million), Australia can have a significant role to play.

“Australia’s official policy involves tackling poverty by generating sustainable growth and employment, as well as focusing on education and health, all worthy goals. Some of the poorest Pakistani citizens are Christians, and unfortunately they are typically kept there by a combination of debt-slavery and direct and systematic religious oppression, frequently including systematic sex slavery and targeting of Christian girls and women for kidnap, rape, forced conversion and marriage. Australia simply must use their aid budget to remove this social disparity.”

Asia Bibi is a Christian mum-of-two sentenced to death by hanging and currently on death row in a Pakistani prison. Her crime? She had been picking berries for paid work in the village of Itan Wali, Punjab, in June 2009. Then she offered water to a fellow human being after drinking at a rural well – without realizing followers of Christ were not allowed to relieve their thirst there, only Muslims. The harsh social norms of Pakistani culture means that Christians are ‘untouchables’ – the lowest. Many Muslims in the country believe, to put it crudely, that members of churches are akin to dogs. Christians are seen as a mat upon which you can wipe your feet.

Sounds harsh and unrealistic?

Asia Bibi’s story is a perfect example of the above ‘untouchable’ claims. She suddenly found herself in a heated discussion with local Muslim women who made fun of Christianity on that fateful day when she fetched water. Asia, defending her beliefs, asked: “Jesus died on the cross for us, but what has Mohammed done for you?” This simple statement caused a frenzy amongst her Muslim co-workers. They instantly called her pro-Christian comments ‘blasphemy’, although she had every right to discuss her faith under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which Pakistan is a signatory).

The horrifying result was that Asia was brutally beaten and raped. Her two daughters, one with special needs, were also abused by the mob and some reports suggest sexual assault was involved. Her husband and five children are now in hiding while she waits to be executed. An appeal was refused in October 2014 and Asia is vulnerable to attacks inside the remote prison – even though a death sentence is still levied against her. In spite of all she faces, Asia has stayed true to her Christian faith.

Pakistan’s Blasphemy law is an ever-present weapon of discrimination which looms over Christians in Pakistan. This is a law that we at the BPCA have constantly condemned because a significant reform, or abrogation, is desperately needed. As in the case of Asia Bibi, blasphemy charges are laid with flimsy evidence simply on the account of a Muslim witness against a non-Muslim (it is more complicated with Muslim-to-Muslim charges).

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Some 50 per cent of blasphemy charges are made against Muslims in blasphemy cases – and the other 50 per cent levied against non-Muslims who make up only five per cent of the population. These facts show the unbalanced hatred meted towards minority faiths. Christians makeup just 1.6 per cent of the overall population and yet 15 per cent of blasphemy charges are laid against followers of Christ. Recent figures indicate this percentage is set to grow.

-by NewsGram team

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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India’s Textile and Fashion Heritage now part of Google project

Google's project 'We Wear Culture' is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

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we wear culture
Google's new art project 'We wear Culture' digitizes fashion, Wikimedia
  • Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India
  • It intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures
  • Its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

June 15, 2017: To a certain extent, a culture is defined by what is worn by its people. In a country as diverse as India, vast and varied spectrum of cultures and clothes is one of the specialties. Google’s latest virtual exhibition project now provides us the opportunity to explore and know more about it.

Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago, from the ancient Silk Road to the unmatched elegance of the Indian Saree,  from the courtly fashion of Versailles, to the Victorian ballgowns with intricate thread work.

According to Amit Sood, director of Google Arts and Culture,”We invite everyone to browse the exhibition on their phones or laptops and learn about the stories behind what you wear. You might be surprised to find out that your Saree, jeans or the black dress in your wardrobe have a centuries-old story. What you wear is true culture and more often than not a piece of art.”

Culture is defined by what is worn by its people. Click To Tweet

The company also mentioned that noteworthy collections from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) and varied weaves from across India, from Gharchola to Patola to Temple to Ikat sarees will be included in the online project, as it intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures.

ALSO READ: New Google Project Digitizes World’s Top Fashion Archives.

According to PTI reports, the world fashion exhibit also includes designs from north-eastern India including the weaves of tribes such as the Nagas, Meitis. it will showcase the traditional attire from Meghalaya called ‘Dhara’ or ‘Nara’ worn by the Khasi women as well.

As a part of the exhibit, Sewa Hansiba Museum has brought the unique colorful and rich embroidery arts, applique and mirror work from different communities such as the Ahir, Rabari, Chaudhury Patel and many others from the western part of India online.

The exhibition conducted by Salar Jung Museum brings to light the Sherwani and its journey of becoming the royal fashion statement of the Nizams from 19th century Hyderabad. Fashion and textiles enthusiasts can revisit Colonial Indian attires with Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum. Over 400 online exhibitions and stories sharing a total of 50,000 photos, videos and other documents on world fashion are open to exploration as well.

The ‘We wear Culture’ initiative highlights significant events in the growth of the world fashion industry; the icons, the movements, the game changers and the trendsetters like Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Audrey Hepburn and many more.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang

 

 

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Premature Babies Score Lower on Standardized Tests than Full-term Infants: Study

Very prematurely born babies did score lower on standardized tests than full-term infants, but as the length of pregnancy increased, the differences in test scores became negligible

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A nurse holds the hand of a premature baby
A nurse holds the hand of a premature baby, who was born at five months of pregnancy, at a hospital in Medellin, Colombia. VOA
  • Premature birth happens when a baby is born before at least 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • The study found that two-thirds of those born at only 23 or 24 weeks were ready for kindergarten on time
  • The study also showed that almost 2 percent of those infants later achieved gifted status in school

June 14, 2017: A study following more than 1.3 million premature babies born in Florida found that two-thirds of those born at only 23 or 24 weeks were ready for kindergarten on time, and almost 2 percent of those infants later achieved gifted status in school.

Such very prematurely born babies did score lower on standardized tests than full-term infants, but as the length of pregnancy increased, the differences in test scores became negligible, according to the study, conducted by Northwestern University and published on Monday in JAMA Pediatrics medical journal.

“What excites me about this study is that it changes the focus for the clinician and families at the bedside from just focusing on the medical outcomes of the child to what the future educational outcomes might be for a child born early,” Craig Garfield, the first author of the study and an associate professor of pediatrics and medial social sciences at Northwestern Medicine, said in a statement.

Researchers analyzed the school performance of 1.3 million infants born in Florida from 1992 to 2002 who had a fetal development term of 23 to 41 weeks and who later entered the state’s public schools between 1995 and 2012.

They found that babies born at between 23 and 24 weeks tended to have normal cognitive functions later in life, with 1.8 percent of them even achieving gifted status in school.

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During the time period the study covered, 9.5 percent of children statewide were considered gifted.

Premature birth happens when a baby is born before at least 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A normal pregnancy term is around 40 weeks, and a preterm birth can lead to serious medical problems, underdevelopment in early childhood or death for the infant.

The study does not account for why these extremely premature infants later performed well in school, Garfield said in the statement, and did not look at whether their success could be related to extra support from family or schools, or the children’s biological make-up. (VOA)