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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Murder of 8 Christians may spark blasphemy law review

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Several days after a Muslim mob in Pakistan killed eight Christians over rumors that a Koran — Islam’s holy book — was desecrated, that country’s prime minister has pledged to review laws he says are “detrimental to religious harmony.” Yousuf Raza Gilani’s Aug. 6 announcement raises the prospect of changes in Pakistan’s controversial “blasphemy” laws, which can impose penalties as serious as death for perceived insults to Islam, the Prophet Muhammad or the Koran.

“A committee comprising constitutional experts, the minister for minorities, the religious affairs minister and other representatives will discuss the laws detrimental to religious harmony to sort out how they could be improved,” Gilani said, according to the Associated Press. He spoke to a gathering in Gojra, where eight Christians were murdered and dozens of homes of Christians were burned after a false rumor circulated that a Koran had been defiled.

Several government officials visited the city to promise assistance and financial aid, including $1.2 million to repair damage caused by the rioting, the AP reported. Gilani did not provide additional details or a time frame for the assistance.

PAKISTANI TEEN FIGHTS BACK AFTER RAPE BY THUGS, POLICE — A teenage girl who was held as a sex slave by criminals for a year — and then raped by the police officers she went to for help — decided to fight back, rather than follow her culture’s custom and commit suicide to restore her family’s “disgrace.”

Assiya Rafiq was sold by a family friend to two criminals with ties to prominent politicians in Meerwala, Pakistan, according to a New York Times report. The two men held her captive for a year, beating and raping her regularly, until they were implicated in a robbery. They bribed police to pin the crime on the girl and turned her over to them. The police then held her for two weeks, beating and raping her themselves. When her parents learned she was being held at the police station, they petitioned a court for her release.

In Pakistan’s conservative Muslim culture, rape victims often commit suicide to clear their families of the “disgrace” they have suffered, but Assiya, 16, decided to fight back and told her story to a judge, who ordered a medical exam, The Times reported.

“The morning I met Assiya, she said she had just received the latest in a series of threats from the police: Unless she withdraws her charges, they will arrest, rape or kill her — and her two beloved younger sisters,” Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote. “The family is in hiding. It has lost its livelihood and accumulated $2,500 in debts. Assiya’s two sisters and three brothers have had to drop out of school, and they will find it harder to marry because Assiya is considered ‘dishonored.’ Most of her relatives tell Assiya that she must give in. But she tosses her head and insists that she will prosecute her attackers to spare other girls what she endured.”

“I decided to prosecute because I don’t want the same thing to happen to anybody else,” Assiya told Kristof.

Assiya’s mother, Iqbal Mai, said she used to pray that God not give daughters to poor families, to avoid such suffering. “But then I changed my mind,” she told Kristof. “God should give poor people daughters like Assiya who will fight.”

ATROCITIES HELP MULLAHS MAINTAIN CONTROL — Iran’s religious regime resorts to atrocities to maintain control of the country, a member of the greatly feared Basiji paramilitary militia has told the Jerusalem Post. The militia member, whose identity was withheld to protect him from retribution, said Basiji recruits as young as 14 and 15 were allowed to use violence against peaceful protestors, rob people on the street, steal from stores and molest young women.

The all-volunteer Basiji militia was created in 1979 as a “people’s militia” to solidify Iran’s Islamic revolution, the Post reported. The Basiji member interviewed by the newspaper said he and other members of the security forces had been arrested themselves for showing leniency toward citizens who were protesting fraudulent presidential elections that kept the country’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in June.

The Basiji fighter told the Post the regime resorts to inhumane strategies to instill fear in the populace. He said he himself had participated in one practice, in which unmarried girls are “married” to a militia member prior to their execution because Iranian law forbids the execution of virgins. A “wedding” ceremony would be conducted the night before the execution and the prison guard “husband” would force himself on his new “bride.”

“I could tell that the girls were more afraid of their ‘wedding’ night than of the execution that awaited them in the morning,” he told the Post. “And they would always fight back, so we would have to put sleeping pills in their food. By morning the girls would have an empty expression; it seemed like they were ready or wanted to die.

“I remember hearing them cry and scream after [the rape] was over,” he added. “I will never forget how this one girl clawed at her own face and neck with her finger nails afterwards. She had deep scratches all over her.”

JORDAN REVOKING PALESTINIANS’ CITIZENSHIP — Thousands of Palestinians living in Jordan are being stripped of their citizenship to keep them from being permanently resettled in the country. The new measure has increased tensions between Jordanians and Palestinians, who make up around 70 percent of the kingdom’s population, the Associated Press reported.

Those tensions were illustrated by an incident in which thousands of Jordanian soccer fans chanted slogans that condemned Palestinians as traitors and collaborators with Israel during a match against a rival Jordanian-Palestinian team, the AP reported. the Jordanian fans threw empty bottles and fireworks at the Palestinian players and their fans and anti-riot policemen had to interfere to stop the Jordanian fans from lynching the other team members and their supporters.

“Many Palestinians living in Jordan are convinced that the Jordanian authorities are trying to squeeze them out,” Ismail Jaber, a lawyer, told the AP. “There is growing discontent and uncertainty among Palestinians here.” He said hostile attitudes became more apparent after Binyamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister in Israel. Some Jordanian government officials reportedly believe Israeli leaders want to turn Jordan into a Palestinian state.

The revocation of citizenships is seen as a preemptive measure, and has created panic and uncertainty among Palestinian “refugees” in Jordan, the AP reported. Jordanian officials insist they are merely avoiding a situation in which Palestinians would be prevented from returning to their original homes inside Israel.

Since 1988, when the late King Hussein cut off his country’s administrative and legal ties with the West Bank, Jordanian authorities have been working toward “disengaging” from the Palestinians under the pretext of preserving their national identity.

Jordan’s interior minister, Nayef al-Kadi, said Palestinians would be permitted to keep the ID cards issued to people with families and homes in the West Bank, the AP reported. A Palestinian Authority official in the West Bank expressed concern over the revocation of citizenship, saying it would only worsen the plight of Palestinians living in Jordan.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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