Atheist Still on Death Row!
"My convictions for the truth of our life stance are indeed unshakeable and unbeatable"
- Dr. Younas Shaikh
Dr. Shaikh has been in prison since October 2000. The kangaroo court trial where the judge was intimidated by a crowd of menacing clerics has resulted in his conviction on charges of blasphemy. Death sentence - mandatory under Pakistan's barbaric blasphemy laws - was pronounced against him on 18 August 2001, and he has been in a Death Cell since then, with little personal contact with the outside world or with his supporters.
And yet Dr. Shaikh's courage is unflagging. He continues to inspire with his courage and determination - even while he is facing the death penalty, and even if he still has no firm date for his appeal to be heard by the High Court. Here is a letter Dr. Shaikh wrote me from his Death Cell in November - he is normally denied even pen and paper under prison rules - reaffiming his faith in Humanism and Secularism. Dr. Shaikh points out that he raised the problem of the Taliban and the Madrassas already in 1999 at the 14th World Humanist Congress of the International Humanist and Ethical Union in Mumbai.
At a time when President Musharraf of Pakistan is making some positive moves to keep the fundamentalist religious forces in his country in check, and trying to loosen the iron grip of medieval religion in his country, it is astonishing that one of the most modern persons in that country is languishing in a small death cell, instead of helping his fellow country men move forward towards a better future. A peace activist like Dr. Shaikh deserves to be feted in a sub-continent which so often is on the brink of war. As you will see in his letter, the problem of Kashmir may also have something to do with his arrest ...
In his letter Dr. Shaikh thanks the IHEU for the campaign. In fact, the thanks are due to YOU for having kept the case alive. You have in the past signed petitions in Dr. Shaikh's support, and asked General Musharraf as well as the politicians in your own country to intervene and to ensure justice is done to him. You have also contributed money to help pay for his legal defence and for his welfare. As the IHEU's webpage shows, there has been worldwide support to Dr. Shaikh; thousands have signed petitions in his support; several national governments were beginning to take an official stance about Dr. Shaikh - only the events of 11 Septmeber resulted in his case being eclipsed. But Dr. Shaikh must not be abandoned: his case is symbolic and even more important since the events of 11 September. For he is the victim of religious terrorism too.
Dr. Shaikh's case can be the focus for the international efforts to reform or eliminate Pakistan's blasphemy laws. But there are hundreds of others languishing in prison on charges of blasphemy in that country: Christians, Ahmadis and other religious minorities. All of them will benefit from our campaign.
It is time to ask whether blasphemy laws should remain on the statute books of any civilised country? If they exist in your country's criminal procedure code, it is time to ask your politicians why religion needs special protection. It is also important to ask whether ideas and beliefs that need the power, support and the protection of the state for their survival can still retain their ethical quality?
The IHEU has raised these issues at the UN and elsewhere: for details, I would like to invite you to read the latest issue of the International Humanist News now available online at www.iheu.org as a pdf file.
1. Write again to your local newspaper.
2. Ask your elected representative what concrete action he or she may have taken since the last time you contacted them.
3. Write to President Musharraf at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Forward to IHEU any press clippings or news of major media coverage relating to blapshemy laws and the Dr. Shaikh campaign.
5. Forward this communication far and wide so that more people can be involved in the campaign.
6. Join hands with the IHEU in our campaign to rid the world of blasphemy laws and to achieve complete Separation of Religion and State in all countries. 2002 marks the bi-centenary of the famous letter by Thomas Jefferson on the 'Wall of Separation between Church and State'. Become an individual supporter of the IHEU and strengthen the IHEU's work. Details can be found on the website or e mail email@example.com
7. Establish a weblink from your webiste to the IHEU's webpage at www.iheu.org
In a 15 minute discussion on BBC World Service just over a week ago I was able to raise the issue of Dr. Shaikh and blasphemy laws around the world; The Times UK carried a letter from the IHEU on the subject of blasphemy and Dr. Shaikh, well known columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee has written an article on Dr. Shaikh today in Pakistan. The campaign has again kicked off. Please join it and do feel free to draw inspiration from Dr. Shaikh's own courage and to quote from his letter to me. Please copy all your communications to firstname.lastname@example.org
Executive Director, IHEU
Edited extracts from Dr. Shaikh's letter to Babu Gogineni, Executive Director, International Humanist and Ethical Union (www.iheu.org). (Written in November 2001):
I hope this letter finds you in the best of your health. I am well and trying to keep fit. Well, the 11th September US tragedy brought a lot of grief for the loss of valuable American lives. Indeed, it was a great loss for humanity and civilization. Religious barbarism struck a blow and awakened the world to the horrors of religious dogmatic beliefs and practices; as well as it stressed the need for humanism, liberalism and secularism. I wrote a letter to the US Embassy here, as well as sent a message expressing my grief to Prof. Paul Kurtz and American humanists.
As you might remember, my paper 'Deeni Madarsas and Rise of Taliban' presented at IHEU's Mumbai Congress fringe was on this topic. Indeed, globalisation of the world village exposed even the most developed societies to the religious barbarism of most backward societies. And here intensely arises the question of developing and morally supporting the third world liberal persons, associations and governments. Mere slogans of democracy are not enough. Globalization of Humanism, Liberalism and Secularism is necessary not only for the good of the third world countries but also for the 'spiritual' and physical defence of the developed and civilised world.
Now about myself: on 18.08.01 Capital Punishment was pronounced against me, though the case did not merit this.
1.) On 1 October 2000 I attended a meeting of South Asian Union addressed by an ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) Brig. Shaukat Qadir (retd.) also running a religious-political association of Jamait - I - Islami. I asked a couple of questions about South Asian peace and Kashmir which offended him & he returned a threat. There were foreign office policy makers and newsmen sitting there.
2.) Within 48 hours, a foreign office Pakistan's employee who was also my student at the medical college I used to l