Atheist Still on Death Row!



“My convictions for the truth of our life stance are
indeed unshakeable and unbeatable”

– Dr. Younas Shaikh


Dear Friend,

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.

Please

    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 ce@pak.gov.pk.

    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 humanism@iheu.org

    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
campaign@iheu.org

Regards,

Babu Gogineni
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.

My Case

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