Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Asia Bibi acquitted, but is she safe? Fighting over blasphemy in Pakistan is far from over

Asia Bibi acquitted, but is she safe? Fighting over blasphemy in Pakistan is far from over

This is a day that human-rights activists have wanted to see for a long time.

Asia Bibi has been acquitted of blasphemy charges in Pakistan.

That’s the lede. What has impressed me in the early coverage of this decision is the degree to which international desk pros in several newsrooms grasped the importance of the news that will unfold after this story. I am talking about the reaction among Muslims who defend their nation’s blasphemy laws, which are used to punish freethinking Muslims more often than Christians, like Bibi, and believers in other religious minorities.

I could have lived without some of the political labels that many editors allowed in descriptions of key players in this story. I was also surprised how few reporters seemed interested in Bibi and the details of her own story.

But we will come back to that. Here is the top of a strong NPR story with the breaking news:

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday announced the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy in a case that has roiled the country.

In the courtroom, it took less a minute for the Chief Justice, Saqib Nisar, to upturn a series of legal rulings that had kept Bibi on death row for eight years. In terse remarks to the hushed, packed courtroom, he said that Bibi's conviction and sentence had been voided. 

In a 56-page verdict issued after the ruling, the three-judge bench appeared to side with Bibi's advocates. They have maintained that the case against the 51-year-old illiterate farmhand was built around a grievance by her fellow Muslim workers who appeared angry that she might drink from the same vessel as them. She was ordered by a local landlord to bring water to the women on a day while they were picking berries.

If you want to dig into the details, head over to this strong collection of background material that the BBC team had ready to go.

A major question: Bibi is now free, but is it safe for her to be free?

After all, most alleged blasphemers are killed by mobs, not legal representatives of the state. And, in the past, state officials who dared to criticize the blasphemy laws have paid a high price.

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So many journalism questions remain, about current status of evangelism and missions in India

So many journalism questions remain, about current status of evangelism and missions in India

Why is Compassion International closing its doors (for now) in India?

That was the question at the heart of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), which explored some of the themes in my post this week that ran under the headline, "Compassion International and India: The New York Times leaves a UN-shaped hole." I would urge you to click here and read the original Times piece on this topic.

Does the Times piece tell us why Compassion is leaving India? Well, it does and it doesn't. And that is where things get complicated, for readers and listeners who have never worked in a newsroom.

Patience please, as we try to walk through this.

You see, there is evidence in this important Times piece that various officials in India are saying different things. The evidence offered can be interpreted in a number of different ways and it's pretty obvious that the Times team was asking questions that the authorities in the Bharatiya Janata Party didn't want to address. So, as public officials often do, they declined to answer questions.

So what do we know? Let's look at four different options.

(I) At one point, it appears that Compassion is being pushed out because of accusations that its work led to people converting to Christianity. The charity, to use Times language, was suspected of "engaging in religious conversion."

(II) However, at another another point, Compassion officials deny accusations that they are --

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Compassion International and India: The New York Times leaves a UN-shaped hole

Compassion International and India: The New York Times leaves a UN-shaped hole

If you have followed news in India in recent years, you know that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party -- commonly known as the BJP -- has continued its efforts to promote "Hindutva," or Hindu-ness, which essentially argues that Hinduism is an essential component of what it means to be a citizen of India.

Thus, it's goal is to defeat secular pluralism and the recognition of a valid role for other faiths in public life. The side effect has, in many cases, been a crackdown on many of the activities of other faiths in India -- especially ministries linked to foreign groups.

Tensions between Muslims and Hindus remain a fact of life. Meanwhile, attacks on Christians -- including a much-publicized gang rape of a 71-year-old nun -- have risen by 20 or 30 percent in recent years.

This brings us to a detailed New York Times report on the latest battle in this conflict, which ran with this headline: "Major Christian Charity Is Closing India Operations Amid a Crackdown."

The key is that officials in India are accusing a major ministry of evangelism, of converting people to Christianity.  What the story never addresses are these questions: As a matter of human rights, do citizens in India have the right to convert to another faith? Do members of one faith have a right to discuss their faith with others? Here is the overture:

NEW DELHI -- India’s crackdown on foreign aid will claim its most prominent casualty this month, as a Colorado-based Christian charity that is one of India’s biggest donors closes its operations here after 48 years, informing tens of thousands of children that they will no longer receive meals, medical care or tuition payments.
The shutdown of the charity, Compassion International, on suspicion of engaging in religious conversion, comes as India, a rising economic power with a swelling spirit of nationalism, curtails the flow of foreign money to activities it deems “detrimental to the national interest.”

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A BBC puzzler: Defense of a universal human right is now an 'evangelical' thing?

A BBC puzzler: Defense of a universal human right is now an 'evangelical' thing?

If there are readers out there in cyberspace who have been reading GetReligion for a decade-plus, the odds are good that they have heard of the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially Article 18. That's the one that proclaims, in the name of the United Nations:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Long ago, this statement was considered a cornerstone on the political and cultural left. However, that is no longer (alas) always the case today. Here at GetReligion I have been asking the following questions in recent years, while probing some of the shallow labels that journalists often use with little or no thought. They are:

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of speech?

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of association?

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of religion?

I'm not sure what the correct answer is, these days, but anyone familiar with the history of political thought in the West will know that the correct answer is not "liberal."

Why bring this up right now? Well, because of an absolutely bizarre statement at the end of a recent BBC report that ran under this strange (it's almost a fragment) headline: "Sudan apostasy woman Mariam Ibrahim 'to campaign'."

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