Pakistan hate speech investigation against clerics after student killed for alleged blasphemy

Villagers carry a body of a student Mohammad Mashal for burial in Swabi, Pakistan(AP Photo)
Updated 16 April 2017
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Pakistan hate speech investigation against clerics after student killed for alleged blasphemy

PESHAWAR: Pakistani police opened a hate speech investigation involving two Muslim clerics on Sunday after the killing of a university student over allegations he committed blasphemy.
The clerics are accused of attempting to disrupt the funeral of student Mashal Khan, who was beaten to death by fellow students after a dormitory debate was followed by accusations of blasphemy being spread across a university campus in the northern city of Maradan.
University officials had issued a public notification hours before the murder naming three students being investigated for “blasphemous activities.”
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive topic in Muslim majority Pakistan, where penalties range from small fines to the death sentence, and dozens of people are on death row in the country’s jails.
There have been at least 65 recorded cases of vigilante murders since 1990, according to figures from a Center for Research and Security Studies report and local media.
In a statement released to the press on Saturday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said he was “shocked and saddened by the senseless display of mob justice that resulted in the murder of a young student, Mashal Khan, at Wali Khan University.”
Mardan police chief Alam Shinwari said 20 people had been identified as culpable in the killing on the basis of videos taken during the attack, and 15 had been arrested. He said they would be tried by anti-terrorism courts.
Police say they are also investigating the clerics in Khan’s hometown of Swabi, some 60 kilometers south of Mardan, for attempting to disrupt funeral proceedings and instigate hatred against the dead student’s family.
“The two clerics ... the mosque loudspeaker for hate speech against the slain student and his family and ... created hurdles for the people and another cleric to participate in the funeral,” a senior Swabi police official told Reuters. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by religious hard-liners.
A local imam had refused to lead the funeral prayers at Khan’s funeral on Friday, according to Swabi resident Salman Ahmed. A technician who was asked to do so in the cleric’s place was confronted by several people afterwards.
In his press release, the prime minister said the perpetrators of the attack would be brought to justice.
“The nation should stand united to condemn this crime and to promote tolerance and rule of law in society,” Sharif said.
However, Pakistan’s government has been vocal about blasphemy in recent months, with Sharif issuing an order in March for the removal of content deemed blasphemous online and threatening “strict punishment” for those violating the law.


As comedian eyes presidency, Ukraine braces for uncertain future

Presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a policy debate with his rival, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (unseen), at the National Sports Complex Olimpiyskiy stadium in Kiev, Ukraine April 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 April 2019
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As comedian eyes presidency, Ukraine braces for uncertain future

  • Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comic actor, is best known for his TV portrayal of a schoolteacher who becomes Ukrainian president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral

KIEV, Ukraine: A comedian who plays the role of Ukraine’s president on television is set to take on the job for real, pushing out the man who currently holds the office, according to public opinion surveys ahead of Sunday’s election.
Saturday was a so-called “day of quiet,” on which electioneering is forbidden, a respite from a campaign of heated statements and unexpected moments.
Dismayed by endemic corruption, a struggling economy and a five-year fight against Russia-backed insurgents in the country’s east, Ukrainian voters appear poised to strongly rebuke incumbent Petro Poroshenko and replace him with Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Despite never having held political office, Zelenskiy could get more than twice as many votes as Poroshenko, polls suggest.
Since Zelenskiy and Poroshenko advanced to Sunday’s runoff in the first round three weeks ago, the campaign has been marked by jockeying for dominance, including a dispute over holding a debate that left Poroshenko standing next to an empty lectern bearing his opponent’s name and Zelenskiy’s challenge for both of the candidates to undergo drug testing.
Zelenskiy has run his campaign mostly on social media and has eschewed media interviews; Poroshenko has called him a “virtual candidate.” Poroshenko in turn was criticized for a video linked to his campaign that showed Zelenskiy being run over by a truck.
The two finally held an actual debate on Friday evening, just hours before campaigning was to end. They harshly criticized each other and engaged in the melodrama of both kneeling to ask forgiveness of those who lost relatives in the eastern fighting.
In an unexpected move less than 10 hours before polls were to open, a Kiev court heard a suit demanding that Zelenskiy’s registration as a candidate be canceled. The court rejected the case, which was filed by the head of an organization that conducts election observation and claimed that Zelenskiy committed bribery by offering tickets to the Friday debate.
Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comic actor, is best known for his TV portrayal of a schoolteacher who becomes Ukrainian president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral. The name of the show, “Servant of the People,” became the name of his party when he announced his candidacy in January.
Like his TV character, the real-life Zelenskiy has focused his campaign strongly on corruption. Although criticized as having a vague platform, Zelenskiy has made specific proposals, including removing immunity for the president, parliament members and judges, and a lifetime ban on holding public office for anyone convicted of corruption. He also calls for a tax amnesty under which someone holding hidden assets would declare them, be taxed at 5% and face no other measures.
He supports Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO, but only if the country were to approve this in a referendum.
Zelenskiy has proposed that direct talks with Russia are necessary to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where fighting with Russia-backed separatist rebels has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. The Kremlin denies involvement there and says it is an internal matter. Zelenskiy says Russia-annexed Crimea must be returned to Ukraine and compensation paid.
Zelenskiy’s image has been shadowed by his admission that he had commercial interests in Russia through a holding company, and by persistent speculation about links with oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who owns the television station that airs “Servant of the People.”
A Ukrainian court this week ruled that the nationalization of a bank once owned by Kolomoyskyi was illegal, leading to new concern about Zelenskiy’s possible ties to him.
Poroshenko, who entered politics after establishing a lucrative candy-making company, came to power with a pragmatic image in 2014 after mass protests drove the previous, Russia-friendly president to leave the country.
Five years later, critics denounce him for having done little to combat Ukraine’s endemic corruption. The war with Russia-backed separatists in the east grinds on with no clear strategy for ending it. And while his economic reforms may have pleased international lenders, they’ve left millions of Ukrainians wondering if they can find the money to pay their utility bills.
After his weak performance in the election’s first round, in which Zelenskiy got nearly twice as many votes, Poroshenko said he had taken voters’ criticism to heart. He has since made some strong moves, including the long-awaited creation of an anti-corruption court. He also ordered the dismissal of the governor of the corruption-plagued Odessa region, and fired the deputy head of foreign intelligence who reportedly has vast real estate holdings in Russia.
Poroshenko, 53, has positioned himself as a leader who will stand up to Russia. He has scored some significant goals for Ukraine’s national identity and its desire to move out of Russia’s influence.
He signed an association agreement with the European Union — which predecessor Viktor Yanukovych turned away from, setting off the 2014 protests. Ukrainians now can travel visa-free to the European Union, a significant perk. He has also pushed relentlessly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be recognized as self-standing rather than just a branch of the Russian church.