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PostPosted: Tue Aug 30, 2011 1:15 pm 
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Children sexually abused on Pakistan's streets
26 August 2011

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Pakistani sex worker, Nadeem who pimps 10 teenage sex workers aged 14-18, is seen walking down the stairs of a building in Karachi.

Nadeem knows first hand the misery of life on the streets. Sexually assaulted as a child, he became a pimp of young boys — the only way he knew how to survive as a member of Pakistan's underclass.

He says he was 12 years old when he was attacked. Since then, he has been dragged into a vicious cycle of horrifying abuse allegedly aided and abetted by police and which few are willing to confront in the Muslim country. "It was just the third night I slept on a street when a policeman picked me up and did bad things to me. I cried a lot but no one came to help me," Nadeem, now 17, told AFP. He was sexually assaulted for a second time by the leader of a street gang, who then forced Nadeem to join the 17 other children in his gang. By 14 he was a full-time sex worker. His pimp gave him a mobile phone to keep in contact with clients.

According to charities which work to protect street children in Pakistan, up to 90 percent are sexually abused on the first night that they sleep rough and 60 percent accuse police of sexually abusing them. "Children on the street are beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted, and sometimes killed," said Rana Asif Habib, head of the Initiator Human Development Foundation (IHDF). "Police (should) protect people. When policemen are themselves involved in molesting children, who will protect them?" he asks. "What we have gathered in our research is that policemen make up more than 60 percent of those who physically torment, sexually harass street children," said Anwer Kazmi of the Edhi Foundation, the country's largest charity.

Karachi is home to Pakistan?s biggest community of street children — tens of thousands of victims of domestic violence and broken homes, drugs and crime, in the steamy port city. More than 170,000 street children live on the streets across the country. Illiterate, uneducated and most without family, the children can grow into seasoned criminals, drug addicts or fall prey to Islamist militancy.

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A Pakistani street child sex worker is seen sniffing glue in Karachi.

When Nadeem turned 16, he tried to escape. He received counselling from a charity and was taught photography. He tried to make it his profession. "I was happy with my work, but a year ago, a policeman put me in the lockup on a false charge, confiscated my camera and abused me sexually," he said.

The experience turned him against the world. "I decided to become stronger. Now I have my own gang and many influential people are my clients. No one can touch me now." Nadeem says he acts as a pimp to 10 teenage sex workers aged 14-18, taking a sizeable cut of whatever the boys bring in earnings. "Half an hour after finishing with one client I get another call and I forget all about wanting a respectable life."

Nadeem lives on a street in the downtown Saddar neighbourhood, but rents a room in a cheap hotel when he has surplus cash. He confesses that he too sexually assaulted a child. "He insulted me and my family so I told him he had it coming. So I grabbed him and gave it to him. I still remember that night. I haven't done that to anyone else since then and I don't want to."

Rizwan is a fisherman's son. He insists he is 12, but he looks much younger. He left home three years ago because his family beat him and says he was abused by police. IHDF fears he too will be dragged into the sex industry. "The police tried to make me do bad things six or seven times but I managed to get away," he said. "But one day, one policeman took me by force, put a cloth over my mouth and took me to a place where he did bad things."

Shaukat Hussain, head of police in Karachi's southern district where many street children live, said any officers found guilty would be punished, but denied the force was anything like as culpable as reported. "There are black sheep in our department who are involved in such acts. But we punish anyone whose crime comes to surface and is proved," he told AFP. "The number of policemen who are involved in such acts is far less than what is being claimed by the media and NGOs," he added.

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A Pakistani street child and scavenger is seen resting on a covered car in Karachi.

Pakistan offers little protection to vulnerable children. "A draft bill for child protection has been pending with the interior ministry for two years," a senior official of the human rights ministry told AFP on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the media. The bill is designed to tighten the laws protecting children, bringing them in line with international conventions, doing more to help children in difficulty and bringing police and other offenders to book for abusing minors. "There is a visible lack of interest on the part of the government on this issue... despite our constant pursuits," said the ministry official.

One former police official told AFP that he organised seminars to sensitise police on how to treat street children four years ago, but that the programme was abruptly abandoned when he retired.

Source: Breitbart AFP.

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 19, 2011 3:09 pm 
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Militants publicly execute man, boy for sexual affair
9 October 2011

Islamabad (dpa) — A man and boy allegedly having sexual relations were publicly executed by militants in Pakistan's north-western tribal areas near Afghanistan, a media report said Sunday.

The incident occurred in Malik Garhi area of Bara region of Khyber, one of seven tribal districts, where militants belonging to Lashkar-i-Islam group, an ally of Taliban, are active.

The News newspaper said a man working as machine operator in a local loom factory had sex with a boy and later circulated among his friends a video clip of the act. The images reached the militants of Lashkar-i-Islam who have announced their intention to forcibly implement the Sharia laws, which recommend death for adultery. The militants promptly acted and seized the man and boy Friday and took them to an undisclosed location where they reportedly tortured the victims.

'The militants brought the accused to Malik Garhi around noon on Saturday where in the presence of a crowd they pushed them down from the bank of River Bara,' the report said. Both were badly injured after falling down the 10-metre bank. The militants then shot them dead, it said. Sabeel Khan, a local commander of Lashkar-i-Islam, told the paper that anyone found having illicit relations would be dealt in the same way.

Same-sex relations are part of local culture in north-western Pakistan but the Taliban deem it to be against Islam.

Source: Monsters & Critics / dpa.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 21, 2011 4:51 pm 
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Butt out! Pakistan telecom watchdog drafts rude text message ban

Official list outlaws 1,500 'rude' words, ranging from the F word 'flatulence' to 'pocket pool' and 'quickie'

by Saeed Shah in Karachi
Thursday 17 November 2011

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The Pakistan telecom watchdog has banned 1,500 rude words from being texted across the nation's network. No one knows how it is expected to enforce the ban. Photograph: Dan Chung/The Guardian

Guardians of linguistic purity have long warned against the pernicious impact that text messaging may have on the young, but Pakistan officials have taken such concerns to a new extreme by demanding that mobile phone operators block all text messages using offensive words.

With a creativity and dedication to the task unusual for local officialdom, the country's telecoms regulator has issued a list of more than 1000 words and phrases which will be banned. After serious deliberation and consultation, officials from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) have come up with more than 50 phrases using the word "fuck" and 17 involving "butt".

The list includes several apparently innocuous words and phrases, including "flatulence", "deposit" and "fondle". Others would likely only make sense to frustrated teenagers. Among the more printable terms are "strap-on", "beat your meat", "crotch rot", "love pistol", "pocket pool" and "quickie".

The officials' flair for the task was apparent, with prohibition embracing more figurative language, such as "flogging the dolphin", and 51 terms with the suffix "ass" – although only one variation of the word 'arse'. There were 17 variants on "tit" and 33 on "cock", with officials managing to produce eight obscenities involving the word "foot".

Mobile phone firms were ordered to stop messages including the offending words this week, although tests by the Guardian suggested the blocking technology was not 100% effective. While admitting that Pakistan's constitution guaranteed free speech, the regulator told mobile phone companies that such freedom was "not unrestricted" under court rulings. Furthermore, said the telecom watchdog, they had obligations under their licences to prevent "obnoxious communication".

In the letter to mobile phone firms, watchdog director Muhammad Talib Doger said "the system should be implemented within seven days ... and a report submitted to PTA on monthly basis on the number of blocked SMSs". The list was attached to the letter, with 1,109 words and phrases in English to be banned and 586 in the national language, Urdu, a tongue that also offers many rich possibilities for abuse. The watchdog has yet to tackle obscenity in Pakistan's four main regional languages, including the raucous Punjabi.

Despite being a less-developed country, mobile phones are used widely across society, even in remote villages. Mohammad Younis, a spokesman for the PTA, said the ban was "the result of numerous meetings and consultations with stakeholders" after consumers complained of receiving offensive text messages. He said the list was not finished and the authority would continue to add to it. "Nobody would like this happening to their young boy or girl," said Younis.

Mobile operators expect the PTA to fine them for any banned words that get through, which means that they will have to cut the connection of customers who persistently try to send such messages.

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2012 4:20 am 
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Pakistan's tax dodgers pay up when the hijra calls

Transgender community in Karachi turns court recognition of 'special powers' from prostitution to tax collection

byJon Boone in Karachi
Friday 8 June 2012

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A Pakistani hijra begging from a motorist on the streets of Karachi. Photograph: Ilyas J Dean/Rex Features

In a bright pink shalwar kameeez and matching headscarf, Nargis marches around one of Pakistan's richest neighbourhoods on a mission to embarrass residents into paying their taxes. Armed with a bundle of paperwork, the 32-year-old raps on the gate of a mansion whilst a pickup truck full of guards and tax officials remains at a distance.

The householder who answers grins nervously at Nargis, who is a "hijra" – a member of Pakistan's increasingly assertive transgender community. With a sheepish look to see whether anyone is watching from the street, the owner meekly accepts a bill for outstanding property tax and municipal fees.

Given his effusive promises to pay as soon as possible, there is no need for what Qazi Aftab, the head of tax collection for the Clifton cantonment board in Karachi, calls "the nuclear option" – clapping, shouting and generally making a scene. "Because of the neighbours they get very embarrassed," he said. "Usually just one minute of shouting is enough and then they pay up."

It's even more mortifying on an ordinary day, when groups of four hijras exercise their powers of persuasion on the doorsteps of Karachi, where there is a tradition of rich and well-connected residents ignoring tax demands. The lone hijra approach seems to work well enough. On the third floor of an apartment block one tenant pretended to be a visitor from out of town and closed the door in Nargis's face. After a few minutes of knocking he relented.

The authorities are extremely pleased with their efforts to combat the tax dodgers. Aftab says recovery rates are up 15% from when conventional tax collectors often clashed violently with householders. That never happens with the hijras, he said.

For centuries hijras in South Asian society have been both respected and exploited. Their blessings on a newborn child are regarded as propitious, while the curses of hijra beggars are to be avoided. In cities they are often found at traffic lights, dancing and demanding money from motorists. But their work as entertainers, wedding dancers and beggars often transmutes into prostitution.

Several hours after Nargis has finished her rounds, in a nearby market a gang of hijras work evening crowds of men going to restaurants, a licensed beer store and a gun shop. They hold out their hands, as if begging. If they sense a potential customer, they'll quietly try to negotiate a price for sex. "Begging and sex work is not an honourable job," says Nirma, a thickset 30-year-old wearing heavy eye makeup and a green sari. But she claims to earn up to £20 a customer and is not impressed by the tax collectors' £90 a month salary. Others say the government should find them jobs singing on television shows.

Then again, times are tough, Nirma concedes. Another group of hijras has been encroaching on her patch, she says, and customers are turning to the growing number of female prostitutes in Karachi. Although some claim to be born into the third sex, most hijras are either cross-dressers or pay up to £400 to be surgically castrated. Also available from surgeons prepared to risk performing the unlawful operations are breast implants costing up to £630. Full sex-change procedures can be illegally obtained but, according to one hijra, are much too risky in Pakistan.

Hijras usually live in groups with their "gurus", men who are part protectors, part business mangers – many would say pimps. Harassment, rape and violence is a problem. A 2009 incident in which a group of wedding dancers were raped by police prompted the supreme court to try and improve their lot, giving hijras the right to vote and recognition as a separate gender on ID cards.

A court order that the government should find jobs for hijras that exploited their "special skills" led Karachi to set up the tax collecting scheme, although today only 18 hijras are permanently employed. Like many other interest groups in Pakistan, the hijras find much to disagree on. At least two rival groups claim to speak on transgender issues, the All Pakistan Eunuch's Association and the Shemale Foundation of Pakistan. The latter is especially active and has called for reserved parliamentary seats for transgendered people.

Not everyone in the transgendered community is impressed by the debt collecting initiative, which is soon to be emulated in Punjab province. "It's just so demeaning," says Natasha. "It's no different from begging."

The 22-year-old wears tight jeans and sleeveless shirt rather than more traditional women's clothes. She sees herself as the face of a modern form of the hijra tradition. Although she still goes on "the occasional date with friends", she has given up having sex for money. Because of the supreme court initiative she now works as an assistant supervisor at a branch of the national ID card agency. "It means I live like a normal human being," she said.

But Natasha is disappointed by the unwillingness of hijras to give up lucrative prostitution. Many, she says, are not interested in their new rights, including the ID card carrying the word transgender or "intersex". "We are calling like hell to them to come and get their cards, but they don't want to come," she said. "I feel like a fool for fighting for them."

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 11:34 am 
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Pakistan clerics join fight against AIDS
30 November 2012

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Pakistani cleric Abdul Khaliq Faridi (top 2L) briefs students about HIV.

AFP - Pakistani cleric Abdul Khaliq Faridi used to think HIV/AIDS was a mortal sin. But today, he educates thousands about a disease that is on the rise in the deeply conservative Muslim country.

He was among the first recruited into a government-backed project to raise awareness by harnessing the influence of clerics in Pakistani society and change the common perception that HIV/AIDS occurred as a result of depravity.

With hundreds of worshippers at his mosque, more than 1,000 pupils at his madrassa and hundreds of others he reaches as a visiting preacher, his is a receptive audience that few non-clerics can dream of in Pakistan. "At first, most people were shy and some were even offended, but now they listen carefully. People have started thinking of AIDS as one of many deadly diseases instead of as a cardinal sin," Faridi told AFP.

He is the chief cleric at the Jamia Sattaria mosque and seminary in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city of 18 million which has probably the highest concentration of the country's more than 100,000 estimated HIV/AIDS sufferers. "The Friday sermon is the greatest forum we have. People come to pray in huge numbers, thus educating them about AIDS on that platform is highly effective," said Faridi.

He is one of more than 2,500 religious leaders now engaged by the AIDS Control Programme, sponsored by the government of southern province Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital, to build awareness about HIV/AIDS. Faridi says two years ago he thought the disease was a mortal sin, the product of improper sexual relations. But that all that changed when he met those involved in the programme. "I was a bit reluctant as I thought it would make me complicit in a big sin, but I was curious and decided to attend a briefing," he said.

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Graphic showing HIV infections by region.

It changed Faridi's mind and now he is helping to change the perception among a large number of Pakistanis who still think AIDS infects only those involved in illicit or gay sexual relations. "I tell people that AIDS victims are not sinners but suffer from a disease like any other people who suffer from other kinds of diseases," said Faridi.

Munawar Khan, a programme coordinator in Sindh, said that recruiting clerics -- and therefore tapping into the most influential segment of Pakistani society -- has done "wonders". "People listen devotedly to prayer leaders and generally believe whatever they say. So far, we've engaged around 2,500 prayer leaders and seminary teachers in the programme and more are coming." Khan said that the awareness preached by clerics and community leaders has made people less reluctant to take HIV tests. "The number of registered HIV/AIDS patients has doubled in the last two years... Our efforts are paying dividends," Khan said.

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Pakistani cleric Abdul Khaliq Faridi is the chief cleric at the Jamia Sattaria mosque and seminary in Karachi.

He believes there are more than 100,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers in Pakistan, which has a population of 180 million, but that only just over 10,000 cases have been reported -- 6,000 of them in Sindh.

The last available UN estimate put the figure at 97,400 in 2009. Pakistan's National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) says the country is moving from a low prevalence, high risk country to one with a "concentrated epidemic". It says infection rates among intravenous drug users increased from 10.8 percent to nearly 21 percent in the last four years, and that HIV also appears to be establishing itself in "other key populations as well".

Although 97 percent of Pakistanis are Muslim, the programme also involves religious leaders from minority Christian, Hindu and Sikh communities. Pundit Shaamlal Sharma, a Hindu cleric in southern district Shikarpur, said he was proud to be part of the campaign and that everyone should take part. "It is for the betterment of humanity and a huge step towards making Pakistan an AIDS-free society," he said by telephone.

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In this photograph taken on November 29, 2012, Pakistani cleric Abdul Khaliq Faridi talks about HIV/AIDS to students at a seminary in Karachi.

Abdul Latif, a 43-year-old father of four who tested positive for HIV eight years ago after returning from the Gulf, also said attitudes are changing. "I initially thought I was about to die, but then good doctors and good preachers made me believe I could lead a normal life with treatment," Latif said. "Initially I wouldn't dare tell others about my disease, but now it is not as difficult for me, my wife and family to lead a peaceful life without hiding it from others. More and more people are now treating it as any other disease."

Source: France24.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2013 6:06 pm 
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Paintings suggesting gay clerics sow outrage in Pakistan
28 December 2012
By Asif Shahzad

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In this photo taken on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2012, a man walks in a corridor of the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s leading arts college has pushed boundaries before in this conservative nation.

But when an uproar erupted over a series of paintings depicting Muslim clerics in scenes with strong homosexual overtones, prompting threats of violence by Islamic extremists, it was too much.

Officials at the National College of Arts in the eastern city of Lahore shut down its academic journal, which published the paintings, pulled all its issues out of bookstores and dissolved its editorial board. Still, a court is currently considering whether the paintings’ artist, the journal’s board and the school’s head can be charged with blasphemy.

The college’s decision to cave to Islamist pressure underscores how space for progressive thought is shrinking in Pakistan as hardline interpretations of Islam gain ground. It was also a marked change for an institution that has long been one of the leading defenders of liberal views in the country.

Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, and the majority of its citizens have long been fairly conservative. But what has grown more pronounced in recent years is the power of religious hardliners to enforce their views on members of the population who disagree, often with the threat of violence. The government is caught up in a war against a domestic Taliban insurgency and often seems powerless to protect its citizens. At other times it has acquiesced to hardline demands because of fear, political gain or a convergence of beliefs.

“Now you have gun-toting people out there on the streets,” said Saleema Hashmi, a former head of arts college. “You don’t know who will kill you. You know no one is there to protect you.”

The uproar was sparked when the college’s Journal of Contemporary Art and Culture over the summer published pictures of a series of paintings by artist Muhammad Ali. Particularly infuriating to conservatives were two works that they said insulted Islam by mixing images of Muslim clerics with suggestions of homosexuality, which is deeply taboo in Pakistan. One titled “Call for Prayer” shows a cleric and a shirtless young boy sitting beside each other on a cot. The cleric fingers rosary beads as he gazes at the boy, who seductively stretches backward with his hands clasped behind his head.

Mumtaz Mangat, a lawyer who petitioned the courts to impose blasphemy charges, argued the image implied the cleric had “fun” with the boy before conducting the traditional Muslim call for prayer.

A second painting shows the same cleric reclining in front of a Muslim shrine, holding a book by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho in one hand as he lights a cigarette for a young boy with the other. A second young boy, who is naked with his legs strategically crossed to cover his genitals, sits at the cleric’s feet. The painting has caused particular uproar because verses from Islam’s holy book, the Quran, appear on the shrine.

Aasim Akhtar, an Islamabad-based art critic who wrote an essay accompanying the paintings in the journal, wrote that Ali’s mixing of images was “deliberately, violently profane,” aimed at challenge “homophobic” beliefs that are widespread in Pakistani society. “Ali redefines the divine through a critique of authority and the hypocrisy of the cleric,” wrote Akhtar, an Islamabad-based art critic who is also listed as a potential defendant in the blasphemy complaint.

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Jamaat-ud-Dawa, widely believed to be a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, issued a statement after the paintings were published demanding the college issue a public apology and withdraw all issues of the journal.

College staff members also began receiving anonymous text messages threatening violence, said a member of the journal’s editorial board. They were afraid to push back for fear of being killed, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted. Extremists gunned down two prominent Pakistani politicians last year for speaking out against the country’s harsh blasphemy laws, which can mean life in prison or even death. Human rights activists have criticized the laws, saying they are often used to persecute religious minorities or settle personal scores.

Yahya Mujahid, the spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, denied the group sent any threats but said the state should punish those responsible. “It’s part of Western and American plans to malign Islam,” claimed Mujahid.

A court considering whether to press blasphemy charges held its latest session in mid-December, but it has not said when it will rule whether such charges apply in the case. Shahram Sarwar, a lawyer representing the college’s editorial board, said his clients did not intend to hurt anyone’s feelings but he was prepared to apologize on their behalf if they did. Besides shutting down the journal, the college also closed the department where its staff worked, said Sarwar.

The current head of the National Arts College, Shabnam Khan, denied the institution caved to pressure from hardliners, saying the editorial staff quit voluntarily. She said the department was closed because no one was left to run it. A member of the editorial board disputed this version of events, saying the college administration asked him and his colleagues to resign. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by extremists.

The school has long been a progressive voice. A research project at the college in 2008 focused on the idea that rising Islamic conservatism and violent religious fanaticism was a fundamental threat to peace and democracy in Pakistan. In the 1980s, when former dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq, a notorious Islamist, ordered all female students and teachers to cover their hair, the college pushed back.

Individual graduates have pushed the envelope with their work. Amra Khan’s latest work, which was exhibited at the college and a gallery in Karachi this year, included Muslim veils embroidered with a pink Playboy bunny and The Rolling Stones’ big red lips logo.

Evidence of the growing influence of Islamic hardliners abounds in Pakistan. In September, clerics wielding sticks forced their way into a wedding reception in the southern city of Ghotki to stop the guests from singing and dancing. A different set of clerics forced a five-star hotel to cancel a planned concert in August in the northwest town of Bhurban because they argued the music was counter to Islam. Hardliners have had success influencing Pakistani institutions as well. The Supreme Court ordered the country’s media regulatory body in August to look into blocking “vulgar” and “obscene” content on TV in response to a petition filed by conservative Islamists.

In November, the government’s telecommunications arm banned late-night cell phone call packages, saying they encouraged immoral behavior by young people. The government banned YouTube earlier this year because of an anti-Islam video posted on the site, and one of the country’s highest courts has blocked access to Facebook twice because of material considered anathema to Islam.

Khan, the head of the college, refused to discuss the case in more detail because of the court proceedings, but said that people across the political spectrum were becoming more alarmed by the use of violence to enforce views. “I have heard recently even from conservative people that enough is enough,” said Khan. “It is wrong that people interfere in others’ lives, that people interfere in others’ beliefs.”

Source: AP via Salon.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 31, 2013 9:03 am 
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Love online challenges Pakistan taboos
16 December 2012

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In this photograph taken on November 11, 2012 Sania and her husband Mohammad Arif speak to AFP in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan.

AFP - Sania was just a schoolgirl when she logged onto an Internet chat room and met a young college student called Mohammad. They fell in love and decided to get married.

Internet dating in the West is now so common that it is no longer considered an act of shameful desperation but an acceptable way for busy professionals to discover a like-minded partner.

But for Sania, the 22-year-old daughter of a conservative truck driver in Pakistan, online romance and her subsequent marriage has meant repeated beatings and death threats at the hands of her relatives. "No one gets married outside our community. It is our tradition," Sania told AFP. She is from the garrison city of Rawalpindi and Mohammad comes from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

At first she and Mohammad chatted online. Then they both bought mobiles to continue their relationship by telephone. For several years they asked their parents for permission to marry, but were refused. So Sania decided to escape. She packed a bag and sneaked out while her brother was at school, her mother sleeping and her father out at work. She took the bus straight to Muzaffarabad. "I spent the four-hour journey in fear. I kept thinking that if my family caught me, they'd kill me," she told AFP.

In Muzaffarabad, Mohammad met her off the bus and they got married immediately. But while his family quickly accepted Sania, nearly two years later the couple still live in fear of her relatives. Twice they have dragged her back to Rawalpindi since her marriage and have demanded repeatedly that she break off relations with Mohammad. "Last time they took me back three months ago and put lot of pressure on me to break off this relationship. I got in contact with my husband and asked him to fetch me. I escaped from the house at midnight and we managed to flee," she said.

Now Sania and her 24-year-old husband have moved to a new one-room house in a slum, changed their phone number and dare not venture out of the city. "They say they will kill us whenever they find us," Sania says.

Women in Pakistan who marry against the wishes of their parents are ostracised or even killed by male relatives for supposedly bringing dishonour on the family. But online relationships are a new phenomenon. More than 2.1 million people are officially estimated to have access to the Internet in Pakistan, a drop in the ocean of the population of 180 million, a reflection of the huge disparity in wealth and literacy.

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In this picture taken on November 14, 2012 Pakistani schoolgirls attend a computer class at a school in Muzaffarabad.

Mohammad Zaman, professor of sociology at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, who has written a book about marriage, says arranged unions that have dominated for centuries are on the wane. "Internet marriage is a new trend emerging in Pakistan. Technological advancement has entered into our homes and traditional taboos are slowly vanishing in educated and affluent families," Zaman told AFP.

Online, they can share personal information and swap photographs -- things that would be restricted or prohibited in the traditional selection of partners. The Internet is changing mindsets, giving young people freedom and privacy, and a forum to discuss matters frowned upon by Pakistan's traditional, conservative society. "There is a kind of emancipation in society and young people want their say in the selection of their future partner," Zaman said, although he conceded that parents find it easier to accept a son's choice than that of a daughter.

Tahir, a Pakistani peace activist, knows only too well how the freedom of the Internet can collide with the restrictions of everyday life -- not only conservative sensibilities but politics and war. The 26-year-old fell for university student Nazia on Facebook and Skype. All fine and good, except that Nazia lives on the other side of one of the most heavily militarised borders in the world -- that which divides the Himalayan region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Twice India and Pakistan have gone to war over Kashmir. Although tentative peace talks resumed last year, travel is tightly controlled. Only those with special government permits are permitted to cross and take the bus service that runs once a week from Muzaffarabad to Srinagar, the capital of the Indian-administered portion.

Last month, a 22-year-old Indian girl was reportedly detained after trying to cross the Line of Control, as the de facto border is known, to meet her boyfriend from Pakistani-administered Kashmir, whom she allegedly met on Facebook, and to escape an arranged marriage at home. Not even modern methods of communication are reliable. "Sometimes when I speak to her on Skype, I can see her but there is a lot of noise and we cannot understand each other," said 26-year-old Tahir, not his real name.

He says people in Indian Kashmir cannot call those in Pakistani Kashmir and that it can take three or four days for her to receive his text messages. If the Internet is the only place Tahir and Nazia could have met, Kashmir is probably the last place they could ever meet in person. "We understand each other from both sides of Kashmir, but they can't come to our side and we can't go there.... I love her a lot and don't think I can live without her, but I've decided there is no future," he told AFP.

Source: France24.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 15, 2013 6:38 pm 
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Valentine's Day under attack in Pakistan
14 February 2013
By REBECCA SANTANA

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A Pakistani youth pushes his motorcycle, with balloons that he hopes to sell on Valentine's Day, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013.
(AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Romance is not dead in Pakistan, but it's under attack.

Conservatives in Pakistan tacked up posters urging people to boycott Valentine's Day on Thursday, saying it's a western-inspired event that's spreading vulgarity in their country. Romantics fought back with an arsenal of flowers, pink teddy bears and heart-shaped balloons.

"Here in this part of Pakistan we are faced with bomb blasts, and we don't have much opportunity to enjoy and celebrate so to me it is one of those few occasions to celebrate," said Taimur Hassan, a 29-year-old man working in the northwestern city of Peshawar. He was out buying a gift for his girlfriend, and looking for something different than a stuffed bear he got her last year.

That's exactly the type of behavior many of Pakistan's conservatives are worried about. For them, Valentine's Day is nothing but an occasion to encourage illicit relations between the country's young - unmarried - males and females. It's a sign that Western culture and values are eating away the fabric of Pakistan's traditional, Islamic society. Valentine's Day, they say, is not a Pakistani holiday and not part of the culture here.

In the southern city of Karachi, billboards implored people to "Say no to Valentine's Day." The "no" was encapsulated in a black heart, and the sign said the holiday reflects insensitivity and ignorance of Islam. Tanzeem-e-Islami, the organization that put up the billboards, called on the interior ministry to suspend cell phone service on the holiday that celebrates love. Group spokesman Muhammad Samee said many young people use mobile phones to send Valentine's Day greetings and suspending the service for the day would save people from "moral terrorism."

Attitudes toward Valentine's Day, named after a Christian saint said to have been martyred by the Romans in the 3rd Century, vary across the Arab world, with some devout Muslims opposing the holiday as a Western celebration of romantic love that corrupts Muslim youth. Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a hardline Pakistani cleric, warned that young people who celebrate Valentine's Day will be celebrating children's births in November. "In Islam, there is a concept of respecting and loving mother, sister, wife and daughter for 365 days a year," said Ahmed, who thinks the holiday breeds vulgarity across the country.

Fearing a backlash against the holiday, Pakistani officials charged with monitoring and censoring television content issued a letter on Wednesday asking TV stations to be respectful when airing programs on Valentine's Day. The letter, issued by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, noted that large segments of society do not think the holiday is in line with Pakistani culture and religion. However, the instructions were rescinded following a hue and cry on social media and pressure from TV channels, according to an official with the regulatory authority. The official spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

In Pakistan, social media like Twitter and Facebook have increasingly become a way for the country's small, liberal, secular segment of society to voice their opinions. By midday Thursday, Valentine's Day was one of the most popular themes on Twitter. Despite the earlier regulatory warning, TV channels didn't seem to be shying away from Valentine's Day programming. Many featured video of people shopping for presents like heart-shaped balloons and interviews with helmeted motorcycle riders driving off with bouquets of flowers. Mazhar Abbas, director of current affairs at Express News, said the station hadn't received any complaints on its programming.

While Valentine's Day is widely celebrated in some Muslim countries like the United Arab Emirates, in other areas it's been met with opposition:

  • In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, government officials and clerics in Jakarta called for young people to skip Valentine's Day, saying it was an excuse for couples to have forbidden sex.
  • -In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, the government opposes Valentine's Day, but tolerates it. It has not banned people or shops from celebrating the holiday. Some gift shops, toy stores and flower stores were selling special Valentine's Day items, but the celebrations are not widespread, mostly are observed by university students or newlyweds.
  • -Iranian officials in January banned the import of Valentine's Day gifts, but people in the capital, Tehran, were still out purchasing such gifts and making plans for meeting boyfriends or girlfriends for romantic dinners.

Despite the opposition in Pakistan, Valentine's Day romanticism - or at least the marketing sentiment - wasn't dampened much in the capital, Islamabad. Peddlers approached cars at stop signs hawking heart-shaped balloons, and the prices at flower stalls nearly doubled. Eid Muhammed, a salesman at a gift shop in Peshawar, said gift card sales had dropped in recent years as people preferred to send text messages to their loved ones instead. But he said more people were buying gifts for their sweethearts. He estimated that about 90 percent of the customers were young people, and most were men.

One of the few exceptions was Amina Mahmood, a female college student, who was buying flowers for a special someone she chose not to describe. "Some days are so special that we should not miss them," she said shyly.

Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Adil Jawad in Karachi, Asif Shahzad and Munir Asif in Islamabad, Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, and Nasser Karimi in Tehran contributed to this report.
Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2013 11:40 am 
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Pakistani women turn to once-taboo divorce to escape abuse
By Aisha Chowdhry
January 9, 2013

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Maryam Suheyl, a marriage and family therapist, meets her client to discuss marital issues at her office in Lahore December 26, 2012. Photo taken December 26, 2012. REUTERS-Mohsin Raza

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani women are slowly turning to divorce to escape abusive and loveless marriages, once taboo and still a dangerous option in this strict Muslim nation even as more women become empowered by rising employment and awareness of their rights.

But the number of women with the courage to seek divorce remains small in the face of Pakistan's powerful religious right and growing Islamic conservatism, and in a male-dominated nation where few champion women's rights. Women are often killed while pursuing divorces, with some shot on the way home from court or in front of their lawyers. In the capital Islamabad, home to 1.7 million people, 557 couples divorced in 2011, up from 208 in 2002, the Islamabad Arbitration Council said. The Pakistani government does not track a national divorce rate.

"If you are earning, the only thing you need from the guy is love and affection. If the guy is not even providing that, then you leave him," said 26-year-old divorcee Rabia, a reporter who left a loveless arranged marriage to a cheating husband. Despite their small numbers, Rabia and other women like her are seen as a rising threat from Pakistan's conservative forces.

"The women have been given so-called freedom and liberty, which causes danger to themselves," Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan told Reuters. There were at least 1,636 "honor killings" last year, said Pakistani rights group The Aurat Foundation. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack. Pashtun singer Ghazala Javed became a statistic in June. A famous beauty, she married after fleeing Taliban threats. Then she discovered her new husband already had a wife. When she asked for a divorce, she and her father were shot dead.

FINANCIAL EMPOWERMENT

While women divorcing their husbands is widespread in the West, growing markedly in the 20th century in many developed nations, it is a relatively new phenomenon in Pakistan. And while a divorce case in the Muslim family courts must be resolved within six months, civil divorce cases can drag on for years, making it even harder for tens of thousands of women from religious minorities to get a divorce. In the commercial hub Karachi, lawyer Zeeshan Sharif said he receives several divorce enquiries a week but virtually none a decade ago.

Women seeking a divorce usually come from the upper and middle classes, he said. Lawyers' fees are at least $300, a year's wage for many of Pakistan's 180 million citizens. For poor housewives, hiring a lawyer is impossible. Most Pakistanis think the higher divorce rate is linked to women's growing financial independence, a 2010 poll by The Gilani Foundation/Gallup Pakistan found. The number of women with jobs grew from 5.69 million to 12.11 million over the past decade, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics said. "Women are also making money now and they think if they have empowerment, they do not need to sacrifice as much," said Musfira Jamal, a senior member of the religious party Jamaat-e-Islami. "God does not like divorce ... (but) God has not given any right to any man to beat his wife or torture his family."

In 2012, clerics and a religious party demanded a review of a bill to outlaw domestic violence, saying it risked undermining "family values". Western culture, not abuse, is why women seek divorces, said Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan. Yet domestic violence was one of the most common reasons for divorce, said lawyer Aliya Malik. Around 90 percent of Pakistani women experienced domestic violence at least once, a 2011 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll found.

DIVORCE STIGMA

If deciding to ask for a divorce is painful, getting it granted is agonizing. Muslim women in the subcontinent didn't get the legal right to ask for a divorce until the mid-1930s. Even then, a bride had to opt in by checking a box on their marriage certificate. A law passed in 1961 finally let women seek divorce through civil courts if they could show their spouses were at fault, but cases can take years.

Human rights lawyer Hina Jilani says fear remains one of the strongest barriers. One of Jilani's clients seeking a divorce was shot dead in front of her by the young woman's mother. The public stigma, risk of violence and trauma of shepherding a case through Pakistan's tangled justice system is so overwhelming most women never try.

Sadia Jabbar, a bubbly, dimpled 29-year-old TV executive, struggled with feelings of guilt and failure after she left her cheating husband. "It was a really bad feeling, as if I had failed in the biggest decision of my life," she said. The stigma of divorce also means women find it hard to remarry, and many feel it's easier to stay in an unhappy marriage than be alone. The difficulties multiply when children are involved. Court-ordered child support payments to divorced mothers in Pakistan are rare and enforcement even rarer.

Fatima, a 31-year-old mother of two living in the eastern city of Lahore, endured seven years of severe beatings before divorcing her husband. "He used to slap me, push me, pull my hair. After I had injured my backbone very badly, he slapped me while I was pregnant," she said. Reuters is withholding her real name for her protection. She got her divorce but her ex-husband refused to pay child support. Unable to get a decent job, she remarried him so he would pay their children's school fees. Now she sleeps behind a locked door. "He will not give maintenance if I am not living in the house," she said. "I don't want to leave (my children) alone here. They are at a very tender age. If I could have supported them, I would have left long ago."

Click here for a poll on the world's five most dangerous countries for women.

(Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar. Editing by Katharine Houreld and Michael Perry)
Source: Reuters.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 20, 2013 10:20 am 
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Transgender Pakistanis running for election
18 April 2013
By ATIF RAZA and MUNIR AHMED

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In this picture taken on Monday, April 15, 2013, Bindiya Rana, right, a transgender candidate in Pakistan's elections, talks with locals in Karachi, Pakistan. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) -- When Bindiya Rana, a transgender candidate in Pakistan's elections, went door to door in the Karachi slum she hopes to represent, few people seemed to care about which gender she identifies with.

They were more interested in what she was going to do to combat the street crime and electricity outages in their neighborhood if elected.

For the first time in Pakistan's history, transgender people are running as candidates. The development marks a sign of progress for transgender people in this conservative country, where they have long been met by abuse.

Transgender refers to people who present themselves to the world in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. In Pakistan, that usually means people born as men who now dress like women and wear makeup. They identify as a "third gender" rather than as male or female but usually ask to be referred to by the feminine pronoun since there is no third-gender pronoun.

Rana has always been active in her community and works at an organization that helps promote the rights of transgender people as well as street children and other social issues. But she decided to run for office as well after a Supreme Court ruling in 2011 allowed members of the transgender community to get national identity cards recognizing them as a separate identity - neither male or female - and allowing them to vote.

She's vying for a provincial assembly seat in the May 11 national elections. "People ask if we will win or lose in the elections. But I won when my nomination papers were submitted," she said. The Supreme Court's decision didn't explicitly say that transgender people could run for office, but by getting the identity cards and the right to vote the road was opened for them. Before the court's decision, transgender people could get identity cards only if they identified themselves as men.

Almas Boby, president of the Pakistan Shemale Foundation, which advocates for members of the transgender community, said she knows of at least five transgender candidates taking part in the elections. Two, including Rana, are running in the southern port city of Karachi, and one each from the cities of Jehlum, Gujrat, and Sargodha in Punjab province. "The Supreme Court of Pakistan gave us our rights. Now transgendered people are also contesting elections, and our thousands of people will vote for them," Boby said. "If our people manage to reach assemblies, we will get a better treatment in society," she said.

Male and female roles are clearly defined in Pakistan, and transgender people often face harassment and abuse - even from their own families. Some are pushed out of the home when they are young and end up prostituting themselves to earn a living. One role where they are tolerated is as dancers at weddings and other celebrations at which men and women are strictly segregated. In between the dancing and showers of rupee notes, they must fend off groping from drunken guests. They can also be seen begging for money in the streets, wearing female dress and makeup. Many earn money by blessing newborn babies, which reflects a widespread belief in Pakistan and other South Asian nations that God answers the prayers of someone born underprivileged.

Rana herself faced harassment from her own family, when she started to realize at the age of 12 that she was different than the other kids around her. When she was 14, she ran away from home and found work dancing at weddings and celebrations. Running for office - and the possibility of actually serving in office - is a way to highlight the role of transgender people in Pakistan, said many of the candidates. "If I win, I will also become a strong voice for transgendered people, who are often victimized and humiliated," said Lubna Lal, who is running for a Punjab provincial assembly seat in the city of Jehlum, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Islamabad. "I am not worried about defeat. I am contesting elections to prove that now we are also part of the society, and we also have equal rights," she said.

But in many ways, the issues that the transgender candidates are most concerned with are no different from that of the average voter. Most say they want to cut unemployment, address the country's widespread poverty and electricity blackouts and loosen the grip of Pakistan's ruling parties on the political process. "For me it is a jihad to contest elections, and God willing, I will win as I don't have huge funds. All I have is the love of the people," said another candidate, Resham. Like some transgender people in Pakistan, Resham only uses one name. She is running for a national assembly seat from the city of Gujrat. Resham also said voters in her area encouraged her to contest the elections after becoming fed up with all the political parties. That's a common complaint in Pakistan where many voters rail at the corruption that they feel permeates the political system. "All political parties have disappointed people. Now they want a change, and I am the best choice for them as my past record is clean and flawless," she said.

Most of the candidates have few financial resources and are relying on door-to-door campaigning and word of mouth to drum up votes. None is running with a political party, said Boby. All are independents. Boby said she will also be traveling to the districts to help candidates campaign. "Our campaign will be different. We will not be holding big rallies. We will go to homes to get votes, and you will see we will get a lot of votes," she said. Boby said she was not worried about the security of the transgender candidates, and none has reported any harassment on the campaign trail.

In the slum where Rana knocked on nearly 50 houses in her door-to-door to campaign, there was little animosity from residents. No doors were slammed, and people greeted her with smiles. Rana has lived in this neighborhood for the last 20 years, and many see in her someone who is downtrodden and poor just like them. "Bindiya must contest. It is everybody's right. And we believe that being poor like us, she may understand issues better," said Hameeda Bibi, a resident. "Because those who we thought were our own people and elected to assemblies, they did not do any good for us."

Ahmed contributed from Islamabad. Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana in Islamabad contributed to this report.
Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 26, 2013 9:51 am 
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Pakistani soldier stoned to death for love affair, tribesmen say
By Saud Mehsud
March 13, 2013

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani soldier was publicly stoned to death on the order of a tribal court in the country's northwestern Kurram region for having an affair with a local woman, government officials and tribesmen said on Wednesday.

Such tribal justice is a stark reminder of the difficulty in establishing a credible civilian administration in Pakistan's semi-autonomous region bordering Afghanistan, despite a series of military operations in the area and Western nations pouring in millions of dollars to help build infrastructure.

Punjab native Anwar Din, 27, was posted last year to the Parachinar area of Kurram agency where he met Intizar Bibi, 19, while manning a check post near her home. The two embarked on a romantic relationship, tribal sources said, and he tried to elope with her when he was later posted to the disputed Kashmir region. It was not immediately clear what evidence there was, if any, of a romance.

"The girl left her home on Monday and met Anwar Din when villagers saw them," said Munir Hussain, the head of the local jirga, or tribal court, that sentenced Din to death. "We took the girl into custody and took the boy to the local graveyard where he was stoned to death and buried."

Din was killed on Monday, he added. A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the jirga had ruled the woman must be shot to death. It was not immediately clear if this had already taken place. The army was not immediately available for comment.

Kurram, the only part of Pakistan's largely lawless border region that has a significant Shi'ite population, is racked by sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite tribes. Anti-Shi'ite ideology from the Taliban and al Qaeda has meant years of bloody fighting. Bibi is Shi'ite while Din was Sunni, Hussain added. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas have never been fully integrated into Pakistan's administrative, economic or judicial system. Instead, families and tribes often take justice into their own hands, presiding over "jirgas" or "panchayats", gatherings of elders that hand down punishments including rape, killing and the bartering of women to settle scores and restore honor.

In such tribal justice, women often fair far worse than men. Hussain said that the jirga had also requested that another Pakistani soldier, Saif Ullah, be handed over for helping the couple meet and coordinate the planned elopement. "The army is here for our security but if they engage in such activities we will not let them stay here," Hussain said. "This is an insult to tribal customs. We will revolt against this."

(Writing By Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Nick Macfie)
Source: Reuters.

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PostPosted: Wed May 29, 2013 11:12 am 
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Pakistani women Rehana Kausar and Sobia Kamar marry in Britain's first Muslim lesbian partnership
by Charlotte Philby
Sunday, 26 May 2013

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Rehana Kausar, left, and Sobia Kamar said they had met while studying

Two former students from Pakistan are believed to have become the first Muslim lesbian couple to marry in a civil ceremony in Britain.

Rehana Kausar, 34, and Sobia Kamar, 29, took their vows at a registry office in Leeds earlier this month before immediately applying for political asylum, it was claimed. Relatives of the couple said the women, who studied in Birmingham, had received death threats both in the UK and from opponents in their native Pakistan, where homosexual relations are illegal.

During the ceremony the couple reportedly told the registrar that they had met three years ago while studying business and health care management at Birmingham, having travelled to the country on student visas, and had been living together in South Yorkshire for about a year.

Ms Kausar, originally from Lahore, also holds a master’s degree in economics from Punjab University. “This country allows us rights and it’s a very personal decision that we have taken. It’s no one’s business as to what we do with our personal lives,” she was quoted as telling the Birmingham-based Sunday Mercury newspaper. “The problem with Pakistan is that everyone believes he is in charge of other people lives and can best decide about the morals of others but that’s not the right approach. We are in this state because of our clergy, who have hijacked our society, which was once tolerant and respected individuals’ freedoms.”

Homosexual sex is illegal under Pakistani law. There are also no laws prohibiting discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation.

In recent years in Britain, some Muslim gay and lesbian couples have opted for a nikah, an Islamic matrimonial contract, which is officially the reserve of heterosexuals. These services, conducted in Arabic with additional duas – prayers – are not recognised in the UK unless accompanied by a civil ceremony. Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in the Islamic faith and the notion of same-sex marriage is abhorrent to many Muslims.

A relative of one of the women told the Sunday Mercury: “The couple did not have an Islamic marriage ceremony, known as a nikah, as they could not find an imam to conduct what would have been a controversial ceremony. They have been very brave throughout as our religion does not condone homosexuality. The couple have had their lives threatened both here and in Pakistan and there is no way they could ever return there.”

Ruth Hunt, deputy chief executive for Stonewall, said: “There is a very cautious step towards social visibility for some gay men in Pakistan but lesbians are completely invisible. Pakistan is not necessarily a safe place for couples to be open about their love.” The Home Office said it was unable to confirm any details about their political asylum request.

Source: The Independent UK.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 8:56 am 
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Pakistani gay says life easier at home than in US
8 May 2013

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Qasim, 41, reads a book at his residence in the Pakistani historical city of Lahore, April 24, 2013.

AFP - Qasim and his partner Ali are in love and live together. They talk about going abroad to marry, but the only weddings they attend in Pakistan are arranged unions between their gay friends and unsuspecting women.

Despite that, "it's actually easier being gay in Pakistan than in the US," says Qasim, 41, dragging on a cigarette in a smart coffee shop, as he explains how to live under the radar in one of the world's most conservative countries. "We can hold hands," says Qasim, reaching for Ali under the table. "We can sit casually like this. Nobody gives it a second thought in Pakistan." Qasim says he is never insulted in the street, or called names -- something that happened when he lived in the United States.

In tribal societies in Pakistan's northwestern border areas with Afghanistan and in southwestern Baluchistan on the Iranian border, there is an ancient custom of tolerated, albeit secret sexual relationships between men and young boys. In a society where women are kept to the sidelines and pre-marital sex is a taboo, there are no concerns when it comes to men holding hands or hugging in the street with what is viewed as platonic affection.

Born in Pakistan, Qasim migrated to the United States with his parents when he was three years old. The family owned clothing factories and enjoyed an affluent life with a swimming pool in the garden. They could afford a university education -- degrees in fashion and computing, then finally an MBA. Qasim was working for Microsoft when he was diagnosed with HIV in his mid-20s. Under the law at the time, naturalised US citizens had to give up their citizenship if they were HIV positive. After a fruitless battle in the courts, he renounced his US citizenship and flew back to Pakistan, a country that he barely knew, where homosexuality is illegal.

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Graphic showing countries where same-sex marriages has been approved.

"When I came here it was a culture shock. I wasn't comfortable. I ran off to Dubai for three or four months, but I couldn't find a job. Then I moved to Sydney for six months but couldn't find a job, but now I'm happy here," he said. Qasim set up a charity for gay men and transgenders. Under the radar, with no public profile, it is supported by the government. It provides medical care and runs drop-in centres, where young men can relax, listen to music and watch TV. "I get respect. I feel appreciated for the work I'm doing. Hopefully I'm changing people's lives and making a difference," he said.

Qasim and his boyfriend Ali, 26, live in a flat in a leafy, well-to-do neighbourhood of Lahore, arguably the most liberal city in Pakistan, steeped in the history of the Mughal empire and the British Raj. There is modern art on the walls. There is a gardener and two housekeepers -- both members of Pakistan's vibrant but shunned transgender community, hired traditionally to sing at weddings and celebrate the birth of sons. "The neighbours have no idea. We mind our business," says Qasim, adding with a smile: "We don't have these big gay parties or flamboyant people coming over. "To me it's a normal thing living as a gay couple," says Ali. "Before meeting him I felt alone and depressed but now I have a happiness which I cannot describe in words."

Lahore, like other major cities in Pakistan, has an underground gay scene. Its one and only gay bar was sold off when the owner got fed up paying off the police, according to Qasim, but there are still a lot of parties. You have to be part of the circuit to get invited. Security is tight and police are bribed. Guests pay $10 for tickets and take alcohol, prohibited in Pakistan. "It's a meat market. You get 400-500 sexually frustrated guys in one room," says Qasim. He and Ali say they have turned their backs on the party scene for a life of domesticity involving going to the gym or cooking together. They say they are never threatened or insulted, but they minimise the risk by living apart from the rest of society. Living under the radar is how they cope.

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Qasim, 41, is seen at his residence in the Pakistani historical city of Lahore, April 24, 2013.

In Pakistan, the elite have the money and clout to live largely as they please, but the poor and lower classes are less protected from abuse. It is gay men from these backgrounds that Qasim's charity tries to help the most. Ali has not come out to his family. Qasim told his parents he was gay when he was a teenager. When he and Ali visit Islamabad, they stay with Qasim's parents, albeit in separate bedrooms.

The couple say they welcome the legalisation of gay marriage in other countries, but do not believe in making an issue out of gay rights in a conservative, religious country like Pakistan. Ali says they talk about getting married overseas, and then coming home to host a private ceremony in front of their friends. "We dream of the day when we can adopt a little girl to raise as our own," he adds.

Source: France24.

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 05, 2013 1:48 pm 
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Pakistan axes 'immoral' cell phone love chat
13 September 2013

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A man checks his messages alongside a railway track in Rawalpindi.

AFP - Pakistan has cracked down on "immoral" love chat services offered by mobile phone companies, stifling hopes of illicit romance in the conservative Muslim country where dating is frowned upon.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said the ban was enforced last month due to protests from parents and lawmakers, but critics warn it is the latest attempt at creeping censorship. The PTA first pulled the plug on dirt-cheap chat rates and late-night discounts in November, but operators simply started offering the services under different names. So the regulator tightened the ban late last month, ordering telecommunication companies to scrap immediately "all kinds of chat services, irrespective of the time of day".

In a country, where parents keep young people on a tight leash and dating is considered inappropriate, late-night chatting over the phone or Internet can be a way to find love below the radar. In Pakistan girls can be beaten or even killed by male relatives if there is any hint they are having a relationship and parents like to strictly control the marriages of their offspring.

A 20-year-old university student who did not want to give his name told AFP that the ban had hit him hard as he is now unable to chat with random girls and find new dates. "The cruel world has once again conspired against lovers and made it difficult for them to communicate," he told AFP. "It was so inexpensive and an easy way to find a date," he added.

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Women visit a stall a mobile phone exhibition in Islamabad in 2005.

The 25-year-old manager of a boutique in Islamabad told AFP that he had found the "love of his life" through the service. "I am going to marry her," he said. "We chatted, we exchanged numbers, we started talking and I was surprised to find out that she lived nearby," he said.

There is no public data about how many people used the romantic chat, but of the 68.6 percent of the population with access to a mobile phone, it is likely to have been a small number. Normal call charges are about two rupees ($0.02) a minute and 1.50 rupees for a text message, but chat services were offered at an hourly rate for a fraction of those rates. A customer would dial a particular number after which a computer generated voice or text message guided subscribers through various options. For example, if you want to chat to a girl press 1, a boy press 2, then you select your preferred age group before being connected to another caller by SMS conforming to your criteria.

Two of Pakistan's five mobile phone companies said they had shut down romantic chat rooms, but would continue to offer calling services that stick to general interests such as hobbies. Another company said they had shut down all chat rooms and two others were not reachable for comment. Saeeda Khan, a 45-year-old mother of three, welcomed the ban. "I am worried as they're busy all night on the phone with their friends and cousins," she told AFP. Khan said she worried about "what kind of people" are in the chat rooms and that children "are exposed to strangers". "I would never approve of chatting with unknown people," she said.

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Students speak on mobile phones at Islamic International University in Islamabad.

Mobile phone companies have filed petitions in the Supreme Court against the ban, but no date has been set for a hearing. Pakistan's oldest English-language newspaper Dawn has accused the PTA of acting as an "unwanted morality brigade". "The intermingling of young men and women is not a matter that should concern the state which has nothing to gain except opprobrium by acting as self-appointed guardian of society's morals," Dawn wrote in an editorial earlier this month. "It (the PTA) should mind its own business."

The PTA defends the move as a response to public anger, but the ban has raised fears about growing censorship in Pakistan. The government frequently shuts down mobile networks to prevent militant attacks and access to YouTube has been blocked for a year over a low-budget American film deemed offensive to Islam. In November 2011, the PTA also tried to ban nearly 1,700 "obscene" words from text messages, which included innocuous terms such as "lotion", "athlete's foot" and "idiot". In 2010, Pakistan shut down Facebook for nearly two weeks over blasphemy and continues to restrict hundreds of online links.

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A man checks messages on his mobile in Rawalpindi.

Independent technology think-tank Bytes for All, Pakistan told AFP that the fresh ban was a violation of human rights. "Any regulation on the basis of 'morals' falls under moral policing, which is unjustified, undemocratic, dictatorial and a violation of fundamental rights," Furhan Hussain, Coordinator Advocacy and Outreach at Bytes for All, Pakistan, told AFP.

One engineering graduate, when asked if he had ever used the chat service, said he regretted only hearing about it after the ban. "Damn! I could have been dating girls, now I regret it."

Source: France24.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 08, 2013 8:03 pm 
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Three women shot dead in Pakistan 'honour' killing
16 September 2013

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AFP - Relatives have shot dead three women in a lawless tribal area of northwest Pakistan after one of them left her husband, officials said Monday.

The "honour" killings happened in Jawaki village in the Darra Adam Khel district, between the cities of Peshawar and Kohat.

A 22-year-old woman from Karachi who married a Jawaki shopkeeper about two years ago was accused of fleeing her husband's house and marrying another man in the northwestern Swat valley with the help of her aunt and cousin, a local administration official told AFP. The local tribal council or jirga intervened in the matter and decided on Sunday that the women should be killed. Relatives shot the three dead at their house late Sunday and buried them on Monday morning, he added.

"It is a case of honour killings and was settled under tribal customs where the Pakistani criminal code is not applicable," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity. "According to the information gathered from local sources, the girl was not happy with her husband." Local intelligence officials confirmed the killings.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says 943 women and girls were murdered in 2011 after being accused of tarnishing their families' honour. The statistics highlight the violence suffered by many women in conservative Muslim Pakistan, where they are frequently treated as second-class citizens.

Source: France24.

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