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Political dissent Indian urged to repeal sedition law

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ISLAMABAD: International human rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Indian government to immediately repeal the colonial-era sedition law, which local authorities are using to silence peaceful political dissent.

According to the Kashmir Media Service, the HRW said that the Indian government should drop sedition cases against prominent human rights activists such as a vocal critic of the Chhattisgarh state government’s counter-insurgency policies against Maoist, Dr Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy, and others.

“Using sedition laws to silence peaceful criticism is the hallmark of an oppressive government,” said the South Asia director at HRW, Meenakshi Ganguli. “The Supreme Court has long recognised that the sedition law cannot be used for this purpose, and India’s parliament should amend or repeal the law to reflect this.”

“Considering that India wants the world to celebrate its independent judiciary and active civil society, these actions are both bizarre and regressive,” Ganguly said. “Local authorities do not need to wait for parliament to pass any changes in the sedition law to act lawfully, but instead should just stop pursuing cases against their critics.”

Women protest as French Cabinet gets veil ban bill

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PARIS – One runs her own company, another is a housewife and a third, a divorcee, raises her children by herself. Like nearly 2,000 other Muslim women who freely wear face-covering veils anywhere in France, their lives will soon change and they are worried.

On Wednesday, French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie presented a draft law to the Cabinet banning Muslim veils that cover the face, the first formal step in a process to forbid such attire in all public places in France. It calls for euro150 ($185) fines and, in some cases, citizenship classes for women who run afoul of the law.

The measure notably creates a new offense, “inciting to hide the face,” and anyone convicted of forcing a woman to wear such a veil risks a year in prison and a euro15,000 ($18,555) fine, according to a copy of the text.

“Citizenship should be experienced with an uncovered face,” President Nicolas Sarkozy told the Cabinet meeting, in remarks released by his office. “There can be no other solution but a ban in all public places.”

Although the Interior Ministry estimates there are only 1,900 women in France who cover their faces with veils, the planned law would be another defining moment for Islam here as the nation tries to bring its Muslim population – at least 5 million, the largest in western Europe – into the mainstream, even by force of law.

The bill is to go before parliament in July, and despite the acrimonious debate that is sure to come, there is little doubt the measure will become law. Sarkozy, who says such veils oppress women, wants a law banning them on the books as soon as possible.

“If the law is voted, I won’t take off my veil. … No one will dictate my way of life” but God, said Najat, a divorcee, who gave her age as “45 plus.” She was one of a half-dozen women who, in a rare move, met with reporters on Tuesday to express their worries about changes they say will impact their lives to the core.

Like others, she refused to give her full name. All said they fear for their safety in an increasingly tense climate. Najat was among those who said she has been increasingly harassed since debate over the planned law began nearly a year ago.

Amnesty International urged French lawmakers to reject the bill. The London-based organization said its expert on discrimination in Europe, John Dalhuisen, believes a complete ban would violate rights to freedom of expression and religion for women who wear the face veils “as an expression of their identity or beliefs.”

A French anti-racism group, MRAP, which opposes such dress, said a law would be “useless and dangerous.”

Sarkozy welcomed the bill, saying the government is embarking on “a just path” and urging parliament to take its “moral responsibility” and approve it.

The final draft text says France’s founding tenets of liberty, equality and fraternity, values that guarantee the “social pact,” are at stake.

The women beg to differ, claiming that France is betraying itself.

“Liberty. Liberty. I’m in France, in the land of liberty, equality, fraternity. I had the impression I was living it,” said Oum Al Khyr, of Montreuil, on the edge of eastern Paris.

The measure, which could be amended once it reaches parliament, foresees a six-month delay in its application to explain the law and mediate with recalcitrant women who cover their faces, which means it wouldn’t take effect until early in 2011.

A similar veil ban is in the works in neighboring Belgium.

France has already walked this road, banning Muslim headscarves, and other “ostentatious” religious symbols, from classrooms in 2004.

The bespectacled Najat, with a French mother and Moroccan father, said she has covered her face with a veil for 10 years. Najat said that because she is divorced and raising her children alone no one “can say this is imposed on me.”

“I won’t leave” France if the veil is outlawed. “Why should I leave?” Najat said, waving her French passport.

The women predicted that their “sisters,” other women who veil themselves, would hide out in their homes so as not to get caught breaking the law. Several said they would take their case to the European Court of Human Rights if arrested.

With the law, “They are giving people the right to attack us,” said Kenza Drider, of Avignon in the south, who is married with four children. She was the only fully veiled woman to be interviewed by a parliamentary panel during a six-month inquiry.

“To tell a sister you can’t wear this veil is to say you can’t practice your religion,” said Oum Al Khyra.

The bill turns on the “dignity of the person” rather than security issues, as had been widely speculated. It was unclear if that would make it more vulnerable to constitutional attacks.

The French government decided to risk running up against the constitution, despite a warning from the Council of State, France’s highest administrative body, which said March 30 that a full ban would likely not pass constitutional muster. It confirmed its “unfavorable opinion” on a general ban in a final report last week, according to the daily Le Figaro.

France’s Muslim leaders have said the face-covering veil is not required by Islam, but have also warned that a ban on the full veil risks stigmatizing all Muslims.

In a country where fashion counts, and is often revealing, there is a visceral reaction among some French to veils that cover women from head to toe and conceal the face, sometimes including the eyes.

Critics of the garb say such dress is an affront to gender equality and undermines the nation’s secular foundations by bringing religion into the streets. Others say the face-covering veil is the gateway to radical Islam.

The six women speaking Tuesday tackled such arguments, saying that their dignity cannot be dictated by the state, that they do not represent a terrorist threat and that secularism should give them the right to practice their religion as they see fit. They correctly note that women make up less than 20 percent of the 577 lawmakers in the French National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

“They say they are going to free us,” said Drider. But “it’s the state who will force us into cloisters. We will have to sue for sequestration.”

Karima, 31, who runs an import-export company, said she has been wearing a burqa-like veil for 16 years – more than half her life, she notes – and “I don’t even know how to take it off.”

Congress survives confidence vote as Opp crumbles

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* BSP, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal walk out of Lok Sabha before opposition-demanded vote of strength against govt

By Iftikhar Gilani

NEW DELHI: India’s Congress-led government sailed through a trial of strength in parliament on Tuesday, with smaller parties giving it a leg up to achieve a surprisingly strong victory despite a recent string of troubles.

The vote was demanded by opposition parties against an unpopular hike in fuel and fertiliser prices, which they said stoked inflation and hurt the poor, but which the government says was needed to cut the fiscal deficit.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati put a dent in the opposition’s side and Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad further weakened it by walking out, letting the opposition-sponsored 30 and odd cut-motions fall without causing the slightest damage to the ruling party. Ultimately, 289 members voted for the ruling party against 201 in opposition. The House on Tuesday night passed the Union Budget and the related Appropriation Bill after rejecting cut-motions and guillotining discussions on the outstanding demand for grants.

Two cut-motions by opposition leader Sushma Swaraj and CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta, seeking the rolling back of the duty hikes in petrol and diesel, were rejected in division, the first by 84 votes and the second by 88 votes. A happy prime minister sat throughout the voting process of the budget. There were other union ministers from the Rajya Sabha who too remained present throughout. Singh delayed his departure to Bhutan for the SAARC summit to wait and watch his government sail through. The ruling UPA alliance has a strength of 274 members, just two more than the half-way mark for the majority in the House, but 289 votes cast against the Left’s cut-motion showed that 21 MPs of BSP stood by promise to vote for the government.

The opposition BJP alleged that Mayawati offered support as a quid-pro-quo to the CBI agreeing to re-examine her disproportionate assets case in the Supreme Court on Friday.

The Congress was, however, quick to deny any kind of deal with her and pointing out that the BSP had been already providing an outside support to the government. BJP leader Arun Jaitley told a press conference at the Parliament House that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was looking for a “Trojan Horse” in the opposition that it ultimately found in Mayawati, as otherwise its government’s policies, scams and non-performance prevented the disintegration of the opposition. Accusing the government of keeping the Damocles’ sword of CBI hanging on heads of certain vulnerable opposition leaders, particularly those belonging to the BSP, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal, Jaitley said he could cite several instances when the head of the CBI increased or reduced pressure, depending on the need, on these leaders when a bail out of the government was necessary.

Reservations: Dilemmas Galore

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By: Ram Puniyan

Heated debate has been generated around women’s reservation bill (WRB) with both sides having their inflexible positions. On one side there are those calling for its implementation and on the other those who are opposing it. This is a superficial view of debate. As such the debate is, on side are those saying that it should be implemented as it is and on the other side are those who say that there should be quota for OBC dalit, minorities within the quota. There are very few who are totally opposed to WRB, there are many willing to support it if quota within quota is accepted, so to paint them as being against Women’s reservation is unfair. The bill is hanging fire from last one and a half decade, and the rigidity of both sides is so obvious. In democracy it need not be just a brute majority which should work; a process of consensus should be tried before polarizing the issue.

One can very well say it is a bit of the reminder of Mandal days. Many of those opposing Mandal are the strongest champions of this bill while the supporters of Mandal are trying to argue that if implemented in the present form, it will increase the hegemony of upper castes, as the upper caste women are in a better position to compete, while the lower castes and Minorities will be left behind. The supporters of reservation as WRB is, rhetorically dismiss the concern of quota within quota by saying that if these parties are so concerned with that section of women, why have they not given them more seats so far? The same argument can be turned up side down to say that those who are strong proponents of the bill as it is; how much they have bothered to give the tickets to women. By present estimates the three major parties Congress, BJP and Communists, if they would have followed this in allotting more tickets to women, by now the composition of parliament would have been very different.

The point is that, precisely because parties give tickets on winnablity criterion, women are not given tickets in proportion to their percentage in population, and so the need for reservation. The opponents of quota within quota argue that this will divide the women! Question is, are all the women united? The upper caste women, do they supp comfortably with the lower caste? What type of unity of women prevails when a large section of Muslim women have been forced into ghettoes in the aftermath of massive carnage, which in turn has created fear amongst minorities and a situation where they are excluded from social space.

One recalls with pain and horror that during communal violence a section of the women from majority community have been bystanders, if not outright assisters, when the women from minority community were raped! What unity we are talking about? There are surely many concerns which are common to all the women, but in our society unfortunately the caste, class and religion divide has affected the concerns of different sections of women.

The empowerment of women is an absolute must for democratization process of society, so rather than polarizing the debate there is a need to pass the bill with some modifications with a consensus, brought in by taking the concerns of its opponents in present form seriously. Those who oppose the women’s reservations in toto can be bypassed but the opinion of quota within quota is a different terrain.

There is another glaring phenomenon taking place in the society since independence. The representation of Muslims in Parliament is on a constant decline. From last Lok Sabha to the present one there is a reduction, from 36 to current just 29 of them. The present number of Muslim MPs is close to half of what it was in the initial period of the republic. One welcomes the move to ensure the improvement of empowerment of women, but what about declining representation of Muslim minority? One is sure with present social dynamics it is going to slide down further. Is it a sign of health of democracy or does it indicate that democratic process is being subverted from deep within the system by the communalization of society.

At another level one can safely talk about the reservation for dalits, OBC’s and women, but when it comes to the question of Muslim minorities; all the antennas are up to sense that it is dividing the nation. What in fact is dividing the nation is the regular occurrence of violence against minorities, what is dividing the nation is the ghettoisation of minorities and the constant propaganda demonizing them on one pretext or the other.

It is in this context that the Judgment of Supreme Court restoring the Andhra Pradesh law for 4 percent quota for backward Muslims in Jobs and colleges is most welcome. We are going through delicate times when there is some superficial concern shown for minorities, Sachar Committee is appointed, Rangnath Mishra Commission is appointed, but the rulers get cold feet when their recommendation are to be implemented. Rangnath Mishra Commission recommends 15% reservation for Muslims, but not much is being heard on this front.

Most hypocritical stance on the issue of reservation has been that of BJP. It has been the constant opponent of reservations for dalits and OBCs on the ground that this is discriminatory, and due to this the meritorious candidates will be left behind. During the speech in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitly of BJP (March 09, 2010) while defending the WRB, stated that it is a myth that reservation creates privileged society. He also said that with WRB politics of tokenism will be replaced by that of representation. Sane words. Only thing is there are double standards in this. So far we heard something totally contrary from BJP worthies as far as reservations were concerned.

Unfortunately the reservation has to be resorted to in our democracy as the proper democratic process has failed to take care of the needs of deprived sections of society. A holistic approach to reservation to all sections of deprived communities is what we need and that’s what will ensure that the gross disparities are done away and justice reaches to all section of society.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

April 8, 2010 at 6:23 am

Judges validating coup to be tried for high treason

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ISLAMABAD: Parliament is being asked this week to approve a major change in Article 6 of the Constitution envisaging trial under high treason charges of all those judges of the superior judiciary who would validate any future military coup, as they would be seen as abettors in the crime, writes Rauf Klasra.

PM to appoint services chiefs

The powers of the president to appoint the services chiefs and to dissolve the National Assembly are finally being proposed to be returned to the prime minister amid certain sweeping changes in the clauses pertaining to articles 62 and 63 to stop disqualification of any person from contesting the election or becoming member of parliament on charges of making speeches and comments against the judiciary and Army, unless convicted by a court of law.

Under the new constitutional package, the attorney general will not be allowed to indulge in private practice or accept lucrative fees from individuals or firms so long as he holds the office.

According to the proposed constitutional package being given final shape, clause 4 of Article 200 is being omitted from the Constitution which envisages that “if a judge of a high court who does not accept the transfer (by the president of Pakistan) to another high court under clause (i) shall be deemed to have been retired from his office and on such retirement shall be entitled to receive a pension calculated on the basis of length of his service as judge”. Now under the proposed arrangements, the powers of president to transfer a judge and subsequent punishment of retirement in case of his refusal have been deleted.

One of the proposed changes in the Constitution have also made it mandatory for the president to give his assent to any bill within ten days as against the existing thirty days, failing which the assent shall be deemed to have been given.

According to the available draft copy of the recommendations to be tabled in the National Assembly most probably this week, the committee members were in full agreement to bring about changes in Article 6 of the Constitution to apply high treason clause to all those judges who would validate military rule. They would be seen as abetters in the crime if they will give legal cover to military takeover in future. The first change in Article 6 is being proposed in clause (1) where after the word “subverts” the words “or suspends or holds in abeyance” shall be inserted.

Likewise after clause (2) the following new clause shall be inserted: “no court including the supreme court and high court shall validate an act of high treason mentioned in clause (1) or clause (2)”.

Now the revised Article 6 will read as “(1) any person who abrogates or attempts or conspires to abrogate, subverts or attempts or conspires to subvert Constitution by use of force or by other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason; (2) Any person aiding or abetting the acts mentioned in clause (1) shall likewise be guilty of high treason. No court including Supreme Court and a high court shall validate an act of high treason mentioned in clause (1) or clause (2);

(3) Parliament shall by law provide for the punishment of persons found guilty of high treason.

A new article 8-A is also being introduced to give right to fair trial. The new article reads “Right to fair trial: For the determination of civil rights and obligations or in any criminal charge against him a person is entitled to a fair trial”.

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed to The News that powers of the president to appoint three services chiefs were being shifted to the prime minister. It was decided among the members that the Constitution should be brought back to its original position as on October 12, 1999. Before Mushrraf’s coup, former prime minister Nawaz Shairf had the powers to appoint services chiefs by virtue of constitutional changes made by Parliament in 1997. Farooq Khan Leghari had inherited these powers from Ghulam Ishaq.

General Pervez Musharraf got these powers back as well as the power to dismiss the National Assembly under Article 58-2(b) although unlike General Zia, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Leghari, Musharraf did not dissolve the National Assembly. Now, once again the same powers are being returned to the prime minister.

Some important changes have also been recommended in Article 62. It is being proposed that clauses (g) and (i) of this article be omitted from the Constitution. Clause (g) reads: “a person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of parliament if he has not been convicted for a crime involving moral turpitude or for giving false evidence.”

Clause (i) says: “a person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as member of parliament if he possesses such other qualifications as may be prescribed by act of parliament”.

Article 63 is also being rewritten in the new package. Clause “g” of article 63 is being abolished. It says: “a person cannot be chosen a member of parliament if he is propagating any opinion or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or sovereignty, integrity of Pakistan or morality or the maintenance of public order or the integrity of independence of judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings ridicule to the judiciary or the armed forces of Pakistan”. Now this clause will be substituted with following words: “a person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as member of parliament if he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan or which defames or brings into ridicule the armed forces of Pakistan”. This means that any person who will make comments about judiciary and army would not be stopped from contesting elections or disqualified from parliament seat unless convicted by a court.

In a related change in clause (2), the following shall be substituted: “(2) if any question arises whether a member of parliament has become disqualified from being a member, the speaker or, as the case may be, the chairman, shall refer the question to the Election Commission within thirty days and should he fail to do so within aforesaid period, it shall be deemed to have been so referred to the Election Commission who shall decide the question within 90 days from its receipt and if it is of the opinion that the member has become disqualified, he shall cease to be a member and his seat shall become vacant”.

In another related change in Article 63, clause (m) is being omitted which says: “a person shall be disqualified from being member of parliament or contest the election if he has been convicted under section 7 of the Political Parties Act 1962 (III of 1962), unless a period of five years has been elapsed from the date of such conviction”.

Likewise, the president’s powers to keep any bill within him for 30 days to put his signatures are also being clipped, as now he would be required to sign or resend the bill to the parliament within ten days. A clause is being inserted in Article 75 which reads: “gives his (president) assent to a bill within ten days failing which such assent shall be deemed to have been given”.

Changes are also being proposed in Article 89. Now president would not issue ordinance if the Senate is in session. Under the current law, the president cannot issue ordinance if the National Assembly is in session but now “Senate” has been added to the relevant clause after the words “National Assembly”.

Changes are also being proposed in Article 104, which says: “speaker provincial assembly will act as or perform functions of governor in his absence. When the governor, by reason of absence from Pakistan or any other cause, is unable to perform his functions, the speaker of the provincial assembly and in his absence any other person as the president may nominate shall perform the functions of governor until governor returns to Pakistan or as the case may be, resumes his function”.

Changes have also been proposed in Article 168, which deals with the appointment of auditor general of Pakistan. For clause (3) the following shall be substituted: “(3) the auditor general of Pakistan shall, unless he sooner resigns or is removed from the office in accordance with clause (5), hold office for a fixed term of five years from the date on which he assumed such office or he attains the age of 65 whichever is earlier.” Other terms and conditions of service of the AG shall be determined by an act of parliament and until so determined by the order of the president. In clause (6) for the words “such other person as the president may direct”, the words “the president may appoint the most senior officer in the auditor general department to” shall be substituted.

Article 170 is also being amended and following new clause shall be added: “(2) the audit of the accounts of the federation and of the provinces and the accounts of any authority or body established by the federation or a province, shall be conducted by the auditor general of Pakistan, who shall determine the extent and nature of such audit”. The reports of the AG will also be laid down before the Senate.

Ziaul Haq to be deleted as president from history

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By Rauf Klasra

ISLAMABAD: President General Ziaul Haq will be deleted from Pakistan’s constitutional history when the 18th Amendment, to be moved in parliament in a few days, is passed.

A new history is being written by our politicians as ruthless military dictator General Ziaul Haq will be stripped of his title of President of Pakistan, 22 years after his death in a plane crash. General Zia’s election as the president of Pakistan through his infamous presidential referendum of December 19, 1984, will be deleted from the pages of the Constitution.

The ironic part of this unprecedented move is that a large number of parliamentarians sitting in the lower and upper houses were part of the Majlis-e-Shoora of General Zia and had greatly helped him win the referendum. They would now vote against their own actions of the past to strip him of the title of the President of Pakistan.

After this passage of the new amendment, General Zia would be remembered in the Constitution and political history of the country only as General Ziaul Haq, not the president of Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif, the Chaudhrys of Gujrat and their political lieutenants, who had played an important role in the victory of General Zia in his presidential referendum of 1984, will now vote in favour of deleting their one time benefactor from the pages of the Constitution.

According to the available copy of the proposed amendments to be laid down in the lower house, Article 41 which was added in the Constitution of 1973 at the behest of General Zia in 1985 by the then assembly is now being changed. Clause 7 of Article 41 is being deleted to strip Zia of his title of the president. After holding the referendum in 1984, one year before the general election of 1985, Zia had got himself declared as the president of the country.