Thousands protest Pakistan Supreme Court minorities ruling

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan activists protest against Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, in Karachi on February 23, 2024. Pakistan's Supreme Court has defended its top judge after a ruling he issued related to blasphemy that sparked an online backlash and led to thinly veiled death threats. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

Thousands protest Pakistan Supreme Court minorities ruling

  • CJP Faez Isa ordered the release of a man from Ahmadi community, considered heretical by Muslim scholars
  • Around 3,000 people gathered at protest rallies across the northwestern city of Peshawar after Friday prayers

PESHAWAR: Thousands of Pakistanis protested against the Supreme Court’s top judge on Friday, after he issued a ruling related to blasphemy that sparked online backlash and thinly veiled death threats.
A campaign targeting Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa began after he ordered the release of a man from the Ahmadi community, considered heretical by hard-line Muslim scholars.
The man had been accused of disseminating a forbidden Ahmadi text, which firebrand clerics consider tantamount to blasphemy — an incendiary issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of offending Islam have sparked violence.
Around 3,000 people gathered at rallies across the northwestern city of Peshawar after Friday prayers.
Crowds blocked roads and chanted “Death to Qadianis” — a slur referring to Ahmadis — as well as “Long live Islam.”
The Supreme Court issued a statement on Thursday evening defending his ruling, denying that it went against the Islamic constitution of Pakistan.
“This impression is absolutely wrong,” it said. “The organized campaign against judiciary and judges is unfortunate.”
A spokesman for Pakistan’s Ahmadi community, Amir Mahmood, told AFP that “one-sided negative propaganda is being spread against this judgment” which protected a man from “being persecuted for his religious belief.”
Isa’s ruling first went unnoticed two weeks ago, before it was highlighted by social media accounts linked to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party behind violent anti-blasphemy protests.
Posts calling for him to resign have been shared thousands of times on social media.
The Pakistani chapter of the Taliban militant group — known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — called Isa “an enemy of Islam” and “a damned man.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said Isa’s ruling “protects the constitutional right of all religious minorities to freedom of religion or belief.”
“Those political leaders and sections of the media that are responsible for this campaign must be restrained,” the organization said on social media platform X.
Ahmadis have been discriminated against and persecuted for decades in Pakistan.
The second amendment of Pakistan’s constitution, made in 1974, declares Ahmadis non-Muslims.
The law also prohibits them from professing to be Muslims or spreading their faith, and allows the death penalty for those found guilty of insulting Islam.
In his judgment, Isa ruled that according to the constitution, “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion.”
“Freedom of faith is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. But sadly, in matters of religion, tempers flare up and the Qur’anic mandate is forsaken,” he added.
He also said the book allegedly disseminated by the accused had not been outlawed at the time of the alleged crime in 2019.
Cleric Fazlur Rehman, the influential leader of the conservative religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, said Isa’s reasoning was “false and based on bad intentions.”
In 2011, the governor of eastern Punjab province was killed by his bodyguard after calling for reforms to the stringent blasphemy laws that Ahmadis frequently fall foul of.


Pakistan holds by-polls in 21 constituencies amid partial suspension of cellular services

Updated 9 sec ago
Follow

Pakistan holds by-polls in 21 constituencies amid partial suspension of cellular services

  • Polling is being held on seats vacated by candidates or in constituencies where election had been postponed in Feb.
  • Jailed ex-PM Khan’s party terms the mobile service shutdown ‘illegal, unconstitutional and a plan to rig the results’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is holding by-elections on 21 national and provincial seats today, Sunday, amid suspension of mobile phone networks in parts of Punjab and Balochistan provinces.

The by-polls are the first major electoral exercise since the Feb. 8 national election in Pakistan, which were marred by a nationwide mobile network outage and result delays, leading to accusations that the vote was rigged and drawing concern from rights groups and foreign governments.

Polling began at 8am and will continue till 5pm for five National Assembly seats, 12 Punjab Assembly seats, and two seats each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan assemblies. They were left vacant due to postponement of polls in Feb. or were vacated by lawmakers, who won multiple seats.

On Saturday, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), which regulates Internet in the country, said the decision to keep cellular services suspended in specific districts of Punjab and Balochistan on April 21-22 was taken on the directions of the interior ministry.

“This decision has been taken to safeguard the integrity and security of the electoral process,” the regulator said in a statement on Saturday.

The by-polls are likely to witness a fierce competition between candidates backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) opposition party and rival political groups.

Reacting to the PTA’s announcement on Saturday, the PTI said the suspension of mobile phone services in districts where by-polls were being held was “unconstitutional and illegal.”

“The Internet shutdown is unconstitutional, illegal and shameful, and a plan to rig the results,” it said, urging supporters to come out in large numbers to cast their votes to thwart these plans.

The federal government has authorized the deployment of civil armed forces and Pakistan Army to assist the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in peaceful conduct of by-polls.

In its code of conduct, the ECP said troops should not respond on their own to “an apparent irregularity” outside a polling station and bring the matter to the knowledge of the presiding officer for any necessary legal action.

The security forces were also directed not to “interfere in the counting process in any manner” and perform their duty outside the polling stations diligently, so that the counting process could be completed in a peaceful manner.


Pakistan revives ‘Safari Tourist Train’ to explore Potohar region’s scenic landscapes

Updated 7 min 14 sec ago
Follow

Pakistan revives ‘Safari Tourist Train’ to explore Potohar region’s scenic landscapes

  • Potohar plateau is located north of Pakistan’s Punjab province and west of the Azad Kashmir territory
  • Train’s purpose is to revive tourism and acquaint travelers with railways ancient heritage, says state media

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Railways kicked off the operations of the “Safari Tourist Train” on Sunday, which aims to explore the Potohar region’s scenic landscapes and explore the rich heritage of the country’s railway, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. 

The Potohar plateau is located in the north of Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province and west of the Azad Kashmir area. The districts of Attock, Jhelum, Chakwal and Rawalpindi constitute the Potohar plateau. 

The train was first launched in February 2021 by then railways minister Azam Khan Swati but due to unexplained reasons, its operations were halted in 2022. 

“The Pakistan Railway is set to breathe new life into tourism with the revival of its iconic ‘Safari Tourist Train,’ in collaboration with private company PK-Unicorn,” APP said. 

The train’s operations commenced from Islamabad’s historic Golra Railway station at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday. The train will traverse through Hasan Abdal, Attock, and Attock Khurd Railway stations, the APP said. 

The Pakistan Railways earlier said the tourist train’s purpose is to bolster tourism and acquaint travelers with the railway’s ancient heritage to promote tourism.

The train will pass through the imposing Margallah Hills and the Sangjani tunnel as well as the Chablal Bridge, Haro Bridge, Ghazi Borotha and Attock Khurd bridges, offering tourists a view of the beautiful Potohar landscape. 

Fares for the journey range from Rs 2,000 ($7.20) for the Economy class to Rs 4,500 ($16.20) for a Deluxe package inclusive of meals, the APP said. 


After emphatic win, Pakistan face New Zealand in third T20I today

Updated 50 min 38 sec ago
Follow

After emphatic win, Pakistan face New Zealand in third T20I today

  • Pakistan beat New Zealand by seven wickets on Saturday to go 1-0 up in five-match series
  • Fast bowlers Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Amir shared five wickets to restrict Kiwis to 90 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will lock horns with New Zealand in the third T20 match between the two sides today, Sunday, at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium as both prepare for the upcoming World Cup in June. 

Pakistan will head into the match confident after beating New Zealand convincingly on Saturday night by seven wickets. Pakistan’s fiery pace attack in the form of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Amir and Naseem Shah shared six wickets between themselves to bowl New Zealand out for a weak 90 within 19 overs. 

“The third T20 of five-match series between Pakistan and New Zealand will be played in Rawalpindi today,” the state-run Radio Pakistan said in a report. “The match will start at 7:30 in the evening.”

Pakistan’s Mohammad Rizwan became the fastest T20 batter to reach 3,000 T20I runs on Saturday after his match-winning knock of 45 against New Zealand. Rizwan achieved the milestone in just 79 innings, beating his skipper Babar Azam and former Indian captain Virat Kohli who achieved the feat in 81 innings. 

Pakistan were off to a shaky start in their run chase, losing the wickets of openers Saim Ayub and Azam cheaply. Ayub scored only four runs from two balls while Azam made 14 from 13 balls before he was stumped off a Michael Bracewell delivery. 

Rizwan and Irfan Khan held their nerves to ensure Pakistan chased the 91-run target in 12.1 overs. 

Afridi was the pick of the Pakistani bowlers, returning figures of 3/13 while Amir, making his comeback to the national squad after nearly four years, bowled impressively to finish at 2/13. Spinners Abrar Ahmed and Shadab Khan returned figures of 2/15 each while pacer Shah ended up with 1/27. 

Both teams are preparing for the Twenty20 World Cup to be held in June in the United States and the West Indies.

New Zealand are missing a host of their top players due to playing in the ongoing Indian Premier League, unavailability and injuries.

The remaining matches are in Rawalpindi on Sunday followed by the last two in Lahore on April 25 and 27.

Squads:

Pakistan — Babar Azam (captain), Abrar Ahmed, Azam Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohmmad Amir, Muhammad Irfan Khan, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usama Mir, Usman Khan and Zaman Khan

New Zealand — Michael Bracewell (captian), Tom Blundell, Mark Chapman, Josh Clarkson, Jacob Duffy, Dean Foxcroft, Ben Lister, Cole McConchie, Jimmy Neesham, Will O’Rourke, Tim Robinson, Ben Sears, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi and Zak Foulkes.


Pakistan beats India 2-1 in Karate Combat 45 competition in Dubai 

Updated 21 April 2024
Follow

Pakistan beats India 2-1 in Karate Combat 45 competition in Dubai 

  • Pakistan’s Shahzaib Rind beats India’s Rana Singh to seal the win 2-1 
  • Karate Combat hosts bouts between skilled fighters from various countriesHANK

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan edged India out 2-1 in the Karate Combat 45 competition in Dubai on Saturday night, with an “unstoppable” Shahzaib Rind convincingly beating India’s Rana Singh to seal the win. 

Karate Combat is a professional martial arts league featuring full-contact karate bouts. Karate Combat hosts events around the world, showcasing bouts between skilled fighters from different weight classes and countries. 

The match between the two countries was decided in the final round after Pakistan’s Rizwan Ali and India’s Himanshu Kaushik won the first and second competition of the match, respectively. 

“Shahzaib Rind is just unstoppable inside the pit!” Karate Combat wrote on social media platform X. “Pakistan beats India 2-1 with this victory.”

The competition began with Ali facing India’s Pawan Gupta. The bout was a one-sided one, with Ali knocking out Gupta soon earlier on and ending the match in Pakistan’s favor. 

India then leveled the match when its fighter Himanshu Kaushik overcame Pakistan’s Faizan Khan in the second fixture, making it 1-1 before Rind delivered decisive blows to Singh to seal the victory for Pakistan 2-1. 

The fixture between India and Pakistan was a much-awaited one, especially due to the pre-match hype between fighters of the two countries. 

At a pre-match news conference on Friday, Rind slapped Singh before both were separated by their team members. The video of the altercation went viral on social media. 


AI’s relentless rise gives journalists tough choices

Updated 20 April 2024
Follow

AI’s relentless rise gives journalists tough choices

  • Generative AI has been opening new frontiers as well as raising concerns for a year and a half
  • Media professionals agree their trade must now focus on tasks offering the greatest ‘added value’

PERUGIA: The rise of artificial intelligence has forced an increasing number of journalists to grapple with the ethical and editorial challenges posed by the rapidly expanding technology.
AI’s role in assisting newsrooms or transforming them completely was among the questions raised at the International Journalism Festival in the Italian city of Perugia that closes on Sunday.
AI tools imitating human intelligence are widely used in newsrooms around the world to transcribe sound files, summarise texts and translate.
In early 2023, Germany’s Axel Springer group announced it was cutting jobs at the Bild and Die Welt newspapers, saying AI could now “replace” some of its journalists.
Generative AI — capable of producing text and images following a simple request in everyday language — has been opening new frontiers as well as raising concerns for a year and a half.
One issue is that voices and faces can now be cloned to produce a podcast or present news on television. Last year, Filipino website Rappler created a brand aimed at young audiences by converting its long articles into comics, graphics and even videos.
Media professionals agree that their trade must now focus on tasks offering the greatest “added value.”
“You’re the one who is doing the real stuff” and “the tools that we produce will be an assistant to you,” Google News general manager Shailesh Prakash told the festival in Perugia.
The costs of generative AI have plummeted since ChatGPT burst onto the scene in late 2022, with the tool designed by US start-up OpenAI now accessible to smaller newsrooms.
Colombian investigative outlet Cuestion Publica has harnessed engineers to develop a tool that can delve into its archives and find relevant background information in the event of breaking news.
But many media organizations are not making their own language models, which are at the core of AI interfaces, said University of Amsterdam professor Natali Helberger. They are needed for “safe and trustworthy technology,” he stressed.
According to one estimate last year by Everypixel Journal, AI has created as many images in one year as photography in 150 years.
That has raised serious questions about how news can be fished out of the tidal wave of content, including deepfakes.
Media and tech organizations are teaming up to tackle the threat, notably through the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity, which seeks to set common standards.
“The core of our job is news gathering, on-the-ground reporting,” said Sophie Huet, recently appointed to become global news director for editorial innovation and artificial intelligence at Agence France-Presse.
“We’ll rely for a while on human reporters,” she added, although that might be with the help of artificial intelligence.
Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which has expanded its media rights brief to defending trustworthy news, launched the Paris Charter on AI and journalism late last year.
“One of the things I really liked about the Paris Charter was the emphasis on transparency,” said Anya Schiffrin, a lecturer on global media, innovation and human rights at Columbia University in the United States.
“To what extent will publishers have to disclose when they are using generative IA?“
Olle Zachrison, head of AI and news strategy at public broadcaster Swedish Radio, said there was “a serious debate going on: should you mark out AI content or should people trust your brand?“
Regulation remains in its infancy in the face of a constantly evolving technology.
In March, the European Parliament adopted a framework law aiming to regulate AI models without holding back innovation, while guidelines and charters are increasingly common in newsrooms.
AI editorial guidelines are updated every three months at India’s Quintillion Media, said its boss Ritu Kapur.
None of the organization’s articles can be written by AI and the images it generates cannot represent real life.
AI models feed off data, but their thirst for the vital commodity has raised hackles among providers.
In December, the New York Times sued OpenAI and its main investor Microsoft for violation of copyright.
In contrast, other media organizations have struck deals with OpenAI: Axel Springer, US news agency AP, French daily Le Monde and Spanish group Prisa Media whose titles include El Pais and AS newspapers.
With resources tight in the media industry, collaborating with the new technology is tempting, explained Emily Bell, a professor at Columbia University’s journalism school.
She senses a growing external pressure to “Get on board, don’t miss the train.”