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Shias demand right to religious freedom

Communities say the state has not done enough to protect against targeted violence reporter, Quetta

July 19, 2012

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Shia groups have called on the government to protect freedom of speech after a website that was closed earlier this month was unblocked today. The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority blocked the Pakshia website, which posts news, Twitter feeds and sends out SMS messages on sectarian violence and extrajudicial killings in the country, on July 14 charging that it was posting “objectionable material.” Shia Muslims protested the action earlier this week in Karachi, during which four protesters were injured during clashes with police. In a posting on their website, Pakshia said Shias have been targets for several extremist groups and the web service provided an important forum for peaceful purposes. “For many years extremist groups [and] banned terrorist organizations like the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba and others have targeted Shi’ite Muslims.” The post added: “The Shia Killing page is just a messenger for a peaceful voice against oppression of Shi’ite Muslims in Pakistan and this is our moral right,” referring to a section of the site that chronicles violence against Shia Muslims. Aftab, a Shia leader from the Hazara community in Quetta, said the federal government clamped down on the website to save its image. “We are not grateful for their favor [in unblocking the site] because it was a sheer violation of our fundamental right of speech and expression. They are not doing anything about the [violence against] our community members and it’s criminal negligence,” he said. “The failed government is pushing the country to annihilation.” Aftab further condemned the latest act of violence against the community, a bomb attack on a minivan yesterday in Sepoy village that killed 14 Shia passengers including three children. Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling Shias enemies of Islam. Some 64 Shias have been killed in terrorist attacks since last month, community leaders have said. Shia Muslims account for 25 percent of Pakistan’s more than 170 million population. Allama Syed Sabtain Alhusaini, head of an imambargah (a congregation hall for Shia ceremonies) in Gujranwala in Punjab province, blamed foreign agencies for what he called the organized massacre of his community. “Terrorists have deepened their networks and the government, though willing to fight them, is helpless. However, the government should safeguard our religious freedom as a moral and constitutional obligation.” Related reports Bishops condemn blasts in Shia processions
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