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The Pakistan Government has failed to protect religious minorities from systematic campaigns of violence and vilification, Amnesty International said today on the first anniversary of the assassination of Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti.
The only Christian member of the federal cabinet and one of a handful of Pakistan's leading politicians to call for changes to the country's controversial blasphemy laws, Bhatti died after armed men opened fire on his car as he travelled to work in the capital, Islamabad.
"Pakistani officials should honor Bhatti's legacy by challenging the systematic campaign of vilification and attacks on minorities," said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty International.
Although Shahbaz's brother, Dr. Paul Bhatti, was made a special adviser to the President for religious minorities after his death, no one has replaced him as Minister for Minorities.
"The ministerial post remains vacant at this critical time, a sad reflection of the government's inaction in the face of continued violence against minorities," said Zarifi.
The Pakistani Taleban claimed responsibility for killing Bhatti over his criticism of the country's blasphemy laws - British-era criminal sanctions that were amended in the 1980s under the rule of Gen. Zia ul Haq, making it an offense to defile the Quran or Prophet Muhammad punishable by life imprisonment or death.
Religious minorities have been disproportionately accused of blasphemy, but the largest proportion of victims are mainstream Muslims, reflecting the danger these laws pose to all members of Pakistani society and the rule of law.
"A year has passed since Bhatti was assassinated yet the perpetrators remain at large with no clear sign that they will be brought to justice any time soon," said Zarifi.
In 2009, a year after replacing military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the current government pledged to review "laws detrimental to religious harmony," which includes the blasphemy laws.
But the government fell silent after former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in January last year by one of his own security guards over his criticism of the blasphemy laws.
"After Taseer's assassination, Minister Bhatti remained resolute in his criticisms," said Zarifi. "Since Bhatti's death, the Pakistan government has allowed itself to be intimidated into silence. Pakistani officials must break that silence and speak out against those who seek to harm others because of their religion."
This year a coalition of extremist and militant religious groups has openly called for the murder of Shi'a and some Sufi Muslims, Ahmadis and Christians, and have held large rallies across Pakistan's major cities.
On Tuesday, February 28, eighteen Shi'a Muslims were brutally shot dead in the Kohistan district in northwest Pakistan, after the perpetrators stopped their bus and singled them out from other passengers because of their religion.
The Pakistani government must do all it can to protect its citizens regardless of their religious background, especially where perpetrators candidly speak of committing violence against them.
"The failure to bring Bhatti's killers to justice or protect the most vulnerable citizens from violence while extremist groups publicly call for them to be killed, tells the perpetrators of abuses that they will go unpunished if they disguise their crimes as the protection of religious sentiments, even when the targets are senior government officials," said Zarifi.
"Violence against religious minorities is leading to a break down in the rule of law and increased tension within Pakistan's diverse society," added Zarifi. "The Pakistan government must take urgent, concrete measures to improve the quality of police investigations and reform laws like those on blasphemy that promote abuses against religious minorities."
Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.
"We should not have to risk arrest and imprisonment for exercising our constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and equal protection under the law," asserted one of the plaintiffs.
Progressive advocacy groups are suing Mississippi officials over a new state law requiring permission to hold public protests near state government buildings in the capital city of Jackson.
A lawsuit filed last week by JXN Undivided Coalition, Mississippi Votes, Mississippi Poor People's Campaign, Black Voters Matter, and a trio of activists challenges S.B. 2343, which is set to take effect on July 1. The legislation required prior approval from Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell or Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey for public demonstrations on the grounds of or near state government buildings including the Capitol Complex, Governor's Mansion, state Supreme Court, and other edifices.
"The JXN Undivided Coalition and its members have for years engaged in the deeply American tradition of peacefully gathering on public property to convey to elected officials what matters most to us," the group said in a statement on Monday. "What matters most to us is the right to vote and the right of political self-determination for Jackson residents."
"We have spoken, and the state has responded with a sweeping prohibition of speech next to properties in Jackson occupied by state officials absent prior authorization," JXN Undivided Coalition added. "We should not have to risk arrest and imprisonment for exercising our constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and equal protection under the law."
\u201c.@JxnUndivided files lawsuit to stop new law requiring the Public Safety Commissioner or Capitol Police Chief\u2019s permission to protest or gather in Jackson anywhere near buildings occupied by a state employee \u2014 aka damn near all of non-residential Jackson. https://t.co/ISwW2dakw1\u201d— Blake Feldman (@Blake Feldman) 1685977958
According to the suit:
This year, Mississippi made peaceful protests on public sidewalks and streets next to state government buildings in Jackson without written prior permission from one of two state officials. The new law... is an unconstitutional prior restraint that does not further a constitutionally sufficient or permissible purpose. Those who peacefully protest without state government authorization and who are charged with crimes for doing so may be prosecuted and sentenced to prison. This chills protected speech.
As the Associated Pressreported Monday:
Critics say the majority-white and Republican-controlled Legislature passed the laws to take away local autonomy in Jackson and surrounding Hinds County, which are both majority-Black and governed by Democrats. Supporters of the laws say they are trying to control violent crime.
Several protests have been held near state government buildings in downtown Jackson during the past year, including some in January, February, and March against the legislation dealing with courts and policing. The Poor People's Campaign held events on a street outside the Governor's Mansion last fall to protest what organizers said was the state’s inadequate investment in Jackson's struggling water system.
In recent years, numerous states have passed laws criminalizing or restricting protest activity and protecting motorists who kill or injure protesters under certain circumstances.
"Mr. Musk's behavior reveals an apparent indifference towards Twitter's longstanding legal obligations, which did not disappear when Mr. Musk took over the company," says a new letter from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and three of her Democratic colleagues.
Four Democratic U.S. senators have asked Twitter CEO Elon Musk and CEO-Designate Linda Yaccarino to provide information about the social media corporation's "continued disregard for consumer safety" by June 18, the lawmakers announced Monday.
In a letter dated Friday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Ed Markey (Mass.), and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) expressed their concerns that since Musk purchased and assumed control of Twitter in October 2022, the company may have "violated its consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and put consumer privacy and data security at risk."
The letter follows last week's back-to-back resignations of Twitter's former head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, and its former head of brand safety and advertising quality, A.J. Brown.
"Regardless of his personal wealth, Mr. Musk is not exempt from the law, and neither is the company he purchased."
"These departures, following a string of high-profile resignations from Twitter's lead privacy, information security, and compliance officers, raise concerns about Twitter's ability to comply with its legal obligations," the lawmakers wrote. "Twitter had a poor track record of protecting consumer privacy even before Mr. Musk's takeover."
As FTC spokesperson Douglas Farrar explained earlier this year, Twitter in 2011 "agreed to a 20-year consent order over its data security practices and how it uses your private information."
In May 2022, several months before Musk's acquisition of the company was finalized, "the FTC charged Twitter with violating the 2011 order for misusing personal information," Farrar noted. Twitter then "paid a $150 million penalty and entered a new consent order," which "added further provisions to protect consumers' sensitive data."
But as the four Senate Democrats pointed out in their new letter, Musk has "made numerous hasty personnel and product decisions" since he took over Twitter last October, heightening concerns about the company's adherence to the updated FTC agreement.
The resignations and terminations began well before the exits of Irwin and Brown last week, as the quartet observed:
In November 2022, Mr. Musk fired multiple top executives; top security executives resigned; and Mr. Musk fired employees who had criticized him, let go of contractors, and laid off half of the workforce. On November 9, the day before the deadline to submit a report to the FTC, the chief privacy officer, chief information security officer, and chief compliance officer all resigned. Internal messages obtained by The New York Times show that an employee suggested internal privacy reviews of Twitter's products were not occurring as they should under the order. Reports also indicated that the launch of the updated Twitter Blue subscription service "disregarded the company's normal privacy and security review." In April of this year, Mr. Musk also confirmed that over 80% of the workforce had left Twitter since he became CEO.
"These personnel changes, firsthand accounts from employees, and hasty launch of new products raise questions about whether Twitter is able to comply with its obligations under the FTC consent decree," the lawmakers wrote. "In apparent dismissal of concerns regarding reducing his workforce, Mr. Musk's team has said he is 'used to going to court and paying penalties, and was not worried about the risks.'"
"Mr. Musk's behavior reveals an apparent indifference towards Twitter's longstanding legal obligations, which did not disappear when Mr. Musk took over the company," they continued. "One employee highlighted his problematic behavior, stating, 'Elon has shown that his only priority with Twitter users is how to monetize them,' and his personal lawyer Alex Spiro reportedly said, 'Elon puts rockets into space—he's not afraid of the FTC.'"
As a matter of fact, Musk's Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket exploded before reaching space in April, coating a Texas community in ash and provoking fears of negative public health and environmental impacts.
The senators stressed that "regardless of his personal wealth, Mr. Musk is not exempt from the law, and neither is the company he purchased."
"Twitter must meet the requirements it agreed to under the 2011 and 2022 FTC agreements," they added. "If reports about Mr. Musk's actions are correct, it appears that the company may not be doing so."
Citing their concerns, the lawmakers asked Musk and Yaccarino to answer a series of questions about Twitter's privacy practices no later than June 18.
"In particular, the letter asks whether Twitter conducted a privacy and security assessment of Twitter Blue, its paid subscription service, before rolling it out earlier this year," CNNreported Monday. "Under its 2022 consent agreement, Twitter is required to perform such assessments 'prior to implementing any new or modified product.'"
"The letter also asks whether Twitter has maintained a comprehensive cybersecurity program to protect user data since Musk's takeover and whether Twitter has met various reporting requirements, including obligations to report any significant data breaches to the authorities," CNN noted. According to the outlet, the inquiry "could highlight vast legal risks for Twitter and potentially for Musk himself."
The former Republican president's repeated promotion of his properties to the media and other world leaders amounted to "diplomatic malpractice," one ethics official said.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump, who is now running for a second term in the 2024 election, made $82.5 million from his businesses in Ireland and Scotland during his presidency as he embroiled himself in what one watchdog group called "extraordinary conflicts of interest" stemming from his frequent trips to his properties in the two countries while he was in office.
As Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reported on Monday, Trump repeatedly promoted his properties to the media and other officials as well as charging U.S. government employees to stay there.
Trump stayed at his Doonbeg golf property in Ireland and his Turnberry and Aberdeen golf resorts in Scotland numerous times, in some cases taking detours to stay there while claiming he did so out of "convenience."
\u201cNEW: Donald Trump made $82.5 million from his businesses in the UK and Ireland while serving as President, a @CREWcrew analysis of his tax returns revealed. That created conflicts of interest and reflected use of the presidency to promote his properties.\nhttps://t.co/DGVZiuyo7J\u201d— Noah Bookbinder (@Noah Bookbinder) 1685974512
The president made those trips after making the unprecedented decision not to divest from his real estate empire, the Trump Organization, CREW noted.
That decision led "to four years of egregious conflicts of interest between his business and the government," said CREW in its new report, with some of the worst arising "around his Doonbeg golf course in Ireland, where he made almost $25 million, and his Turnberry and Aberdeen golf properties in Scotland, which helped him make more than $58 million."
While in Europe for a NATO summit and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump went out of his way to spent two nights at Turnberry, later charging his own Secret Service officers $1,300.
A Freedom of Information Act request showed that during former Vice President Mike Pence's 2019 stay at Doonbeg—which was encouraged by Trump, according to Pence's chief of staff—the resort charged the Secret Service more than $15,000.
The then-president and members of his administration mentioned Turnberry, Doonbeg, and Aberdeen at least 50 times during Trump's four years in office, with Trump referring to Turnberry as "magical" at the NATO summit in 2018 and talking to local officials in Ireland about Doonbeg's impact on the economy in 2019.
He reportedly "boasted" about Turnberry frequently in conversations with former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, and pushed the U.S. ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, to lobby for the British Open golf tournament to be held at the resort.
At the time of the latter incident in 2020, Norman Eisen, former special counsel for ethics for President Barack Obama, called Trump's actions "diplomatic malpractice."