Pakistan upholds acquittal of woman in blasphemy case
By KATHY GANNON
Tuesday, January 29
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s top court on Tuesday upheld its acquittal of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, paving the way for Aasia Bibi to leave the country in a blow to radical Islamists who had demanded her execution.
Following the landmark decision, Bibi will finally be able to join her daughters, who earlier fled to Canada where they have been given asylum.
Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, who returned to Islamabad after fleeing the country amid death threats, called the decision a victory for Pakistan’s constitution and rule of law.
The three-judge Supreme Court panel had “insisted on very strict proofs of blasphemy” and found none, Malook said, expressing hope that Bibi’s acquittal will deter false blasphemy allegations in the future.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law is often used to settle scores or intimidate followers of minority religions, including Shiite Muslims. A charge of insulting Islam can bring the death penalty, and the mere accusation of blasphemy is sometimes enough to whip up vengeful mobs, even if courts acquit defendants. A provincial governor who defended Bibi was shot and killed, as was a government minority minister who dared question the blasphemy law.
From her secret location, Bibi watched the decision reported live on local television, according to a friend who spoke to her as it was being announced. Bibi’s first thoughts were for her daughters, the friend said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he fears reprisals from Islamic extremists.
“I am really grateful to everybody. Now after nine years it is confirmed that I am free and I will be going to hug my daughters,” he quoted Bibi as saying.
Pakistan’s Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa led the panel that dismissed the petition asking the court to review its Oct. 31 acquittal of Bibi and to send her back to prison and eventual execution. He said in court that Bibi’s accusers were guilty of perjury and if the case had not been so sensitive, they should have been jailed for life.
“The image of Islam we are showing to the world gives me much grief and sorrow,” Khosa said.
Much of the evidence presented against Bibi was suspicious, and some of it appeared to be fabricated, he said, adding that the cleric who lodged the initial charge of blasphemy gave contradictory statements that were unchallenged in the trial.
Following Bibi’s initial acquittal, radical religious parties took to the streets in mass protests, calling for the killing of the judges behind the ruling and for the overthrow of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. They also filed the last-minute appeal for a review of the acquittal. The protests were spearheaded by the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, whose single point agenda is protection of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
In a video message on the eve of Tuesday’s hearing, the party urged followers to gather in the capital, Islamabad. Local news reports said police had arrested hundreds of party activists on Monday in Lahore, Islamabad and nearby Rawalpindi in apparent attempt to stave off mass protests.
Mohammad Shafiq Amini, the acting chief of Tehreek-e-Labbaik, sent a video message to followers rejecting the court’s latest decision as “cruel and unjust.”
He said Muslims should feel ashamed that Bibi was not executed and asked the Prophet Muhammad for “forgiveness that we could not do anything, and that blasphemers are alive.”
He asked the party’s supporters to fill the jails across Pakistan by getting arrested for protesting.
Security at the court was high Tuesday, with riot police in full gear around the building and rolls of concertina wire ready to be strung out along main roads. Police stopped and searched cars on the road outside the court while officers and plainclothes security agents were deployed inside the building.
Joseph Francis, a Christian activist who attended Tuesday’s hearing, said the decision was good news for Pakistan’s minority Christian community. “I am happy because the judges spoke out strongly against giving false evidence,” Francis said.
Human rights activist Tahira Abdullah said religion and politics have become a “horrible jumble” in Pakistan. Tuesday’s decision could “have a deterrent effect, but knowing the political mileage to be gained from false charges of blasphemy I doubt it,” she said.
Bibi, who always insisted that she was innocent, has said she will leave the country as soon as her legal battles are over.
Bibi’s ordeal began on a hot day in 2009 when she brought water to fellow farmhands who refused to drink from the same container as a Christian woman. Two of her fellow farmworkers argued with Bibi and later accused her of insulting Islam’s prophet.
Following protests after Bibi’s acquittal, the authorities arrested radical clerics Khadim Hussain Rizvi and Mohammad Afzal Qadri, both leaders of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Party, and several of their followers for destroying public property during rallies against Bibi and for inciting their followers to violence. The clerics and the others remain in custody.
The cleric petitioning the court for Bibi’s return to death row, Qari Salam, is linked with Rizvi’s party.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.
Why women still earn a lot less than men
January 29, 2019
Author: Michele Gilman, Venable Professor of Law, University of Baltimore
Disclosure statement: Michele Gilman is affiliated with the ACLU of Maryland and the Women’s Law Center of Maryland.
A decade ago, on Jan. 29, 2009, newly inaugurated President Barack Obama signed his first bill into law: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.
It was the latest legislative effort to close the persistently stubborn gap between how much women and men earn. At the time, women made just 77 cents of every dollar men earned – a level that hadn’t improved all that much since the 1990s, according to Census data.
While existing laws already prohibited gender-based wage discrimination, the Ledbetter Act gave workers more time to sue employers over the issue. And the hope was that it would make a big difference.
So did it?
My research explores the legal hurdles that have prevented women from achieving pay equity with men. Now, 10 years after the act was passed, more work still needs to be done.
The Ledbetter Act overturned a Supreme Court case that ruled against Lilly Ledbetter, who worked as an area manager at Goodyear Tire and Rubber for more than 19 years. Over time, her pay slipped until she was earning 15 percent to 40 percent less than her male counterparts.
When an anonymous note tipped her off about the extent of the disparity, Ledbetter filed a pay discrimination complaint under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a statute prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. A jury found in her favor and awarded more than US$3.5 million in damages.
The case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 2007 ruled 5-4 that employees must file a complaint within 180 days after their employer makes a pay decision. The fact that the discrimination was embedded in each paycheck and that Ledbetter didn’t know of the disparity for many years did not matter. Time had run out on her claim.
In a vehement dissent read from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that the ruling denied workplace realities. She pointed out that since employees often lack information about pay disparities, which can accumulate slowly over time, they shouldn’t be given such a narrow window in which to file a complaint.
Ultimately, the 111th Congress and President Obama agreed with Justice Ginsburg and nullified the decision. The Ledbetter Act makes clear that the statute of limitations for filing a wage discrimination claim resets with each discriminatory paycheck.
A disappointing impact
The law’s impact, however, has been disappointing.
The rate of new wage discrimination cases hasn’t budged, primarily because employees still lack information about their co-workers’ pay. Salary discussions are taboo in most workplaces, and some employers, like Ledbetter’s, forbid it.
Put simply, a woman can’t file a complaint if she doesn’t know she’s being shortchanged.
Title VII wage claims are hard to prove for other reasons too. Title VII generally requires proof that employers acted with discriminatory intent. However, much discrimination in today’s workplace is not intentional but fueled by unconscious gender stereotypes.
For instance, studies show that workers receive better performance evaluations when they conform to gender stereotypes, such as dominance for men and passivity for women. In one study, participants were asked to award merit-based bonuses to fictional employees with identical personnel files. Men got higher bonuses than women.
The bottom line: Women today earn about 80 cents for every dollar men make earn, up just a few cents since 2009.
And for women of color, the gap is even starker. Latinas earn 52 cents to the dollar of white men, while African-American women earn just 61 cents. Within racial groups, a pay gap between men and women persists, although it is narrower.
Of course, employees who believe they are being discriminated against based on gender can also turn to the Equal Pay Act. This act, signed into law in 1963 when women earned only 60 cents for every dollar men earned, does not require a showing of employer intent to discriminate.
The act was the first to prohibit employers from paying men more than women who perform equal work.
The pay gap has since narrowed by about 20 cents, but not because of anti-discrimination laws. The main drivers have been women’s increased educational attainment and entry into the workforce.
The Equal Pay Act hasn’t been effective because courts read the law narrowly. They generally require that women plaintiffs identify a man with an identical job and resume for comparison. Given that men and women are tracked into different occupations, this can often be impossible.
Moreover, both Title VII and the Equal Pay Act allow employers to defend pay differentials on the basis of “any factor other than sex.” For example, courts have permitted a limitless array of employer excuses for paying women less that are themselves rooted in gender bias, such as women’s weaker salary bargaining skill, lesser management potential or lower prior salary history.
These statutory interpretations may sound technical, but they matter. They help explain why the gap appears stuck at 80 cents and why some estimate it’ll be at least until 2059 until pay equity in the United States is reached.
Why it persists
Another reason the gap is so stubborn is that men and women are steered into different occupations, and male-dominated occupations pay more for comparable work.
Even within a traditionally male field such as computer programming, women are paid less. And, as women move into a field, the entire occupation’s wages sink.
Importantly, economists have found that discrimination feeds as much as 38 percent of the gender gap.
Skeptics of the gender gap argue that it results from women’s choices to work fewer hours and stay home to raise children.
It’s true, women bear a larger responsibility for child rearing and thus may cut back their hours or take time off from the workplace – especially because the United States is the only developed country without paid maternity leave and child care is expensive.
But while mothers face a “motherhood penalty” in opportunities and pay, fathers reap a “fatherhood bonus.”
And so-called “choices” cannot explain why female recent college graduates are paid 82 percent of their male counterparts or why the gap widens at the top. Professional women with advanced degrees who work full-time face a gender gap of 74 percent.
Closing the gender gap
Closing the gender pay gap is not rocket science – even though recently graduated female rocket scientists earn 89 cents on the dollar to their male peers.
Steps that would help include prohibiting employers from using salary history in setting wages, banning employer retaliation against employees who share wage information, providing greater transparency in pay, and revising Title VII and the Equal Pay Act to better address workplace realities.
The proposed Paycheck Fairness Act – introduced repeatedly in Congress since 1997 but never passed – would codify many of these remedies at the federal level. And the Trump administration suspended an Obama-era requirement that employers report extensive pay data.
While federal efforts stall, several states, including California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey, have passed their own laws to close the gap.
The economic gains from closing the gender pay gap are huge. Doing so would add about $513 billion to the economy because of the extra income generated, reduce poverty and do a lot to support American families since mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners in about half of them.
Passing the Lilly Ledbetter Act was a start, and now we owe it to American workers to enact laws that close the gap once and for all.
French yellow vest movement dogged by intolerance, extremism
By LORI HINNANT
Tuesday, January 29
PARIS (AP) — Intolerance and conspiracy theories have haunted the margins of France’s “yellow vest” movement since the first protests over fuel taxes roused the discontented middle of French society.
The men and women in fluorescent safety vests blocking traffic and intimidating shoppers on the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue vent a range of grievances against the government.
But over 11 weeks of yellow vest protests, views from the fringes have bubbled through the diffuse and leaderless movement and have been amplified: anti-Semitic rants about banking, a Holocaust survivor harassed on the subway, assaults on journalists, and claims the government concocted terrorist attacks or deadly accidents to divert attention from the demonstrations.
There has been scattered violence at the protests, with clashes between participants and riot police, and authorities worry that the extremists have taken over the center of the movement, risking a return to the darker episodes from France’s past.
On Saturday in Paris, a man in a yellow vest turned toward a journalist filming at the sidelines of an otherwise quiet match, hurled a homophobic epithet and added: “You work for the Jews.” No one in the march joined in, but neither did they contradict him.
In a more positive sign, a group of several hundred protesters forming a human chain in central Lyon inadvertently converged with a Holocaust commemoration that was planned separately by the city. After the boisterous protesters largely complied with a moment of silence for Holocaust victims, Deputy Mayor Jean-Dominique Durand, who organized the memorial, urged the group to “clean house” of any extremist views.
“It was an important moment to show that anti-Semitism has no place here,” said yellow vest protester Thomas Rigaud, according to Europe 1 radio.
Marchers at one of the first yellow vest rallies in Paris in November held the French flag aloft while chanting “This is our home!” — a double-edged slogan that resonates with the far-right National Rally party, whose leader Marine Le Pen calls it a “cry of love” for France; critics see only anti-immigrant overtones.
In December, a group of marchers in Paris’ bohemian Montmartre neighborhood proffered an anti-Semitic salute. They sang lyrics associated with Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, a French comedian convicted several times of racism and anti-Semitism. The hand gesture and song are both called the “quenelle,” with the gesture mimicking an inverted Nazi salute and the song hinting at Zionist plots. Dieudonne describes them as anti-establishment symbols.
On that same day, men in yellow vests harassed an elderly Holocaust survivor on a subway train when she asked them to stop making the gesture, and one of them replied that the gas chambers that had killed her father never existed. A journalist who saw the exchange said no one took the woman’s side. France’s interior minister said the train operator was trying to identify the men, saying “whether hidden by a yellow vest or in the anonymity of Twitter, anti-Semitism must be fought with all strength.”
Some of France’s most notorious anti-Semitic personalities have been seen at the forefront of some of the Paris protests.
One of them, Herve Ryssen, appeared on the cover of the weekly Paris Match, facing police as he stood before the Arc de Triomphe. Ryssen has been convicted repeatedly of anti-Semitism and provoking acts of discrimination. He was convicted again last week for Holocaust denial, a crime in France for decades that harkens back to the country’s history of surrendering French Jews to the occupying Nazis to be killed.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux acknowledged that protests varied from town to town, but said last week that some were marked by “paramilitaries close to the extreme right.” Among them were Victor Lenta, a former soldier who fought alongside pro-Russian separatist forces in Ukraine.
Maxime Nicolle, a YouTube personality who goes by the handle Fly Rider, and Eric Drouet, a trucker who was among the early yellow vest organizers, also have emerged as prominent voices.
The Jean Jaures Foundation, a think tank connected with the Socialist Party, studied online activity by Drouet and Nicolle, and said both are tacitly affiliated with France’s far-right party.
It said Drouet shared anti-migrant videos and provided a Facebook platform for discuss plots involving Zionists, banks, and the media. The study said Nicolle had repeatedly liked videos linked with the party that lost to President Emmanuel Macron.
Nicolle has publicly expressed doubts about French authorities’ account of a gunman killing five people near a Strasbourg Christmas market in December. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, which derailed the next weekend’s yellow vest protest. He, like others in the yellow vest movement, said he did not believe it was terrorism and mused that the government benefited from the timing.
“I don’t trust anything I cannot see,” he said.
Organizations that track racist and anti-Semitic incidents in France say more of both were reported in 2018, though they haven’t finished compiling the data. SOS Racisme, a coalition of groups co-founded by French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, said it received 587 reports last year, compared with 508 in 2017. The government has not made its final figures public for the year.
“I would not say that the movement is anti-Semitic, but I say that these mass movements are always exploited by anti-Semites,” said Francis Kalifat, president of CRIF.
That was a danger sign for France that the movement “will try to win in the streets what they lost in the vote,” he said.
Conspiracy videos about the Rothschilds, a French Jewish banking family that frequently is at the center of global conspiracy theories, appear prominently on many of the yellow vest Facebook feeds. Macron — the chief target of the weekly protests because of policies seen as benefiting the wealthy — used to work for the family’s investment bank.
The Jewish banker-as-scapegoat theme came up repeatedly in conversations with yellow vest marchers Saturday in Paris. Still, several peaceful marchers expressed concern about actions by the radical fringe. The grassroots movement is increasingly seeing divisions between its moderates and extremes.
To join two of the most popular Facebook groups for the yellow vests, members must agree to rules including being kind and courteous, and to not incite hatred or harass or insult other participants. On Saturday, at a meeting in northern France, there was little the about 100 delegations could agree upon except an affirmation that they were “neither racist, nor sexist, nor homophobe” — an apparent pushback against the recent allegations.
That hasn’t stopped Dieudonne, on his 10-minute YouTube shows, from selling his own version of a yellow vest printed with a vulgar reference to Macron and the song heard on the steps of Montmartre. He said he has sold out of the vests, but has ordered another shipment.
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton contributed.