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Ethical approach to a humane cause

By Our Staff Reporter

HYDERABAD, JAN. 27. For the London-based International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), the battle is far from over.

The union, which had successfully campaigned for the release of a Pakistani doctor, Younus Shaikh, from certain death after he was convicted under blasphemy statutes, now aims at launching a fresh offensive to secure the release of at least "100 others languishing in Pakistani gaols on similar charges.''

"Pakistani peace activist and humanist, Dr. Shaikh, has escaped to freedom. He is safe and is presently in Europe," Babu Gogineni, Executive Director of the IHEU, who was in city on a visit, told press persons here on Tuesday. Dr. Shaikh, a teacher in a medical college in Islamabad, was reportedly arrested by the Pakistani police in October 2000. "Following a complaint from a cleric, he was charged with making certain blasphemous remarks about the Prophet of Islam and put behind the bars," Mr. Babu said.

The Pakistani human rights activist spent the next three years in prison, two of which were spent on death row in solitary confinement. "On his arrest, Dr. Shaikh sent me an SOS by scribbling my email address on a cigarette packet and handing it to a fellow activist," Mr. Babu said.

The IHEU, an umbrella organisation for more than 100 humanist, secular, free thought and ethical culture groups across the globe, launched a campaign, held demonstrations and lobbied for the safety and release of Dr. Shaikh. "He went through hard times in the prison. His lawyers also faced threats from fundamental groups, forcing Dr. Shaikh to argue his own case at a retrial," Mr. Babu said.

After an appeal and retrial, the peace activist was released two months ago. "Due to security reasons, I cannot divulge where he is staying now. All I can tell is he is safe and in Europe," he said, adding "our task doesn't end with Dr. Shaikh, for there are nearly 100 others languishing in Pakistan prisons.

We'll launch campaigns for them now."

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