The News – Religious scholar Nasir Madni says he was kidnapped, tortured, filmed and asked for money

Religious scholar Nasir Madni on Wednesday submitted an FIR against his alleged abduction and torture at Lahore’s Mazang Police Station.

Police registered a case after the request from the cleric, who alleged that he was abducted, tortured, and asked for money. Following the cleric’s media talk, Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar also took notice of the incident and ordered action.

Police said that after medical examination of Madni, it will take action according to the law.

Madni, addressed a press conference at Lahore Press Club on Tuesday, where he said that he was abducted by unknown men and asked for extortion money. He said that he was also beaten and stripped off his clothes, while his abductors shot a video of him.

While showing his bruises to the media, the cleric said that the abductors asked for his password for his YouTube channel and confiscated his phone. “They ran news that I am suffering from corona-virus,” said Madni.

Earlier, the cleric said that unknown culprits abducted him at gunpoint after requesting on WhatsApp from foreign phone number to lead prayers in Kharian area some days ago. The abductors also threatened the cleric against going public with the details or approaching police, according to him.

Madni said that he was receiving threats by unknown callers a few days ago over his video message criticising the huge increase in Haj expenditures, and he had lodged a complaint with the police and requested for providing security which he was still awaiting, according to the report.

The cleric said that he then asked for security for himself and his family. Following the incident and the cleric’s press talk, CM Punjab Buzdar took notice and summoned a report from Inspector General of Police Punjab Shoaib Dastgir.

The CM Punjab asked authorities to arrest the culprits and provide justice to the cleric.

The cleric is known for his criticism of the government and its policies, with one of his videos criticizing the government for lack of adequate measures against the corona-virus spread in the country.

The Tribune – Captain Amarinder opposes CAA: ‘I don’t have birth certificate, half of Punjab doesn’t’

Chief Minister asked if the Center expected them to go to Pakistan to look for proof of birth

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 19 March 2020. Strongly opposing the CAA/NCR/NPR as absurd and unconstitutional, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Thursday said half of Punjab, including himself, could not produce birth certificates to prove their nationality.

Pointing out that most people in Punjab came from Pakistan, the Chief Minister asked if the Center expected them to go to Pakistan to look for proof of birth.

“Even I don’t have a birth certificate. These things did not exist when I was born,” said the Chief Minister, quipped that this would make him too a “doubtful character” under the Government of India’s new census system.

Making it clear that his government was totally opposed to these exercises, Amarinder said while a routine census would be conducted in Punjab, it would not be based on religion, caste and creed.

Questioning what the BJP-led central government was trying to prove with these laws and documents, Amarinder took strong exception to even former Army officials being declared non-Indians after fighting for the nation.

For 72 years, India has been a diverse country, with different religions, castes and creeds living together, as one, in the true spirit of the Constitution and its Preamble, the Chief Minister pointed out.

“Suddenly they want to break and fragment this nation, which is totally unacceptable,” he said at a conclave here.

The reaction of the people, especially the youth, clearly shows that this will not work in this country, said Amarinder, adding that the Government of India could not possibly put everyone in a box and take them back more than seven decades.

Gentbrugse Meersen

Gentbrugse Meersen
12 February

Muddy paths, ditches full of water 

This part of the path is not too muddy !

On the left the ‘jungle’

There are ‘main roads’ which can be quite busy
On paths like this you only meet the occasional nature lover

This pool was much smaller in 2018/2019

Typical landscape in this part of the Meersen

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Huffington Post – 800 Indians feel abandoned as India bungles corona-virus cases in Iran

At least 800 Indians are stranded after the Modi government barred all commercial flights from Iran, and the corona-positive and negative are living in the same hotels.

Betwa Sharma

New Delhi – India, 17 March 2020. At least 800 Indian nationals, 252 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19 commonly known as the novel coronavirus, are stranded in Iran with no clear path back home HuffPost India has learnt.

Their plight, they say, is a consequence of the Indian government’s refusal to evacuate its own citizens who have tested positive for the virus. Several of those still in Iran are healthy, but will not leave as they cannot abandon a sick family member in a foreign land.

Worse, the absence of any support from the Indian embassy to isolate and quarantine has forced the healthy to share the same hotels as the sick, potentially hastening the spread of the highly contagious corona-virus.

If repatriated, these Indian citizens would treble the number of COVID-19 positive cases on Indian soil, casting India’s attempts to contain the virus in a very different light. Thus far, 110 positive cases have been reported on Indian soil.

These 252 individuals are part of an 800-strong group of Indians, most of whom had travelled from Ladakh to the holy city of Qom on a pilgrimage. There are also other Indian students and fishermen stranded in Iran. With nearly 14,000 COVID-19 cases and 724 deaths, Iran is the worst hit nation after China and Italy.

The Government of India barred commercial flights from Iran on 26 February, stranding hundreds of Indians like the group of pilgrims from Ladakh. The Narendra Modi government says they have evacuated 334 Indians from Iran from March 10 to March 15.

But in a separate announcement, government officials have made clear that India will initially evacuate only those who have tested negative for the novel coronavirus. “Evacuation does not mean we will bring everybody back,” Additional Secretary Dammu Ravi told reporters in New Delhi, last week. “Negative cases would be brought back.”

HuffPost India spoke to one pilgrim and two tour guides, who said they were part of an informal committee set up to parlay between the pilgrims, the Iranian government and the Indian embassy in Tehran.

Their account reveals the fallout of the Indian government’s policy of only evacuating the healthy, while seemingly abandoning the sick and needy to their fate in a foreign land, and offers a glimpse of the COVID-19 induced chaos swirling through Iran.

“You can’t just say I’m bothered about the negative and bring them home and not care about the positives,” said T Sundararaman, former director of the National Health Systems Resource Centre.

“A sensible policy for the government of India would have been to speak with the Iranian authorities to take care of these people and provide a certain degree of comfort.”

“Our Mission is also maintaining close contact with those still left in Iran and taking all possible steps to ensure their safety and well being,” Ravish Kumar, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said in response to the questions that HuffPost India had sent to the MEA.

“We look forward to continued support from our nationals in Iran for a smooth evacuation process in the days to come,” he said.

Positives and negatives in the same hotels

On 1-2 March, Indian pilgrims in Qom were contacted by the Indian Embassy in Tehran.

Asgar Ali, a 44-year-old tour guide from Leh, who heads the committee that is coordinating with the Indian authorities, said a team of doctors had come from India and began testing the pilgrims in a local hospital in Qom.

When locals in the hospital objected, fearing the spread of the virus, the pilgrims were ferried by bus to the Indian Embassy in Tehran where their mouth-swabs were taken and sent for testing back home in Pune, Ali said.

Thus far, Ali said, the Embassy had informed them that 252 pilgrims had tested positive with a further 20 results still awaited. Yet, as the test results were awaited, all the pilgrims, both corona-positive and negative, were living in the same hotels.

“The government tested us with the expectation that some would test positive and others negative, but did not separate us. We have been living and eating under the same room for two weeks,” said Ali. “There are no positives and negatives left. We don’t know who is infected and who is not.”

What this means is even those who did not have the corona at the time their samples were taken for testing, could have caught the virus in the time it took for the results to come back.

Now, tour guides like Ali say they want all pilgrims under their charge to be retested, but they want that testing to be done in India.

Iran is in a far worse condition than India at present, its health system is struggling to cope with the high number of COVID-19 cases, and Indians do not have the language skills to seek treatment in local hospitals.

“We are willing to cooperate with any testing and any time period of quarantine, but please bring us back to India,” Ali said. “We cannot survive here any longer.”

Dr. Sundararaman, the public health expert, surmised that the Indian government was quietly aware that India lacked the facilities to cope with a sudden influx of infected Indians.

“Their ability to quarantine them here is limited so they leave the problem there,” said Sundaraman, adding that those who have been tested positive need to be isolated, the rest need to be retested and quarantined, and then retested after quarantine.

Not leaving because of families

India’s policy of evacuating only those who have tested negative for coronavirus has meant that several healthy Indians have stayed behind as they cannot bear the thought of abandoning their families.

“We told the Indian Embassy officials, say if you had gone with your family members to a foreign country, and if there was a policy that forced you to leave them behind, would you be able to do it?” said an Indian tour guide.

A second tour guide spoke on the condition of anonymity because he has not told his family that he tested negative, fearing they will ask him to abandon the rest of his group and return to safety.

“I took the responsibility of taking these pilgrims to Iran and then making sure they reach Delhi. How can I leave them?” he said. “It is a matter of common sense?”

Most of the Indian pilgrims in Qom, the tour guide said, were over the age of 50, and did not speak Hindi, Urdu or English, let alone Farsi. They speak mostly the local languages of Ladakh like Purgi, Sheena and Balti.

Trying to leave Iran

Two weeks into their forced exile, the 800 stranded pilgrims from Ladakh are living in 15 hotels in Qom and are struggling to pay for their room and board. Mohammed Imran, a 36-year-old businessman from Kargil, who was scheduled to leave on 28 February, said that he only budgeted a two-week long visit to Iran.

“The situation is tough. The situation is really tough. The government has to get us out now,” Imran said. “The young will pull through, but what about the elderly? We are slipping into depression. We are seeing young and old slip into depression in front of our eyes.”

Ali, the tour guide, said the pilgrims had run out of money and the tour guides were pooling together their resources to survive. The Indians buy groceries and cook in their hotels, which are now almost completely abandoned, he said.

“We asked the Indian Embassy to give us masks but they did not. We bought a few, paying up to Rs 500 for one. We are facing a lot of problems. The hotels have also given an ultimatum asking to leave. They know they are (COVID-19) positives here.”

Ali said that on Sunday, almost two weeks since the first round of positive results, Indian officials met them and said those who have tested positive need to be separated and stay in separate hotels. Iranian officials have also spoken to the Indians in Qom about quarantining those who have tested positive to a 220-bed facility.

“My question to them is where were you till now,” said Ali.

“They Indian officials here send WhatsApp messages saying you must separate yourself. But they have made no arrangements to separate us. We have got these hotels with so much difficulty. Where do we go?” he said.

Going to the hospital in Iran

The second tour guide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he had never imagined that he would have to ferry pilgrims to a local hospital in Iran.

But on 11 March, this tour operator said that he spoke with embassy officials who told him to take 11 of the Ladakhi pilgrims who had tested positive for COVID-19 to the Kamkar Arbania hospital in Qom.

But the Iranian doctors took their temperature, checked their blood pressure and then sent them back to the hotels, he said.

“The Indian officials say they are positive so take them to the hospital. Then, the Iran doctors say they are fine, just give them warm water, a warm bed. We cannot understand what is happening,” he said.

The language barrier also made it very difficult for them to navigate the hospital, this tour operator said, adding that he had asked the Indian Embassy officials if they could send someone who could help them translate.

“There was a huge communication problem. Only the Head of Department of the hospital knew some English. The doctors and nurses don’t speak English or Hindi or Urdu,” he said. “How can we leave our relatives in a foreign soil for treatment when they can’t even speak the language?”

Dawn – Religious precautions

Op/Ed, 18 March 2020. Without a doubt, the novel corona-virus has affected routine life around the globe like few events in modern history. In a globalised world few countries are left unaffected, with over 180,000 people infected and more than 7,000 fatalities.

Countries and cities around the world are opting for lockdown to stop the spread of the contagion, as this is being seen as the best method to prevent more infections. Schools, offices and commercial centres around the world, including in Pakistan, are closed or in the process of shutting down, while large gatherings are being discouraged.

Keeping these developments in mind, the issue of congregational prayers needs serious attention, with the state, ulema and common people all playing their part to adjust religious rituals in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

In Pakistan, as elsewhere around the Muslim world, hundreds of people attend daily prayers at large neighbourhood mosques. This number is in the thousands during Friday prayers, especially in the larger mosques.

Considering the fact that worshippers are in such close proximity during daily prayers in mosques, it is incumbent on religious leaders and the state to come up with a strategy that protects people’s health and lives until the threat of the virus subsides.

There have been various suggestions. For example, the Pakistan Ulema Council has issued a fatwa calling for all political and religious gatherings to be postponed, Friday prayers to be shortened, and prayers to be held in open spaces etc.

However, the Punjab chief minister assured a delegation of clerics on Monday that mosques would not be closed in the country’s most populous province. Considering the severity of the situation, the state must understand the risk to religious congregations, including those who gather in places of worship.

The state can review how other Muslim countries are dealing with the crisis. Egypt, Iran and Oman have all suspended Friday prayers while the UAE has temporarily shuttered all places of worship.

The Saudi government, too, has stopped congregational prayers in its mosques while placing curbs on umrah. In fact, images of the Holy Kaaba without people performing the tawaf around it have brought home the severity of the crisis.

If such stringent measures have been taken in Islam’s holiest sites, then the authorities here should have no qualms about altering daily routines temporarily to keep people healthy and possibly save lives.

At the very least, the ulema in Pakistan must consider temporarily limiting the number of daily worshippers in mosques and suspending congregational prayers on Friday, in keeping with the example of other Muslim states in these trying times.

Decisions need to be taken rationally, not emotionally, which is why religious scholars and the government must come up with a plan to address issues of public worship during the virus pandemic without further delay.