Friday, March 30, 2007

Pakistani Woman Freed By Anti-Vice Campaign

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A woman kidnapped by female seminary students and accused of running a brothel was freed Thursday after a hard-line cleric forced her to repent in public, an episode in vigilante justice that shows the boldness of Islamic extremists in Pakistan.

Students in black burqas had seized the woman and several of her relatives from her home late Tuesday during an anti-vice campaign in the capital, taking the law into their own hands and embarrassing the military-dominated government of Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

The students are disciples of Abdul Rashid Ghazi, vice principal of the Jamia Hafsa seminary and a cleric at the adjoining Lal Masjid mosque, which has a reputation for preaching hard-line Islam as well as having links to an outlawed militant group accused of sectarian attacks on Shiite Muslims.

With no sign of police intervention to force her release, the woman, known as Aunty Shamim, was presented to reporters at the Jamia Hafsa seminary in Islamabad to meet Ghazi's demand that she stop "spreading obscenity" in return for her freedom.

"I apologize for my past wrongdoing and I promise in the name of God that in future I will live like a pious person," Shamim said.

Critics said the government has not lived up to pledges to regulate Pakistan's thousands of religious schools, including those in the capital.


· CHIANG MAI, Thailand -- A Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in jail for defacing images of Thai royalty, a rare prison term for a foreigner convicted under Thailand's lese-majeste laws.

Oliver Rudolf Jufer, 57, received 20 years for five acts of lese-majeste. He had faced a maximum of 75 years.

Jufer, a longtime resident of Thailand, was arrested in the northern city of Chiang Mai after black paint was sprayed on several portraits of 79-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whom many Thais revere as semi-divine, and Queen Sirikit.


· HAVANA -- Fidel Castro signaled that he is itching for a return to public life after eight months of illness that has kept him out of sight, lambasting U.S. biofuel policies in a front-page newspaper editorial.

In his article, the 80-year-old revolutionary asserted that President Bush's support for using crops to produce ethanol for cars could deplete corn and other food stocks in developing nations, putting the lives of 3 billion people at risk worldwide.

"There are many other issues to be dealt with," Castro added at the end of the editorial, apparently promising more such missives.

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