Friday, August 21, 2020

How the French government is using Brexit for its economic advantage

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Syed Ahmed Uzair

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How the French government is using Brexit for its economic advantage


Global Views 360

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August 21, 2020


The Eiffel Tower Paris, France

The Eiffel Tower Paris, France | Source: Paul Gaudriault via Unsplash

Brexit is an abbreviation for "British exit," which refers to the decision of the UK to leave European Union (UK). The decision to leave the EU was put to a referendum on June 23, 2016 by the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which resulted in a 52% to 48% majority for those who called for the UK to leave the EU.

The UK had joined the European Economic Community in 1973, and later became the founding member of European Union in 1992. The entry of the UK had always generated opposition from a section of the political spectrum in the country. It was earlier opposed by the left wing parties followed by the Eurosceptic parties like UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) and later propagated by a section of Conservative party.

After a lot of false starts, the UK Parliament ratified Brexit which specified that the UK will leave  the EU on 31 January 2020. An eleven month long transition period was also specified to enable the UK and EU to negotiate their future relationship. During this transition period the UK will remain subject to EU law, remain part of the EU customs union, and single market, but no longer be part of the EU's political bodies or institutions.

Euro, the currency of European Union | Source: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

The loss of the UK, the largest non-eurozone member of the EU means that the focus shifts towards the eurozone members but more importantly it leaves a 75 billion euro deficit in the EU’s budget and raises questions regarding its future direction. In the absence of the UK, it would be challenging for the EU to continue its commitment towards fiscal responsibility, free trade and enlargement of the block.

A 2019 report from New Financial Aid cited that Britain’s exit from the EU would mean the bloc losing its biggest financial centre, London. It also mentioned that many business hubs and financial organizations had started opening hubs in the EU to cope with Brexit.

As per New Financial Britain accounted for almost one-third of the entire capital market activity of the EU, which is more than France and Germany combined. The report had suggested that France and Germany would have a “duopoly” in most major financial sectors post UK’s exit, with France being the dominant in most of the sectors.

Emmanuel Macron, President of France | Source:  Presidencia de la República Mexicana via Wikimedia

The two biggest economies of post-Brexit EU, France and Germany have taken different public postures on Brexit. The president of France, Emmanuel Macron has termed Brexit as a blessing in disguise for France and an opportunity for “European renaissance.” His German counterpart, Angela Merkel has however, chosen to remain silent on the issue.

France has taken an aggressive stance on attracting business away from the UK ever since the 2016 referendum in the UK was won by the leavers in the UK. France under president Macron has rejigged its tax system and reformed its labour laws to create a more business-friendly environment.

Paris had also initiated a poster campaign with the slogan “Tired of the fog? Try the frogs!” in a bid to drive financial investments from London in the wake of the Brexit developments in late 2016. Officials from Paris had also assured stability to the British businesses citing that Paris would be the only global city left in Europe after the exit of Britain.

Arnaud de Bresson, managing director of Paris Europlace, the organization responsible for promoting the financial sector in France points out that Paris is well ahead of its competitors in the EU-27 bloc with nearly 180,000 employees in the financial sector. The next best figures are from Frankfurt with 70,000 workers from the financial sector as per the report by the organization. Brexit has resulted in nearly 80 to 100 financial businesses from London relocating nearly 4000 jobs to Paris, and as per de Bresson this process is “likely to accelerate”.

The French Economy Minister, Bruno Le maire had said in February 2020 that Paris would become the leading financial centre in Europe in the wake of Brexit. He even went ahead to say that the French economy “must take advantage of Brexit”. However, his statements are not exactly accurate. The UK still remains the undisputed leader in the financial sector with 250,000 employees and 7% contribution to its GDP.

French senator Christian Cambon | Source: Boicaro via Wikimedia

French senator Christian Cambon who serves as the co-chair of the Senate Brexit Committee had warned in 2019 that Brexit could have adverse impacts on a few sectors of France’s economy. "Our farmers, our fishermen, our businesses, and the regions of Normandy and Haute France. It will have consequences for all these areas and for the whole of the EU, it could even give other members some ideas. That’s why we want to follow the process step by step while abiding by the competences of the Senate." French fishing industry members have had concerns over being denied access to British waters post Brexit, considering that 75% of fishing taking place in Haute France is in British territorial waters.

However, President Macron remains as optimistic as ever regarding Brexit’s impact on the nation’s economy and has been actively promoting his nation via a series of reforms to attract businesses and investments. He also launched the 'Choose France' package which provides financial help and English-language support to UK based businesses that want to move to France.

The short-term projections are pointing to be somewhat in favour of France, it remains to be seen if Brexit will have a positive impact on the nation’s economy in the longer run or the UK will have the last laugh.

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July 19, 2021 12:00 PM

The Blasphemy Law of Pakistan and its Implications

In Pakistan, Blasphemy results in a capital punishment in majority of cases. It is perhaps considered a crime worse than terrorism. A crucial case in point is the fact that the Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Court gave around 15 years jail term to two close aides of Hafiz Saeed—chief of the terrorist organization—Lashkar-e-Taiba—and mastermind behind 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks—where at least 150 innocent people lost their lives.

Similarly, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi—Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operation commander and another important figure involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack—was sentenced to 15 years in jail period. Not to mention—this happened amidst the international pressure on Pakistan for letting terrorists to function and roam freely within their country.

While something as violent as terrorism is dealt with lenient punishments, there are draconian laws for blasphemy in the country. Moreover, one can be accused of committing blasphemy—doesn’t matter if they did it or not—and might not even face a fair trial.

This article discusses what are the blasphemy laws and what are their implications while looking at some specific cases.

What are Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws?

What's called Blasphemy law today has its origins in the colonial era. The “offences relating to religion” were introduced by British in 1860, and were later expanded in 1927. These were sections 295 and 295-A from the Indian Penal Code. The laws were made to avoid religious disturbances, insult religious beliefs, or intentionally destroy or desecrate a place or an object of worship. Under the 295 and 295-A, the convicted were to be given a jail term from one year to ten years—with or without a fine.

Pakistan ended up inheriting these laws after the partition of India in 1947.

The laws were amended in 1982 and another clause was added which prescribed life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran intentionally. Another clause was added in 1986 to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad through imprisonment for life or death. These clauses, were added under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime, in an order to make the laws more “pro-Islam.”

Since then, this law has often been used to persecute people from minority communities—such as the Ahmadiyas, Shias, Christians, and Hindus—they have been accused of blasphemy without much evidence.

Infamous cases and implications of blasphemy in Pakistan

One of the famous cases was of Asia Bibi, which grabbed international attention as well. Asia Noreen—known as Asia Bibi—was a Pakistani Christan and a farm laborer in Punjab province. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, was a brick laborer. A dispute with her Muslim neighbours turned into an accusation of blasphemy—leading to her arrest and imprisoned. There were a lot of protests in Pakistan, demanding death penalty for Asia Bibi.

Two politicians—Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti—who supported and tried to help Asia Bibi, were murdered. Taseer was shot by his own bodyguard named Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in broad daylight. Qadri was tried and sentenced to death. He was executed in 2016. Mumtaz Qadri became a hero for millions and hardliners praised him as a martyr. He is regarded as a saint and a mausoleum has been built over his grave in his village near Islamabad, where even devotees come to offer prayers.

Asia Bibi was first sentenced to death by a trial court in 2010, however was later acquitted by the Supreme Court in a historic judgement of 2018. In 2019, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that she was free to leave Pakistan and was given asylum in Canada where she moved along with her family.

Although after a long struggle, Asia Bibi still got justice and was able to start a new life—unfortunately many others didn’t. Many met with Mob Justice.

In 2017, a journalism student at a Pakistani University was lynched to death by fellow students in Mardan—in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The student—Mashal Khan—was a Shia Muslim and was falsely accused of blasphemy. The mob was enraged by a rumour according to which he had promoted the Ahmadi faith on Facebook. In a similar instance, a man named Tahrir Ahmad Naseem was killed by vigilantes in July last year for blasphemy. He was a former Ahmadi, and was in Peshawar Central Jail since 2018 for claiming to be a prophet. He was shot dead inside the courtroom during trial in the Peshawar Judicial Complex.

Furthermore, in a case similar to that of Asia Bibi, a Christian couple—Shahzad and Shama Maseeh—were accused of blasphemy as well. They were then beaten and burned alive by a mob in 2014. Shama was four months pregnant. The mob, which also included a local cleric, believed that the couple had burned some pages of the Quran along with some rubbish, although the couple’s family still denies this. Five people including the cleric were sentenced to death, while the eight others were given two years imprisonment.

Last year, former Foreign and Defense Minister Khawaja Asif as well was accused of blasphemy for merely stating that “all religions are equal.”

Why is this happening?

According to data by Pakistan’s Centre for Social Justice, there have been 1549 known cases of serious blasphemy in the years 1987-2017, out of which 720 were Muslims, 516 Ahmadis, 238 Christians, 31 Hindus, and the rest 44 are unknown. 75 out of the total cases ended in the person being murdered before their trial.

There are 13 countries in the world which punish blasphemy by death penalty and Pakistan happens to be one of them. But unlike countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where they are executed judicially—as mentioned earlier—accused in Pakistan are often killed in mob violence or assassination. While Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to top in terms of the highest number of executions, most of them for sacrilege or crimes against Islam, Pakistan’s total ‘judiciary’ killings stand at zero.

The problem of this mob mentality in Pakistan, especially when it comes to religion, is actually deeply rooted in its constitution. The country’s aspiration to become a democracy as well as an Islamic state is in itself contradictory. The people want the right to freedom and expression and the hanging of a person committing blasphemy at the same time. The constitution denies criticism of Islam while claiming to allow freedom of speech and religion. The elevation of one religion over others in itself is principally undemocratic.

Another interesting point is the fact that the people supporting these ideas haven’t been aware of how things can backfire. Muhammad Din Taseer—father of Salman Taseer—supported Ilam Din, who murdered a Hindu publisher over blasphemy in 1929. An ancestor’s support for radicalism ended up in his own offspring being assassinated in the name of blasphemy.

Mental illness and blasphemy

In Pakistan, often some mentally ill people are punished to death by mobs for unknowingly ‘committing’ blasphemy. In 2012, a man widely reported by the media and police as ‘mentally unstable’ was arrested for blasphemy in Bahawalpur district, Punjab province. A mob gathered outside the police station, dragged him outside, and burned him to death. There have also been cases of misuse where such vulnerable individuals were subjected to sexual abuse and later accused of blasphemy by the abusers to cover up their crimes.

Such abuses towards mentally unsound people would have been a criminal case and the abusers would have been punished—unless they use the blasphemy law—as the mentally unstable victim cannot defend themselves.

Role of Anti-Terrorism courts

Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism courts were set up to ensure quick justice in cases such as terrorism, sectarian violence, targeted political killings, hijacking, kidnapping, extortion and even arms trafficking. Earlier gang rape was also included in it—but removed later.

They are also key to controlling mob attacks on blasphemy accused as such trials are held here.

Yet, these courts have been facing several problems due to lack of basic resources and understaffing. The posts of judges often remain vacant for months, and the state prosecutors complain of poor working conditions—with no offices, stationery, clerical staff or legal resources. These problems may have risen due to the fact that there are not sufficient funds allotted for the ATC infrastructure, one of the major challenges in Pakistan’s legal system. Due to this, these courts are not able to fulfill their primary objective—to provide ‘quick’ justice.

Moreover, these courts lack independence and are vulnerable to political influence—the judges are held accountable to the executive. Sometimes the witnesses often refuse to testify against the accused, as they fear assassination by terrorist groups the accused belongs to. The judges, state prosecutors and others also have personal security concerns which also lead to delays in trials.

Also, these courts deny terrorism suspects the right to equality before the law. They are not even tried in a public place with full defense and are not presumed innocent. Peshawar High Court advocate Ghulam Nabi even challenged the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance 2009 under Article 199 of the constitution in December 2009, saying that it violated basic human rights.

The blasphemy laws of Pakistan need to be repealed in today's Global civic society. People are fighting for equality everywhere around the globe. And now it is up to Pakistan to choose—whether to become a democracy or continue with a pseudo-democratic authoritarian regime which is based on extremist interpretation of religion.

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