31st October 2014 – COI Gazette

Christian Aid report challenges multinationals over tax issues

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Multinational companies may have a moral duty to pay more tax than the letter of the law strictly requires of them, according to a new Christian Aid report on tax and theology. The report argues that the morality of tax practices depends on their impact on human beings.

In her contribution to the publication, Tax For The Common Good, theologian Professor Esther Reed of Exeter University argues that tax avoidance is not right if it damages other people’s ability to live decent lives. “Respect and care for the poor ranks higher in Jesus’ list of priorities than adherence to the law,” she says.

Conditions that are required for the flourishing of all citizens are paid for by tax, she points out: “Taxes are paid for the sake of order and an infrastructure that puts out fires, keeps the streets safe, ensures legal safeguards for businesses and employees, makes sure that food and water are safe, educates children and more.”

Editorial – Asia Bibi

On 16th October, the Pakistani High Court confirmed a death sentence on Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian who in 2010 was found guilty of blasphemy and was sentenced to death by hanging. Her ‘offence’ had been to drink the same water as a group of Muslim co-workers, thereby leading to the accusation of blasphemy by insulting the prophet Muhammad.

Asia Bibi denies this charge and has been supported in her legal efforts by the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which has bureaux in Lahore and in Southall, Middlesex.

Nasir Saeed, Director of CLAAS-UK, said after the failure of High Court appeal: “It is not surprising that the judges were swayed by pressure from local influential Muslims, but I had hoped that justice would prevail and that the case would be judged based on its merits. While the rest of the world condemns such draconian laws, Pakistan continues to persecute its minorities simply because of their religion. I have to now remain hopeful that the Supreme Court judges will look at the case objectively and allow the final appeal, eventually acquitting Asia.”

Mrs Bibi’s is the second appeal against a blasphemy law death sentence to reach the Supreme Court; in a 2002 case, Ayub Masih, a Christian, was acquitted of all charges and released from prison. Mr Masih was arrested after allegedly telling a Muslim neighbour to read Salman Rushdie’s The Satantic Verses and that Christianity was “correct”, but he denied the claims.

However, it is understood that the legal process in Asia Bibi’s case could still take “a number of years”, while Christian Solidarity Worldwide has said that her detention for over four years on death row has been in “ gruelling conditions”, with her health consequently suffering. There have been severe restrictions on visiting. CSW claimed that her prolonged detention has been partly due to security concerns, as blasphemy law victims are often attacked by Islamist extremists, stating: “There has been a lack of progress in her case, with five hearings cancelled this year alone, as well as the intimidation of judges and lawyers.”

In 2011, two high-profile politicians in Pakistan, who opposed the blasphemy laws – which carry a death sentence for insulting Islam – were assassinated: Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer.

Clearly, the blasphemy laws in Pakistan need to be changed to allow for the proper freedom of religion and belief – and Asia Bibi’s case should be fasttracked to allow for the necessary objectivity on the part of the Supreme Court. The charges against Asia Bibi are an affront to the most basic human rights and constitute persecution on an appalling scale.


 

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The Mission to Seafarers Pastoral and practical ministry to seafaring industry By Colin Hall-Thompson


 

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