Asia Bibi, Christian mother-of-five, given blasphemy death sentence

A Pakistani court has sentenced to death a Christian mother-of-five for blasphemy, the first such conviction of a woman and sparking protests from rights groups overnight. Asia Bibi, 45, was sentenced on Tuesday by a local court in Nankana district in Pakistan's central province Punjab, about 75km west of the country's cultural capital of Lahore. Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for blasphemy, but the case spotlights the Muslim country's controversial laws on the subject which rights activists say encourages Islamist extremism in a nation wracked by Taliban attacks. Asia's case dates back to June 2009 when she was asked to fetch water while out working in the fields.

Lao Officials to Expel More Christian Families

Sarah Page - Compass Direct News
Officials in Katin village, southern Laos have ordered six more Christian families to renounce their faith or face expulsion in early January, advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported. The Katin chief and the village religious affairs officer, along with local security forces, recently approached the six families with the threat after having expelled 11 Christian families, totaling 48 people, at gunpoint last January. The six families now under threat had become Christians since the January expulsion. The eviction last January followed months of threats and harassment, including the confiscation of livestock and other property, the detention of 80 men, women and children in a school compound and the death by asphyxiation of a Christian villager.

CathBlog - Scrutinising apparent support for euthanasia

Simon Rowney - Catholic News
Assisted suicide advocate Dr Philip Nitschke has been using survey results to claim that 80 per cent of Australians support euthanasia. It is well known that opponents of euthanasia object that the survey does not clearly distinguish between deliberate killing and turning off life support. It is not surprising, they say, that 80 per cent of Australians are not opposed to turning off life support in certain situations but it would be very surprising to find so many Australians supporting deliberate killing. However both sides are a little unclear on this issue.

The religious beliefs of Australia's prime ministers

John Warhurst - Eureka Street
Thanks to Bill Mason, who not only invited me to speak this evening but also suggested the topic, knowing my interest in religion and politics. He was so keen on this topic that eventually, after failing to recruit anyone else, I volunteered early last year. Subsequently I was awarded a fellowship by the Australian Prime Ministers Centre at Old Parliament House to pursue this topic seriously. So I have many people to thank for the great satisfaction researching this topic has afforded me. The origins of the topic lie in the public debate generated by the religious beliefs of two recent prime ministers, John Howard and Kevin Rudd. Among many other comments Rudd has been described as 'the most sincerely Christian Prime Minister Australia has had for a very long time', and as having identified himself more strongly as being a 'practicing Christian' than any PM since WW2. Rudd and Tony Abbott, the current leader of the Opposition were described as 'the two most overtly religious party leaders Australia has seen'. The ingredients are fascinating and the mass media has increasingly taken an interest.

Merry Christmas Prime Minister

Barrie Cassidy - ABC
The High Court is the Grinch who stole Christmas Island. The notorious Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, 2,600 kilometres north-west of Perth, is no longer a legal sanctuary for Australian governments trying to limit the rights of asylum seekers. The excision system that decreed those held on the island would not have access to the same legal rights as everybody else, is now redundant. The court has found all asylum seekers must be treated the same, whether they arrive by plane or boat, and whether they arrive at Christmas Island or the mainland. It is no longer open to the Minister for Immigration to refuse to review their cases simply on the basis that they were being held offshore.

For heaven's sake, PM, expose the Greens

Graham Richardson - The Australian
The Greens are gradually being taken over by some extreme left-wing types. Why doesn't the government cost all of the Greens' policies, lift the veil on the totality of their platform and expose what a joke Australia would be if the Greens actually got to govern the country? If Labor's primary vote is being knocked off by the Greens, some robust exchanges need to take place if the trend is to be reversed.

Sydney is sinking into sin

Nick Tabakoff - Daily Telegraph
Sydney has become the Amsterdam of the South Pacific. A confidential NSW Government document reveals Sydney alone has more than double the number of legal brothels than in the whole of Victoria and Queensland combined. In Sydney alone, there were 244 legal brothels, with a further 90 complaints about "suspected" illegal brothels. By comparison, all of Victoria has just over 90 legal brothels, while Queensland has 24. In total, NSW has 271 legal brothels, including full-service and "happy ending" massage brothels. The shocking new figures are the first definitive statistics compiled in the state, and will heighten calls from law enforcement to rein in its growth amid claims the industry is being infiltrated by organised crime. Experts say it is far easier to start a brothel than a pub.

Offshore detention 'likely to be longer' after High Court ruling

Paul Maley and Sid Maher - The Australian
Failed asylum-seekers will be given access to the judicial system after a pivotal High Court ruling. The decision lands a significant blow to Australia's offshore processing regime and that the government warns will "elongate" detention times. But in a development that will increase pressure on the Gillard government to make good on its promised Timor Solution, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said plans for a regional processing centre would not be affected by the court's decision. The High Court yesterday unanimously ruled that two Tamil asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka were denied procedural fairness after their claims were rejected under the Rudd government's independent merits review process.

Selling arms, gambling are not cardinal sins

Kelly Burke - SMH
Thou shalt gamble, thou shalt smoke and thou shalt sell arms, the country's most senior Catholic cleric has decreed. Speaking at an ethics in business lunch hosted by Notre Dame University, Cardinal George Pell suggested it might be somewhat hypocritical for the Catholic Church to condemn gambling outright, given the proliferation of poker machines in NSW Catholic clubs. ''I must confess I do feel a bit uneasy about that, but only a bit uneasy,'' he admitted. ''Because culturally I'm an Irish Australian and we grew up gambling.''  Gambling in itself was not intrinsically wrong, he said. Only when it became an addiction, threatening the well-being of oneself and one's family, did it become a sin.

Paedophile guide taken off online bookshelves

Aaron Cook - SMH
Amazon, the world's largest online book retailer, appears to have bowed to public pressure and withdrawn from sale a how-to guide for paedophiles. The Paedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure was described by the author as an attempt to make paedophile situations safer for the juveniles involved. It attracted more than 2800 comments on the Amazon website and sparked disbelief and outrage among users of online networking sites such as Twitter. Many Twitter users threatened to boycott Amazon until it banned the book.

Lib senator backs gay marriage

Patricia Karvelas - The Australian
A junior Coalition frontbencher is the latest to break ranks with his party and advocate for a conscience vote on gay marriage. Opposition parliamentary secretary for the Murray-Darling Basin Simon Birmingham argues social change was inevitable and stable homosexual relationships deserved recognition. Mr Birmingham told The Australian yesterday he did not believe it was a left-wing issue and believed his party needed to embrace a conscience vote. As revealed by The Weekend Australian, frontbencher Mark Arbib, a right-wing Labor minister, became the first frontbencher to declare his support for same-sex marriage.

Greens 'a threat to civilisation'

Katharine Murphy - The Age
The Greens ideology threatens not only economic progress but the ''heart and soul'' of Western civilisation, according to prominent Victorian conservative Kevin Andrews. In a speech yesterday, the Liberal frontbencher declared that the parliamentary Greens had been ''infiltrated'' by the hard left and the philosophy was ''ecological Marxism''. ''The Greens operate out of a set of ideological principles and beliefs that extend beyond the warm, cuddly environmentalism they wrap themselves in,'' Mr Andrews said. ''While environmentalism lies at the core of the Greens ideology, their policies, if ever enacted, would radically change the economic and social culture of Australia. What is at stake in the Greens 'revolution' is the heart and soul of Western civilisation.'' Mr Andrews also used his speech to attack the scientific consensus that global warming is human-induced, arguing the science has been manipulated by a ''closed shop''.

Labor to rule on Greens deal

Milanda Rout, James Massola - The Australian
Labor officials will decide tonight whether to make a preference deal with the Greens in the Victorian election. After a day of public mud-slinging and rancour, as Labor accused the Greens of courting the Liberals, and the Greens said Labor walked away from a deal, it is understood the Labor administration committee will meet at 5pm for discussions. Negotiations broke down on Saturday when Labor rejected the Greens' offer of preferences for 15 or 16 lower house seats in return for Labor's preferences in all upper house seats. Instead, Labor wants Greens preferences in all 55 of the Brumby government's lower house seats, as in 2006.

Greens, ALP joint push on same sex marriage

In a 'marriage of convenience' between the Greens and Labor, two MPs will push the issue of same sex marriage in South Australia. Tammy Franks from the Greens and Labor's Ian Hunter had each been planning separate bills for State Parliament but will now co-sponsor a joint bill after learning of each other's plan. They want to legalise same sex marriage in SA and will urge there be a conscience vote on the legislation. Mr Hunter says federal laws do not recognise same sex couples so he wants the state to do it instead.

State eyes 'violence' courts

Sallie Don - The Australian
Plans to introduce specialised family violence and sexual assault courts are being considered by the NSW government.
This is in a bid to simplify arduous courtroom experiences for the victims. A joint report by the Australian and NSW law reform commissions yesterday recommended the establishment of the separate courts, as part of a continuing push to offer greater support to those caught up in domestic violence. "Often, the experience of going to court can almost be as traumatising as the experience itself," NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said yesterday.

Police raid seeks copy of banned zombie movie

Karl Quinn - The Age
In the latest instalment of the zombie film saga that refuses to die, Victoria Police yesterday raided the home of Richard Wolstencroft, director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, seeking a copy of the prohibited film LA Zombie. The gay-porn-horror movie, by American underground filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, was screened by Mr Wolstencroft to an audience of about 200. In July, the Classification Board refused to grant the film an exemption from classification, a prerequisite for its screening in the Melbourne International Film Festival. MIFF director Richard Moore dropped the film from the program. However, on August 11, Mr Wolstencroft announced his intention to stage a ''public disobedience freedom of speech event'' - an illegal screening - on August 29.