Minority issue: Cameras forced off Ahmadi worship centre

Published: February 25, 2012
RAWALPINDI: 

The Ahmadi community in Rawalpindi went through another harrowing day on Friday, when hundreds of locals assembled outside their place of worship demanding the removal of barricades and closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed there.

A deadline of March 1 has been set by a religious group for Ahmadis to remove the CCTV cameras from around their worship place in E-block of Satellite Town, although the cameras had actually been placed there by the police to enhance security for the threatened community.

In a similar incident last month, hundreds of people surrounded the same worship centre demanding the removal of barriers around it, although they had been placed with the permission from the city government and the neighbours claimed to have had no problems with them.

Talking to The Express Tribune, a representative of the Ahmadi community said that a large number of locals gathered outside the location after Friday prayers and removed the security cameras. “I got shocked to see hundreds of people including local traders coming here at around 2pm and trying to remove the cameras. The police did not even try to stop them,” said the dejected representative.

New Town Police Station House Officer (SHO) Raja Abdul Qayum confirmed that over 200 protesters assembled outside the worship place and “asked” the authorities to remove the barricades.

“On the direction of the commissioner, we have removed CCTV cameras and barricades from outside the worship place, and no untoward incident happened there,” he said.

Leading the locals, businessman Sharjeel Mir claimed that the centre’s administration had been told a few weeks ago that their demands, including no more than 10 people at the worship centre at any time and removal of all security installations near the centre including cameras, would be fulfilled however nothing was done.

Subsequently, “protests were held against them and the major demand of locals is their removal from the locality” Mir insisted.

Repeated attempts were made to contact Rawalpindi Commissioner Zahid Saeed, but he was not available for comment.

Police inaction

In a statement, Ahmadiyya Community spokesperson Saleemuddin blamed the Rawalpindi police for the incident. He said that after the Lahore massacre of May 28, 2010, the community took certain security measures on the advice of law enforcement agencies. The measures included placement of barricades, barbed wires fencing on the walls and installation of CCTV cameras, to avoid a possible terrorist attack.

In a statement issued on Friday, Saleemuddin pointed out that the barricades had been removed earlier, and the “Ahmadiyya Centre has thus been deprived of eyes to keep watch on the approach roads. The community’s right of prayers and congregation has thus been exposed to grave danger.”

“On Friday, the police were present as usual. Sharjeel Mir was present on the street and watched worshipers leaving the place. After the peaceful dispersal of the congregation, finding no other excuse, the troublemaker [Shirjeel Mir] and some madrassa students came outside the centre and started shouting and raising slogans demanding the removal of the security cameras,” the statement added.

It alleged that the police, including the SHO present, made no attempt to stop them. “From 2:30 to 3:30pm, a crowd was allowed to gather in front of the community centre’s gate. Even the SSP did not order the unlawful assembly to disperse once he reached the site.

At about 3:30pm, the SSP asked the administration to remove the cameras to appease the mob. The SSP was informed that the measures had been adopted on the direction of the authorities and could only be removed on a written order from the district administration, the statement presented.

At about 4pm, the additional deputy commissioner (ADC) arrived and the police, under the supervision of the SSP removed the cameras although “no written order was produced”.

“The police was responsible for law and order and SSP had done it on his discretion. The SSP professed that he had done so to appease the mob so that they may disperse”, said the statement.

The JA spokesperson regretted that “cameras were removed but the mob was not asked to disperse. Instead, loudspeakers came in and provocative and threatening speeches were made. The mob was allowed to carry on with provocation and threats to demolish the centre.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2012.