3A. Brutally punished for being Ahmadi – in Jhelum
Arson attack by a mob on an Ahmadi-owned chipboard factory in Jhelum (Punjab) was in a way the major anti-Ahmadi incident of 2015. The attack was apparently a reaction of a crowd to an alleged accusation of defiling the Quran, but there is evidence that it was pre-meditated and planned. The sizable factory was nearly 70% destroyed. Ahmadis’ homes located insides the parameters of the factory were first looted and then set on fire, with no regard to the lives of the families inside; all of them had to flee to save their lives. Apparently there was no SOP with authorities to meet such a situation and adequate police force was not available. Army units had to be deployed to restore law and order.
The next day, the bigots chose to target an Ahmadiyya mosque in the vicinity. They occupied it and piled all its furnishings in the street and set them on fire. The LEA personnel present at the site took no action to prevent the outrage.
Mob destroyed Ahmadi-owned factory and occupied Ahmadiyya mosque
Loot, arson in police presence, Ahmadis flee from homes and hearths to save lives
Jhelum; November 20, 2015 and thereafter: Ahmadiyya central office in Rabwah issued the following two press releases, on November 21 and 23 respectively.
P.R. on November 21, 2015
An attempt in Jhelum to burn innocent Ahmadis alive over vicious allegation of blasphemy of the Holy Quran
No Ahmadi can ever contemplate the slightest disrespect to the Holy Quran: Spokesperson Ahmadiyya Community
Chenab Nagar, Rabwah: Yesterday, under a monstrous plan, an attempt was made to burn Ahmadis alive after accusing them of defiling the Holy Quran. According to details a chip board factory, functioning in Jhelum since long, owned by an Ahmadi, was set on fire. Chip board was being manufactured in the factory when some miscreant reportedly informed the local mullas that copies of Holy Quran had been delivered to the furnace. Thereafter, without any further enquiry, announcements were made on loudspeakers in mosques that Holy Quran had been desecrated in Ahmadis’ chip board factory.
A violent mob was formed through these provocative announcements, which surrounded the factory, pelted stones, caused damage and then set the factory on fire by the use of inflammable material. Law enforcement personnel arrived at the scene and rescued the people trapped in the factory. The fire has destroyed 70% of the factory while 8 vehicles parked inside were also severely damaged.
The spokesperson of the Ahmadiyya community expressed great anguish over this incident and said that a deliberate attempt had been made to burn Ahmadis alive by torching the factory under a plan. Someone pushed the vicious allegation of blasphemy for personal vendetta and animosity.
Last year on July 27, 2014 during Ramzan in Gujranwala three Ahmadi females were burnt alive by an enraged mob over baseless allegation of blasphemy of the Holy Ka‘ba. Subsequent investigations proved the allegation entirely false and a result of personal animosity. He said, “Every Ahmadi is mindful of the Sha‘air of Allah more than his life, as they are part of his faith. We have been taught that, ‘Those who honour the Quran are honoured in the heavens’.” According to the National Action Plan a ban on hateful speeches is little more than paperwork, as extremist elements are free to implement their hateful anti-Ahmadiyya agenda, he said. He demanded transparent investigation of the incident and swift action to bring the perpetrators to justice.
P.R. on November 22/23, 2015
Ahmadis targeted by miscreants and lawbreakers in the presence of law enforcement personnel
Ahmadiyya place of worship was attacked and its belongings burnt in Kala Gujran: Spokesperson Ahmadiyya Community
Chenab Nagar, Rabwah (PR): Miscreants attacked an Ahmadi place of worship in Kala Gujran, Jhelum. They damaged the furnishings, took them out in the street, and set them on fire. Three days ago, on November 20, the opponents of the Ahmadiyya community attacked a chip-board factory and set it ablaze when people were still inside. The perpetrators acted to burn alive those inside the factory. Their lives were barely saved with the help of law enforcement agencies. Yesterday, on Saturday, November 21, 2015, extremist elements held a rally in Kala Gujran. They encircled the Ahmadiyya Bait-uz-Zikr, took the prayer mats and other movables out and set them on fire in the street. It is relevant to mention that personnel from law enforcement agencies were present on the spot but they did not exert to stop the miscreants from burning the belongings. After this, the bigots washed the mosque, a mulla called the Azaan, and they offered Asar prayer in the mosque. Thereafter, the authorities told them to leave, and locked the mosque.
The spokesperson of Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan, Saleemuddin strongly condemned the violent incidents in Jhelum and said that an Ahmadiyya place of worship was attacked in presence of the law enforcement personnel who, instead of taking action against the lawbreakers, stood there as spectators. He further said that an application for registration of FIR against the participants who damaged the factory and burned the belongings of the worship place has been lodged with the police. He added that the Ahmadis of Jhelum and surrounding areas have been forced to leave their homes, for safety. He demanded from the government that Ahmadis should be provided protection and strict legal action should be taken against the miscreants who threatened human lives.
The police arrested Mr Qamar Ahmad, an Ahmadi, a security official of the factory on November 20, the very first day and booked him under PPC 295-B, a blasphemy clause for alleged desecration of the Holy Quran.
The above is the gist of what happened, but PRs have to be brief and crisp; they cannot do justice to the reported event. Often the reality and substance can be conveyed only if mentioned in essential detail.
Only two days before this tragedy in Jhelum, Kunwar Khuldune Shahid wrote in an op-ed in the daily The Nation: “We can shout “Islam is the religion of peace” till our lungs burst, but advocating beliefs and laws that contradict basic human rights let alone supporting Islamist militancy, would constantly be the deal-breaker…. Neither conveniently distancing ourselves from Islamist terrorism would suffice. Muslims need to be at the forefront of the war against jihadism, which has caused more suffering to us than any other community.” This opinion which is now obvious to most intellectuals in Pakistan is apparently still not held by the provincial government who has done little to convert it into an SOP for their law-enforcing agencies. The incident, as it unfolded in Jhelum, proved it. The mulla and the mob were allowed the initiative, the security forces responded, only if they could, or opted to.
It is relevant to point out that despite the experience of the past 20 years and the great obvious harm done to the Pakistani state and society in recent years, Pakistan government is not on the same page on the evil of religious extremism, even after the APS Peshawar tragedy. Maulana Sheerani, the chairman of the CII at Islamabad declared only a month ago that he would take up the following three long over-due issues in the next council meeting:
- Ahmadis should be classified as mere non-Muslims or Murtads (apostates)? (Note: According to the CII the penalty for apostasy is death.)
- Whether Jizya (religious tax) should be imposed on non-Muslims in Pakistan?
- To determine which sects fell under the ambit of Islam.
In view of the above unabashed statement in public, what happened in Jhelum is not surprising.
The riot in Jhelum was reported in the press adequately, and the English language press commented profusely on its various aspects. The daily The News mentioned in an op-ed on November 29, “Keep in mind that the mob didn’t just act out of blind rage. It first looted the properties in question: taking away even children clothes from the cupboards. Once the assets of the enemy had been secured, it was time to burn the structures to the ground.” The daily Dawn reported on November 27, “The decades old facility has been turned into a vast heap of ashes and charred structures by an arson attack launched by a crazed mob. The crowd gathered in the wake of announcements made from mosques’ loudspeakers, calling on people to burn the facility down after one of its employees was arrested over allegations of blasphemy. What they didn’t burn down, they looted.”
According to the daily The News: By evening, announcements were made from local mosques that the owner and the workers had burnt the Quran.
Soon, outrage spread in the nearby villages. Following this the people not only from the vicinity but nearby villages gathered as a mob and set ablaze the chipboard factory. The houses and the offices of the factory were destroyed, looted and burnt. …The DPO says announcements were made in the nearby villages urging people to gather outside the factory, and possibility of any mischief cannot be ignored.
A report in the monthly Tanqeed quoted one Imran (name changed for security concern) an Ahmadi eye witness to the attack:
“It was a miracle how (fleeing) families inside the factory compound and those outside managed to gain some distance, as the hunt had started by the mob then.
“The night had grown darker. The mob began to loot, and then, to set the factory on fire.
“When the angry men moved towards our quarters, they were told by some non-Ahmadis to only target the living quarters of Ahmadis, I was told by my contact. They stole from our residences and then set them on fire. They had started running in the direction of Ahmadis who had managed to flee, with batons and torches.
“Ahmadis hid in the fields behind small hills, in deep nullahs (canals), and in thorny shrubs, hungry and scared, for hours. The subsequent rescue operation by the volunteers of the community – without any help from the law enforcement personnel – went on till 6 a.m.”
According to some other account, the police did help in saving some lives.
Even after all that, the authorities failed to grasp the potential threat that still existed. The next day, the bigoted brigade organized an attack on an Ahmadiyya mosque, not far away. The daily Dawn filed the following report on November 27: “A few kilometres east of the torched factory in the congested Kala Gujran area of Jhelum city, dozens of armed soldiers and policemen stand guard in front of an Ahmadi place of worship. But the place has now been inscribed with the title of ‘Masjid Allah Wali’ and displays the slogan ‘Khatme Nabuwwat Zindabad’. “These were written by the protestors who briefly took over this place yesterday and offered their prayers here,” says Malik Basharat Jameel a native of the area. They took three motor cycles, two generators, some furniture and files out from this building and set it all on fire.”
But Nasir Butt, a local journalist, believes the police were responsible for the chaos. “The police failed to apply a strategy to counter religious unrest”, he says. Surprisingly the second attack occurred after the RPO himself had arrived here to control the situation. The police simply vanished when the crowd arrived.” The daily Dawn, November 27, 2015
According to The News of November 29, 2015: A video available with TNS shows people setting things on fire in the worship place with a policeman standing quietly and watching rather than taking any action. Almost 24 hours after the whole episode, the Punjab Chief Minister ordered to take action against the culprits.
The News reported later: The government managed to block the news on national television channels. The factory is under the control of administration ever since and the media has not been allowed to visit the area, thus blocking any kind of coverage that could expose the horrifying scenes of loot, plunder and burning of the factory. The News, 29.11.15
A further press report mentioned: Five days after the torching down of the chipboard factory and looting of workers’ houses and offices, about four kilometres from Jhelum on G.T. Road, by a violent mob, the smoke was still billowing from its ware houses and fire-fighting vehicles were still at work.
The daily The Nation of November 22, 2015 made editorial comment on this ‘Mob Justice’: “…. With Ahmadis declared non-Muslims by the Pakistani government in 1974, there is no stopping the public in trying to make them feel like they do not belong to this country. Eleven member of the sect were murdered for their faith in 2014 and authorities failed to apprehend any of the killers. … “Severe action will be taken against the culprits,” Nisar (Interior Minister) added. But these words mean nothing as such attacks against Ahmadis have become a norm. No official account has ever been given about the perpetrators, backers, financiers or masterminds of these heinous crimes.”
Post-riot situation: Rabia Mahmood wrote in the monthly Tanqeed in her article “The mob wanted to lynch them”, quoting Imran, (name changed for security):
“As for Imran, he never thought that the situation in Jehlum (sic) would escalate to the point where Ahmadis would have to flee. While there are no deaths or injuries from the Jehlum incidents so far, the trauma and fear is immense. A few years ago, Imran had witnessed a hate crime against an Ahmadi acquaintance in Punjab and had to take the bleeding man to the hospital after he was shot. That physical violence was nothing compared to the utter fear of Jehlum. There is no comparison.”
Members of the Ahmadiyya Community suspect that the incident was ‘systemically run’ in term of sequence of incidents. Sure enough, five days after the incident, the Dawn reported on November 25: Investigators smell ‘conspiracy’ behind Jhelum violence
“Gujrat: The violence that erupted in Jhelum, apparently following a ‘desecration’ incident in the factory, might have been planned by perpetrators with ulterior motives. … The investigators have been looking into the possibility of a sabotage plan behind the incidents in Jhelum that might have been prepared by some local miscreants in connivance with some factory workers.”
Later The Express Tribune partly filled in the blank by a report on December 2: Inciting violence: Worker behind Jhelum incident wanted raise, according to the report. Another report in the same daily two days earlier mentioned that a provincial law maker, Mehr Muhammad Fiaz claimed that “the men who torched the chipboard factory over blasphemy allegations were in a drunk state and were only there to steal valuables.”
The situation became so tense and fraught with danger that all the Ahmadis from the city of Jhelum and its suburbs had to flee and seek refuge elsewhere wherever they could. When to go back safely, is a moot question.
After the damage had been done, at some stage, the political and administrative authorities realized that the situation needed firm handling to avoid re-ignition. The police then filed two cases against the rioters under different sections of PPC and section 7 of Anti-Terrorism Act. Some arrests were made. The authorities however, talked to a few protestors who complained that some of the detained individuals were innocent; the officials assured them sympathetic follow-up. Predictably, no senior mulla was detained for questioning. According to press reports a few moezzans (callers to prayers, mosques caretakers) were detained. But they are only the foot-soldiers.
The English print media took due notice of the incident and in addition to press reports, published op-eds and wrote editorials. Some of these are listed below:
|Report||Manufacturing Intolerance||Waqar Gillani – The News on Sunday 29.11.15|
|Op-ed||Justifying the mob||Hussain H. Zaidi – The News 28.11.15|
|News||Identity crises for Pakistan’s Ahmadis: Battle with mob and state||The Nation 28.11.15|
|News||Jhelum Rioters Arrested||Newsweek Pakistan 25.11.15|
|Story||Fighting for the right to live||Newsweek Pakistan 25.11.15|
|Op-ed||A surfeit of anger||Chris Cork in The Express Tribune 25.11.15|
|Story||The mob wanted to lynch them||Rabia Mehmood in tanqeed.org Nov 2015|
|Press Report||Footprints: Fires of hatred||Dawn 27.11.15|
|Op-ed||The pariahs of Pakistan||Farrukh K Pitafi in The Express Tribune 27.11.15|
|Op-ed||The unmistakable hypocrisy||Mehr Tarrar – The Express Tribune 26.11.15|
|Op-ed||The fire of intolerance||The Friday Times 27.11.15|
|Op-ed||End impunity for blasphemy mobs||Gul Bukhari -The Nation 22.11.15|
|Editorial||Mob Justice||The Nation 22.11.15|
|News||Mob torches Jhelum factory after blasphemy accusation||The Nation 22.11.15|
|Press report||Double standard over hangings alleged||Nasir Iqbal in Dawn 24.11.15|
|Op-ed||Closing Jihad factories||Marvi Sirmed in The Nation 24.11.15|
|Op-ed||Minority matters||Reema Omer in Dawn 24.11.15|
|News||More than 40 suspects held for Jhelum (hate attacks)||Dawn – 24.11.15|
|News||Clerics warn against secularization||The News 25.11.15|
|Editorial||Hate speech||The Nation 25.11.15|
|Editorial||Toothless recommendations||The Nation 28.11.15|
|Op-ed||Punished for being||Imaan Hazir Mazari in The News 27.11.15|
|Op-ed||Jhelum – insult to human dignity||Waqqas Mir in The News on Sunday 29.11.15|
|Editorial||Religious extremism in Jhelum||Dawn 24.11.15|
|News||After factory, mob torches Ahmadi place of worship in Jhelum over blasphemy allegations||The Express Tribune 21.11.15|
|News||Blasphemy allegations: Mob torches factory in Jhelum||The Express Tribune 21.11.15|
|News||Ahmadi place of worship set ablaze in Jhelum, riots erupt after blasphemy allegations||Dawn – 21.11.15|
The vernacular press reported the incident; however, as usual, it decided not to comment on it or take a position in favour of the targeted community – except a hint in the daily Express.
TV channels were more forthcoming. There were numerous talk shows in which Jhelum incident was taken up. The participants, even those from religious parties, spoke against the rioters and stated that it was wrong and un-Islamic to accept a report on its face value without due inquiry and indulge in a riot. An op-ed writer, however, criticized this position as it suggests “most repulsively, that a given set of facts could explain or justify attempted murder, arson against residential and industrial premises.”
The Punjab apex committee established by the NAP recommended several changes to the law to better deal with terrorism and extremism – aiming mostly at making punishments more severe. The daily The Nation of November 28, 2015 wrote an editorial titled Toothless Recommendations on these. Extract:
“The recommendations include more stringent laws on loud speaker use, mob violence and hate speech – but the fact is even if these laws had been in place, incidents like Jhelum riots, the Kasur lynching and Joseph Colony fire would still have happened in exactly the same way. Laws become meaningless when LEAs stand by and let angry mobs do their worst, be it through cowardice or sympathy with the crowd. LEA standard operating procedures dealing with religious mobs need to be updated – they need to be given the authority to use force to deter the crowd.
“If laws are needed then they are needed to prosecute policemen who let mobs torture and destroy in dereliction of their duties.”
Ms. Gul Bokhari hit the nail on the head, in her op-ed published in the daily The Nation of November 22, 2015 on the issue of recommendations:
“All political parties in parliament are urged to frame and table laws targeted specifically at the impunity side of the blasphemy killings at least, and to do so on a war footing, given they find it hard to change or repeal the blasphemy laws at this time. A few simple recommendations include: The introduction of capital punishment for anyone, including the mosque clerics like in Jhelum’s case this Friday, who call for punishment/killing of blasphemy accused by people; charging members of the attacking mob with nothing short of murder or attempted murder, as the case may be, reform of procedure before anyone can be booked for blasphemy.”
Mr. Usman Ahmad came up with a refreshing suggestion in the huffingtonpost.com in his article ‘Is it time for Pakistan to Revisit the ‘Ahmadi Question’? His concluding remarks:
“Notwithstanding all this, there was a noticeable difference in the way the mainstream media covered the Jhelum attack compared to previous atrocities. Apart from formal condemnations, genuine and nuanced discourse about the rights of Ahmadis in Pakistan, social attitudes towards them and what it means to be a citizen in Pakistan was brought into open discussion.
“It is exactly this kind of conversation that has to come to the fore because the handling of the Ahmadi question is integral to the future direction of Pakistan through its inextricable link with the darkest recesses of its past. An honest and fair-minded discussion has become a necessity. Not just in newsrooms, but in all public spheres.
“More fundamentally it needs to be conducted in a mature manner, free of polemics, the threat of violence and by taking on board the viewpoints of Ahmadis themselves.
“It is imperative that the Ahmadi question be revisited. Without engaging with one of the principal causes of religious tension in Pakistan no amount of military operations or action plans will be able to prevent further blazes, like the one in Jhelum, from being lit. And fire is something that can only be contained for so long.”