Ahmadiyya press and printing under savage attack
Ahmadiyya press is high on the action list of anti-Ahmadi extremists. They, as in other sectors, seek governmental support in this field too to violate Ahmadis’ freedom. The authorities do not disappoint them. Last year the Punjab government issued orders to ban an Ahmadiyya women’s magazine and initiated a similar action against the Ahmadiyya daily Al-Fazl. Fortunately these initiatives fizzled out – thanks to intervention of judiciary. This year, the bigots changed their tactics and targeted individual Ahmadis involved in printing, production and distribution of Ahmadiyya periodicals and books. In this they co-opted the police at lower and middle level, and met some success, in the face of government’s general policy of freedom of press and media. The top politicians and administration officials often look the other way when Ahmadis are targeted. This results in gross violations of human rights – but who cares, if Ahmadis are at the receiving end.
Below three such cases are reported that happened this year. It is noteworthy that these cases happened in the Punjab, the citadel of PML-N, now in power at the federal level.
Police register case under Blasphemy and Anti-Terrorism law against Ahmadiyya community’s daily and arrest four
Following press release was issued by the Ahmadiyya Jamaat in the second week of April 2013; it describes well the initial parameters of this case:
“Police case under Anti-Terrorism Act against the editor and others of Pakistan’s oldest daily Al-Fazl deeply condemned.
“Freedom of expression of patriotic Ahmadis is being consistently denied in Pakistan.
Spokesman Jamaat Ahmadiyya
“Chenab Nagar (Rabwah): (PR) The spokesperson of Jamaat Ahmadiyya Pakistan has confirmed the news that on April 10, 2013, the police registered a case against the editor, Mr. Abdul Sami Khan, the printer Mr. Tahir Mehdi Imtiaz Ahmad of the oldest newspaper the daily Al-Fazl, and four others under the Anti-Terrorism Act and (anti-Ahmadi) Ordinance XX. The latter four accused were arrested by the Lahore police of Police Station Islampura.
“The spokesperson elaborated that the daily Al-Fazl represents the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan and is distributed exclusively to members of this community, and this fact is boldly mentioned on the first page of every issue.
“On April 10, when Mr. Khalid Ashraf arrived at the residence of an Ahmadi, Mr. Tahir Ahmad Shah, two intruders detained him and beat him. As pre-planned, approximately 30 mullas who had already assembled nearby mounted an assault on the residence of Mr. Shah, detained his children and beat them. While departing they robbed the residents of two lap-tops and two mobile phones. The police had arrived by then, and rather than protecting the victims, registered a criminal case against them.
“The spokesperson Mr. Saleemuddin strongly condemned this incident and stated that this group of attackers who became the complainant in this case is the same who for some time have repeatedly harassed Ahmadis on one excuse or another. It is regrettable that the administration, who should be protecting patriotic Ahmadis’ legal rights, has become a tool in the hands of miscreants. This betrays lack of will of the state in the face of extremism.
“All the charges in the FIR are false,” he said, “Every Ahmadi believes in all the prophets of God and sincerely loves them and their true followers”. The spokesperson urged the caretaker chief minister of Punjab to stand by his claim of providing justice to all, and issue orders for legal action against miscreants, and withdrawal of the false and fabricated police case.”
Subsequently, a statement of a police inspector confirmed that the charges include one under the blasphemy clause PPC 295-B. The police did not elaborate exactly which content of the daily is even remotely blasphemous. FIR Nr. 510/13 was registered in police station Islampura, Lahore under PPCs 295-B, 298-C and ATA 11W on April 10, 2013.
According to a press report, Inspector Shaukat Ali told PTI that the Al-Fazl was a banned publication. He was wrong. “We are conducting raids to arrest the editor and publisher of Al-Fazl,” he said. That proves the highly discriminatory conduct of the police, as press, in general, enjoys great freedom in Pakistan; even dailies published by organizations, banned for terrorism, are issued every day – no questions asked. It is surprising that the government should expose itself to the charge of curbing press freedom, by collaborating with mullas against the most harmless daily of this country. Approximately a fortnight later maulvi Ilyas Chinioti (a PML-N candidate for the Punjab Assembly) joined the foray to draw his pound of political flesh, by sending an application to the Home Secretary Punjab for action against the daily Al-Fazl and the weekly ‘Lahore’. This weekly is published in the capital of Punjab; its editor is an Ahmadi. This mulla argued in his application that as per an amendment to Art 260 of the Constitution, ‘Mirzais’ are a non-Muslim minority; they injure Muslims’ feelings by using Islamic terms in their periodicals; as such action should be taken against them. This mulla is a leader of the AMTKN, who had it published in the daily Din, Lahore: “Chiniot: Aalami Majlis Tahaffuz Khatme Nabuwwat in session – demands immediate action to punish Aasia, the cursed.” (December 24, 2010 issue) [Ms. Aasia, a Christian woman who was framed in a dubious case of blasphemy and awarded death sentence.]
The four arrested accused were denied bail in a lower court and remained behind bars. Thereafter they applied for bail after arrest with the Anti-terrorist court.On May 7, 2013 the judge granted bail to two, Mr. AzharZareef and Mr. Faisal Ahmad Tahir,butdenied the bail to the other two, Mr. Khalid Ishfaq and Mr. Tahir Ahmad. They remained incarcerated. Their plea for bail was then heard by the Lahore High Court on June 6, 2013 and rejected.
The two accused, Mr. Khalid Ishfaq and Mr. Tahir Ahmad then applied to the Supreme Court for grant of bail. They were represented by a competent attorney, Mr. Abid Hassan Minto and were heard by a bench on August 29, 2013.The Additional Advocate General informed the Court that the Anti-Terrorism Court had refused to grant the bail as the daily Alfazl was ‘banned’. However, it was established in the court room that the reason was not correct and the Alfazl was not under a ban under Section 99-A, and was still being published. The learned court mentioned in its judgment that the Addl. Advocate General “has frankly conceded that the ban could not be imposed for longer period under section 99-A Cr. P.C.” Mr. Minto therefore requested for the grant of bail. Justice IjazChaudhry, one of the three-member bench remarked that “the reason for which the ATA Court refused the bail is removed by us and we send the case back to the ATA Court.” At this Mr.Minto requested for grant of an interim bail prior to sending the case back to the lower court. The honorable judges however did not approve even that.
The accused are in prison on a sectarian, baseless and malicious charge of defiling the Holy Quran. The fact that anit-terrorism clause was added to the charge sheet shows how mala fide the case is. It also shows the extent of misuse of the anti-terrorism law by authorities. It is amazing that the anti-terrorism law puts press people behind bars while mullas of the Lal Masjid go free.
It is noteworthy that Mr. NajamSethi, the renowned journalist and media personality who was the caretaker chief minister is those days failed to provide relief to the innocent accused.
The two accused are in prison since April 2013 – nine months and still counting. The Supreme Court found the reason of rejection of their bail invalid; but they are still not granted bail. Cry, the beloved country!
Strangulation of Ahmadi-owned weekly ‘Lahore’
In May 2013, all of a sudden the weekly ‘Lahore’ stopped publication. It is the oldest weekly in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab. The reasons are telling and worrisome.
The Lahore started publication in 1952. It had three journalists as editors, two non-Ahmadis and one Ahmadi. Its title page proudly carries the claim: Mouth-piece of the literary, industrial and political activities of the high-spirited Pakistanis. With passage of time the two non-Ahmadi editors departed for greener pastures while Mr. Saqib Zeervi, the Ahmadi stuck to the Lahore, continued to produce the weekly as a model of independent, bold, constructive journalism – a rare undertaking in emerging Pakistan.
Mr. Saqib Zeervi died in 2002. His son Yasser Zeervi succeeded him and continued with his father’s mission of upright journalism. As before, this weekly often printed articles, inter alia, on Ahmadis’ human rights and their position on religious, social, political, etc issues in order to counter mostly false and malicious propaganda against them. In Pakistan, the press is relatively free. The Lahore shared this freedom. But for how long?
It is learnt from reliable sources that one, Mohammad Yaqub, linked to the Khatme Nabuwwat faction in Lahore applied to the police that a case under PPCs 295-C, 295-B, 298-C, ATA 11W etc be registered against Mr. Yasser Zeervi, the editor of ‘Lahore’ and two others for distributing the weekly which carries “blasphemous writings” (sic). These penal codes include the Blasphemy law, the Anti-Terrorism Act and the anti-Ahmadiyya law. Their penalties include death, imprisonment for life, unlimited fine etc.
The police were good enough not to immediately book the editor as demanded but sent the application to their legal department for examination and recommendation.
The applicant hurried to enlist support from the judiciary and put up a writ in a sessions court in Lahore. The pious sessions judge ordered the police to register the case. We do not know if he bothered to go through the ‘objectionable’ contents, as the editor is routinely extra cautious in selecting the texts he prints in the weekly. It can be categorically said that there is nothing in the weekly that is even remotely blasphemous. The judge simply cared for the sensitivities of anti-Ahmadi bigots, a small minority in Lahore, although they are effective in trouble making if not confronted by a resolute and fair administration and judiciary.
It is interesting to see that in today’s Pakistan Maulana Abdul Aziz (of Lal Masjid, Islamabad where the extremist elements murdered a Lt. Colonel on duty) is acquitted of terrorism charges, while an editor whose weekly is full of admiration for the Holy Prophet (pbuh) is frivolously ordered to be booked for blasphemy and terror.
Goons of the Tehrik Khatme Nabuwwat took up vigil in the vicinity of the ‘Lahore’ office. They not only stopped the magazine’s administration from entering the office, located on the first floor of Galaxy Law Chambers, but also took away the printing material and furniture from the office.
The editor had to stop going to his office and was obliged to close it down – at least temporarily. He went into hiding. The Blasphemy clause PPC 295-C, proposed in the application, normally results in arrest –release on bail is subject to judicial discretion.
On June 13, 2013 at about midnight a posse of police accompanied by 3 mullas came to the ‘Lahore’ office, opened the lock, went inside and collected from there some books and publications. The presence of the mullas with the police party is intriguing, and raises questions.
The Express Tribune, Lahore published a report on June 14, 2013 on this issue under heading: Ahmadi-owned magazine’s office under siege. The report mentioned that at least 8 Khatme Nabuwwat members patrolled the area round the clock, and the vigilante siege was not lifted till two months after it began. The reporter contacted the ‘complainant’ Muhammad Yaqub of the KN organization, who said that the siege was undertaken to ‘get God’s blessings’. He suggested that the office should be sealed ‘forever’.
‘The Lahore’ case was brought to the notice of the caretaker chief minister as well, however he decided not to interfere in the activities of religious extremists.
Later Mr. Hamid Hussain, the Additional Session Judge ordered the police to register a case under Ahmadi-specific clause PPC 298-C. The case was registered in FIR 282/2013 in Police Station Mazang, Lahore.
The fragility and vulnerability of Freedom of Press in the Punjab is noteworthy in the Ahmadiyya context. It is rather damning that 29 years after the promulgation of the infamous Ordinance XX and 25 years after the dictator’s death his legacy is kept alive; obviously the Pakistani society cannot put all the blame on Zia for all that has gone wrong with the state; it is now responsible itself for the quagmire it is in.
A joint swoop on an Ahmadi-owned printing press in Lahore by a team of mullas and the police
The Punjab Police raided a printing press Black Arrows, owned by an Ahmadi, at 6 p.m. on January 7, 2013. They arrested the owner, three other Ahmadis and 6 non-Ahmadi workers from the location. They were whisked to the Anarkali police station, where the 6 non-Ahmadis were released. After midnight the Ahmadis were shifted to Police Station Islampura where a case was registered in FIR 15/2013 against them under a blasphemy law PPC 295-B, an Ahmadi specific law PPC 298-C and PPO 24/A.
The police seized a van from the location, a great deal of books and publications (for instance copies of the monthly Tashheez-ul-Azhan, Ahmadi children’s magazine and a book on homeopathy medicine) and related items. Following Ahmadis were arrested:
- Mr. MoeedAyaz (the owner of the press)
- Mr. Esmatullah (the owner of the vehicle, who had come to collect the printed stock)
- Mr. Razaullah
- Mr. Ghulamullah
As per essential details, a few mullas arrived at the press at about 5.30 p.m. and contacted the police on mobile phone. The police arrived promptly and soon scores of religious bigots and approximately 20 policemen assembled at the site. The crowd acted very angry and hostile. The police apparently ‘persuaded’ them to calm down and assured them that the needful would be done. They detained 10 individuals and drove them off to the Anarkali police station as the DSP’s office is located there.
More than a score of mullas followed the police to the police station where for about three hours the mullas and the police jointly framed the FIR and the charges. One Muhammad Tayyab who claimed to be a student of law became the complainant. Two men, Abdulla and Hasan Muawiya were mentioned as witnesses; the latter frequently volunteers himself as witness in anti-Ahmadiyya cases registered in Lahore.
The next day the accused were presented to a magistrate and the police asked for a two-day remand of the accused, which was granted.
Two days later, the police again asked for additional remand of four days. A large crowd of mullas had assembled in the court’s premises and were shouting anti-Ahmadi slogans. The magistrate was impressed, and he granted the remand as requested by the police and supported by the clerics, who appeared to be in unison.
This raid against the Ahmadi-owned press was followed-up by a campaign through posters etc by a group that called itself Tahaffuz NamusRisalat Committee i.e. Committee to protect the honour of the Prophet. Although nothing that was printed or seized had the slightest tinge of disrespect, the Committee challenged the media with the following on banners in the city:
“This call in support of the Honour of the Prophet will not be allowed to be suppressed. Why the media that was vocal over the Malala incident, is quiet over the blasphemous literature printed by Qadianis?”
“Why the media, eloquent over Malala is now quiet against the press that printed blasphemy against Allah, the Quran, the Prophets, the Companions?”
Joseph Goebbels perhaps turned in his grave for being worsened by Pakistani mullas.
The accused were given 17 January as the date of hearing their plea for bail. This was then changed to 21 January, then to 28 January, and again to 7 February.
After numerous postponements, eventually Mr. NadeemShaukat the Sessions Judge heard the plea. The two advocates pleaded the case of the accused in a very competent and convincing manner. The advocate for the prosecution provided by the mullas indulged mostly in slander and irrelevant accusations. The judge announced his verdict in the afternoon, whereby he rejected the accused’s plea for release on bail.
Their plea for bail was then placed before the august Lahore High Court. Justice Khawja Imtiaz Ahmad was then to hear the plea on April 4, 2013.
As usual for such occasions, religious bigots assembled in large numbers at the court’s premises to intimidate the judge. A dozen lawyers also were present at the site, apparently ready to indulge in, what is called in vernacular WukalaGardi. A big anti-Ahmadi banner was hung on the outer wall of the court.
The above setting conveyed effectively the desired message. The judge heard other cases, mostly of lower priority, and postponed the hearing of this plea for bail to a future occasion.
The plea for bail was again heard in the High Court in the next month. What happened inside the court room was reported by the daily The Express Tribune in its issue of May 20, 2013(Extracts):
“LHC judge forced to withdraw order
Some jurists say it is ‘improper’ for the judge to withdraw his order, whether verbal or written.
By Rana Tanveer
Published May 20, 2013
“MoeedAyaz, Asmatullah, Razaullah and Ghulamullah, employees of Black Arrow Printing Press, were arrested by Islampura police on January 7. On Friday, their bail petition under Sections 295B (defiling the Holy Quran) and 298C (an Ahmadi calling himself Muslim or preaching his faith) of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 24A of the Press and Publications Ordinance were heard at the Lahore High Court.
“The courtroom was full and some lawyers had to stand while the judge heard the arguments, after which he approved the bails for the suspects. This announcement nearly caused a riot in the courtroom and the judge had to withdraw the order barely two minutes after he had pronounced it. He then referred the case to the chief justice for fixing it before another judge. The judge withdrew the order after harsh remarks from a lawyer who was part of a group of 25 lawyers who had appeared before the court to argue the case against the Ahmadis. Some jurists said it was ‘improper’ for the judge to withdraw his order, whether verbal or written. He should have considered the repercussions, they said, before announcing the order rather than withdrawing it later. On April 9, another LHC judge, after hearing the arguments on the bail petition of a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, referred it to the chief justice for fixing it before another judge.”
A few days later all the accused were granted bail except Mr. Esmatullah who was also mentioned in the following case. They remained behind bars for five months, only for their faith.
The police raided the workshop of a book-binder, Syed Altaf Hussain and arrested him, his son and his workers on February 22, 2013. The charge: he undertakes book-bindings of some Ahmadiyya publications. Syed Altaf Hussain is not an Ahmadi.Two days later, the police released four of the detainees but kept Syed Hussain in detention at P.S. Old Anarkali. Mr. Asmatullah, an Ahmadi who was also implicated in the Black Arrow case and was granted bail by the court in that case, was not released because he was also mentioned in this case of the book-binder. Syed Hussain (non-Ahmadi) was later released on bail but Mr. Esmatullah remained behind bars until July 2013. He was released on bail in July 2013. He suffered incarceration for seven months on account of his faith.
Although all the accused have been released on bail but their prosecution goes on in courts. No verdict has been given but the business is closed. The press is no longer operative which was a source of livelihood not only for the proprietor but for many others. The tentacles of the squid of religious extremism are long and gripping.