Mass arrests, unjustified incarceration and extensive persecution of Ahmadis to placate the mullah
Some unknown persons murdered a mullah, Amir, in Chak Sikandar, District Gujrat, Punjab, on September 4, 2003. The mullah was riding a motorcycle with his son who also died in the attack. The anti-Ahmadiyya faction of the village put the blame of the murder on Ahmadis and the police accepted the accusation prima facie without any inquiry and proceeded to victimize the Ahmadiyya population in a big way. It is a telling story and its essential details will show how the system works, in fact malfunctions, with little regard to facts, justice and principles of fair administration.
Chak Sikandar is a sizable village with Ahmadi as well as non-Ahmadi population. The village Ahmadiyya community comprises mainly farmers and labor class. The two religious communities lived in peace, however things changed when the state intervened and forcibly declared Ahmadis non-Muslims, and General Zia implemented a policy of persecution of Ahmadis. This policy encouraged mullahs to wield influence in the civil society at the cost of Ahmadis. In Chak Sikandar, Mullah Amir was clever and wicked enough to gauge the anti-Ahmadiyya environment in the country and to exploit the same to his advantage at the village and area level.
Mullah Amir was an ex-soldier. He was a prisoner of war in the 1971 war in erstwhile East Pakistan. After his return from captivity he was discharged from the Army, and he returned to the village. In the village, he had only one acre of agricultural land, so he decided to become a cleric and took over the mosque. He calculated that in the prevailing environment, an anti-Ahmadiyya posture and stance would provide him the required finances and social status to lead a better life than he ever had in the Army. He joined the Khatme Nabuwwat Organization, became an activist and took to fanning the fire of anti-Ahmadiyya hatred. He was a fiery speaker and a successful rabble-rouser. The peace of the village came to an end and was replaced with communal hatred and animosity. It became almost a tinderbox. The situation because explosive and resulted in the 1989 communal riots in the village. The Ahmadiyya community suffered greatly in those riots. Apart from the deaths, scores of Ahmadi houses were put to torch, their cattle were killed, most of the households had to flee from the village for safety. The authorities condoned the attacks, arrested Ahmadis and made them feel as political orphans.
Mullah Amir emerged as the hardened victor who acted as unbridled gang leader in the following years. From sources, unknown to the villagers, he became almost rich. He was the first man to build for him a bungalow in the village. He wielded influence with authorities, and his own flock was cowed down by him. In the power struggle among his own community, he generated opposition. There was a great deal of whispering when his brother-in-law, whom the mullah did not like, was murdered and the killer could not be traced. Then in 1996, the mullah was not on good terms with a local influentional, Haider Bhand. A few weeks later Haider was also murdered. The police did not nominate the murderer again, but the bereaved families bore grudge against the mullah.
On the day of the incident, the mullah was murdered about two furlongs outside the village, at about dusk time. It seems the killers had planned well. They succeeded in their attack and fled. Nobody saw them. The police did not actively pursue their track. Immediately after the killing, some people acted in a manner to conveniently and spuriously put the blame on Ahmadis. The mullah was rabidly anti-Ahmadi, so the killers could easily take cover behind this. It worked, as estimated and planned by them.
The villagers came to know soon after the attack that the mullah had been murdered. They informed the police that arrived without delay. Someone switched on the loudspeaker in the mosque, blared the news, and accused Ahmadis. Sajjad Haider, son of Haider Bhand (murdered in 1996) had it announced that he will donate Rs. 50,000 to build the tomb of the mullah. When the police arrived they asked Abdul Ghafur, the brother of the accused to formally lodge the complaint for the registration of the FIR. Ghafur stated that as he was not fully aware of the circumstances of the incident he would take two days to consider, and then make the complaint. He was firmly advised that a delayed FIR would lose its impact so he should make his complaint. Ghafur thereafter undertook consultation and advice, and proceeded to blame Ahmadis in his report. The police registered the FIR and moved fast to arrest all the available Ahmadis in the village. The murder itself and the post-murder activities moved like clockwork as if some hidden co-ordination was at work. These proceedings manifestly moved away from locating the real culprits, and were directed to implicate Ahmadis who were not responsible.
Here, a word about the FIR. Ghafur, whose report forms the basis of the FIR, was in the village mosque when the murder took place. He knew little about what happened at the scene of the crime. However, according to the FIR, he and his four colleagues saw the entire action of the murder; they saw and named eight Ahmadis armed with specified firearms (giving their type and bore); also two unknown men whom he can recognize if produced; description of the entire event as to who fired, in what sequence, and the body parts where each bullet hit the two targets etc. The report is descriptive enough to beat any composition based on repeated replays of a video. They even named two others whom the accused had consulted prior to the attack. The FIR mentions that this consultation was observed and heard by named witnesses etc. etc. The FIR is a bunch of lies and is entirely fabricated. It is typical in that in this part of the sub-continent, subsequent to a murder, the accuser names a large number of his opponents, and concocts false evidence to incriminate many innocents. This gives him the opportunity to harass a great many of his opponents, through the state apparatus, at little cost. The police are happy with a large number of suspects as they all become available for extortions. In such cases, the police and court proceedings bring in great difficulties for the accused; thus a murder is sometimes welcomed as an occasion to extensively harass the opposition. They did this to Ahmadis; and the police, rather than locating the real perpetrators of the crime, a difficult undertaking, were satisfied with arresting a large number of Ahmadis and harassing them extensively.
It would be of interest to narrate the flow of events soon after the incident. As the news of the murder of the notorious mullah broke and the loudspeaker of the mosque got going at ‘high’ pitch, Ahmadis got very worried. The memory of the 1989 riots flashed back and most of them feverishly considered various options to avoid the inevitable, although misplaced backlash. With many, the immediate reaction was to flee from the village. The police nabbed the rest who stayed behind. The police raids went on till 11 p.m. and they arrested 22 Ahmadis including two boys under 12. The police and the villagers took the two dead bodies to the Lalamusa hospital. At the hospital, Dr Naveed was on duty. The crowd came to know that he was from an Ahmadi family, so they attacked him. He escaped with mild injuries. Early next day, anti-Ahmadiyya sentiments and propaganda picked up in high gear. This was the day of burial of the mullah. Messengers were sent to all the neighboring villages to announce that the ‘great’ mulla Amir had been murdered by Ahmadis and all the believers should converge on Chak Sikandar to attend to the last rites and to confront the infidels. Higher authorities did not fail to grasp the seriousness of the situation, so the police were given firm orders to ensure that the law and order situation should not get out of hand. The police established a temporary post at Chak Sikandar and they made sure that outsiders were not allowed inside the village. It was a tense day, and Ahmadis remained apprehensive amidst the non-Ahmadi community; however, no rioting took place.
The police had managed to arrest some of the Ahmadis named in the FIR, but failed to arrest all. The police proceeded to detain Ahmadis who were neither suspects nor in any way required for investigation, but it was done to force the Ahmadiyya community to hand over the absconding accused. Mian Rashid was detained and subjected to torture by the police. The wife of Mian Akmal was manhandled. Eventually they got all the 8 named accused plus two more.
Although the police prevented any riots, they gave a free hand to the fanatics to fan the fires of hatred. No check was placed to their activity. The non-Ahmadiyya mosque has a minaret, 90 feet high. On top of that there is a battery of high-powered loudspeakers. The speakers are switched on a number of times a day to fire a steady barrage of most hateful and abusive anti-Ahmadiyya propaganda. Arif, a pseudo cleric, switches on the loudspeaker every morning on the pretext of Quranic lessons, and harangues his community on nothing but hate and violence. His other favorite subject is financial donations. Then there is one Master Amin, who visits Chak Sikandar every 10 – 15 days and recharges the battery of communal hatred from the mosque. He often takes out a procession in which miscreants are armed and they take to firing in the air. While proceeding to the graveyard they utter provocative slogans and abusive shouts against Ahmadis and their leaders. Master Amin has undertaken to form a squad of 313 Mujahidin who would volunteer to do jihad against the infidels. During the week after the murder, announcements were made from the mosque urging all Ahmadis to recant and rejoin the fold of Islam. They were give an ultimatum that they had till 15 September to do so to save their skin, otherwise they should remain prepared to face dire consequences like burning of their homes and expulsion from the village. People like Arif and Master Amin are new mullah Amirs in the making. These leaders of mischief have got manufactured 6”x4” steel plates, bearing anti-Ahmadiyya vitriol; non-Ahmadis were made to buy them and nail them on their outer doors. Those who were reluctant to pay for them were told that in that case their homes would not be differentiated with Ahmadiyya homes when it comes to arson. All this goes on while there is visible police presence in the village.
The behavior of the police deserves condemnation. Their conduct is far from professional. They have not traced the real culprits and have nothing concrete to incriminate Ahmadis; still they have made no move to free the innocent. The police actively co-operated with the false accusers to harass and persecute Ahmadis. At their behest, they raided Ahmadi homes, subjected them to searches, harassed Ahmadi women, beat up the men and behaved very badly. They thrashed Messers Ejaz, Mian Akmal and Javed, Ahmadis. They took away Munir, an Ahmadi accused to solitary confinement and subjected him to torture. They beat up severely Mian Rashid. The policemen, in collaboration with mullah Amir’s party, subjected an Ahmadi woman to physical harm by other women. She asked the police to register an FIR, but they refused to do so. Eventually she applied to a higher official, who ordered that the criminal case be registered. It was done (FIR 536/03), one month after the incident. No arrests however were made. On the other hand, the police, in collaboration with Ahmadi-opponents raided the house of Mr Javed Iqbal, Ahmadi, on the pretext of search for firearms. They found nothing. Nevertheless they charged four Ahmadis, Messers Javed, Nasir, Sadiq and another in a fresh criminal case FIR 479/03, and arrested Mr Nasir and Mr Javed. This was unabashed high-handedness and discrimination, loud and clear. While carrying out the search, the policemen stole Rs 10,000, which they found under a bed; Javed had got the money by sale of a calf a few days earlier. The criminal case and the arrest etc have cost Mr Javed further two times this amount in ‘miscellaneous’. To add insult to injury, the police subsequently arrested 18 more Ahmadis under PPC 107/151. These are: Mukhtar Ahmad, Rukhsar Ahmad, Bahawal Baks, Mubarak Ahmad, Tariq Ahmad, Nadeem Ahmad, Bilal Qaisar, Qamar Zia, Humayan, Muhammad Saleem, Badar Munir, Khurram Munir, Muhammad Asif, Muhammad Afzal, Iftikhar Ahmad, Zafrullah, Ghulam Ahmad Tahir and Noor Muhammad. These were subsequently released from Gujrat Prison on bail, however the ten accused in the main FIR remain incarcerated.
Ahmadis’ life at Chak Sikandar was not ideal even before Mullah Amir’s murder. It has worsened since then. It seems it will take a long time before reverting to pre-September level. Mullah Amir’s successors have found that his murder is a jackpot. They continue to circulate the bowl for donations in his name for the welfare of his family, and have collected more than a million of rupees. Anti-Ahmadiyya slander is an essential part of the campaign. So notwithstanding the President’s assertions against extremism, it is flourishing under the nose of the local police at Chak Sikandar. In the past three months, Ahmadis have suffered financially as the farmers could not reap the seasonal crop. Ahmadi labor is not getting work as before. Ahmadi children’s education has been adversely affected. At one stage, Ahmadi girls were turned away from attending classes in their local primary school. Their parents approached the Education Officer to have them reinstated in their classes. This has been done, however, school children are facing harassment from their class-fellows who are in greater numbers. Although, Ahmadis who fled from the village, have returned, but they are facing different kind of new hardships. There is a social and commercial boycott in place. Non-Ahmadi retailers do not sell them their daily needs. The village transporters do not let them ride their transports to go to town. Even medicines are denied. Ahmadis, with community help, have opened a small retail outlet of their own, installed a small wheat grinder and got themselves a rickshaw for transport. The community leadership has urged the Chak Sikandar Ahmadis to cope with the ordeal with patience and fortitude, and bear with all kind of provocation. Ahmadis remain worried about their kith and kin suffering in prison. There are ten Ahmadis in the District Jail at Gujrat. One of them is 75 years old. Another is their vice-president who is a heart patient. One, Mian Khan is a single parent whose children wait for him. Almost all of these prisoners are breadwinners of their families in whose absence they have the additional worry of financial hardship. And, above all, they are all innocent in this case. Mullah Amir is gone, but his unpropitious legacy remains.