Freedom of worship severely curtailed in Rawalpindi

Disturbing religious assembly: Whoever voluntarily causes disturbance to any assembly lawfully engaged in the performance of religious worship, or religious ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

Pakistan Penal Code 296

Ahmadis have not been allowed to build an appropriate big mosque in Rawalpindi, so they assembled in their built-up property called Evan-i-Tauhid in Satellite Town for Friday and Eid worship. Aggressive bigots who are politically ambitious made a plan to deprive Ahmadis their right of worship and initiated a sustained campaign to that end. They held a conference in September 2011 and took out anti-Ahmadi rallies in October 2011. Their leadership was encouraged by the reluctance and timidity of authorities. So the bigots persisted and campaigned to eventually deprive Ahmadis of their fundamental human right – freedom of worship.

 

RAWALPINDI is located adjacent to Islamabad, the federal capital – as a sort of twin city. However it lies in the administrative jurisdiction of the province of the Punjab. A vibrant Ahmadiyya community has lived here for decades. They have a mosque on Murree Road but since long it has become inadequate and cannot accommodate even 20% of the worshippers for the weekly Friday prayers. Since the promulgation of the anti-Ahmadi Ordinance XX the authorities do not facilitate Ahmadis to build their places of worship, so Ahmadis acquired a property Evan-i-Tauhid in the Satellite Town neighbourhood of this city for community offices, meetings, assembly etc. This location has been used for 14 years for Friday and Eid prayers. The government does not tax it for being a place of worship.

Anti-Ahmadi extremist elements, pursuing their fresh policy initiative and plan devised in 2011, decided to mount a campaign to deprive Ahmadis of their right of worship at this Centre. Some immoderate traders in league with a few mullas approached the authorities in September 2011 with a complaint that Ahmadis’ worship at this centre hurts their feelings, so the place should be closed down. If the authorities took no action, they would themselves stop the worship, they threatened. Compliantly, the authorities started tailing the agitators’ demand. Ahmadis explained their position to them. The vigilantes maintained their pressure in the following weeks.

On January 3, 2012 the right-wing daily Nawa-i-Waqt published the news that a meeting of clerics had been called for January 10 to decide upon the next course of action on this issue.

In that meeting they decided to put up banners and take out a procession on January 18 and demand a closure of the Ahmadiyya center by January 22, failing that, January 29 would be the decisive date when this place of worship would be destroyed. “Deniers of the End of Prophethood, Blasphemers of the Prophet, Apostates, Qadianis’ center of apostasy at E-69: Protest Rally (by) Majlis Khatme Nabuwwat,” displayed the banners. The authorities did not remove these despite their hateful and provocative call.

Sharjeel Mir, a local businessman was in the forefront as the leader of the loathsome campaign. Reportedly he met Mian Nawaz Sharif in this context. The issue was craftily linked to Namus Risalat (the honour of the Prophet).

On January 29, the public was exhorted through loudspeakers fitted on roving vehicles to join the open-air gathering ‘against Qadianis’. Approximately four to five thousand men attended the gathering. The speakers outpoured a great deal of slander and filth against the Ahmadi community. They mentioned the murder of the slain Governor of Taseer and stated that Ahmadis will meet the same fate.

The leaders of the agitation announced that Ahmadis will not be allowed to offer their prayers at the Centre next Friday, the 4th February. “First we shall have this centre at Rawalpindi closed; this will be followed by such closures all over the country subsequently,” they said.

Ahmadi elders conveyed their concern and position to the authorities all along. Their opponents seemed to avail of the unstable political situation in the country to demand the closure of this Centre. In this they sought help from religious bodies, unscrupulous politicians, the right-wing vernacular press and politically ambitious businessmen.

The Express Tribune of January 30, 2012 reported that ‘many participants held portraits of Mumtaz Qadri, who assassinated the governor’. “Arranged by trading associations, the protest was attended by activists from Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Jamaat Islami, Sipah Sahaba and Ahle Sunnat Jamaat,” it added. On January 21, this newspaper had filed a report that Hafiz Saeed (leader of the JuD) appealed to all Muslim brothers to gather at the nearby Holy Family Hospital at noon on January 29 to force the Ahmadis to close all acts of worship in the locality. JuD and Sipah Sahaba are banned organizations for their terrorist activities.

The agitators maintained the heat at ‘High’ during the next month, and the Ahmadiyya community was forced into a corner by the mullas and their co-operating authorities. On February 7, 2012 the Ahmadiyya community’s central office decided to send an appeal to those in authority at the federal level and in the province about the threat posed by this group of extremist elements to Ahmadis’ freedom of religion and their right to worship in their center in Rawalpindi. Its translation in English is produced below:

Nazarat Umoor Aama

Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya Rabwah (Pakistan)

Ph: 047-6212459 – Fax: 047-6215459 E-mail: nuasaa@hotmail.com

Sir,

Subject:                Application for appropriate action

I put forward that anti-Ahmadiyya campaign has gained intensity all over the country and in Rawalpindi in particular. The antagonists seem determined to push a hostile provocative drive to attack and demolish the Ahmadiyya Center in E-69, Satellite Town, Rawalpindi, or to have the Center sealed at least. Some politicians are supporting the religious extremists in this campaign. In order to achieve their contemptible objects they have co-opted the vernacular press, indulged in rallies, open-air meetings, distribution of provocative literature from the Khatme Nabuwwat platform, and agitated for extreme action against Ahmadi individuals.

  • The traders held a conference in September 2011 and initiated stir and agitation.
  • Religious extremists held anti-Ahmadi rallies on 1, 9 and 11 October and mulled action against the Evan-i-Tauhid, the Ahmadiyya center, including its demolition.
  • Mullas held an anti-Ahmadiyya conference on January 10, in the mosque of the Holy Family Hospital.
  • 70 mullas and traders held a joint meeting on January 10.
  • They displayed anti-Ahmadi banners and put up posters at important locations in Rawalpindi on January 18.
  • Through these posters they warned that if this place of worship was not undone by 22 January, 29 January will be the day of action when people will destroy it entirely.

The ring leader of all this activity is Sharjeel Mir who is linked to Muslim League (Nawaz Group). He has repeatedly urged Jihad against the Ahmadiyya Community. He organizes the production of hostile banners. People are being motivated, in the name of honour of the Prophet, to sacrifice even their lives to achieve an end to this Center. Every trader has been asked to contribute Rs. 25,000 each and provide 200 protestors.

Apart from all this, a provocative pamphlet “Rebuttal of heretic beliefs of Qadianis and Long Live End of Prophethood” was distributed. Snoopers were noticed visiting the location of the Center and photographing the building.

It should be mentioned that people were invited through calls on mounted mobile loud-speakers to assemble at the given location ‘against Qadianis’. Slogans were raised through the amplifiers. Anti-Ahmadi banners were paraded through the city.

During the rally in the Satellite Town on January 29, the speakers mentioned the slain governor Salman Taseer as the blasphemer, and asserted, “Qadianis will also meet the same fate.”

This situation has been reported to senior officials all along and they have been requested to take appropriate action. There is great deal of political and religious tension in the country and the law and order situation is unsatisfactory; such anti-Ahmadiyya provocations can worsen the malaise.

Sir, Ahmadiyya community is a peaceful law-abiding group. We have always respected the law of the land and have never indulged in unlawful activities. While our opponents enjoy unbridled freedom of expression and are at liberty to undertake provocative, threatening and extreme actions, the Ahmadiyya community is threatened with loss of its right to worship.

You are requested in this context to take preventive and appropriate action to ensure security and put a stop to the said provocative hostile activities, as required under law.

We hope that you will take appropriate action.

Sincerely,

Saleemuddin

Director Public Affairs

Rabwah (Chenab Nagar) District Chiniot

In short, Ahmadis, who are not even allowed to call their places of worship Masjid, and are forbidden to build mosques, were exposed to extremist elements, including banned organizations, who demanded that Ahmadis should not only be disallowed to worship in their buildings but also such buildings should be demolished or at least sealed.

In Rawalpindi the authorities permitted the extremists to openly propagate hate and violence against an entire community, they had done so by not dismantling their hateful banners that stayed on display for weeks and by allowing them to make hateful announcements in public places on loudspeakers.

The media decided to keep quiet on the whole issue and let it happen without comment. The vernacular press was shy to comment on the ignoble developments; however, there were some bold and unequivocal comments in the English press.

On Friday, February 24, 2012 Sharjeel Mir, the leader of the agitation arrived at the Ahmadiyya center at about 2 p.m. and arranged a crowd of approximately 250 including Madrassah students, and started shouting. Ahmadis informed the police. The police arrived, but rather than dispersing the mob undertook dismantling the CCTV cameras and barricades that had been installed for security reasons, in consultation with the agitators. (Reminds one of May 2010 when the authorities in Lahore prohibited Ahmadi worshippers carry any self-defence small arms in their mosques, which facilitated the terrorists mount major attacks on two Ahmadi mosques killing 86 worshipers.) It is certain that the police and the administration undertook this violation of property rights and removal of security hardware in collusion with the leaders of the protest.

Sharjeel Mir was greatly encouraged by the compliant attitude of authorities, and expressed his determination to proceed with the extermination of the Ahmadiyya presence in the locality.

Thereafter, The Express Tribune, Lahore posted the following report in its issue of March 2, 2012:

Police bar Ahmadis from entering worship centre

Protester says congregational prayer followed by demonstration was planned in case Ahmadis were allowed to enter.

Rawalpindi:          Complying with the demands of the locals, the police on Friday barred Ahmadis from entering their worship centre in Satellite Town, Rawalpindi.

Leading the locals, businessman Sharjeel Mir told The Express Tribune that three days back on a consensus, it was decided to prevent any sort of worship in the centre.

Mir said that a meeting called by the locals which was attended by DCO Saqib Zafar, Superintendent of Police Matloob Husain, ulema and other officials, it was decided that the worship centre will now be used only as a residence and if their demands are not met, then they will launch a protest.

Today, fearing a huge turnover at the expected protest, the police had barred Ahmadis from entering the premises. …

The police confined the Ahmadis present inside the worship place and barred the ones coming from outside. …

Last Friday, around 700 locals had gathered outside the same worship centre, demanded the removal of (security) barricade and CCTV cameras installed outside.

Backed by a Jihadi organization, the protesters had alleged that “unconstitutional” activities were being carried out in the centre.

However, the community had emphasized that they had committed no unlawful activities and had pleaded that the hate campaign be stopped so they could feel safe in the area.

To conclude, the administration’s message to the extremists was clear: “You persist in agitation and appear sufficiently menacing, and we will deliver – even in violation of sacred guarantees of the Constitution.”   

            It is ironic that only a few miles away from the President House, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari announced three days later: “We will ensure protection of human rights of minorities.” The daily Mashriq, March 7, 2012

The drive of brutish curbs on Ahmadis’ freedom of worship continued in Rawalpindi during the month of March. The agitation by extremist elements picked up ugly momentum for lack of any effective resistance from the authorities.

The police tightened the noose further on the Fridays following March 2. Their contingent would arrive as early as 9 a.m. (while the prayers started at 1 p.m.) and stopped Ahmadis coming to the Ahmadiyya complex where in addition to the space for worship various offices are also located. The missionary’s residence is also provided there. The police stopped even his school-going children from entering the building after the school hours. His son had to wait for hours after the time of Friday prayers before he could return home.

It was a shameful compliance to the will of the mulla, by the authorities who are duty bound to uphold human rights of citizens and their freedom of religion and worship.

Worship at Evan-i-Tauhid came to a virtual halt in August as the authorities yielded shamelessly to the unlawful demands of the Islamo-fascists.

At the end of Ramadan all Muslims celebrate the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr. This festival this year was celebrated on August 20. An essential feature of this celebration is the Eid prayers wherein all men, women and children of the entire local community congregate to worship and listen to a Khutba (sermon). This year the authorities in Rawalpindi disallowed this right of worship to Ahmadis – another ‘first ever’ in a long list of different kinds of religious and social brutalities committed by the authorities since the promulgation of the anti-Ahmadiyya Ordinance XX of 1984 by General Zia. Ahmadiyya central office in Rabwah issued the following press release at this occasion:

Rabwah (PR):   This year on 20 August 2012 Ahmadis in Rawalpindi had nowhere to offer their Eid prayers as they were deprived from this right by the district authorities. There has been false propaganda and baseless accusations about the place of worship and its locality. As a result the Ahmadis were deprived from their fundamental right to worship at the premises.

The sad part of this whole episode is that the local administration seems to be only concerned about the demands of miscreants. The authorities always pressurize Ahmadis to compromise rather than allowing them to perform their religious duties that are guaranteed by the constitution and the international covenants that Pakistan has signed.

The spokesperson of Jamaat Ahmadiyya Pakistan Saleem-ud-Din said that the government and local administration has violated the Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan in stopping Ahmadis from congregating for Eid prayers. The Article 20 ensures every citizen of his right to freely perform his religious duties.

Mr. Saleem-ud-Din said that Ahmadis would never compromise or accept any pressure on their fundamental right to worship. This is not only a denial of religious freedom but also depriving the Ahmadis of an annual ritual where worship goes with social activity. Eid is a religious event but it also has a huge social impact that brings people closer together and the authorities have deprived them of their right to peacefully gather for this annual event.

For last many years Ahmadis have been gathering at Evan-e-Tawhid for worship on Juma and Eid plus regular prayers but now they have been forcibly stopped against their will. This year till the last minute the local authorities gave false hopes to Ahmadis that they could congregate and gather for Eid worship. This was not meant to materialize, as at the eleventh hour local Ahmadiyya administration was informed that they cannot gather for Eid. This left the local Ahmadis with no choice and no hope for a gathering fitting for an Eid and leaving them disheartened and marginalized.

The larger question arises from this whole scenario is that how far this government and its cronies at the district level are going to go in order to appease the miscreants who seem to have an endless list of demands?

End of Press Release

It is relevant to mention that the responsibility for this outrage primarily goes to the government of the Punjab, led by Mian Shahbaz Sharif of PML (N). The regional and district authorities share the blame. Although the province of the Punjab has led the rest of Pakistan in committing excesses and tyranny against the Ahmadis, the overall score against Ahmadiyya places of worship in Pakistan should put the entire country to shame. Since the promulgation of the Ordinance XX, following has happened till the end of 2012 in this field:

Number of Ahmadiyya mosques demolished                                     24

Number of Ahmadiyya mosques set on fire                                       13

Number of Ahmadiyya mosques forcibly occupied                           16

Number of Ahmadiyya mosques sealed by authorities                      28

Number of Ahmadiyya mosques construction of which

was barred by the authorities                                                              46

The authorities occasionally quote the lame and unarguable pretext of the extremist elements that Ahmadi places of worship lack proper authorization. The fact remains that for the last 28 years the authorities have not given express permission to Ahmadis to build even one place of worship. It is relevant to mention that while the authorities rely on their own strict interpretation of the rules while imposing them on the right of worship of Ahmadis, the same authorities allowed the clerics of the Lal Masjid of Islamabad to hoard piles of ammunition and fire-arms in their place of worship. This hypocrisy is perhaps the root cause of the rot in the state of Pakistan.

All the above was reported to the appropriate political and administrative authorities at the federal and provincial level. However, it became obvious that the federal government did little to persuade the Punjab government to ensure that Ahmadis’ fundamental human rights are not violated. Two months later, at the occasion of the festival of Eid-ul-Adha the outrage was repeated in Rawalpindi as reported in the daily Nation of October 30, 2012:

Ahmadis barred from offering Eid prayer

October 30, 2012

ISLAMABAD – The Ahmadiya community residing in Rawalpindi city continues to bear the brunt of dangerous religious frenzy.

Around 1500-1600 worshippers belonging to Ahmadi community – who were supposed to congregate at the worship place of the community located at E-Block of Satellite Town to observe Eidul Azha prayers  were barred by the authorities from doing so.

It came after a new wave of hate-campaign against the community hit the city.

The Action Committee Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (ACKN) – an opportunistic alliance between the banned religious outfits including Jamatud Dawa (Jud) and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (former Sipah-e-Sahaba) and some local traders – just a week before Eidul Azha had filled the city with anti-Ahmadi banners demanding of the city administration to seal the worship place permanently.

It was not the first time, as community members were also not allowed to offer Eidul Fitr prayers around two-and-a-half months ago.

“We, the office-bearers of Anjuman-e-Ahmadiya Rawalpindi (AAR), have formally requested the city administration to allow us to observe Eidul Azha prayers at Evan-e-Tauhid near the Holy Family Hospital. But the administration refused on the pretext of law and order situation,” said a member of the administration of Evan-e-Tauhid, wishing not to be named, while talking to The Nation.

He said that AAR had also requested the administration to suggest them some alternate place of worship, but it was not entertained too.

He said that the worship place located at Murree Road, Rawalpindi, Bait-ul-Hamd, could accommodate only 200 worshippers. “Some of the community members belonging to Rawalpindi moved to Islamabad to offer prayers,” he said.

http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/islamabad/30-Oct-2012/ahmadis-barred-from-offering-eid-prayer

The intimidating bigot, Sharjeel Mir, the leader of the bazaar gang who succeeded in pushing the authorities to restrict Ahmadis’ Eid congregation prayer at the Evan-i-Tauhid in Rawalpindi now treats low ranking officials with some contempt. He is, of course, harsh with Ahmadis too.

On Friday, November 30, 2012, Sharjeel Mir, accompanied by 6 or 7 mullas came over to Evan-i-Tauhid and asked the police personnel on duty as to why they permitted so many people enter the building for prayers. At that time, an Ahmadi emerged from the building after prayers, and Mir spoke harshly with him.

At 3:45 p.m. Mir revisited the site accompanied by three mullas. The SHO, New Town also came there. Mir told him that he had informed the DCO and the DPO repeatedly that the number of worshipers was again on the rise. “Why do you not stop them” he wanted to know.

The SHO reassured him that no Ahmadi will be allowed to enter the building between 10:00 a.m. and 3 p.m. and none will be allowed to exit from there. True to his word he imposed that commitment the next Friday, December 7.

It seems as if this turf has been handed over by the Punjab government to bigots like Mir, whom otherwise the Chief Minister decries in his public utterances.

One is at a loss for making any comment. In April last year Mr. Khursheed Shah, Federal Minister of Religious Affairs said, “Foreign powers are not responsible for terrorism in the country, it is religious extremists.” (The daily Din; April 21, 2011). The daily Dawn attributed the following intention to Mr. Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister, on May 15, 2011: CM wants genie of extremism bottled. OK, but as rulers, what was the course they adopted? What is political cowardice and hypocrisy if not the official response narrated above to the demand of sectarian zealots of Rawalpindi? This story alone should suffice to explain the cause and course of the fall of the state of Pakistan to the abyss of decay and disintegration.

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