Imprisoned for life – and for what?
Mr Qaiser Nazir Butt, Additional Sessions Judge, Hafizabad convicted Mr Mansoor Ahmad, Ahmadi, under Section 295(B) PPC and sentenced him to suffer imprisonment for life, in his 31 page judgment announced on 12 November 2005. The case was registered 11 months earlier under FIR No. 289/04 dated 18 December 2004 u.s. 295(B) PPC at Police Station Kassoke, District Hafizabad, Punjab. The trial was conducted as Sessions case No 9/2005 as State Vs. 1. Hafeez-Ur-Rehman, 2. Shahadat Ali, 3. Mansoor Hussain. The convicted accused is described in the Judgment as Mansoor Hussain S/o Jamal Din, Caste Rehmani, aged 30 years, resident of Mangat Ouncha. The case is another one of those that, if studied in depth, describe well the state of Pakistani society in the early years of 21st century. Therefore, this story is related in some detail for the benefit of human rights activists of today and research scholars of the future.
Mangat Ouncha is located approximately four miles east of Hafizabad city. It has a population of over one thousand; 500 of these are Ahmadis. The leading land-owners of the village are two families; one is headed by Mr Ataullah (Lambardar) a non-Ahmadi Muslim, the other is Mr Shahadat Ali, the president of the local Ahmadi community, and both are members of the Mangat sub-caste. The elders of both were related to each other through marriage as well, however, during the past 50 years the two families developed family differences that led to property disputes. Since the promulgation of anti-Ahmadi laws and state policy of persecution of Ahmadis, Ataullah opted often to invoke religion in his favour to snub and subdue his rivals. In the recent past the two communities had a civil dispute over a plot for graveyard; the court decided in favour of Ahmadis. This had been taken ill by the losing party, and they were on the lookout to somehow worst Ahmadis in general and Mr Shahadat Ali in particular. They got their opportunity on December 17, 2005, and they grabbed it doggedly with a vengeance.
The trial and other documents show that on the fateful day, Mansoor, the Ahmadi caretaker of their mosque and the Murabbi House (the residence of the religious teacher) undertook cleaning and decided to burn raddi waste papers like old copies of Alfazl, the community’s daily paper etc. The opposition came to know about it, they came, forced open the door of the house whose resident teacher, Mr Hafeez ur Rahman was away, got hold of poor Mansoor and accused him of burning the Holy Quran. These three intruders were 1) Hafiz Sana Ullah, the complainant, 2) Yasir Arafat P.W.1, and 3) Qari Azhar Iqbal. The Hafiz and the Qari were the prayer leaders in the non-Ahmadis’ mosques while Yasir Arafat belongs to the group led by Ataullah Lambardar. Now, here was the great opportunity they had been waiting for. The anti-Ahmadi group decided not to contact the police, but to seek competent advice from the masters of the art of mischief, the mullahs of Majlis Tahaffuz Khatme Nabuwwat based at the nearby district town of Hafizabad. Mullah Abdul Wahab was delighted to hear the news, provided the guidance, and offered all the support. The night was spent by the Hafizabad clerics in planning agitation and riot. The Mangat Ouncha group managed to fabricate a well worded complaint and had the FIR registered at the police station 16 hours after the incident. The FIR was a result of consultation, deliberation and manipulation.
According to the complaint in the FIR, the complainant accompanied by two others reached at the Murabbi House where they found Shahadat Ali standing on guard in the street. At their insistence, he opened the door for them and there saw Hafeez-ur-Rahman (an accused) and Mansoor Hussain sitting and setting the Holy Quran on fire. This was a fabrication, and its aim was to implicate Mr Shahadat Ali, the Ahmadi community president, and Mr Hafeez-ur-Rahman who was a religious teacher appointed at Mangat Ouncha by the Ahmadiyya Headquarters for the religious education of the local Ahmadi community. In fact, as it was proved in the court beyond a shadow of doubt, that on that day and time, Mr Hafeez-ur-Rehman was not present even in the village; he was far away at Rabwah to attend his cousin’s wedding. For this, he had been granted leave from December 15 to December 21, 2004. At the time of the incident, he was attending the Mehndi ceremony of his cousin and offering hospitality to the guests. The ill-will, mendacity and unreliability of the complainant and his supporting ‘eye-witnesses’ is obvious. The judge accepted in his Judgment the alibi of Mr Hafeez-ur-Rahman and acquitted him; he could have and should have thrown out the entire case whose complainant and prime witnesses were proven to be liars on record for deposing falsely.
It is important to describe the police action and the law and order situation of the village and the area after the incident. It appears that the police became aware of the mullah’s plan to seize the opportunity and foment violence. In fact, it was not secret, as on such occasions the mullah takes to the mic of the mosque’s loudspeaker and blurts out all the threats to the peace of the town. The police decided to move fast and take immediate action against the Ahmadi accused, guilty or not. They arrived in numbers at Mangat Ouncha and spread all around. The village was almost sealed. They appeared to be investigating, and did not disclose the contents of the FIR, although they are supposed to provide a copy of it to the accused so that the accusation/charge is known to the accused. Rumors were spread that a large number of Ahmadi men are listed as accused. The rumor of arrival of women police sent the message that perhaps Ahmadi women will also be arrested. All this created a sense of fear and insecurity among Ahmadis, and a number of them fled. Ahmadi women, who could relocate themselves, did so for fear of police action. Ahmadis sent one of their young men, Mr Imtiazuddin to the police to request a copy of the FIR. The police, rather than meeting their legal obligation of giving a copy, detained him and subjected him to severe interrogation. They asked him the identity of the Ahmadi notable who had sent him there. This incident enhanced the sense of insecurity in the Ahmadi community at not only Mangat Ouncha but also at Hafizabad. By severe repression of Ahmadis the police managed to cow down the mullah, but the methodology was immoral and unbecoming to a civilized society. The vernacular press, as usual, made capital out of the issue. They printed the news as if heaven was about to fall or the country was under a nuclear attack. For example, the daily Pakistan of December 19, 2005 reported: “Qadianis spread the ashes all over in streets after having martyred the Sacred Quran…. The accused Sikandar (sic), Shahadat and Mansoor burnt volumes of the Quran in Murabbi House and spread the ashes all over the village. In the morning, the Muslims observed the ash and collected the same immediately. Muslims’ strong protest over the malicious act of Qadianis…… The accused fled the village soon afterwards. The situation is under control as the police is vigilantly making raids to arrest the accused. However, there is tension in the area on account of this malicious act.” The mullah blew hot and hotter, but decided not to come out in the streets. The police was doing more than he expected; perhaps both were in collusion. Hafizabad, till 9 years ago was a part of the Gujranwala district; the area is known for its intolerance and sectarian extremists. The religious thugs of Gujranwala once murdered one of their own on spurious charge of defiling the Quran. Recently this town was in the news on the issue of mixed marathon. Priests here are politically ambitious, and are proud of their fanaticism and extremist inclinations. On a visit to Hafizabad and Gujranwala, one wonders however that these may be the dirtiest towns in the world. In recent times, the government has moved against some sectarian gangs; however the Khatme Nabuwwat organization (End of the Prophethood) is still a sacred cow, and enjoys freedom of action. Recently, when the crazies burnt down churches and other Christian properties at Sangla Hill, it was this organization that demanded unconditional release of all the detained Islamist vigilantes and the government was threatened to otherwise face an unstoppable movement from the platform of Almi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatme Nabuwwat. (The daily Aman, Faisalabad; December 8, 2005)
The police, led by the District Police Officer, Mr Zaraat Kiyani adopted the policy of suppression of Ahmadis and placating the mullah. It worked and produced the desired results for the majority community. The police demanded that the three Ahmadis named in the FIR should deliver themselves to the police for investigation; this was done. They were detained in the lock-up at the police station. Raja Riaz was the DSP, who was notorious for his role in the anti-Ahmadi riots at Chak Sikandar in 1989. His presence here at this juncture was not a good omen for Ahmadis; they would not get the justice which should have been available to them at the initial level of the police. In any well-governed state, the police should arrest and put up for trial only those who have committed the offence, not all whom the complainant puts on the list. What happened at the police station is also of interest, and fit to be placed on record. At the stage of investigation, the police inspector invited residents of Mangat Ouncha to come over and testify regarding the involvement of Mr Hafeez-ur-Rahman in the case and his presence in the village on the day of the incident. Ataullah the leader of the accusing group arrived there with his supporters. In the police station, the Ahmadis offered that if three witnesses for the prosecution namely Messrs Ansar, Master Abdullah and the Qari affirm on oath of the Holy Quran that Mr Hafeez-ur-Rahman was present in the village on the day of the incident, they (Ahmadis) would contest it no more. When this was proposed by the inspector, the three refused to say so on oath. At this the gang leader saw the ground slipping under him; he immediately called his supporters, huddled them in a corner and told them something – exactly what, is not known. But lo and behold; all the fifteen including the three who had initially refused to take the oath, offered to state their position regarding Hafeez-ur-Rahman’s presence in the village on oath of the Holy Quran. Subsequently, they were taken to the mosque where they did their ablution, and then on oath of the Holy Quran affirmed the lie. This was shocking, but they did it; some of these were not even residents of Mangat Ouncha. When these villagers returned to the village, and the news spread of their false oath, everyone was shocked. For days the village people put them to shame for the lie under oath. They faced the question as to which Quran were they trying to defend, if they used the same to uphold their lies. Eventually, their shameful conduct helped them little, as it was proved in the court that Mr Hafeez-ur-Rahman was not in Mangat Ouncha on 17th December, and was acquitted. The false fourteen will have to live all their lives with the fabricated fiction on oath.
The police investigation went on for over a month. The three accused remained in police lock-up all along. It is almost certain that the police knew the facts of the case by the end of the month; still they forwarded the case to the court as if all the three accused were guilty. Some politicians intervened half-heartedly in favour of the accused, but they were mindful of the political worth of the majority’s votes. The mullah was even less interested in justice. The police knew the state policy, and was not willing to take any risk for implementation of justice. They indicted all the three accused and pushed them up for trial, and left it to the judge to decide. The state nominated Mr Bhun, the DDA (Deputy District Attorney) to prosecute the accused in the court, where he bent backward to get all the three convicted, regardless of their guilt. So all the concerned departments of the state, the administration, the police, and the legal branch all started working to bring this minor issue, almost a non-issue, to an unworthy conclusion – a conclusion of which few Pakistanis would be proud, except the likes of Mullah Abdul Wahab, the district president of the Association of Protection of the End of Prophethood.
Charge U/S 295(B) PPC was framed against the accused on 15 March 2005 to which the accused pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ and the trial began. They all faced imprisonment for life. It was a frightening likelihood, especially for the fact that so many false witnesses were available to the prosecution, who were convinced that to all a lie to support their religious cause was a desirable act, even a duty. The trial went on at Hafizabad for eight months. During these months the accused were lodged in Central Jail at Gujranwala. Conditions in the prison were deplorable. During summer, it was terribly hot and extremely uncomfortable. The three accused, being law-abiding citizens had never spent earlier even a day in prison. So it was particularly hard for them to bear these hardships. Occasionally, they also suffered indignities at the hand of prison officials. However, the Ahmadiyya community of Gujranwala provided them all the needed logistic support. In the court, they were well represented by Mr Pervaiz Cheema and Mukhtar Ahmad Mallhi, advocates. These attorneys worked hard and prepared the defence well. At every hearing, they had to travel long distances to arrive at Hafizabad. The accused were transported from Gujranwala to Hafizabad for every hearing. It was on these occasions that the families could meet the accused. A family meeting at the central prison is difficult to arrange and becomes an ordeal. It is almost forbidding.
It is noteworthy that during the trial, Qari Azhar Iqbal who was among the initial three accusers, refused to support the prosecution’s fabrication. So he was then treated as a court witness. Other prosecution witnesses, Ataullah, Ghazanfar Ali, Nusrat Ali and Inayat were not presented by the prosecution. On the whole, the prosecution case was weak, and was at risk of being thrown out.
Eventually, the day of the judgment arrived. The court premises were packed with a large number from the bearded brigade. They were almost intimidating. They had been brought to impress the judiciary and the administration. The police had taken special steps to ensure high security. The daily Aman of Faisalabad of November 13, 2005 reported that: ‘At the time of announcement of the verdict, strict security arrangements were in force, and the police was present in large numbers.’ The judge delayed his announcement. The crowd waited for couple of hours, then a part of it dispersed. Others waited till lunch time, then their patience ran out. By 3 p.m. most had gone, and the remainder were too tired to pose a threat to the system. Then the judge announced his verdict. He acquitted two, and convicted Mr Mansoor Ahmad. He sentenced him to imprisonment for life for allegedly burning a page of the scripture. Unbelievable, but true. It should be placed on record that Mansoor received the verdict with poise and dignity. When formalities were ever, he even exchanged pleasantry with the judge who wished him an early release from this ordeal.
The judgment acquitted the two accused, because it found the testimony of the prosecution witnesses not reliable. In fact, they had been proved as liars in the court. However, based on the statements of these very liars, the judge convicted the third accused. It is surprising. Very recently the Supreme Court lamented this trend. The daily Pakistan of November 27, 2005 reported as follows: “Supreme Court has asserted that the judicial system of the infidel English was better, and was closer to Islamic teachings. Prior to the establishment of Pakistan, it was an established principle that if a witness was proven false on one count, his entire evidence was considered a lie. After Pakistan came into being, we thought that as Muslims we were destined for paradise anyway, so we were at liberty to tell as many lies as we wished. Courts also changed their ways concerning acceptance of evidence; they started sifting the grain from the chaff. However, according to Islam, the evidence offered by a liar is not acceptable. Is it now only Kafirs (infidels) may follow Islamic teachings? These remarks were made by the Supreme Court Bench comprising Mr. Justice Khalil-ur-Rahman Ramday and Mr Justice Chaudhri Ejaz Ahmad while rejecting the application of Muhammad Yusuf of Warburton.” In this case at Hafizabad, the Addl. Session Judge has observed in para 19 on page 15: “(F)rom the assessment of the evidence of these P.Ws (prosecution witnesses) this court feels that some exaggerations and embroidery in the number of accused has been made, which do not fit in with the circumstances of the case, investigation and other material available on record,.” In simple words, these p.ws are liars, but the judge has embroidered his finding, as he was to use the same p.ws to convict Mansoor. The Supreme Court remarks quoted above are very relevant to the observation of this judge: “(C)ourt in criminal case has to sift the grain from the chaff of falsehood. Prosecution evidence, therefore, can be disbelieved against some accused persons and relied upon against others.” Para 28, P. 27 of the Judgment.
It is unfortunate that judges in Pakistan, now strive to appear greatly pious in their Judgments. They do not want to lag behind in giving sermons in the Islamist Pakistan. In this effort, they occasionally set aside due care, and thereby build upon the harmful effects of extremism on Pakistan society. This judge wrote the following at para 32 of his judgment:
‘The Holy Quran is the most esteemed and sacred book for the entire universe thus it is required to show physical as well as spiritual respect to it. Physical respect of the Holy Quran and spiritual feelings with its teachings cannot be separated from each other. Distinction between spiritual respect and physical respect is that spiritual respect is a matter of understanding of an individual with respect to his knowledge and respect which is not common but to show physical respect and honour to the Holy Quran is a legal, religious and moral duty of a person. Spiritual respect and honour is a matter of an individual relating to his thinking whereas physical honour and respect is matter of his action visible. The essential ingredients and components to constitute an offence under section 295 (B) P.P.C are that:-
- Willfully defiling of Holy Quran.
- Defiling of copy of the Holy Quran or an extract thereof.
- Damaging or desecrating a copy of the Holy Quran or an extract thereof.
- Using it in a derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose.’
The judge has broken new dangerous ground in sub-paras 2 to 4 above. Any narrow-minded fanatic can use these remarks on dubious grounds and cry ‘defiling’. The future DDAs and Addl. Session Judges could quote these, and continue to fill Pakistani prisons with Mansoors whose wives and small children will live like widows and orphans for decades. The dynamics of snow balling religiosity here is mind boggling; their evil mountainous.
The first Hadith (Saying of the Holy Prophet p.b.u.h) in the most authentic book of traditions, Sahih Bokhari is innamal a’maalu binniyyaat, i.e. Deeds are judged by motives. However this ‘pious’ judge writes: “It is not necessary for the prosecution to prove that accused acted in ill will manner and willfully through separate evidence if injurious act was voluntarily done without a lawful excuse, the defile is presumed and proved”. Para 33. The judge was sending a poor man, the husband, the father and the only breadwinner of his family to prison for life, and he says that ill-will may be presumed. He knows that burning a paper, even of the Holy Quran, can do no real damage to the society, unless the drum-beating aggressive bigots possessed with criminal mentality make it a big issue. So whither the sense of equity, tolerance, charity, human rights, brotherhood of man, universality of justice.
According to the latest report, Mr Mansoor Ahmad has been shifted further to a prison in Lahore. That will make it still more difficult for the stricken family to visit him. The family consists of his wife Ms Kausar aged 28, and three children. She puts up a brave face to sympathetic visitors. She is fragile, but strong as a mother of beautiful children. Her eldest is a handsom son, Shehryar, aged 12. Qudsia, the number two is a comely daughter, aged nine. The youngest, wide-eyed is again a daughter, Qamar un Nisa, aged seven. A sensitive visitor can only shed tears at their deprivation. Although the community has undertaken that the battered family will not starve, nothing can be done to provide love and care that only a father can provide. However, the family has faith, and they will wait patiently and in prayer till there is light at the end of the tunnel.