*Names have been changed where indicated to protect the identity of interviewees.
November, 27, 2015 — It was pitch dark at 2:30am in the morning. The only sounds that Imran* could hear were coming from the factory that was set ablaze a kilometer away, and the slogans against Imran and the rest of the Ahmadi community in Jehlum.
I was almost whispering, convincing my fellow Ahmadis to come out of hiding and show themselves to me, so that I could take them to a safe distance but there was no response, Imran told me over phone. However after repeated assurances, Ahmadi families hiding nearby revealed themselves to him.
Out of fear that I could be one of the mob who were hunting down Ahmadis in the area near Jehlum factory that every time I tried to call out to them, they would further hide downwards into the shrubs.
A few of the families who escaped from the factory during the mob attack had their toddlers hidden in their jackets. Ahmadi women can be identified by the distinct cut of their burqa, so they were asked to remove them and only cover heads withdupattas.
Imran is one of the Ahmadis who worked at the old chipboard factory, more than 4 decades old and owned by an Ahmadi businessman in Jehlum, Punjab. There are about 300 employees at the factory out of which Ahmadis are just ten percent, Imran claims.
At 5pm on November 21st, Imran was sitting in his office at the factory getting ready to leave for his living quarter across the road from the factory compound, when police personnel on motorbikes and a vehicle entered the factory. The policemen arrested the security in-charge of the factory who had an office at the entrance of the compound. Qamar Tahir, the head security officer at the factory, an Ahmadi by faith, was arrested on blasphemy charges, allegedly on a complaint from a factory staffer.
Imran: I am only telling you what I saw. That was the first time we had heard of any such thing as a blasphemy allegation against one of our own at the factory—it was a shock for us. The environment in the area surrounding the factory was not actively hostile towards Ahmadis. In recent years, there was a seminary built nearby which was a cause for some concern but nothing severe had happened to us, just regular everyday bigotry, which we’re used to as Ahmadis.
Police came with their minds made up that Qamar Tahir had burnt pages of the Holy Qur’an and thrown them in one the factory boilers. God forbid, why would he commit such a heinous act? We are practicing people, but the police pointed at Qamar Sahib saying that he had committed that act.
On Tahir’s arrest, his sons questioned the police, so police arrested them also. One of the boys is still a young teenager, less than 18-years-old. I saw that they were manhandling the boys, slapping them and pulling their hair, says Imran. After the arrests, police personnel arrived again at the factory twice, within a span of 30 to 45 minutes. On the last trip, the District Police Officer arrived and went to the boiler where the religious scripture was allegedly thrown. The factory staffer who is allegedly behind the blasphemy charges was the one with the police, Imran says. I did not see the DPO consulting any senior managers of our office. Instead, he went straight to the boiler with the complainant and then left. Qamar’s boys were later released.