NGOs and Foreign reports – 2006

2006

 

Annual Report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom

Washington, DC:         The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released its Annual Report 2006 on May 1, 2006. The Report contained a Country Report on Pakistan as well. It recommended that in addition to those on the existing list, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan should also be added to the list of countries designated as Country of Particular Concern (CPC). It is, however, the Secretary of State who has the executive authority to designate a country as CPC.

Section 402(b)(1) of International Religious Freedom Act specifically directs the President to at least annually designate each country in which the government has engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” as “a country of particular concern” or CPC. Particularly severe violations of religious freedom are defined as those that are “systematic, ongoing, and egregious”. In defining violations of religious freedom IRFA directly refers to the “Internationally recognized right to freedom of religion and religious belief and practice” as laid out in such international instruments  as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Pakistan is signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 18 of the UDHR lays down: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in pubic or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Article 19 of the Declaration prescribes: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The Commission has recommended that the U.S. government should, inter alia:

  • urge the government of Pakistan to rescind the laws targeting Ahmadis, which effectively criminalize the public practice of their faith and violate their right to freedom of religion guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • Urge the government of Pakistan to sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

 

Ahmadiyya situation in Pakistan receives extensive mention in The US Department of State 2006 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom

Washington: The US State Department released its annual report on International Religious Freedom, on September 15, 2006. It contained a fairly detailed country report on Pakistan. Some of its excerpts, relevant to the Ahmadiyya situation in Pakistan, are reproduced here. It is also worthwhile to quote two general remarks from the first page:

“There is no more fundamental issue for the United States than freedom of religion and religious conscience. This country was founded on that basis, and it is at the heart of democracy.”

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice – March 2006

Our Commitment

In keeping with US history and international norms, the United States will continue to stand with those seeking the freedom to choose, believe and practice their faith without intimidation and hindrance.

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The Government took some steps to improve the treatment of religious minorities during the period covered by this report, but serious problems remained. The Government failed to protect the rights minorities. Discriminatory legislation and the Government’s failure intimidation against religious minorities.

Due to the 1974 constitutional amendment declaring them non-Muslim, the Ahmadiyya community continued to face legal bars to the practice of its faith. While other minority religious communities generally were able to worship freely, their members faced governmental discrimination. Members of certain Islamic schools of thought also claimed government discrimination. …Security forces and other government agencies did not adequately prevent or address social abuse against minorities.

Specific government policies that discriminate against religious minorities include the use of the “anti-Ahmadi laws”, the blasphemy laws, and the Hudood Ordinance. In 1984, the Government added Section 298© commonly referred to as the “anti-Ahmadi laws” to the penal code. The section prohibits Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims or posing as Muslims, from referring to their faith as Islam, from preaching or propagating their faith, from inviting others to accept the Ahmadi faith, and from insulting the religious feelings of Muslims. The blasphemy laws provide the death penalty for defiling Islam or its prophets; life imprisonment for defiling, damaging, or desecrating the Quran and ten years’ imprisonment for insulting the religious feelings of any citizen. These laws are often used to intimidate reform-minded Muslims, sectarian opponents, and religious minorities, or to settle personal scores. The Hudood Ordinance imposes elements of Quranic law on both Muslims and non-Muslims and different legal standards for men and women.

The provincial government in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) continued to pass directives and legislation in accordance with the conservative Islamic vision of its supporters. Despite the Hisba Bill’s passage by the NWFP Provincial Assembly in 2005, the Supreme Court overturned the bill, declaring it to be unconstitutional.

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Sectarian violence and discrimination continued despite contrary call from the government, Islamic religious leaders and some parts of the MMA. Anti-Ahmadi and anti-Semitic rhetoric continued unabated, although rhetoric against Ismaili followers of the Aga Khan was largely abandoned.

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The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion. It also states that adequate provisions shall be made for minorities to profess and practice their religions freely, however, in practice the Government imposes limits on freedom of religion, particularly on Ahmadis.

Due to Ahmadis not accepting that Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet of Islam, a 1974 constitutional amendment declares this self-described Islamic community to be Non-Muslim. In 1984 the Government added Section 298© commonly referred to as the ‘anti-Ahmadi laws.” to the penal code. The section prohibits Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims or posing as Muslims, referring their faith as Islam, preaching or propagating their faith, inviting others to accept the Ahmadi faith, and insulting the religious feelings of Muslims. The constitutionality of Section 298(c) was upheld in a split decision supreme court case in 1996. The punishment for violation of the section is imprisonment for up to three years and a fine.

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Under the Anti-Terrorist Act, any action, including speech intended to stir up religious hatred is punished by up to seven years of rigorous imprisonment. Under the act, bail is not to be granted if the judge has reasonable grounds to believe that the accused is guilty; however, the law is applied selectively.

Pressure from societal, religious or political leaders routinely prevented courts from protecting minority rights. These same pressures forced justices to take strong action against any perceived offense to Sunni Islamic orthodoxy. Discrimination against religious minorities was rarely placed before the judiciary. Courts would be unlikely to act objectively in such cases. Resolving cases is very slow; there is generally a long period between filing the case and the first court appearance. Lower courts are frequently intimidated and therefore, delay decisions and refuse bail for fear or reprisal from extremist elements. Bail in blasphemy cases is almost always denied by original trial courts on the logic that since defendants are facing the death penalty, they are likely to flee. Defendants can appeal the denial of bail (and many do), but bail is often times not granted by the high court or the supreme court in advance of the trial.

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The Government designates religion on passports and national identity documents. In November 2004 the Government began issuing new machine readable passports without the religion column. A conservative backlash and islamist party protests led the Government to reverse course and restore the column in March 2005. Those wishing to be listed as a Muslim on such documents had to swear a belief in the finality of the prophethood and denounce the Ahmadiyya movement’s founder as a false prophet and his followers as Non-Muslims.

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Sunni Muslims appeared to receive favorable consideration in Government hiring and advancement. In addition, all those wishing to obtain Government identification documents as Muslims had to declare an oath on belief in the finality of the prophethood, a provision designed to discriminate against Ahmadis. Initial voter registration no longer required such an oath, but the Election Commission claimed that any Muslim registrant whose religion was challenged by the public would have to take the oath. As a result, Ahmadis continued to boycott elections.

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The constitution specifically prohibits discriminatory admission to any governmental educational institution solely on the basis of religion. Government officials stated that the only factors affecting admission to government educational institutions were student’s grades and home provinces; however students must declare their religion on application forms. Muslim students must declare in writing that they believe in the unqualified finality of the prophethood of Muhammad, a measure designed to single out Ahmadis. Non-Muslims must have their religion verified by the head of their local religious community.

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The Government at its most senior levels, continued to call for interfaith dialogue and sectarian harmony as part of its program to promote enlightened moderation. It was instrumental in organizing the inaugural meeting of the World Council of Religions, an interfaith body of clerics and religious scholars devoted to interfaith dialogue. Clergy from all Islamic schools of thought and minority faith communities, with the exception of the Ahmadis, who were not invited, joined the council. …………

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The Government discouraged and severely restricted public practice of the Ahmadiyya faith both by law and in practice. The 1974 constitutional amendment and 1984 changes to the Penal Code Section 298© commonly referred to as the ‘anti-Ahmadi laws’ were issued by the government and anti-Ahmadi religious groups to target and harass Ahmadis. The vague wording of the provision that forbids Ahmadis from ‘directly or indirectly’ posing as Muslims enabled mainstream Muslim religious leaders to charges against Ahmadis for using the standard Muslim greeting form and for naming their children Muhammad. An Ahmadiyya Muslim community report claimed that during the period covered by this report twenty-six Ahmadis faced criminal charges under religious laws or because of their faith, four under the blasphemy laws; seventeen under Ahmadi-specific laws, and four under other laws but motivated by their Ahmadi faith. At the end of April 2006 five Ahmadis were in prison on blasphemy charges and three were in prison on murder charges that the Ahmadiyya community claimed were falsely brought due to their religious beliefs.

The government gave tacit endorsement to Islamic clerics campaigns against the perceived dangers of the Ahmadiyya faith by permitting the annual conference on the finality of the Prophethood. Ahmadis were prohibited from holding any public conferences or gatherings, and since 1983 they have been denied permission to hold their annual conference. Ahmadis were banned from preaching and were prohibited from traveling to Saudi Arabia for the hajj or other religious pilgrimages. Since July 2003 anyone wanting to travel on the hajj must denounce the founder of the Ahmadiyya faith as a ‘cunning person and an imposter’ on a printed oath that is part of the government registration process, thereby effectively preventing Ahmadis from fulfilling this tenant of the Islamic faith. Additionally Ahmadi publications were banned from pubic sale; however, Ahmadis published religious literature in large quantities for a limited circulation.

While the constitution guarantees the right to establish places of worship and train clergy, in practice Ahmadis suffered from restrictions on this right. According to press reports, the authorities continued to conduct surveillance on the Ahmadis and their institutions. Several Ahmadi mosques reportedly have been closed; others reportedly have been desecrated or had their construction stopped. For example, on June 18. 2005, police ordered the Ahmadiyya community in Pindi Bhatian, Hafizabad, Punjab to stop construction on a mosque on a site acquired for the purpose some twenty years previously. Police were reportedly acting on the request of the local Islamic cleric.

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Missionaries were allowed to operate in the country, and proselytizing, except by Ahmadis, was permitted as long as there is no preaching against Islam.  …

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The Government does not restrict religious publishing in general; however; Ahmadi religious literature is banned. Publishing any criticism of Islam or its prophets or insults to another’s religion is prohibited. Insults against minority religious groups were rarely prosecuted. For example the weekly newspaper Ghazwa published in Azad Kashmir with the financial support of the terrorist organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa was not prosecuted for publishing offensive, insulting and inaccurate articles about earthquake relief efforts undertaken by NGOs linked to the Ahmadiyya Community. …….. Ahmadis charge that they suffer from restrictions on their press. For example, on August 7, 2005, the Punjab Provincial government ordered two Ahmadi printing presses in Jhang, shut down. Police took the editor of the Ahmadiyya community magazine al-Fazl , Sami Khan, into protective custody and later released him. The move followed complaints from a local Islamic leader that the publications insulted the religious sentiments of Muslims. The provincial home department ultimately gave permission for the presses to reopen.

In July 2003, Tanvir Ahmad Asif and Abdul Qadir were charged with blasphemy, as well as violating the anti-Ahmadi law, for writing a book which explained the situation of Ahmadis around the country. …….

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The Government funded and facilitated hajj travel but had no similar program for pilgrimages by religious minorities. In addition to prohibiting Ahmadi travel for the Hajj, the Government de facto prevented Baha’is from traveling to their spiritual center in Israel due to non recognition of that country.

The Government designates religion on passports and national identity documents. Those wishing to be listed as a Muslim on such documents had to swear a belief in the finality of the Prophethood and denounce the Ahmadiyya movement’s founder as a false prophet and his followers as non-Muslims, resulting in further discrimination and harassment against the community.

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Ahmadis continued to contend that they were denied voting rights through requirements that they register as non-Muslims. Members of the public can challenge any Muslim on the voter rolls to take an oath swearing to the finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad and denouncing the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement. For this reason, Ahmadi refused to register. ………..

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All religious groups experienced bureaucratic delays and requests for bribes when attempting to build houses of worship or to obtain land. These were similar to what non religious groups faced. Ahmadis were prevented from building houses of worship. Sunni Muslims groups built mosques and shrines without government permission and at time in violation of zoning ordinances.

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In addition to experiencing prosecution under the blasphemy laws, Ahmadis were often charged, detained and convicted under the so-called anti-Ahmadi laws. According to Ahmadiyya publications, police charged seventeen Ahmadis under these laws during the year. All were released by the end of the reporting period (sic). Ahmadi leaders also claimed that the Government used regular sections of the penal code against their members for religious reasons. They claimed three Ahmadis were in detention on such charges at the end of the reporting period. The three had been convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Their case were under appeal at the end of the period covered by this report.

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According to media reports on June 24, 2006, a mob attacked an Ahmadi locality in Jhando Sahi village in Daska near Sialkot and injured two persons following allegations that some Ahmadis had desecrated the Quran. The mob also set fire to a few vehicles, two  shops, and a few houses belonging to Ahmadis. The district police arrived at the scene and arrested seven Ahmadis. They also removed approximately seventy-five Ahmadis from the village for fear of more attacks. Four Ahmadis were booked under section 295C (sic) of the penal code for Quran desecration, and two were arrested and held in the Sialkot jail. Later, hundreds of persons belonging to surrounding villages demonstrated against the alleged desecration and chanted anti-Ahmadi slogans and damaged an Ahmadiyya house of worship. The situation in the village remained tense and a large contingent of police was deployed to avert any more damage. Members of the Ahmadi community claim that the men were burning their own journals and papers.

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The Government did not abuse converts to minority religious groups. Converts to the Ahmadiyya community ere often accused of blasphemy, violations of the anti-Ahmadiyya laws, or other crimes. The Government arrested and prosecuted such individuals. Conversion to other minority religious groups generally took place in secret to avoid a societal backlash.

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Following July 2004 protests, police in Chenab Nagar (Rabwah) continued to retain property of the local Ahmadiyya Community on which a makeshift mosque had once existed.

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On October 7, 2005 two armed assailants opened fire during Friday (sic) prayer at an Ahmadiyya mosque in Mong village, Punjab, killing eight and injuring nineteen. The Government attributed responsibility to LJ.

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Ahmadis individuals and institutions long have been victims of religious violence, much of which is instigated by organized religious extremists. Ahmadi leaders charged that militant Sunni mullahs and their followers sometimes staged marches through the streets of Rabwah, a predominantly Ahmadi town and spiritual center in central Punjab. Backed by crowds of between 100 and 200 persons, the mullah reportedly denounced Ahmadis and their founder, a situation that sometimes led to violence. The Ahmadis claimed that police generally were present during these marches but did not intervene to prevent violence.

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Ahmadis suffered from societal harassment and discrimination. Even the rumor that someone might be an Ahmadi or had Ahmadi relatives could stifle opportunities for employment or promotion. Most Ahmadis were home-schooled or went to private Ahmadi-run schools. Ahmadi students in public schools often were subject to abuse by their non-Ahmadi classmates. The quality of teachers assigned to predominately Ahmadi schools by the Government reportedly was poor. In 2002 in response to a question from Islamic clerics President Pervez Musharraf, who had been accused of favoring Ahmadis, declared that he believed Ahmadis to be “non-Muslims”

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Some Sunni Muslim groups published literature calling for violence against Ahmadis, Shia Muslims, other Sunni sects, and Hindus. Some newspapers frequently published articles that contained derogatory references to religious minorities, especially Ahmadis, Hindus, and Jews. Sermons at mosques frequently railed against Ahmadis, other Muslims groups, and Hindus.

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Embassy officials regularly met with religious and political leaders from all major Islamic groups. During these meetings, they raised the need to end sectarian violence and to define a more cooperative relationship between the sects. Embassy officials encouraged interfaith and intersectarian dialogue initiatives, such as the World Council of Religions. In meeting with officials from the Islamic Ideology Council and the Ministry of Religion, embassy officials encouraged them to play an active role in promoting sectarian harmony.

Apart from the excerpts quoted above, the Report mentioned anti-Ahmadiyya incidents and events at the following locations:

Faisalabad, 9/2005; Mianwali, 10/2005; Mirpur Khas, 6/2006; July 2004 – attack on Tahir; July 2003 – blasphemy charge against Asif and Qadir; Rabwah, 7/2004; Lahore, 7/2004; Tatlay Ali, Gujranwala, 8/2004; Sargodha murder, 8/2004; murder of Danish, 11/2004; Sahiwal, 12/2004; murder at Quetta, 9/2005; Rahim Yar Khan, 2/2006; Qasur, 3/2006; murders at Karachi, 3/2006; Conference at Rabwah, 4/2006.

 

Press release by the ruling political party of Sweden

June 28, 2006: Mr. Jan Eliasson, Foreign Minister of Sweden and President UN General Assembly was asked a question by a Member of Swedish Parliament Ann-Marie who also asked for a written response. The ruling party of Sweden, Social Democratic Party’s Parliament Group issued the following press release to the news media:

Ahmadiyya Muslim situation in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia

Addressing the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jan Eliasson, Swedish Member of Parliament Ann-Marie Fagerstrom raised a strong Human Rights issue in connection with Ahmadiyya Muslim situation in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, and asked him to outline the measures the Swedish government was taking to address this issue. She said: “Recent reports from the above countries as well as from the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights Commission and a 2005 Swedish Human Rights report indicate that these countries are blatantly violating United Nations convention regulations on Human Rights. People are being murdered on the street because of their religious beliefs and the affected families get no help from the authorities. Mosques and other property owned by minorities are being seized by the authorities with no regard for Human Rights. Discriminatory laws exist in Pakistan that go against the grain of the United Nations requirements on Human Rights. The Swedish government can no longer be passive onlookers and must, along with the powerful European Union, state that the recent developments are unacceptable. I have taken up this issue with the government on several occasions and have been told that measures to alleviate the situation would be undertaken in conjunction with the EU. However, nothing has been done in this connection and the suffering continues unabated. What measures does the Minister for Foreign Affairs intend to take to enable the Ahmadiyya Muslims to practice their religion and to safeguard their Human Rights?”

The Minister for Foreign Affairs gave the following reply:

Ann-Marie Fagerstrom has asked me what measures I intend to take to enable the Ahmadiyya Muslims to practice their religion and to safeguard their Human Rights.

The reports about the treatment of Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh are of great concern. Persecution for religious convictions is unacceptable. Human Rights and Democracy are central tenets of Swedish Foreign Policy. The government is engaging in continuous dialogue with the countries that Ann-Marie Fagerstrom mentions. In particular, our development assistance to Bangladesh and Indonesia stresses the importance of promoting Human Rights and Democracy in those countries. Additionally, the government is acting bilaterally with the EU to stress the importance of guaranteeing freedom of religion, and in Indonesia, has on many occasions urged the Indonesian government to safeguard minority groups. The National Indonesian Commission for Human Rights has, in collaboration with Raoul Wallenberg Institute, imparted Human Rights training to officials in the Indonesian Justice Department. In the European Union’s Annual Agenda on Human Rights, the freedom of religion situation in Pakistan has been taken up. On several occasions the Ahmadiyya situation has come under discussion. Sweden has no bilateral development assistance program for Pakistan, but the European Commission’s development program is to (be) conducted with an eye on Human Rights and Democracy. In Bangladesh, the question of religious freedom and Human Rights has been addressed during a high level EU visit in January 2006.

 

This question was also treated bilaterally during Minister Carin Jamtins’ visit to Bangladesh in the spring of 2004. Several Bangladeshi individual Human Rights organizations have been provided with Swedish aid. It is necessary to monitor developments affecting Ahmadiyyas in all three countries. Officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have met with delegations from the Swedish Ahmadiyya last spring and are in constant contact with their representatives. We will continue to work bilaterally with the EU in order to protect freedom of religion and for freedom of religion to be fully respected by the international community, which includes Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan.”

June 28, 2006.

The end

 

(English translation of  the Swedish original)

ann-marie.fagerstrom@riksdagen.se

 

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