NGOs and Foreign reports – 2007

2007

 

Extracts from a US Report

The U.S. Department of State released its annual International Religious Freedom Report 2007 on September 14, 2007. It mentions the plight of Ahmadis extensively in its country section on Pakistan. It refers to the constitutional provisions on religious freedom but admits, “…however, in reality the Government imposes limits on freedom of religion, particularly on Ahmadis.” It also frankly mentioned: “The Ahmadiyya Community continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and legal bars to the practice of its faith.” The Report referred to various social domains in which Ahmadis suffered persecution and discriminations. Extracts from the Report, that have a direct bearing on the situation of Ahmadis in Pakistan, are reproduced below for information of all those who need to know it from an independent source.

U.S. Department of State

Pakistan

International Religious Freedom Report 2007

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Released on September 14, 2007

The country is an Islamic republic. Islam is the state religion and the Constitution requires that laws be consistent with Islam. The Constitution states, “subject to law, public order and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion,” however, in practice the Government imposes limits on freedom of religion. Freedom of speech is constitutionally “subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam.”

… Specific laws that discriminate against religious minorities include anti-Ahmadi and blasphemy laws that provide the death penalty for defiling Islam or its prophets. …

The Ahmadiyya community continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and legal bars to the practice of its faith. …

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

A 1974 constitutional amendment declares Ahmadis to be non-Muslim. Section 298-C commonly referred to as the “anti-Ahmadi laws”, prohibits Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims, referring to their faith as Islam, preaching or propagating their faith, inviting others to accept the Ahmadi faith, or insulting the religious feelings of Muslims. The punishment for violation of the section is imprisonment for up to 3 years and a fine. …

The Government designates religion on passports and national identity cards. Citizens must have a national identity card to vote. Those wishing to be listed as a Muslim must swear to believe that Muhammad is the final prophet and denounce the Ahmadiyya movement’s founder as a false prophet and his followers as non-Muslims, a provision designated to discriminate against Ahmadis. …

The Constitution specifically prohibits discriminatory admission to any government educational institution solely based on religion. Government officials stated that the only factors affecting admission to governmental educational institutions were students’ grades and home provinces; however, students must declare their religion on application forms. Muslim students must declare in writing that they believe that Muhammad is the final prophet, a measure that singles out Ahmadis. Non-Muslims must have their religion verified by the head of their local religious community.…

The Government does not restrict religious publishing in general; however, the sale of Ahmadi religious literature is banned. …

Missionaries (except Ahmadis) operate in the country and can proselytize, as long as there is no preaching against Islam and the missionaries acknowledge they are not Muslim. …

The Government used anti-Ahmadi laws to target and harass Ahmadis. The vague wording of the provision that forbids Ahmadis from directly or indirectly posing as Muslims enabled officials to bring charges against Ahmadis for using the standard Muslim greeting form and for naming their children Muhammad. The Ahmadi community claimed that during the period covered by this report, 28 Ahmadis faced criminal charges under religious laws or because of their faith: 4 under the blasphemy laws, 17 under Ahmadi-specific laws, and 7 under other laws but motivated by their Ahmadi faith.

At the end of April 2006, four Ahmadis were in prison on blasphemy charges; one was in prison and two more were out on bail facing murder charges that the Ahmadiyya community claimed were falsely brought due to their religious beliefs. Seven more criminal cases, ranging from murder to destruction of property, were filed against prominent members of the Ahmadi community during the reporting period. The cases remained unprosecuted and the accused were allowed to post bail.

Ahmadis continued to be arrested for preaching their faith. In July 2006 four Ahmadis were arrested in Sialkot District under the anti-Ahmadi laws for preaching.

In August 2006 Mian Mohammad Yar was charged under the anti-Ahmadi laws on the charge of preaching. He was the president of the local Ahmadi community.

Since 1983 Ahmadis have been prohibited from holding public conferences or gatherings, 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 Haji or other religious pilgrimages. Ahmadi publications were banned from public sale, but they 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, authorities continued to conduct surveillance on Ahmadis and their institutions. Several Ahmadi mosques reportedly were closed; others reportedly were desecrated or had their construction stopped.

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 prevented Baha’is from traveling to their spiritual center in Israel due to non recognition of that country.

Sunni Muslims appeared to receive favorable consideration in government hiring and advancement. Shi’a and other religious minorities contended that the Government persistently discriminated against members of their communities in hiring for the civil service and in admissions to government institutions of higher learning. Promotions for all minority groups appeared limited within the civil service. These problems were particularly acute for Ahmadis, who contended that a “glass ceiling” prevented them from being promoted to senior positions and that certain government departments refused to hire or retain qualified Ahmadis. …

… The Government discriminated against Ahmadis and Christians when they applied for entry to university and medical school because of their religious affiliation.

Officials used bureaucratic demands and bribes to delay religious groups trying to build houses of worship or to obtain land. While Ahmadis were prevented from building houses of worship, Sunni Muslim groups built mosques and shrines without government permission, at times in violation of zoning ordinances and upon government owned lands.

Police commonly tortured and mistreated those in custody and at time engaged in extrajudicial killings. It was usually impossible to ascertain whether religion was a factor in cases in which religious minorities were victims, however, both Christian and Ahmadi communities claimed their members were more likely to be abused. Non-Muslim prisoners generally were accorded poorer facilities than Muslim inmates.

Ahmadi leaders claimed the Government used regular sections of the penal code against their members for religious reasons. Authorities often accused converts to the Ahmadiyya community of blasphemy, violations of the anti-Ahmadi laws, or other crimes. …

During the reporting period, authorities arrested at least 25 Ahmadis, 10 Christians, and 6 Muslims on blasphemy charges. Many remained in prison at the end of the reporting period. …

In October 2006 police arrested Ahmadi Mohammad Tariq and charged him under blasphemy laws for allegedly tearing off anti-Ahmadiyya stickers inside a bus. Police released him on bail in December 2006 and at the end of the reporting period, he was awaiting trial.

In September 2006 police released on bail two Ahmadi journalists working for an Ahmadi publication Al-Fazl, whom they had charged under blasphemy laws. Three others from Al Fazl, an editor, a publisher, and a printer, remained in confinement awaiting court proceedings on the same charges.

In the spring of 2007, members of the Ahmadi community purchased 6 acres of land outside Lahore to expand a pre-existing cemetery. Local clerics denounced the purchase and held demonstrations against the Ahmadi community. Police sided with the clerics, and local authorities claimed the construction of a wall on the land would be used to form a “center of apostasy.” When the Ahmadis refused to remove the wall, five buses of policemen arrived and destroyed it in the middle of the night. Officials admitted the action was taken under pressure of local clerics.

In December 2006 a local mulla collaborated with police to prevent the burial of Bakht Bibi, an Ahmadi woman, in the common village graveyard. She was finally buried on private land 1.5 kilometers away. The same mulla had convinced police to close an Ahmadi prayer center 1 month prior.

In October 2006 police stopped construction of a new Ahmadi school in Sialkot district. Mullas reportedly then destroyed the partially constructed building.

In September 2006 Malik Saif ur Rahman, the president of a local Ahmadi organization, completed construction of a small mosque on the property of his farm. The local mulla objected to police. Later, a contingent of police in plain clothes came and destroyed it.

In June 2006, following an attack during which a mob injured two Ahmadis and destroyed their property, Sialkot District police arrested seven Ahmadis and removed 74 from the village for fear of more attacks. Police arrested four Ahmadis for alleged Quran desecration. …

In September 2006 a Sindh court granted provisional bail for three Ahmadis who had been in hiding, fearing arrests on charges of attempted conversion. Police had previously arrested two other Ahmadis, to whom the higher Sessions Court had granted bail.

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.

On April 8, 2007, local extremists tortured and killed Chaudhry Habibullah Sial, an 82-year old Ahmadi man who was using his home as a prayer center for Ahmadis.

On March 1, 2007, a former police officer killed Mohammad Ashraf, an Ahmadi, because Ashraf changed his religion from Sunni to Ahmadi. The killer claimed to have done nothing wrong and that he followed Islamic law, since apostasy is punishable by death.

In November 2006 two Ahmadi men in Bagar Sargana were attacked by a mob on their way home after Friday prayers.

In October 2006 an Ahmadi imam at a mosque in Chawinda was attacked in his apartment in the mosque complex.

In September 2006 Professor Abdul Basit, an Ahmadi, was attacked in his home in Dera Ghazi Khan.

On August 22, 2006, Munawwar Ahmad Sahib, an Ahmadi, was killed by two gunmen in his home in Gujrat.

In August 2006 an Ahmadi youth, Etzaz Ahmad, was attacked in the shop where he worked as an apprentice. The attacker said he was trying to kill an infidel.

Ahmadi individuals and institutions long have been victims of religious violence, much of which organized religious extremists instigated. Ahmadi leaders charged that in previous years militant Sunni mullas and their followers staged sometimes violent anti-Ahmadi 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 mullas 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. In contrast with the previous report, there were no such reports during this reporting period.

Some Sunni Muslim groups published literature calling for violence against Ahmadis, Shi’a 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 religious minorities.

Embassy officers maintained a dialogue with government, religious, and minority community representatives to encourage religious freedom and to discuss the blasphemy laws, the Hudood Ordinances, curriculum reform in the public education and madrassah education systems, treatment of the Ahmadiyya and Christian communities, and sectarian violence. Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, met with leaders from communities of all religious groups and NGOs working on religious freedom problems. Embassy officials also raised and discussed treatment of the Ahmadis with Members of Parliament.

 

An ‘Immediate Release’ by The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Washington: In a press release on June 11, 2007 the USCIRF ‘deplored’ the abuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan as ‘a severe violation of the universally guaranteed right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief’. It also showed concern over a draft bill on apostasy.

“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are inherently arbitrary, and they de facto restrict freedom of speech and other freedoms guaranteed by international human rights norms”, said Felice D. Gaer, Commission chair. “These insidious laws lend themselves to misuse and abuse, resulting in severe violations of freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan.”

The press release highlighted the death sentence to Younis Masih, a Christian. It also mentioned Ahmadis in prison on blasphemy charges.

As for the Apostasy Bill, Gaer said, “This proposed bill would violate human rights standards because it would criminalize an internationally protected right. Every effort should be made by the government of Pakistan to ensure that such repressive legislation is not passed.”

As for the amended procedures of leveling blasphemy charges, “In fact, the case against Younis Masih demonstrates that the officially required new procedures are not even heeded”, Gaer said. Among other recommendations, the Commission has asked the US government to:

“urge the government of Pakistan to decriminalize blasphemy and until such time as that is possible, to implement procedural changes to the blasphemy laws that will reduce and ultimately eliminate their misuse and ensure that those who are accused of blasphemy and people who defend them are given adequate protection, including by investigating death threats and other actions against them carried out by militants, and that full due process is followed.

“Urge the government of Pakistan to seek withdrawal of the draft bill on apostasy; and

“urge the government of Pakistan to make much more serious efforts to combat Islamic extremism in the country, noting especially the current Pakistan government’s political alliance with islamist political parties, which afford an inordinate amount of influence to these groups, and which, in turn, has had a strong negative impact on freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief in Pakistan.

“The Commission calls on the U.S. government forcefully to raise all these serious religious freedom concerns promptly with the government of Pakistan”, Gaer said. These repressive measures exacerbate religious tensions rather than advance freedom of religion, and have no place in a country that claims to respect rights.”

 

HRW urges Musharraf to hold free, fair polls

New York, May 1: The Human Rights Watch on Tuesday asked the United States and the United Kingdom, to urge President Pervez Musharraf to hold free and fair elections to genuinely facilitate return to civilian rule.

……………

Pakistan needs legitimate parliamentary and presidential elections to get back on the path to genuine democratic rule. Anything else would be a sham.

The daily Dawn, Lahore; May 2, 2007

It is relevant to remind once again all concerned that to facilitate Ahmadi citizens to participate in the forthcoming elections is an essential and important part of “free, fair polls”. At present, despite officialclaims to having Joint Electoratein the country, Ahmadis are “deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters in the same electoral area as non-Muslims”, as per ‘Chief Executive’s Order No. 15 of 2002, pubished in The Gazette of Pakistan (Extraordinary), ISLAMABAD, MONDAY, JUNE 17, 2002. This extraordinary arrangement is indeed a sham. It has gone on for a long time, and if those who call for and those who assure that elections shall be free and fair, they should remove this incongruency and discrimination, in the first instance.

Ahmadiyya community is an important section of society. The government’s claim that there is no bar to their participation in elections is a malafide farce. Governmental rules on the subject allow Ahmadis’ participation in the electoral process only if they accept their state-imposed identity as non-Muslims and thus disassociate themselves from the basic beliefs that they cherish. This is plain denial of basic human rights to them, and a bar to their freedom of religion and belief. It results in their defacto disenfranchisement. Not even in their own headquarters town of Rabwah, where they are 95% of the population, do they have a single councilor in the Town Council. This situation is deliberate and by design of the mullah and the authorities. This unabashed violation of civic and human rights in the field of representative government must be stopped as an essential and integral part of the efforts to hold free and fair polls.

 

Swedish government informs the Parliament of Ahmadis’ situation in Pakistan

The Swedish foreign minister presented his ministerial report to the parliament. An extract from its chapter “Manskliga rattigheter i Pakistan 2006”, which takes notice of Ahmadis’ situation in Pakistan is reproduced below:

16. Rights of persons belonging to national, ethnical, linguistic and religious minorities and indigenous people

The minorities of Pakistan consist of 3 million Christians, 2 million Hindus and 1,5 million Ahmadi Muslims. Of the large Muslim majority about 20 percent is estimated to be Shiites. In addition to these groups there are a few smaller Muslim communities e.g. the Ismaelites in the northern part of the country. Pakistani law and the authorities of Pakistan do not provide a sufficient protection to the religious minorities. A serious problem lies in the legislation on blasphemy which is often used against the minorities.

The Ahmadi Muslims have by the Pakistani Government been proclaimed as non-Muslims even though they see themselves as Muslims. Their religious belonging is noted in their passports and they can be punished for using Muslim terms and rituals. They are not allowed to undertake the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Several of their mosques have been either sealed or confiscated by other Muslim communities. The Ahmadis don’t have the right to be buried in Muslim graveyards and if they do so the corpse is exhumed and removed. The Ahmadi minority is often the subject of religion motivated violence and legal authorities tend to consider violence against Ahmadis as less serious. Conservative Muslim leaders openly agitate the Ahmadi Community without any judicial intervention from the authorities. The insufficient efforts from the government to protect the minority, as much as their unwillingness to put persons guilty to justice, should be looked upon as a Human Rights offence.

In addition, the Report contains the following comment on page 2 on the electoral situation:

The system of separate voting lists for religious minorities has been abolished with exception for the Ahmadiyya Community and places have been reserved for women and minorities in selected areas.

 

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