Banning of the Ahmadiyya monthly Misbah and the daily Al-Fazl
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.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The DCO Chiniot issued an order in February 2012 to cancel the ‘Declaration’ of the Ahmadi women’s monthly Misbah, and initiated similar action against the Ahmadiyya daily Al-fazl, on instructions from the provincial capital, Lahore. The ‘Order’ conveyed that it was triggered by a recommendation of the Ulema.
Ahmadiyya press is one of the prime targets of the anti-Ahmadi legislation promulgated in 1984 by General Zia. As a result of this, prosecution of leading figures of the Ahmadiyya press reached figures that could be entered in the Guinness Book of World Records. For example, more than 400 Ahmadiyya periodicals have been proscribed by the authorities. Mr. Nasim Saifi, an editor of the daily Al-Fazl, faced charges in 40 different cases until his death. Qazi Munir Ahmad the printer faced charges in more than 90 cases, while Agha Saifulla the publisher faced charges in over 25 cases. Both of them had to flee abroad to rid themselves of endless court appearances. But there is an element of mockery to all this.
The authorities while initiating a police case or a ban against the pressmen or a periodical often accused the target of containing objectionable material; but they never pointed to or specified that material. In fact, they knew that if they did, they risked being ridiculed in the country as well as abroad. It is for this reason that rarely a charge could be pressed in a court to ensure conviction.
However, this way, harassment and persecution was amply inflicted by the rabid mullas and the unscrupulous authorities. They raided the press, offices and residences of the press staff to make arrests. The victims had to flee to avoid incarceration. They tried to seek bails from courts, which occasionally did not grant the bail or delayed their decision. Thus it was not rare that old, even octogenarian pressmen ended up in prison.
This year the Punjab Government indulged in the same exercise against two publications, despite the fact that the country is otherwise praised for its freedom of press. The authorities took this action as dictated by the mullas. If this is not ‘theocracy’ what else is? The ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) is not worthy inheritor of the name of the party whose founding father, Mr. Jinnah, gave a commitment that Pakistan would not be a theocratic state.
Colossal violation of Ahmadis’ fundamental rights by the Government of the Punjab
Ahmadiyya women’s monthly magazine Misbah’s publication is banned on demand of mullas
Ahmadiyya daily Alfazl similarly threatened
The District Coordination Officer (DCO) Chiniot issued an ORDER NO. 2182-86/DCO-C dated February 15, 2012 banning the Monthly Misbah, a women’s magazine published by the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan for decades. The DCO did not point out any objectionable material contained in any specific issue. Extracts from the said ORDER are reproduced below:
Subject: CANCELLATION OF DECLARATION OF MONTHLY MISBAH
Briefly stating Mutehida Ulema Board Punjab in its meeting held on 27.06.2011 has recommended cancellation of declaration of Monthly Magazine Misbah for publishing objectionable material. This information was received through letter No. SO (IS.III) 6-15/201 dated 27.10.2011 of Home Department, Government of the Punjab. It has also been informed that propagation of Qadianiat is a crime Under Section 298-C of PPC. The monthly Misbah has been declared as propagating Qadianiat and as such recommended to be banned by Mutehida Ulema Board Punjab constituted by the Chief Minister Punjab. Therefore, declaration of Monthly Misbah may be cancelled.
Mr. Tahir Mehdi Imtiaz Ahmad Warraich appeared before the undersigned on 6.2.2012 and his statement was recorded accordingly. He has contended that no objectionable material is being published in Monthly Misbah. He has further prayed that the declaration of Monthly Misbah may not be canceled.
… It is observed that: …
4. Mutehida Ulema Board Punjab constituted by the Chief Minister Punjab has recommended banning the Monthly Magazine Misbah.
In the light of the above mentioned observation, I am convinced that Monthly Magazine Misbah is being published in contravention of Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance 2002. Therefore I Dr Irshad Ahmad, District Coordination Officer Chiniot hereby cancel the declaration in respect of Monthly Magazine Misbah authenticated by the then District Magistrate Jhang with immediate effect. The printer of Monthly Misbah is directed to stop circulation of the Monthly Misbah forthwith under information to this office.
DISTRICT COORDINATION OFFICER
No. 2182-86/DCO-C, Dated: 15.02.12
A copy is forwarded for information to:
- The Secretary, Government of the Punjab, Home Department, Lahore
- The Commissioner, Faisalabad Division, Faisalabad
5. Mr. Tahir Mahdi Imtiaz Ahmad Warraich, Printer of Monthly Magazine Misbah, Chenab Nagar, Tehsil Lalian, District Chiniot for information and compliance
A few days later another Notice from the DCO Office Chiniot dated February 27, 2012 was received by the publisher and printer of the Ahmadiyya community’s daily Al-fazl for the same purpose, quoting the same law. An extract from the said letter:
“You are informed again that you present yourself in (my ) office at 11:00 on 03.03.2012 along with the declaration of the daily/weekly Alfazl and state reasons as to why the said daily/weekly Alfazl’s Declaration should not be cancelled. In case of your absence, further action will be taken as per rules.” District Coordination Officer Chiniot
This action by the Government of the Punjab against the fundamental rights of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan is perhaps the most offensive and unjustifiable overt act of any government since the dark days of General Zia. Following is clear in this case:
- The Chief Minister Punjab has constituted a Mutehida Ulema Board (a board comprising mullas).
- This Board initiated action against the Ahmadiyya women’s magazine. It is reasonable to assume that the imminent action against the Ahmadiyya daily is also on their demand.
- The high officials in the provincial government are complying with Ulema Board’s recommendations without due inquiry regarding the merit of its recommendations.
- The Ulema Board, the Home Secretary and the DCO all failed to pin-point the ‘objectionable material’. A general statement was the only excuse that the magazine ‘preached Qadianiat’.
- A magazine for Ahmadi women would of course guide the readers in Ahmadiyya teachings, not Deobandi or Salafi doctrines. The magazine carries a bold notation on its cover: “For the education of Ahmadi women”.
- The Ulema Board has been allowed to interfere viciously, unjustifiably and inappropriately in the affairs of a community whom they do not accept Muslims, thereby opening wide the door for the mullas to have a powerful voice in the affairs of Non-Muslim communities like Christians, Hindus etc.
- The government of Punjab has violated the laudable policy of freedom of press and expression without putting up a fight or even resistance to its self-created religious robots. The provincial authorities have indeed expressed their disrespect to the well-known international standards of human rights and freedoms.
- By not pointing out objectionable material, the authorities have boarded the bandwagon of religious bigots in pursuit of religious and sectarian prejudices.
- The mere fact that the authorities are unable to describe the Al-Fazl as a daily or weekly points to the absolute void in investigating the alleged complaint of mullas mustered on the official Board.
- It makes no sense that while the dailies and periodicals published by the banned Jihadi organizations are allowed to enjoy freedom of press in Pakistan, the Ahmadi women’s magazine is banned for little reason.
It was decades ago that the infamous military regime of general Zia banned the publication of Ahmadi daily and periodicals; it is bizarre that the present day democratic government of the Punjab should undertake similar retrogressive action when the world, and indeed Pakistan itself, has moved on to greater freedom.
This action of the Sharif government has supported those who accuse PML (N) of being inheritors of General Zia’s regressive ideology and policy.
Two years ago Mr. Sharif requested the terrorists not to target the Punjab as Taliban’s stance on foreign dictation was the same as the PML (N)’s view. In this the prestigious daily Dawn noted a serious deviant tendency in governance and made the following comment on March 16, 2010 in its editorial, titled: Sharif and the Taliban:
Even by the wretched standards of the cesspit of lies and cravenness that can be the Pakistani political establishment; the comments made on Sunday by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif are extraordinary and demand the most vigorous condemnation possible.
A few weeks later, on June 7, 2010 the same newspaper commented: Something is rotten in Punjab administration.
Update: The management of the threatened periodicals lodged an appeal with Lahore High Court and engaged a renowned attorney to present their case. The good judge has held in abeyance the DCO’s order against the monthly Misbah and issued a stay order in favour of the two publications.
The ugly threat has been neutralized – at least, for the present. In view of the stay order the publication of the targeted periodicals goes on. However, the Post Office Department has decided to continue with their bit of the outrage – they now refuse to accept the daily Al-Fazl for postal delivery to the readers. This has caused great inconvenience to the daily’s management as also to its readers; this is what the mullas assembled on the Board constituted by the Chief Minister wanted, in the first instance.
Demand of registration of case under Ahmadi-specific laws
Karachi; September 17, 2012: A mulla Anwar Rana who works in the office of Aalami Majlis Khatme Nabuwwat requested the Sessions Judge Karachi (East) to order the SHO Police Station Brigade to register an FIR against Mirza Masroor Ahmad (The Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Community), the editor, the chief editor and the printer of the daily Jang, under PPC 298-B and 298-C, the anti-Ahmadi laws.
In his application he stated that the daily Jang of September 13, 2012 published the statement of Mirza Masroor Ahmad in which he posed as Muslim and promoted his teachings, which is forbidden in the Pakistani law.
The mulla first took his application to the police station where the SHO took no action on that. Thereafter the applicant approached the court to order the SHO to register the FIR.
The Judge issued the following order, (Extract):
“The applicant is directed to approach the concerned police station along with his application for recording his statement and the SHO P.S. Brigade on receipt of application shall record his statement under section 154 Cr.P.C. and if he finds in his opinion the same is in respect of cognizable offence he shall incorporate the said statement in FIR book without any delay otherwise disposal of the same in accordance with law.”
An awful move against an Ahmadiyya periodical
Karachi: In September 2012 Mulla Anwar ul Hasan of Tahaffuz Khatme Nabuwwat moved the Sessions Court (East), Karachi against the material published in the Ahmadiyya fortnightly, Al-Musleh and applied that criminal proceedings be initiated against the editor, printer, publisher, typist and the column-writers of the periodical. The article was written by Mr. Muhammad Ahmad Zafar. The court ordered follow-up action on the request.
The applicant accused the periodical of publishing Ahmadiyya beliefs, for instance, 1) the death of Prophet Isa, 2) the revealed nature of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s books etc.
Al-Musleh staff had to take essential security precautions and measures.
While the entire country is enjoying unprecedented freedom of press and expression, Ahmadiyya press finds itself highly vulnerable against the attacks of religious bigots supported by authorities who like to appear ‘pious’.
On November 29, 2012 the judge issued orders to the police to register a criminal case as requested by the bigot.
Daily Alfazl: 98 years and counting
The list of words that the Daily Alfazl cannot use. Editors replace the words with dots, leaving readers to figure out what was redacted from the original text.
It is only at mid-afternoon that most bleary-eyed sub-editors start thinking about heading to their respective newsrooms. But for the 15-memebr editorial team at the daily Alfazl, that’s usually when the paper is being sent to the press.
It is far from a conventional broadsheet. The Jamaat Ahmadiyya’s Daily Alfazl newspaper started off as a weekly in 1913. Almost a century later, the paper is still in circulation, despite the bans, threats and legal issues that followed the introduction of Ahmadi-specific laws.
At the newspaper’s office in Rabwah in Chiniot District, the impact of those laws is tangible.
While proofers at other publications look for factual and grammatical errors, staffers at the daily Alfazl have a different set of tasks. In 1984 a sign was placed in the proofers room, featuring a list of words the Daily Alfazal cannot use in line with the ‘Anti-Islamic Activities of the Qadiani Group, Lahori Group and Ahmadi (Prohibition and Punishment) Ordinance, which was promulgated that year, intriguingly, editors replace the words they cannot use with dots, leaving readers to figure out what was redacted from the original text. The prohibited words include ‘Muslim’, Azan and Tabligh.
At one point, according to editor Abdul Sami Khan, there were over a hundred lawsuits against the paper’s printer and publisher. And even though the Daily Alfazl is only circulated within the Ahmadiyya Community, objections have been raised by people incensed at the mere sight of its masthead. It has been banned several times, and its printing press was sealed for a year in 1953, during riots against the Ahmadi community. Shipments of the paper are often delayed at the post office.
This isn’t the only publication people have been offended by, “People have had issues with the children’s magazine as well,” says Khan. According to the Ahmadi watchdog website, www.thepersecution.org cases have been instituted against five monthly magazines and the newspaper itself, as well as books published by the community. The Daily Alfazl also receives no government advertisements, a key source of revenue for most publications.
“We used to get advertisements before 1974 (the year amendments declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims were introduced in the constitution.” says Khan, “Not anymore, instead, the newspaper runs ads from local advertisers or large businesses run by members of the community.”
The slim newspaper – which publishes 9,000 copies daily – is primarily a journal for the community, featuring sermons and local news. A weekly edition is published in the UK.
But were Daily Alfazl tasked with refuting the allegations made against the Ahmadiyya community in the local press, it would have to produce at least a 40-page edition daily. Coverage of the community in the mainstream Urdu press mostly ranges from vitriolic diatribes to headlines that can only be described as bizarre – and at least one such headline is recycled every year without fail. According to an official at the Jamaat Ahmadiyya press section, a story alleging that Ahmadis had enlisted in the Israeli army has been doing the rounds for several years. “When the story was first published, the government of Pakistan issued a clarification to say that no Pakistanis were serving in the Israeli army.” he said, “But that story is reprinted every year regardless.”
The Jamaat Ahmadiyya also maintains a record of anti-Ahmadi stories published in newspapers printed from Lahore. In 2010, it recorded 1,468 news stories against the community, the majority of which were in seven of the most popular Urdu newspapers in the country.
That’s not all. Pakistani newspapers also refused to run a paid-for advertisement by the Jamaat which detailed its reasons for boycotting the 2008 general elections.
Ironically, the Pakistani media has unwittingly promoted the Ahmadiyya community’s places of worship, which cannot be called mosques for legal reasons. In 2009, as furor built up over a referendum in Switzerland to ban minarets, images of a mosque in the European country were published throughout Pakistan. Editors would be shocked to realize that the Swiss mosque being defended in the Pakistani press actually belongs to the same community they prefer to vilify.
Before leaving Rabwah, my copies of the daily Alfazl and books are wrapped up in brown paper to evade scrutiny. Or, as a Jamaat representative wryly remarks, blasphemy charges. While I only have to hide the publications for a few hours, for the editors and readers of the Daily Alfazl, this is a daily battle – one that shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 9, 2011