The Gujranwala riot
This report is about the anti-Ahmadi riot in Gujranwala on July 27, 2014. In this riot three Ahmadi females, including a 7-month old infant were killed in arson attack. Ahmadi homes and properties were looted and gutted by mob in police presence. All the Ahmadi residents of the neighborhood had to flee from homes for safety, and despite passage of many months the authorities have done little to rehabilitate them in their homes. None of the criminals who committed grave crimes or initiated the riots, even though some of them have been named in the FIR, have been arrested and faced justice. The Ahmadi youth who was falsely accused of blasphemy was arrested, and has not been granted bail despite the fact that investigations have not established his guilt.
Gujranwala (Punjab); July 27, 2014: Ms. Bushra Bibi and her two granddaughters, aged 8 years and 7 months, died when extremists set fire to Ahmadi homes in Gujranwala whilst local police stood by and watched.
Further, Ms. Mubashara, who was 7-month pregnant, suffered a miscarriage on account of exposure to heat, suffocation and shock of the violence.
Eight others, mostly women and children, were treated for burns, asphyxiation, etc; a few were injured severely.
Anti-Ahmadi extremists led by mullas attacked Ahmadi homes on the false pretext that an Ahmadi youth had defaced a picture of the Sacred Mosque in Makkah on the Facebook. The clerics made announcements on sound amplifiers in mosques to gather hundreds of goons against the peace-loving innocent Ahmadis.
The violent mob attacked Ahmadis’ homes and shops, ransacked and looted them, and set them on fire after spraying them with petrol. Nearly half of the homes in this neighborhood were gutted. The perpetrators of these crimes were seen dancing (Bhangra) on TV screen on this occasion. They also started a fire in the Ahmadiyya prayer-centre in this neighborhood.
In one home, Ahmadis, unable to flee, took refuge on the first floor. The religious thugs entered the house, went up, locked the family and lit fire from outside the room. This resulted in death of three persons and serious injuries to many others trapped inside.
Initially anti-Ahmadi elements accused the Ahmadi youth of blasphemy; it was rebutted. This resulted in an argument and a petty quarrel. However, soon thereafter, mullas took the lead, assembled an agitated crowd and the attack started at about 8:30 p.m. The lynch mob that numbered in hundreds dispersed well after midnight. The police were present at the site but took no effective action to block or stop the riot.
It is said that the chief minister subsequently told the administration to take notice of the situation. However, the administration officials at that time were present at the site, and the police had granted laissez faire to the mob. The policemen could be seen in perfect harmony and peace among the rabble. It was the same chief minister in 2010 who had not the courtesy to offer condolences and sympathy to Ahmadis over the death of 86 worshippers who were killed in a simultaneous attack in two Ahmadi mosques in his provincial capital.
Fire brigade and ambulances arrived but were not allowed to perform by the mob. The police did not help them either, as also they did not stop the looters from indulging in plunder and arson.
All this happened in the holy month of Ramadan in which Muslims are expected to be helpful, kind and tolerant. Also, it was only one day before the festival of Eid, and death and destruction was the ‘gift’ offered to Ahmadis by the mullas and the administration. There is good reason to believe that the shocking riot was pre-planned. Gujranwala-based Deobandi mulla Zahid-ur-Rashidi is one of the top clerics in the policy and planning team of the rabidly anti-Ahmadiyya Khatme Nabuwwat organisation. He runs a madrassah in Gujranwala, and on July 31, 2014 he openly chaired a meeting of approximately 200 mullas (including some Shia ulama) over this issue, where a set of demands was agreed upon for presentation to the police.
The police registered a case under Anti-terrorism clause ATA 11-W and PPC 324, 295-A, a blasphemy clause, against Mr. Aqib Saleem and Mr. Atiq Ahmad, the accused Ahmadi youths, in FIR 553/14 in Police Station Peoples Colony, Gujranwala on July 28, 2014. If declared guilty, they could be imprisoned for 10 years.
This neighborhood has a sizeable presence of the Shia community; they extended little help to Ahmadis in their plight, in fact they supported the gang leaders and the mob action.
Encouraged by the inaction of authorities, a mulla of a local mosque later took pledge on loudspeakers from his flock during the Eid congregation that they would deliver even worse to other Ahmadis (elsewhere).
As for the accusation, the Supreme Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya community said, “It has been falsely claimed that this attack was provoked by a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. This allegation is completely untrue and without any foundation whatsoever. If those who perpetrated this attack truly felt that one person had provoked them then they should have sought his arrest, but instead they chose to burn alive an elderly lady and her two granddaughters. In truth this was an entirely unprovoked assault on all forms of human decency….”
The role of the media on this occasion deserves a mention. The TV channels that are very prompt in ‘Breaking News’ of even non-events were shy of reporting this event that was reported by foreign media too. Some local channels initially reported it as a clash between two groups. Some insinuated that the mob reacted in response to firing from the other party. Hardly anyone mentioned that Ahmadis were the target of this shocking and devastating attack. The Urdu press conserved its space in reporting this outrage against Ahmadis. The English press, however, took due notice and the dailies Dawn, Daily Times, The Express Tribune, Pakistan Today and The News reported the story adequately and commented fairly.
Political leaders took notice of the barbarity of the attack and expressed condemnation, but only in the social media; the politically bold MQM issued a statement conveying sympathy for the victims; it was run on TV tape. The ruling PML-N however decided to be careful in due condemnation of the extremist and sectarian bigots.
Some twitter messages in the social media were hateful. “Ahmadis deserved what they got,” someone tweeted. Others insisted that they deserve death (Wajib-ul-Qatl). There were, of course, many comments in support of the victims.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slammed Ahmadis’ killings in Gujranwala and expressed ‘shock’ and ‘disgust’ over the violence that ‘represents brutalization and barbarism stooping to new lows’.
The Ahmadi population of the affected neighborhood, scores of them, had to flee from their homes and take refuge in towns where they could find some security. Their livelihood and daily lives have been very badly affected. Their dead could not be buried in Gujranwala; their coffins had to be transported to Rabwah for interment. Their return to their homes is yet to be facilitated by the authorities.
Gujranwala is the city where more Ahmadis than the total of all in other cities in Pakistan were killed in anti-Ahmadi riots in 1974. The present attack was styled somewhat on Gojra lines where 7 Christians were burnt alive by a vicious mob sometimes ago. Gojra is also located in the Punjab province.
Mr. Saleem Ud Din, the Ahmadiyya spokesperson, demanded an immediate, impartial and transparent inquiry and due punishment to the involved culprits.
Ulama assume charge to defend the attackers. The daily Express, Lahore of August 8, 2014 reported that the Joint Khatme Nabuwwat Movement Coordination Committee demanded that the authorities take most serious notice of the defiling of the picture of the Ka‘ba in Makkah and the guilty be befittingly punished. A joint meeting was held under the chairmanship of (mulla) Zahid-ur-Rashidi of Gujranwala, and was attended by Ulama Karam and leaders of many politico-religious parties.
It appears that these blood-thirsty clerics were not content with the mulla-led havoc caused and imposed on vulnerable Ahmadis on July 27, and decided unabashedly to maintain an aggressive attitude, defend the criminals and further intimidate the victims. In this they were set to browbeat the administration and the judiciary.
According to the daily Express, the meeting was attended by senior leadership of JUI, JUP, JI, Majlis Ahrar Islam, Jamiat Ahle Hadith, Tanzim Islami, Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat, Aalami Majlis Tahaffuz Khatme Nabuwwat, Tehrik Hurmat Rasul and International Lawyers Forum, Pakistan. Justice (Retd) Nazir Ahmad Ghazi was appointed chairman of the Legal Committee (to defend the culprits).
The attendance of these leaders at the meeting showed that these parties remain committed to violence, to religious thugs and denial of rights to the marginalized sections of the society. Some of these parties occasionally talk of human rights, tolerance and unity etc, but it is obvious that thereby they pay only lip service to the higher social values; otherwise their sectarian, extremist and violence-prone policy and commitment remain unchanged.
Mulla Zahid-ur-Rashidi is the same cleric who at the turn of this year 2013/2014 visited South Africa and India, and called for formation of a vast anti-Shia front in the region. He seems to thrive on sectarian violence, extremism and disunity – and in this he is not alone.
It is regrettable to point out that the Gujranwala incident that caused waves in human rights circles worldwide failed to persuade the Punjab political leaders and administration to review their policy concerning religious extremists and sectarian bigots in their province.
A subsequent medical report
The Administrator Tahir Heart Institute (THI) Rabwah, one of the top medical facilities in the Punjab related the following in one of his addresses in London a few weeks later:
“…We can all recall the tragic Gujranwala incident in Pakistan. Violent and insane protesters in the name of Islam burnt a number of Ahmadi houses, looted property and martyred innocent women and children. Among them was a pregnant brave lady – Mubashara, who lost her full term baby and herself suffered grievous suffocated lung injury – a condition called Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome. It carries a very high mortality. On ventilatory life-support her life hung in balance. But with Huzoor Aqdas (Khalifa tul Masih V) and Jamaat’s prayers, she got a second lease of life. As she walked out of the portals of THI, she smilingly remarked, “Dr Nuri, Jazakumalla (May God reward you). I’ve witnessed the proof of Allah’s existence.”
“Similarly, two poor Ahmadis, both victims of the Gujranwala incident, were ignorant of their heart condition. The mental and physical trauma, thus suffered, triggered heart attack and brought them to THI. One underwent urgent CABG surgery and the other angioplasty with stent deployment. With tears in their eyes they remarked, “We always knew Allah was there, somewhere up in the Heavens, but now we have seen He exists and resides within our hearts.”
An analytical comment and comparison with another barbarity
The daily Dawn published the news on November 6, 2014 that Kasur “Police arrested on Wednesday 50 villagers who were part of a mob which reportedly burnt alive a Christian couple in a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan for allegedly desecrating pages of the Holy Quran. The woman, mother of three, was pregnant…. Police and witnesses told Dawn that announcements had been made from mosques on Tuesday asking villagers to gather at the Yousaf brick kiln where 25 year old Shama and her husband Shahzad Masih worked as bonded labourers. Over 1,000 charged people from three villages took out the couple from a room (where they had taken shelter) after tearing apart its roof. The mob tortured the couple before putting them into the kiln’s furnace…. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif took notice of the incident and the latter constituted a three member committee comprising the secretary of minority affairs, chairman of CM’s inspection team and additional IG to investigate the matter…. Police registered a case against 660 villagers, including 60 who have been nominated in the FIR. Police also blocked all routes leading to Chak 59 and Klarkabad…. On Wednesday, police produced 43 of the arrested people before an anti-terrorism court which remanded four of them in police custody and sent 39 others to jail on judicial remand.”
This barbaric and cruel incident is not the first of its kind in Punjab or in Pakistan. The attitude of the state and the society to such condemnable incidents in fact encourages them. The state’s tolerance towards such persecution is part of a long term pattern of state complicity at all levels – executive, legislative and judicial. The riot in Gujranwala against Ahmadis only three months earlier and the state’s response to that will throw adequate light on the raison d’etre of this attack on Christians.
It is noteworthy that after the Gujranwala tragedy neither the Prime Minister nor even the Chief Minister made any statement to condemn the atrocity. No high level committee was formed to investigate the riot. No arrests were made although some of the mullas who incited the mob were named in the FIR. The police obliged the religious zealots by registration of a counter-FIR against the Ahmadi youth and arrested him; he has not been granted bail yet, although the charge of blasphemy has not been upheld by any enquiry. None of the affected has been facilitated to come back and resettle in his/her home.
Immediately after the riot in Gujranwala, mullas representing major politico-religious parties assembled in a meeting and got organized to defend the criminals involved in the riot. A few weeks later, they expressed satisfaction over the official reaction to the incident (in that none of the accused was arrested).
The daily The News reported the Prime Minister to have said after the Kot Radha Kishan. “A responsible state cannot tolerate mob rule and public lynching with impunity.” However he had said nothing over the Gujranwala riot. In fact, as described above, the state tolerated the mob action and the public killing, providing impunity. It is arguable that a firm and open administrative response to the Gujranwala incident would have deterred the mob leaders in Kot Radha Kishan.
Mulla Tahir Ashrafi has held the police responsible for failure to act in Kot Radha Kishan. However, he was not forthcoming candidly over the Gujranwala riot. Zahid-ur-Rashidi, another top cleric, opted to become patron of the Co-ordination Committee to defend the criminals who were responsible for the murder, loot and arson in Gujranwala. There are also press reports that Jamaat Islami leaders made a sympathy visit to Kot Radha Kishan. Three months earlier Mr. Bilal Qudrat Butt of Jamaat Islami volunteered to become a member of the maniacal Co-ordination Committee. If this is not, what else is hypocrisy? All these mullas are well aware of the Quranic injection: “…whosoever killed a person – unless it be for (killing) a person or for creating disorder in the land – it shall be as if he had killed all mankind and whoso saved a life, it shall be as if he had saved all mankind….” (5: 33/34)
The authorities in District Kasur are known for their permissive and slipshod attitude towards protection of members of vulnerable communities. Early last year, mullas mounted an intensive hate campaign against Ahmadis of Shamsabad. They attacked the president of the local Ahmadi community and injured him grievously. He was rendered unconscious and had to be hospitalized. They beat up members of his family. Consequently, the Ahmadis were virtually under house arrest and the police warned them to vacate their houses. Rana Ishaque of the ruling PML-N and the DPO extended their support to the attackers. The Ahmadi president and his family had to flee for safety. Their plight was reported to the well-known Mr. Najam Sethi, the then Chief Minister of the Punjab. He did little to rehabilitate the persecuted family. The religious thugs remained free and got the message that they could lynch the so-called minorities without risk. There were other noteworthy incidents in this district, but this one should suffice as a sample.
Last but not least, ‘liberal’ politician Mr. Imran Khan of PTI chose to issue no public statement on the Gujranwala incident. He was discreet enough to release only a sentence on the Twitter. The Kot Radha Kishan incident occurred on November 4; Imran addressed a big crowd in Rahim Yar Khan five days later and he said not a word about the shameful incident of Kot Radha Kishan. It took him another few days to figure out the electoral benefits and harms of a public statement, when he spared a few seconds for the lynched couple in his long speech in Nankana Sahib. And he called all the suppressed classes and minorities to attend his fateful rally in Islamabad on November 30!
The daily The Nation put the issue straight, bluntly and precisely in its editorial on October 29, 2014, divinating the tragedy of Kot Radha Kishan (extract):
Blaspheming Against Humanity
Perhaps the country’s courts, police, Parliament and the public at large should take responsibility for crimes committed against individuals in blasphemy cases. Judges who send both sane and mentally challenged individuals to jails despite insufficient evidence, police officials who negotiate with and protect zealots instead of taking them to task, parliamentarians whose lips remain sealed as tragedies unfold and the people who struggle to express outrage over crimes committed in the name of religion – everyone is responsible and no one is willing to acknowledge it. How we deal with such issues as a country is utterly disgraceful. And when someone actually dares to take a stand, like Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and Rashid Rehman – we shoot them dead and become heroes, aspiring more evil and carnage. The country’s elected Prime Minister will not side with the fallen nor will those who wish to oust him. Changing faces, it would appear, will not change the fate of victims.
No wonder, the Peshawar massacre occurred a few weeks later that stunned almost the entire population.