PAKISTAN: Violence against the Ahmadi community, a religious minority continues unabated
(This is Part II of a series of articles on the problems of religious minorities in Pakistan)
With its reelection to the Human Rights Council Pakistan must now show the world that it is serious about fulfilling its international obligations. One area that needs urgent attention is the violence committed against religious minorities, in particular the harassment and violence perpetrated against the Ahmadis, which often happens with the cooperation of the police.
On October 19 Mr. Saad Farooq was returning home after attending congregational prayers with his family. Farooq, an Ahmadi, was riding his motorcycle while his family travelled in a car. Unknown men, also on a motorcycle approached him from behind and shot him in the head. Farooq died on the spot. The assailants then turned their attention to the car in which Farooq's father, brother, father-in-law and others were seated and opened fire. Three of them were injured and taken to a hospital.
Mr. Saad Farooq was an active member of the Karachi Ahmadi community. Recently married he leaves behind a grieving widow. He was 26 years-of-age.
A few weeks earlier on October 4, Khawaja Zahur Ahmad (64), was shot dead near his home in Satellite Town. The bullet struck him below the right ear. Friends and neighbours rushed him to the hospital but he died en route. A few months prior to Ahmad's assassination religious extremists had gathered outside his home shouting slogans. Ahmad was a peaceful and respectable citizen and had no dispute with anyone. He was killed only for his faith.
Mr. Riaz Ahmad Basra was shot dead in Ghatialian, District Sialkot on October 18. Raja Abdul Hamid Khan and Mr. Bashir Ahmad were killed in Baldia Town four days later, on October 23 and the list goes on and on and on. These were targeted killings of Ahmadis.
On August 20 in Ghatialian, the police registered a case against four Ahmadis after they received the complaint of a mulla, Qari Afzal. The reason behind the complaint was that they had hurt his feelings and intimidated him. Those named in the case were Mr. Naeem Ahmad, Mr. Gulfam Naeem, Mr. Ahsan Ramzan and Mr. Shahid Abdullah. Interestingly, three of the accused were not even present at the time of the alleged incident which would appear to indicate that it was a fabricated charge. At the initial hearing temporary bail was obtained for them. However, on October 15, the Additional Session Judge of Pasroor changed the applied penal code in the case with PPC 298-C, an anti-Ahmadiyya clause, and rejected the temporary bail. The police arrested all the accused and sent them to jail until a new bail application was moved in the Magistrate's Court which was granted on October 23. The accused still face trial.
Anti Ahmadiyya activities are nothing new but incidents have risen steeply in District Hafizabad with the desecration of an Ahmadiyya graveyard by the police. This was done on the instructions of a group of mullas. The police officials urged the Ahmadis to commit the desecration themselves and when they refused a group of men went to the cemetery and erased Islamic inscriptions from the gravestones.
The problems for the Ahmadis started with the amendment to the Constitution in 1973 during the reign of Zulfika Ali Bhutto which declared them as 'non-Muslim'. However, it was during the regime of General Zia Ul Haq that they were truly disenfranchised. Ahmadis were denied the right to declare themselves as Muslim. They were not allowed to build mosques similar to those of the Muslims. They could not write or inscribe Quranic verses on their walls of their mosques. And as mentioned earlier, even inscribing Quranic verses on their gravestones left them open to attack by religious zealots.
Sadly the sectarian prejudice against Ahmadis even extends to their right to education; another area in which the government has failed miserably to live up to its responsibilities.
Ms Afshan Malik was a student in the Government Degree College for Women, Gulshane Ravi, Lahore. Ms. Malik participated in the Natiya (poems in the honour of the Holy Prophet PBUH) competition in the Punjab Youth Festival. The Chief Minister of the Punjab, who was present at the event liked her recital so much that he asked to recite another Naat while the results was being compiled. She did so and was loudly applauded by the audience. She was awarded the first prize and a trophy.
After a few days her rivals came to that the two Naats she recited were written by the Ahmadi elders and started to harass her in the college. They tried even get a police case registered against her and when the situation became serious she had to discontinue her studies. Later, for their safety the entire family had to shift their residence.
Once again the question begs to be asked: where is the religious freedom that Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar spoke of in her address to the United Nations at the Universal Periodic Review? Now that Pakistan has been reelected to the Human Rights Council this must be the time for the government of President Asif Ali Zardari to live up, not only to the pledges it made to the UN four years ago but more importantly, to the wording in the country's Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion for all.
*Stewart Sloan may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and welcomes feedback and suggestions for future articles on the religious minorities of Pakistan.