PAKISTAN: Ahmadis target of religious expediency once again

A new wave of attacks on religious minority groups has gripped the country after the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Punjab’s former governor, for alleged blasphemy. Qadri was executed on February 29, and countrywide protests began simultaneously.

On the day of Qadri’s burial, March 1, Qamar Ul Zia, a young Ahmadi businessman was stabbed to death outside his house in Kot Abdul Malik, Sheikhupura, Punjab province, in a religiously motivated attack. He was bringing his children back home from school when two unknown assailants pounced on him with knives in broad daylight. He received multiple wounds and died on the spot. The deceased was the only breadwinner in his family, and is survived by his widow, son, and two daughters.

Qamar Ul Zia ran a mobile phone business from his home and faced hostility for being an Ahmadi for quite some time. In 2012 he was harassed by opponents of the community, after which he lodged a complaint at the Factory Area Police Station in August, and was forced to leave his home for a short while. Instead of protecting his rights, the police, under pressure from certain religious groups, removed the inscription ‘Muhammad Ali’ (the name of his father) from the door of his house, as well as other Islamic inscriptions like “Masha’Allah”. He was also beaten for being an Ahmadi in 2014.

Over 400 Ahmadis have been murdered in Pakistan for their faith and belief. The hate campaign against Ahmadis continues unabated. Anti-Ahmadi literature is freely distributed throughout the country. According to the government’s 2015 National Action Plan, established to crack down on terrorism, those responsible for inciting hatred will be dealt with accordingly, and action will be taken against newspapers and magazines contributing to the spread of such speech. This does not appear to be the case when it comes to anti-Ahmadi sentiment and literature however. The murder of Qamar Ul Zia is clear evidence of the failure of Pakistani authorities in protecting innocent Ahmadis. If those who had been agitating against Qamar had been dealt with earlier, his death could have been avoided.

Backlash from Muslim political and religious groups was expected after Qadri’s execution, and the immediate target will be the religious minorities, particularly the Ahmadi community, who are seen as blasphemers. Without government protection, it is likely that incidents of violence will increase, as the protesters vow to take revenge for Qadri’s execution.

The state is obligated under Article 36 of the Constitution of Pakistan to ensure the safety and security of the vulnerable religious minority groups. Additionally, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by Pakistan, guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of worship and freedom of opinion without interference. It also forbids any advocacy of religious hatred. Any laws or policies that abridges the freedom of religion is thus in violation of and in contradiction to Pakistan’s international commitments.