PAKISTAN: A maimed democracy that denies its citizens the right to vote

The Asian Human Rights Commission has had discussions with the leaders of the Ahmadis, a religious minority community of Islam, at Lahore, Punjab province. During these discussions it was found that they are denied access to practice their religion at local mosques and that Quranic scriptures engraved or painted on the walls of their own mosques are erased by Muslim extremists in the very presence of the police. According to Islamic law no Quranic verse may be removed however, in a country that is always ready to utilise blasphemy laws to their favour no action has been taken against either the extremists or the police.

Furthermore, during the discussion it was also revealed that being a minority community, they are denied the basic rights of the vote to elect their representatives and that under the present civil government they have been swiftly and effectively expelled from the whole electoral process.

Internationally, a democracy is defined by a government elected by the people. However, in Pakistan there is an exception to this rule in that Ahmadis on account of their faith and belief are excluded from the electoral system.

Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto in 1974, not only declared Ahmadis non-Muslim in the country’s Constitution, he also introduced a change in the electoral system and allocated a few seats to religious minorities in the general assemblies. As Ahmadis did not accept the imposed status of being a non-Muslim minority, they never availed themselves of these seats.

General Zia ul Haq, in 1985, introduced the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan imposing the system of a separate electorate. Since then elections are held in the country on the basis of separate electoral lists for different religious groups. Those who claim to be Muslims (and Ahmadis are Muslims) have to sign a certificate of faith in ‘Khatmi Nabuwwat’ (the end of Prophethood, an organisation which is exclusively working against the Ahmadis under the patronage of the state) and deny the veracity of the holy founder of the Ahmadi religion. The separate electorate system has divided the Pakistani polity into numerous entities based on religion but the worst is the case of the Ahmadis who have been forced out of their proclaimed faith and denied a fundamental civic right, damaging and maiming Pakistan’s claim to be a democracy.

Again in 2002, General Musharraf, instead of introducing a Joint Electoral System, required voters to sign a declaration concerning belief about the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophet hood of Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and those who refused to sign the certificate were to be deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters as non-Muslims.

These devious and unacceptable procedures have usurped the fundamental civic rights of Ahmadis and for decades now they cannot stand as candidates for any assembly, national, provincial or even district. Ahmadis have no representation even in the town council of their own town Rabwah where they make up 95 per cent of the population.

To hoodwink the world Community, Pakistan has now introduced a form for the registration of all voters but every applicant who ticks himself as a Muslim is made to sign a certificate printed on the back of the form declaring that he or she is not associated with the ‘Qadian’ or ‘Lahori’ group, or calls himself an Ahmadi.

This form includes a warning that a violation will be punished with imprisonment.

The irony of the matter is that Article 20 of Pakistan’s Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and Pakistan is also a signatory to the UN Charter of Human Rights, which makes it obligatory upon the government to safeguard the fundamental rights of all without any discrimination whatsoever, based on religion, faith or belief.

The UN, EU, human rights organisations and the world media urged the government of Pakistan, before the 2008 general elections, to establish a Joint Electorate Roll system free of discrimination against faith, belief, cast, race or colour.

Now that Pakistan is preparing for the next General Election, it is time to place serious pressure on the government of Pakistan to take immediate steps to demolish this inhumane discrimination against Ahmadis. For the credibility of Pakistan’s claim to democracy, it is vitally important that all discrimination in the form of declarations and orders be withdrawn and Joint Electoral Lists prepared without any reference to religion.

The right of Ahmadis to vote must be restored and candid facilities provided for the members of this minority community to participate safely and without duress as voters and candidates in the forthcoming elections.

If Pakistan will not pay heed to this call it will continue to remain a maimed democracy and an embarrassment to the respectable democracies of the world.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-100-2012
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Democracy, Freedom of religion, Minorities,