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1.1 Background to the mission
The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam is a religious community founded in 1889 by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) in Qadian, India. He claimed that he was the ‘promised reformer’ and messiah whose advent was awaited by the followers of different religions. Ahmad drew a large following, but other Muslims have strongly rejected his claims, insisting that Muhammad was the last and final Prophet and there could be no other prophet or messiah after him. Those most opposed to the Ahmadiyya Movement reject the notion that Ahmadis are Muslims and hold followers of Ahmad to be apostates.
Following the withdrawal of the British from India in 1947, the Ahmadi community left Qadian and fled, along with many thousands of other Muslims, to what would become West Pakistan. Partly through their excellent relationship with the new Government of Pakistan, a number of Ahmadi leaders arranged to purchase 1043 acres of barren land near Chiniot, in Punjab. There the Ahmadi community members founded and developed Rabwah, which is today the administrative centre and headquarters of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. Rabwah is also seen as the alternative to their spiritual centre in Qadian and has a number of sites that are considered holy by the Ahmadi community. However, following anti-Ahmadi riots in 1953 and 1974, relations with the government deteriorated considerably, prompting the government to support the establishment of a non-Ahmadi Muslim community in the town. Today Rabwah is also home to a non-Ahmadi Mosque, Madrassa and a so-called ‘Muslim Colony’ of non-Ahmadi Muslim residents on the outskirts of the town. Khatme Nabuwwat (Committee to Secure the Finality of the Prophethood), a group with a following throughout Pakistan, are specifically opposed to the Ahmadi belief in the nineteenth century messiah and maintain a group in Rabwah centred on a mosque at the edge of the town.
Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims and believe that they observe Islamic practices. However, in 1974 Prime Minister Bhutto enacted an amendment to the constitution declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims because they do not accept Mohammed as the last prophet of Islam. In the decades following 1974 the position of Ahmadis in Pakistani law has become increasing precarious. In the 1980s, measures brought in by Zia ul-Haq to Islamicise Pakistan’s civil and criminal law affected all religious minorities but particularly Ahmadis. Ordinance XX proclaimed in 1984 amended the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) by adding sections 298b and 298c, both Ahmadi specific provisions further restricting their freedom of religion and expression. Section 298c, for example, has been referred to as the ‘anti-Ahmadi laws’ and prohibits Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslim, posing as Muslims, calling their faith Islam, preaching or propagating their faith and from insulting the religious feelings of Muslims. The so called ‘Blasphemy Laws’ in sections 295, 296, 297 and 298 of the PPC have been repeatedly condemned by international observers for severely constricting freedoms of expression, religion and opinion and for facilitating the detention of persons on vaguely defined charges of committing blasphemy or other religious offences. Clauses added to the PPC in 1986 (sections 295b and 295c) made defiling the holy Qu’ran or the name of the holy Prophet subject to heavy penalties including the death penalty, life imprisonment and fines. In 1991, the Sharif government made the death penalty the mandatory punishment for blasphemy against the name of the Prophet. 4
In 1999 the Government of Punjab officially changed the name of Rabwah (which means ‘higher level’) to Chenab Nagar (reflecting the town’s location near to the Chenab River). This move was completed against the wishes of the Ahmadi community, who continue to refer to the town as Rabwah. Rabwah is the preferred name throughout this report, although some respondents are recorded referring to the new name. Similarly, Ahmadis are referred to by some respondents as Qadianis, a term that refers back to the community’s original spiritual home in India, and is considered highly pejorative by Ahmadis. The term ‘Ahmadi’ is therefore used in this report. Official government figures place the number of Ahmadis in Pakistan at around 70,000. However, Ahmadis have boycotted or classified themselves as ‘Muslim’ in the census since 1974, the alternative being to classify themselves as ‘non-Muslim’. The government figures are therefore significantly inaccurate. The mission were given figures for the current number of Ahmadis in Pakistan of between 2 and 5 million.
The situation faced by some members of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan has prompted them to flee the country and seek asylum in the UK. In the course of deciding on the merits of these claims it has been repeatedly suggested that Ahmadis have an ‘internal flight alternative’ available to them: in short, that by moving to Rabwah, a persecuted Ahmadi would be able to gain security without leaving Pakistan. This assessment is based on the assumption that as Ahmadis form the majority community in Rabwah, the town is able to offer protection to Ahmadis suffering persecution elsewhere in Pakistan. The Parliamentary Human Rights Group identified this assumption as key to many asylum claims and sought to test its veracity. A mission to Pakistan, focussing on Rabwah and recorded in this report, was the result.
1.2 Report scope and structure
The mission focussed exclusively on issues relating to an internal flight alternative to Rabwah. This report, therefore, is only intended to provide evidence on this issue. However, in the course of the mission’s work it quickly became apparent that it is impossible to divorce the issues relating to Rabwah and internal flight from the broader social and political context within which Ahmadis survive in Pakistan. As a result some sections of this report consider the current situation faced by Ahmadis throughout Pakistan. Whilst the report is accurate in terms of having recorded the responses of a wide range of sources, it cannot and should not be considered or used as an exhaustive study of Ahmadis in Pakistan. Moreover, whilst every effort was made to consult as widely as possible in Pakistan, the mission members acknowledge and emphasise that no mission can be expected to provide a complete representation of its subject.
The remainder of this report is organised as follows. This Introduction concludes with a statement regarding the methodology employed by the mission and a list of those sources the mission consulted, or attempted to consult, whilst in Pakistan. The main body of the report commences with a review of the position of Ahmadis in Pakistan, included, as noted above, as a necessary context without which the subsequent sections cannot be understood. This section addresses how discrimination against Ahmadis has reached a point where violence can be advocated against Ahmadis without government or police censure. The particular role played by the anti-Ahmadi organisation Khatme Nabuwwat is introduced, as are the blasphemy laws and the use of First Information Reports (FIRs) to effect an arrest. Section 3 presents the evidence collected by the mission relating to the potential risk factors faced by Ahmadis in Rabwah. These consist of: the blasphemy laws; practising or expressing the Ahmadi faith; preaching by Ahmadis; threats and physical attacks; and attacks on property. Finally, section 4 considers the protection available for Ahmadis in Rabwah. Three types of protection are identified: community protection, meaning the security offered to Ahmadis as a result of living in an Ahmadi-majority town; state protection, including the effectiveness of the police and judiciary in protecting Ahmadis in Rabwah; and the social and economic conditions that define everyday life for residents of Rabwah.
No conclusions have been drawn in this report as it is the intention of the mission to provide an accurate and accessible reproduction of the evidence that it received rather than to make an assessment as to the viability of internal flight. The latter is properly the role of asylum decision makers.
The mission arrived in Pakistan on 8 October 2006 and remained in the country for eight days. The time was split between Faisalabad, where three days were spent travelling to meet sources in Rabwah and Jhang; Lahore (two days); and Islamabad (two days). The first day was spent travelling to Faisalabad from Islamabad. Most meetings had been set up in advance of travelling to the specification of the mission. Meetings with sources took the form of semi-structured interviews. The mission travelled with a set of questions under the headings: religious activities of Ahmadis; FIRs and blasphemy; protection in Rabwah; relocation to Rabwah; and life in Rabwah. These questions were used as the framework for discussions with each of the sources. All responses were recorded in written form by all members of the mission and the report was prepared from these responses in the period mid-October to mid-December 2006. Translation was provided where necessary by Salim Malik, of the Ahmadi community in the UK, and all sources were offered the option to have their responses recorded anonymously.
The mission members were Frances Allen (Barrister, 12 Old Square), Michael Ellman (Solicitor, Chair of Solicitors International Human Rights Group and Officer of the International Board of the International Federation for Human Rights - FIDH) and Dr Jonathan Ensor (Senior Research Officer, Immigration Advisory Service).
The following individuals and groups were interviewed by the mission. Additional materials were occasionally supplied by them and are referred to in the text. Copies of all these materials can be found in Appendix B. Direct quotes from sources have been identified in the body of the report by the use of quotation marks.
Senior Government Advisor. The mission interviewed a senior government advisor who is an acknowledged expert in Islamic religious issues. In order to speak freely the source requested that their name and position be withheld. The name and status of the source is known to the authors of this report.
Khatme Nabuwwat (Islamabad Chapter). The mission met with Maulana Abdul Rauf, President of Khatme Nabuwwat Islamabad Chapter, Muhammed Tyeb, Office Manager for Khatme Nabuwwat Islamabad, Mufti Abdul Rashid, Bari Abdul Rashid and Ibrahim Rashid, both Members of Khatme Nabuwwat Islamabad.
Mullah Allah yar Arshad, President of Khatme Nabuwwat in Rabwah (Mullah Arshad). Mullah Arshad has lived in Rabwah for 30 years, and has been a member of Khatme Nabuwwat since the founding of the organisation. When the mission met with Mullah Arshad the interview was interrupted by Mr Rabnawaz, who provided lengthy interjections. He is a lawyer practising in nearby Chiniot, and is president of the local forum of Khatme Nabuwwat in Chiniot.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The mission was met by Ms Asma Jahangir (Chairperson), Mr I A Rehman (Joint Director), Kamila Hyat (Joint Director), Mr Mehboob Ahmed Khan (Legal Officer) and Air-Marshall (retd) Zafar Chaudhry (former council member). The HRCP describe itself as ‘an independent, non governmental organisation registered under the law. Its main office is in Lahore. It started functioning in 1987. The highest organ of HRCP is the general body comprising all members. The general body meets at least once every year. The executive authority of the organization vests in the Council that is elected every three years. The Council elects the organization’s office-bearers - Chairperson, not more than five Vice-Chairpersons, a Secretary General and a Treasurer. No office holder in government or a political party (at the national or provincial level) can be an office-bearer of HRCP. The Council meets at least twice every year. Besides monitoring human rights violations and seeking redress through public campaigns, lobbying and intervention in courts, HRCP organizes seminars, workshops and fact-finding missions.’ (www.HRCP-web.org)
Faiz ur Rehman, President, Amnesty International Pakistan. Mr Rehman explained that he is also a member of the United Citizens Forum, a relatively new organisation of ‘prominent persons’ that aims to observe and assess the factors behind religious problems in Pakistan, and to seek solutions to those problems nationally and internationally. It is through his work with Amnesty International, which has a human rights violation focus, and his work with the United Citizens Forum, which has a religious focus, that Mr Rehman has knowledge and experience of the situation facing Ahmadis in Pakistan. He explained that his views were based on a combination of his familiarity with the situation in Pakistan, his reading of background literature and reports, and his firsthand experience as the leader of two fact finding missions investigating attacks on Ahmadis, most recently to Jhando Sahi in August 2006 (following attacks that forced the whole Ahmadi community to flee).
British High Commission Islamabad (BHC). The mission met with Peter Wilson, Political Counsellor, and Matthew Forman, Second Secretary (Political), at the British High Commission in Islamabad. At one point in the meeting, the BHC noted that in their view the comments of the HRCP usually reflect a tendency to ‘see the glass totally empty’.
Amjad J Salimi, District Police Officer, Jhang (DPO Salimi). DPO Salimi only took over at Jhang three weeks before the mission’s visit; he had previously been stationed in Baluchistan. The DPO at Jang is responsible for the police force stationed at Rabwah.
Saeed Tatla, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Rabwah (DSP Tatla). DSP Tatla had been in his role in Rabwah four months, since June 2006. He informed the mission that he had little knowledge of events in Rabwah before his arrival. DSP Tatla is one of DPO Salimi’s subordinates.
Mr. Mohamed Ibrahim, Secretary to the Mayor of Rabwah (Mr Ibrahim).
Senior members of the Ahmadi Community in Rabwah (Ahmadi Community Representatives). The mission met with several senior members of the Ahmadi Community in Rabwah Present at the meeting were: Mirza Khusheed Ahmed (Chief Executive of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan), Ch Hameedullah (Director General of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan), Mujeeb-ur-Rehman (Advocate Supreme Court), Mobashir Latif Ahmad (Advocate Supreme Court), Pervaiz Ahmad Cheema (Advocate High Court). These five community members provided the bulk of the responses. However, the following were also present at the meeting and provided additional comments: Mansoor Ahmad Khan (Director, Foreign Missions Office), Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (Director, Human Resources), Saleemudin (Director, Public Affairs), Qasim Shah (Former Director, Public Affairs), Mubarak Ahmad Tahir (Legal Advisor to the Community), Mirza Adil Ahmad (Assistant Legal Advisor), Ahmad Khalid (Human Rights Desk), Aziz Ahmad Omer (Assistant).
The mission were also offered an appointment to see a member of the Ahmadi community in Faisalabad jail, where he reportedly resides having received a life sentence under 295c of the penal code. Unfortunately time constraints prevented the mission from following up this interview.
Pakistan Ministry of the Interior rebuffed repeated requests for an interview. Requests were made in the weeks before travelling to Pakistan and whilst the mission were travelling.
Repeated attempts were made to secure an interview with the Mayor of Rabwah and three appointments were made to meet with him in his office in the Rabwah municipal building. However, the Mayor failed to attend on each occasion.