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2. The Position of Ahmadis in Pakistan
This section has been included because a number of sources emphasised that an understanding of the social and political context in which Ahmadis live in Pakistan is required before the situation in Rabwah can be understood. The remainder of this report should therefore be considered against the background presented in this section. Evidence presented to the mission regarding the role of Khatme Nabuwwat, together with the function of the blasphemy laws and First Information Reports (FIRs) is also presented in this section.
2.1 Social and political environment
The mission heard several accounts of how popular sentiment in Pakistan has become increasingly hostile to Ahmadis. The Senior Government Advisor explained how the population of Pakistan has become sensitised to Ahmadis since a spate of anti-Ahmadi violence in 1953. He explained how Islamic groups politicised anti-Ahmadi feeling, characterising the Ahmadi view of jihad (as a call for dialogue rather taking up arms) as evidence that the Ahmadis are a group created by the colonial British to allow Islam to be conquered, and painting the Ahmadi recognition of a more recent Prophet than Mohammed as a tactic of the British to marginalise or divide Muslims and thus sustain the British empire. In this way the religious and political have gradually been conflated, climaxing in the 1974 (political) declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims following a further outbreak of anti-Ahmadi violence. For the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) severe discrimination against the Ahmadis started with the 1974 declaration and the situation has been deteriorating ever since.
The HRCP note that there is a class or economic element motivating this treatment of Ahmadis, pointing out that the Hindu community, who belong to a low economic class, receives relatively little popular attention and low levels of discrimination. The Ahmadis, however, tend to be an educated and successful community whose members have historically risen to important positions in government and civil society. Today, Ahmadis are prevented from accessing senior employment in state defence or civil institutions. Faiz ur Rehman (President of Amnesty International Pakistan) described the situation in similar terms: prior to 1974 there had been a large number of Ahmadis in senior positions in the Pakistan administration. This is now no longer the case: there are no Ahmadi policy makers, judges, or educationalists.
The Senior Government Advisor explained that in the large areas of Pakistan where literacy is low, people’s understanding of unfamiliar issues (such as Ahmadis) is determined by what they hear in the Mosque. Faiz ur Rehman made a similar point, noting that in small towns literacy is often poor, providing the Mullahs with an uncritical audience. In such areas, the Mullah has the power to tell the population how to behave — characterised as being ‘for the good of their eternal souls’ — and the people are likely to comply. The Senior Government Advisor also explained that the fundamentalists are effective at using the media and have always been adept at capturing the public sphere. The result is that large sections of the population have been made fearful of Islamophobia and of becoming a minority similar to the Muslim community in India. The HRCP and British High Commission (BHC) also noted the role played by the media. The HRCP described the vernacular press as having become virulently anti-Ahmadi. State television contains broadcasts of anti-Ahmadi rhetoric, including phrases such as ‘Ahmadis deserve to die.’ Even in the traditionally liberal English language press religious freedom is becoming harder to defend as journalists increasingly fear attack if they defend Ahmadis. The BHC stated that public opinion on Ahmadis, encouraged by the vernacular press, is conservative. Whilst Christian rights may be upheld in the press, Ahmadi rights are not. The effect is that most people have accepted the proposition that Ahmadis are non-Muslim and this is as far as they take the issue. However, others use the discrimination as an opportunity for personal or political gain.
The HRCP stated that the situation faced by Ahmadis today is very poor, and becoming worse as each year passes. In a country where sectarianism is on the increase, the Ahmadis were described by HRCP as being in the worst case scenario: the official policy on religion leaves the group extremely vulnerable. The threat to Ahmadis varies from place to place: in some villages Ahmadis are able to live safely, whilst in others they have been driven out. The reports of violence fluctuate each year but the overall trend of violence against Ahmadis is worsening. Asma Jahangir, Chairperson of the HRCP and UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom or Belief summarised the situation: ‘even if a fly is killed it is the Ahmadis fault and the Jews are behind it.’ The atmosphere of intolerance towards Ahmadis — in which the perpetrators of violence against them are painted as the injured parties — is increasing, and is being indirectly nurtured by the government who do not defend Ahmadis. Three years ago a member of the judiciary or government would have spoken out against violence or stepped in to defend Ahmadis against attacks in the press, but this is no longer the case. The HRCP highlighted two prominent examples: first, the Prime Minister has publicly declared that he is not an Ahmadi after his opponents used this accusation against him; and second, during a debate aired on state television in which a government minister participated it was stated that Ahmadis ‘deserve to be killed’. The minister did not challenge the comment and no prosecution has been brought. The HRCP expressed the view that through not challenging such statements the state is effectively providing extremists with a licence to promote intolerance and abuse.
The BHC characterised the current political climate as one in which President Musharraf’s declared approach of ‘enlightened moderation’ is in the balance, with a battle being fought between modernisers and extremists. The current attempts to reform the Hudood ordinances are an example of this. The reforms have turned into a contest between Musharraf’s attempts to reverse President Zia’s legacy, and the conservative leadership who believe they can rely on the Mullahs to bring the population to the street to prevent reform. It is notable that Musharraf’s own party convened a meeting to undermine the Hudood reforms once the President had left Pakistan. It is in this context that religious reforms must be seen: the BHC believes that Musharraf and the Prime Minister have done much to promote religious tolerance. However, on the ground little has changed. The use of religion to gain advantage continues and Musharraf’s attempt to prevent abuse of the blasphemy laws has had little impact in reality (see ‘Blasphemy Laws and FIRs’, below). The BHC noted that even within this context the Ahmadi issue is different as public opinion has become set against the Ahmadis. The sensitivity of Ahmadi identity is such that Ahmadis face social isolation. In Mr Rehman’s view the Ahmadis are the most repressed community in Pakistan. Whilst the Christian community face problems, they have profile and support in Pakistan. No-one is exerting pressure on behalf of the Ahmadis.
The BHC also noted that there is under-reporting of Ahmadi persecution, making it difficult to make an accurate assessment of the frequency of attacks against Ahmadis; however, the BHC consider the problems faced by Ahmadis to be a serious issue. The Pakistan government has done little to alleviate the problems faced by Ahmadis: it would be ‘political suicide’ to deal with the Ahmadi problem directly and politicians will not use the example of the Ahmadis to make the case for religious tolerance. The Senior Government Advisor draws a similar conclusion: it is now beyond the power of government to reverse the situation for Ahmadis. Over time the religious political parties have gained in strength, sensitising the population to the status of Ahmadis to the point where ‘the common man can be incited and brought to the street’ against Ahmadis. The Senior Government Advisor believes that changes in the law will not be sufficient to change the view of the population: there must be a change in the views held in society first. However, whilst extremism is limited to certain groups, no one dares to speak freely about religious issues. Even the most open and secular political parties are not prepared to challenge the public perception of Ahmadis for fear of losing credibility and standing in the eyes of the public. The result is that there is no party or institution prepared to lead the debate on Ahmadis in Pakistan and therefore a change in public attitude is not anticipated in the near future.
2.2 The role of Khatme Nabuwwat (Committee to Secure the Finality of Prophethood)
The mission had been made aware of the significance of Khatme Nabuwwat prior to travelling to Pakistan through reports such as the UK Home Office’s Pakistan Country of Origin Information Report, in which it is reported that Khatme Nabuwwat ‘have called for the banning of the Ahmadi movement and the killing of Ahmadis.’5 In Pakistan, the mission were informed by the Ahmadi Community Representatives that the main perpetrators of attacks on Ahmadis and on property in Rabwah are members or supporters of Khatme Nabuwwat. Faiz ur Rehman, President of Amnesty International Pakistan, noted that Khatme Nabuwwat are present in Rabwah and are repeatedly in the news for, for example, inciting violence, attacking the library or picking up people from Rabwah and passing them to the police. Mr Rehman explained that through his work with Amnesty International he knew that Khatme Nabuwwat in particular are known for making telephone threats directly to judges in Ahmadi cases. The British High Commission noted that Khatme Nabuwwat are linked to many mainstream political parties and opposition leaders. The Ahmadi Community Representatives confirmed this through an example: on 5 September 2006 Hafiz Tahir Mahmud Ashrafi, Advisor to the Chief Minister of the Punjab for the Promotion of Religious Harmony, was a special guest at the Khatme Nabuwwat conference held at Sargodha.
When asked to explain the role and purpose of their organisation, members of the Islamabad Chapter of Khatme Nabuwwat informed the mission that it is Khatme Nabuwwat’s belief that no Prophet can come after Mohammed as he is the final Prophet. Anyone who claims otherwise is an infidel and their claim is false, baseless and a crime. Khatme Nabuwwat’s mission is therefore to spread understanding of the finality of the Prophet through preaching and books. The source insisted that they have mutual respect for all, including Ahmadis, as humans. However, Ahmadis should not assert themselves to be Muslim because they do not believe in the laws of the Prophet. Mullah Arshad, of the Rabwah Chapter of Khatme Nabuwwat, told the mission that the purpose of Khatme Nabuwwat is to act against those who do not accept the finality of the prophet, to contradict them and to invite them to rejoin the faith. Mullah Arshad confirmed that this role means that the focus of Khatme Nabuwwat is on Ahmadis in particular. According to Khatme Nabuwwat (Islamabad Chapter) the movement against Ahmadis started when members of the Muslim community were attacked by Ahmadis at Rabwah railway station in 1974: the source told the mission that ‘Ahmadis were terrorists, and they are terrorists today.’
Mr Rabnawaz, whom the mission met with at the Khatme Nabuwwat mosque in Rabwah, was more expansive in his explanation of Khatme Nabuwwat’s views. Repeating the accusations referred to in the historical account of anti-Ahmadi agitation communicated by the Senior Government Advisor (above), Mr Rabnawaz stated that the Ahmadi community was essentially a creation of the colonial era British Government. He claimed that the British had recognised Ahmad as a messiah out of political necessity and then had made use of the Ahmadi sect to divide Muslims. According to Mr Rabnawaz the legacy of British sponsorship is Ahmadi power in Pakistan today. This can be seen from the fact that although there are only around 125,000 Ahmadis in Pakistan, of whom about 25,000 are in Rabwah, ‘Ahmadis hold 20-30% of the power in Pakistan’, with Ahmadi bureaucrats in the administration providing support to other Ahmadis.
2.3 Blasphemy Laws and First Information Reports (FIRs)
Zia ul-Haq’s 1984 Ordinance XX introduced explicit references to Ahmadis in sections 298b and 298c of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) (see Appendix C: Copy of Ordinance No. XX of 1984 and 1986 Amendment to the section 295c of the Pakistan Penal Code). Section 298b significantly restricts Ahmadi freedom of religion and expression requiring ‘a term which may extend to three years’ and a fine for any Ahmadi
The same punishment is prescribed for any Ahmadi who ‘refers to the mode or form of call to prayers followed by his faith as ‘Azan’ or recites Azan as used by the Muslims’. 298c specifically defines Ahmadis as non-Muslims, imposing three years imprisonment and a fine on any Ahmadi who
Clauses added to the PPC in 1986 (sections 295b and 295c) make defiling the holy Qu’ran or the name of the holy Prophet subject to heavy penalties including the death penalty, life imprisonment and fines. 295c is broadly defined, including derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet by ‘imputation, innuendo, or insinuation’ (see Appendix C). In 1991, the Sharif government made the death penalty the mandatory punishment for blasphemy against the name of the Prophet. Table 1 summarises the blasphemy laws and the associated penalties.
Table 1: Summary of blasphemy laws and penalties
A First Information Report (FIR) is the process through which the police take notice of alleged transgressions of the penal code and forms the legal basis for arrest. The Ahmadi Community Representatives explained the procedure for and consequence of filing an FIR. An FIR is lodged at a police station with the Station House Officer (SHO). Where the FIR involves a cognisable offence (those the police can consider without the need for a court to investigate, including the blasphemy laws) the police have to take immediate action and arrest the person concerned. There is no time limit between the issuing of an FIR and the detention of the suspect(s), but once an arrest has taken place the police must complete their investigation within 14 days. Following arrest no legal assistance is allowed at the police station and the accused must be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours. The mission were informed that bail is refused in most blasphemy cases and only around 10% of such cases are found in favour of the accused. The order of events is significant: a case would be thrown out if the FIR is lodged after an investigation.
The Ahmadi community explained that once an individual receives bail, they are then required to appear at the case hearing approximately every month. The location of the bail hearing will depend on where the FIR has been lodged. The mission were informed by the Ahmadi Community Representatives that FIRs are being filed against them by the police and local Mullahs following the direct intervention of the Federal Government. By way of example, the mission were shown a FIR dated 15 December 1989, filed by the SHO Rabwah, which is against the entire population of Rabwah. The community has been charged under 298c and accused of practising Islamic social etiquettes and worship. This case is still pending (see Appendix B3: Police report (FIR) against the entire population of Rabwah, 15 December 1989).
The HRCP noted that changes to the law had been introduced in January 2005 in an attempt to reduce the malicious or frivolous application of the blasphemy laws. In the revised procedure, a 295c blasphemy complaint must be investigated by a senior police official before the FIR can be lodged. However, the HRCP noted that this has had little impact in reality for Ahmadi cases, as police practice is for the Station House Officer to contact his senior officer who routinely gives permission to enter the FIR.