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Four Ahmadi school children and an adult remain incarcerated twelve weeks after arrest on a faux charge of blasphemy
The police registered an FIR against four school-going Ahmadi children and an adult on a false accusation of blasphemy and arrested them in the last week of January this year in District Layyah, the Punjab. They were accused of writing the name ‘Muhammad’ on the toilet walls of the local mosque. Despite the fact that no incriminating evidence is available the accused are still behind bars more than 12 weeks after their arrest. They are being detained on ‘judicial remand’. On every court appearance the remand is extended by the judge on request of the police. It is not known when these innocent will be set free. In the meantime, those who seriously threatened law and order and disturbed communal peace remain free and content gloating at their easy victory over the authorities in forcing them to incarcerate Ahmadi children sans evidence. This case was earlier reported in our dispatch dated February 2, 2009. Update in essential detail of this important case is presented for necessary action.
This ‘blasphemy’ case is a serious one in that it carries death as penalty, and also because boys of tender age have been implicated this time. These accused were arrested in district Layyah and later transported to a prison in the distant city of DG Khan. That has made it very difficult for the parents to see the children for the much needed parental support. The school administration, rather callously, discharged one boy, Muhammad Irfan from the school. The others were due to appear in their important Matriculation examination on which depends the educational and professional career of the youth. They had to prepare for it and take the test (in) the prison. Last month it was learnt that the four children were kept in one cell and the adult Mr. Mobashir Ahmad who could have been a source of support to them was incarcerated in another cell. Apart from the fortnightly meeting, they were not allowed to meet and none of them was allowed to come out of the cell for daily respite as a routine facility. There are no fans. Living conditions are very unhygienic. Mr. Mobashir Ahmad’s health is fragile; he is asthmatic. None of the accused has any previous experience of being involved in a police case. The children are at risk of long-term damage to their mental and physical health. The state is keeping them in prison simply because it finds that more convenient.
It is noteworthy that the two men who were the prime-movers of the false accusation belong to the extremist religious body, Jamaat ud Da’wa (JD) banned by the UN for promoting terrorism. The Aalami Majlis Tahaffuz Khatme Nabuwwat, the cover organization of mullas who promote their national and international political agenda these days in the garb of End of Prophethood, strove hard to raise communal tensions in the weeks following the incident. Saqlain Shah, the local MNA (PML-N) provided the political support to the agitation. Sarwat Nadeem, a provincial minister of Baluchistan, came all the way from Quetta to share the political spoils of a tense communal situation. It is material to the case that the local leadership who were aware of the reality did not support the charge. These included the Imam of the concerned mosque, the village head (Numberdar) and the Naib Nazim. As such rabble-rousers, self-styled Ghulaman-e-Rasul Punjab issued a leaflet with the following demand: “… The arrested Qadianis should be given death sentence forthwith. The Imam of the local mosque of Chak No. 172 should be immediately arrested and those who are in favor of disregarding the incident and dropping the case should be interrogated. If the local administration, the DPO and senior officials do not take action against the Imam, the people, motivated by religious zeal, will have to take action by themselves against the Imam”. One may ask: Who is ruling – the authorities or the mob?
Various human rights organizations, national as well as international took due notice of this important case and demanded that the accused should be set free. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), as early as January 30, 2009 issued a statement and titled it: Pakistan: Four children and one man have been arbitrarily arrested and charged with blasphemy at the request of Muslim radicals. It ended: The AHRC urges the government of President Asif Zardari to immediately release the illegally detained prisoners. Instead they should turn their attention to the dependence of Punjab Police on fundamentalist Islamic groups and the implementation of the rule of law in the province, including the amendment in the blasphemy law made by the parliament.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan sent its own fact-finding mission to District Layyah and rendered its report. Excerpts;
In a press release on February 12, 2009, Ms Asma Jahangir, Chairperson of the HRCP demanded of the government: “The Commission demands a transparent and fair inquiry in this incident so that innocent persons do not become targets of injustice. The Commission further demands that the government must ensure the members of the Ahmadiyya faith do not feel insecure in that area and they are not harassed. The Commission appeals to the government to take appropriate steps to stop misuse of the blasphemy law.”
This incident sent a wave of concern in many capitals of the world. For instance, a number of members of the US Congress wrote to the US State Department on the subject. In Europe, a question regarding this incident was tabled in European Union Council and Commission by a Swedish MEP. The Canadian High Commission carried out its own inquiry of the case and the High Commissioner wrote a letter to the Governor of Punjab conveying his concern. The Hong Kong-based AHRC put the question bluntly: “At this juncture the AHRC would like to question who Pakistan police are meant to serve: a few civilian religious groups with little regard for the law, and an agenda of violent persecution? Or do they serve the rule of law and the people of Pakistan? Their actions and admissions in this case point to the former.” The accused are considering making an appeal to the relevant office of the United Nations.
On April 8, 2009 Mr. Masood Ahmad, Advocate sent a Fax message to the President of Pakistan (Mr. Asif Zardari) with a copy to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Chief Minister Punjab (Mian Shahbaz Sharif) and other concerned federal and provincial authorities requesting the release of the accused. Nothing has happened – as yet.
The prestigious daily Dawn got it right when it editorialized on March 4, 2009:
In Layyah, the government of the Punjab is unwittingly breading and nourishing its mullas Fazalullah. Will the consequences be any different than in Swat? No; there is indeed urgent need to wake-up.
Ref: The police registered the case with FIR No 46/09 at Police Station Kot Sultan District Layyah, on 28 Jan 09 under PPC 295C.