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Home Critical Analysis/Archives Persecution of the Ahmadiyya …
Persecution Of The Ahmadiyya Community In Pakistan: An Analysis Under International Law
I. INTRODUCTION

Before September 11, 2001, the United States characterized the Pakistani government as an unstable regime with a tarnished history of corrupt dictators, military coups, and territorial violence along its borders. *1 Following the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States, Pakistan became a leading partner in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, thrust into a position to bring “international criminals” to justice and to act as a hero for the “civilized” world. *2 Indeed, one of the lessons of September 11 is that exigencies often spur credulity. U.S. concerns with Pakistan's human rights problems lost significance once Pakistan agreed to stand with the United States against terrorism.

Pakistan's leaders saw September 11 as an opportunity to gain redemption. Blasted in the past for conducting nuclear testing, suspending its Constitution, and breeding Islamists, Pakistan, post-September 11, was in an excellent position to curry favor with its critics by suffocating terrorist networks. Seizing upon this opportunity, President Pervez Musharraf led a fight against militant Islam. This shift in Pakistan's priorities resulted in a decrease in attention paid to the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan, once a recognized problem of serious international concern. *3 The two issues of human rights and terrorism were treated as unconnected, without the slightest suggestion that addressing the former would be helpful in addressing the latter.

The problem of Pakistan's treatment of its religious minorities once again merits consideration. Pakistan's Penal Code carries specific provisions criminalizing behavior considered blasphemous to Islam. Apart from stifling religious freedom for non-Muslims, these provisions also target a particular group of minority Muslims that the Sunni Muslim majority deems heretical to Islam, namely members of the Ahmadiyya Community, a Muslim group of roughly four million adherents in Pakistan that has always considered itself as belonging to the Muslim ummah (or larger “community of Muslims”). The fundamental difference between Ahmadis and the Sunni Muslim majority concerns the identity of the Promised Messiah, the reformer that the Prophet Muhammad foretold would appear after him. *4 Doctrinal interpretations peculiar to Ahmadis were deemed sufficient to place them outside the pale of Islam by the religious orthodoxy.*5

For over five decades, Ahmadis have endured senseless persecution. Their mosques have been burned, their graves desecrated, and their very existence criminalized. According to a 2002 United States State Department report, since 1999 316 Ahmadis have been formally charged in criminal cases (including blasphemy) owing to their religion. *6 Between 1999 - 2001, at least twenty-four Ahmadis were charged with blasphemy; if convicted, they could be sentenced to life imprisonment or death. *7 The offenses charged included wearing an Islamic slogan on a shirt, planning to build an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore, and distributing Ahmadi literature in a public square. *8

Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, and yet their persecution is wholly legal, even encouraged, by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and its leadership. As a result, thousands of Ahmadis have fled the country to seek asylum abroad. Recognizing the pervasiveness of the problem and the pressing need for action, the United States House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan resolution in February 2002 urging Pakistan to repeal both the anti-blasphemy provisions in its Penal Code as well as the second amendment in its constitution, which declares Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. *9

This Article undertakes a legal analysis of the problem of persecution towards religious minorities in Pakistan. Surveying the rise of religious persecution towards the Ahmadiyya Community--including its gradual legalization--this Article makes a positive case for the repeal of the anti-blasphemy provisions in Pakistan's Penal Code. Part II explores the background and history of the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan with emphasis on the legal entrenchment of the anti-blasphemy provisions in Pakistan's Penal Code. Special emphasis is placed on Pakistan's state practice with respect to the protection of religious minorities, illustrating the striking slide from its initial high regard for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to its current defiance of emerging international norms with respect to religious liberty. Parts III and IV survey the way in which Pakistan's anti-blasphemy provisions violate both international law and prevailing international norms of religious liberty. Part V puts forth the competing policy paradigms for and against the repeal of the anti-blasphemy provisions. Finally, Part VI concludes with recommendations on how best to synthesize the policy paradigms and present a solution that is viable to both Pakistani and U.S. interests.

Two main issues underlie the following analysis: (1) whether Pakistan has violated international covenants and customary law in promulgating the anti-blasphemy provisions in its Penal Code; and (2) whether the international community can intervene on behalf of Ahmadis in Pakistan, given that the majority of Pakistan's people seem to favor the anti-blasphemy provisions currently in place. This Article concludes that both questions can be answered in the affirmative, and that addressing the situation of the Ahmadis through international law can enable the United States and other Western democracies to uproot militant Islam in Pakistan more effectively.


1
See, e.g., H.D.S. Greenway, Court India, But Don't Ignore Pakistan, THE BOSTON GLOBE, Sept. 10, 2001, at A15. Greenway writes: “Pakistan was, and is, in the U.S. doghouse for not restoring democracy, which ended in a military coup in 1999.”
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2
See, e.g., Mansoor Ijaz, Given Cover, Pakistan Can Prove Helpful, LOS ANGELES TIMES, Sept. 19, 2001, at B11. Ijaz writes: “Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, rightly has chosen to stand on the side of civilization in what will soon become a global campaign against zealotry.”
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3
See, e.g., Editorial, Pakistan's Cruel Blasphemy Law, N.Y. TIMES, Aug. 30, 2001, at A20. That a leading American newspaper's scrutiny of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan came but eleven days prior to September 11 illustrates the dramatic de-emphasis of Pakistan's problems after September 11.
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4
See M. Nadeem Ahmad Siddiq, “Enforced Apostasy: Zaheerudin v. State and the Official Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan”, 14 LAW AND INEQ. 275, 279. (1995). Siddiq notes that, fundamentally, Ahmadis fall within the pale of Islam. They are followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India, who claimed to be the same Messiah foretold by Prophet Muhammad and awaited eagerly by all Muslims. The Ahmadiyya Community meant to revive the “true spirit” and message of the Islam Muhammad effectuated, relieving it from all misconstrued or superstitious teachings that tainted Islam for fourteen centuries. The orthodox Muslims claim that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had proclaimed himself as a prophet, thereby rejecting a fundamental tenet of Islam: Khatem-e-Nabuwat (a belief in the “finality of Prophet Muhammad”). Ahmadis respond that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad came to illumine Islam in its pristine beauty and to reform its tainted image, as predicted by Prophet Muhammad; for Ahmad and his followers, the Arabic Khatem-e-Nabuwat does not refer to the finality of prophethood in a literal sense, that is, to prophethood's chronological cessation, but rather to its culmination and exemplification in Prophet Muhammad.
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5
See LEONARD BINDER, RELIGION AND POLITICS IN PAKISTAN 261 (1961).
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6
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, Annual Report on International Religious Freedom: Pakistan, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2002/14026.htm External Link - Opens new browser window (Oct. 7, 2002).
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7
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Pakistan, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/sa/8237.htm External Link - Opens new browser window (Mar. 4, 2002); Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, Annual Report on International Religious Freedom: Pakistan, http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/irf/irf_rpt/irf_pakistan.html External Link - Opens new browser window (Sept. 5, 2000).
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8
The persecution of Ahmadis is part of the widespread mistreatment of religious minorities in Pakistan under anti-blasphemy laws. Christians, for example, are also subject to severe religious persecution. A telling case concerns Ayub Masih, a Christian jailed for making favorable comments about Salman Rushdie, the author of the controversial Satanic Verses. A Pakistani court sentenced him to death on April 27, 1998, a year after he survived an attempt on his life during trial. The case was on appeal to the Lahore High Court when Masih's chief defender, Roman Catholic Bishop John Joseph, committed suicide outside the courtroom to protest Masih's death sentence. His act sent shockwaves through the minority Christian community across Pakistan, which protested violently against the Blasphemy Law immediately thereafter. See Dexter Filkins, Pakistan's Blasphemy Law Under Heightened Scrutiny, L.A. TIMES, May 9, 1998, at A1.
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9
H.R.J. Res. 348, 107th Cong. (2002).
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