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The Tidal Wave of Persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan in Consequence of Ordinance XX of 1984
Ordinance XX, issued by President, General Zia-ul-Haq, in 1984 provides prison term of three years and unlimited fines for any Ahmadi who uses certain words of address, who calls his or her place of worship a masjid, who recites the Azan (the Muslim call to prayers), who poses himself as a Muslim or calls or refers to his faith as Islam, or preaches or propagates his faith, or invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims. It also provides for banning Ahmadi publications. Finally the Ordinance provides for its being effective notwithstanding any order or decision of any court. On 30 December 1985, when the martial law was lifted. Ordinance XX was incorporated in the Constitution of Pakistan as its Eighth Amendment. It has remained in force ever since alongwith its harmful effects.
Ordinance XX seriously violates the freedom of religion of Ahmadi Muslims. It usurps Ahmadis' human rights guaranteed by not only the Constitution of Pakistan but also the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights. It legalizes the persecution of Pakistan's own citizens. It amounts to nothing short of state-sponsored and state-managed religious terrorism, as through this Ordinance the State assumed the responsibility of imposing its abusive provisions on Ahmadis through the State institutions and agencies. The State expected and indeed urged its executive, police, judiciary and other branches to move against Ahmadis. The words of the Ordinance were carefully chosen e.g. posing as a Muslim to make the net of tyranny wide and sweeping. The Ordinance effectively created overnight highly charged anti-Ahmadiyya environment from the Khyber Pass to the Arabian Sea. Its implementation tightened the screw on its victims with every passing day. In this brief article only a mention can be made of the various forms that the persecution took. Their details, even partial, cannot be accommodated here.
In his message to the Khatme Nabuwwat Seminar at London, General Zia promised: We will Inshallah (God willing) persevere in our effort to ensure that the cancer of Qadianism is exterminated. The message was a loud and clear call to all the anti-Ahmadiyya activists at home that they could do what they liked and the government would support them. The most rabid types took to murder.
A large number of the victims had to flee from their hometowns to seek refuge elsewhere. A mission appointed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan investigated these incidents and made its Report wherein at para 8 it accused that the administration of Nankana Sahib failed in its duty to protect the Ahmadiyya Community at Nankana Sahib and adjoining villages in April. Occasionally when Ahmadis tried to defend themselves, the government moved swiftly against them and suppressed them beyond measure. At Sahiwal, when an unruly mob attacked the Ahmadiyya mosque, Mr. Naeemuddin fired at the attackers in self-defense. Later, Martial Law Court sentenced him to death as well as Mr. Ilyas Munir, a missionary of Jamaat Ahmadiyya who was not even present at the scene of the incident. Four other Ahmadis were given life terms in prison although they were not present at the mosque at the time. In Sukker, some terrorist bombed a non-Ahmadiyya mosque killing two worshippers. Rather than searching for and arresting the real culprits, the mullas accused and the police arrested seven innocent Ahmadis. A martial law court convicted two of them and awarded them death punishments. The convicted were not guilty. The international community investigated these cases and expressed grave concern over the miscarriage of justice. The UN Special Rapporteur indicated in his report that in Pakistan there are allegations of arbitrary executions and imminent risk of arbitrary executions in contravention of the right to life.
Ordinance XX was worded in such a language that all Ahmadis were and remain at risk at all times. Under these circumstances, it was impossible for Hadrat Khalifatui Masih to function as the Supreme Head of the Ahmadiyya Community from Pakistan. The Community elders urged and pleaded him to leave, to which he conditionally agreed and departed for the United Kingdom on 30 April 1984. He has not been able to come back since then despite his eagerness to return. During his absence he has been charged on 17 different counts, which if upheld, would involve sentence of life imprisonment, even death. He has lived in exile for approximately 15 years till now. The Community in Pakistan suffered under the same law. A number of them from all over Pakistan, including women and children, had to leave the country of their origin and seek shelter abroad.
Officials from the executive, police or judiciary, are generally all careerists in Pakistan. They are quick to discern what the top brass desire of them, and perform accordingly. For instance, during April/May 1985, District Magistrate of Tharparkar, R.B. Baloch, ordered the arrest of 13 Ahmadis and their detention for 30 days for wearing a Kalima badge (the Islamic creed: There is none worthy of worship except Allah; Muhammad is His prophet). The police arrested 41 Ahmadis from their mosque in Drigh Rd, Karachi on the grounds that they were likely to commit a breach of peace. The judiciary, which endeavored to uphold liberal and universal values before imposition of martial law, now towed the dictator's line. An Ahmadi from Mansehra was awarded six months' prison term for saying Islamic hello (Assalamo Alaikum) to a non-Ahmadi. Muhammad Idrees, an Ahmadi tailor from Peshawar, was sentenced to 10 years' rigorous imprisonment and 10,000 rupees fine for displaying the Kalima in his shop. After the 1993 Supreme Court decision, which justified the provisions of Ordinance XX, the courts are convicting more and more Ahmadis, and it has become much more problematic to get release on bail while awaiting trial. Likewise, Islamic Ideology Council was not to be left behind; it recommended to the Federal Government that all those who renounce Islam (i.e. Ahmadis) should be forthwith dismissed from service. The Saudi based international Rabita Alam-i-Islam i.e. World Muslim League also had its hey days in the post-Ordinance period; it worked over time to spread the anti-Ahmadiyya propaganda in all the Islamic countries. It was provided liberally with money from oil-rich states to carry on the venomous propaganda. At home, the government of Pakistan tasked its numerous security and intelligence agencies to keep Ahmadis constantly under surveillance. When there was nothing to report, they fabricated stories.
Ahmadis could forego anything but not their faith. They decided to peacefully defy the State in this field. Many of them took to wearing the Kalima (the Islamic creed) badges on their shirts and jackets. Authorities came down upon them with a heavy hand, and many were put behind bars. Mullas objected to Ahmadis wearing rings with anything Islamic embossed upon them. In 1991, an Ahmadi was convicted to 3 years' imprisonment for wearing a silver ring with inscription of a Quranic verse on it. They even insisted that Ahmadis drop Muhammad from their names. It happened in 1985 that two Ahmadi boys, Muhammad Ahsan and Muhammad Daud were refused admission in a school for failing to comply with this demand. Clerics also objected to Ahmadis saying Eid prayers and offering animal sacrifices on Eid-ul-Adha. Ninety Ahmadis including children were arrested in Mardan Mosque on Eid festival when they had assembled there to offer prayers. What a present from the State to its citizens on a day of festivity!
When Ms Karen Parker of Human Rights Inc. met General Zia in 1986, he told her: Ahmadis offend me because they consider themselves Muslims…… Ordinance XX may violate Human Rights but I don't care. As his successors, the latter governments continued to commit grievous excesses against the Ahmadiyya Community. In 1989, the Community made elaborate arrangements to celebrate its Centenary. The District Magistrate, following his superiors' orders, prohibited all the ceremonies at Rabwah and issued formal orders that even decorative gates were not to be erected, nor buildings illuminated, nor sweets distributed. Another trend that was encouraged was to involve Ahmadis enmasse in religious criminal cases. This way, large numbers could be victimized by minimum effort. It became normal to implicate six, ten or fifteen Ahmadis per case for violation of the Ordinance. This practice reached its peak in absurdity when the entire Ahmadi population of Rabwah town was booked for violation of PPC 298-C on 15 December 1989 in Case NR 367 of Rabwah Police Station (Police FIR is placed at Annex IV).
The mulla was not satisfied with only three years' prison term provided by the Ordinance XX. Blood thirsty as he is, he demanded a legislation which would prescribe death. The government came up with the answer in the so-called Blasphemy Law, the PPC 295-C. Anyone who was guilty of defiling the name of the Holy Prophet of Islam was to suffer death or life imprisonment. It was left to Mullas, the government and the courts to adjudge defiling. Later on, by a decision of the Federal Shariat Court, only Death could be awarded and nothing short of death. Since the promulgation of this law, 189 Ahmadis have been falsely charged for Blasphemy, an act Ahmadi Muslims would not dream of committing. Three Ahmadis of Sheikhupura have been condemned to life in prison on this count. Even the Supreme Head of the Community is facing this accusation. According to the official judicial opinion, an Ahmadi, simply by showing commitment to the Islamic creed and epithets, defiles the name of the Holy Prophet (1993 Supreme Court MR 1778). The arrogance of majority perhaps never reached that high anywhere in the world of judiciary.
Ahmadiyya Mosques are another prime target of this Ordinance. Perhaps never before in history, as many mosques were desecrated by Muslims in an Islamic country. Nine mosques were demolished, eight set on fire, fifteen sealed by the authorities and seven were forcibly occupied. Many more mosques, that were under construction, were barred by opponents to be completed. Worshippers were also fired upon when praying therein. Desecration of a place of worship is the highest form of provocation against any religious group; Ahmadis were provoked repeatedly; however, on the whole they kept their calm and suffered silently but deeply, complaining only to God against the transgression and tyranny of the State and the society.
After the promulgation of the notorious Ordinance, Ahmadiyya freedom of press and publications was severely curtailed. The daily newspaper, Alfazl, was shut down from December 12, 1984 when its press was sealed. Prior to this, it was heavily censored. Most issues simply received prohibition orders reading entire contents. According to the Daily Jang (Karachi), September 18, 1986, the government set up a Committee to review all publications of Ahmadis. Monthly publications of Ahmadi women's and youth groups were also banned. Many periodicals were frequently proscribed. A number of books were banned, including translations of the Holy Quran. The daily Alfazl, which had been published regularly for the preceding 80 years, remained banned for four years; it did not see the light of the day again until 1988. Even now, it is not allowed to print any direct references to the Quran or to Islamic teachings, and is forbidden to use simple phrases like Amen and Inshaallah (God willing). The editor, publisher and the printer of Alfazl are facing criminal charges on various courts in 40, 26, and 92 cases respectively. At one occasion, they were arrested and kept in prison for one month before they were released on bail. If some of the accusations are upheld by a court, they would be awarded death sentences.
The state policy to suppress the Ahmadi Muslim Community in Pakistan was implemented vigorously in the field of education as well. Ahmadi students as well teachers and professors were targeted. Students have been made to face discrimination, isolation, deprivation, violence and even murder. They were denied admission in professional colleges and institutes of higher learning and specializations. On petty pretexts they were expelled from colleges. Hostel facilities were denied to them for their faith. This disheartened at least a section of the Ahmadi youth who now show a declining interest in the pursuit of higher studies. The first-rate Ahmadiyya educational complex at Rabwah was taken over by the state, and its excellent academic environment was all but destroyed after 1984. Ahmadi teachers and lecturers have also had their share of persecution. They were made to suffer remote postings, denial of appropriate appointments, social boycott and discrimination. On the whole, Ahmadis have had a very rough ride in the field of education during the past 25 years in Pakistan. Almost a whole generation has suffered, and damage has been done.
The Anti-Ahmadiyya lobby campaigned hard to close the job market to Ahmadis. As the state is by far the largest employer in the country, there was no problem for the oppressors in this sector (Annex X). Ahmadis who were already in service had their promotions restricted. Many of them faced discrimination and hardship, so they departed or were eased out. New recruits in civil and military academies were told to simply go home. Even ordinary appointments in various government departments were declared key posts, and were on that basis denied to Ahmadis. Fresh induction was brought down to a trickle. In 1989, the Chief Minister of the Punjab, in reply to a question, informed the Provincial Assembly: Only 12 Ahmadis were given appointments, as clerks and peons only, during 13 years period commencing from July 1977 to the end of November 1989. In the private sector, the situation was only marginally better as mullas formed pressure groups in almost all businesses, big and small, where Ahmadis were found, and made their stay impossible. A great majority, accordingly, lost their jobs. According to a reliable but unwritten report, Mr. Bhutto once remarked: I'll make sure that Qadianis are left with nothing but a begging bowl. He and his successive regimes cannot be blamed for any lack of effort.
The commitment of the State and the Mulla to their anti-Ahmadiyya stance was total and remains so. They planned meticulously and implemented maliciously, leaving nothing to chance. They wanted Ahmadis to have no representation and no say in any elective body, big or small. In 1978, General Zia ordered that thenceforth Muslims and non-Muslims would form separate electorates. After the promulgation of Ordinance XX, it was ruled that Ahmadis could vote only as non-Muslims. He knew very well that Ahmadis could never accept this condition. Therefore, Ahmadis have been effectively disenfranchised, although a few seats have been allocated to them in some Assemblies, which they do not avail. They have no representation even in the town council of Rabwah where they form 95 percent of the population.
Governments that followed General Zia have found it politically convenient and desirable to maintain the religious provisions of the Constitution and Law, promulgated by the dictator. In order to win support of Islamists, they have in fact added upon the religious content of the State structure. The Blasphemy Law and the Ahmadi-specific laws have been retained, and these continue to provide legal cover to one and all who undertake to suppress and persecute Ahmadis for any reason or for no reason. In fact, the installation of Mr. Rafiq Tarar as President (Annex XI) and the introduction of the Sharia Bill in the National Assembly in 1998 are symptomatic of serious escalation of the so-called Islamisation process. This process has done no good to Pakistan till now; however, its harm is obvious and its impact is felt all over the country. It is a clumsy and immoral disposition to exploit religion for the sake of politics. Pakistani intelligentsia, foreign observers and international organizations like the UN, Amnesty International and other NGOs have repeatedly advised the authorities in Pakistan about the negative impact of religious laws on Pakistani society, but unfortunately no government has taken any serious or effective measures to reverse this futile and harmful regression.
What the Ahmadis of Pakistan have experienced in the past fifteen years is in the great tradition of the Meccan period of the Holy Prophet and his followers' life. If anyone would like to understand precisely how the early Christians suffered during the reigns of emperors, Roman Severus, Maximinus and Diocletian he should study the events of Ahmadiyya recent history. Ahmadis hope, in fact they are confident, that the history will repeat itself not only in the realm of tyranny against the weak but also in the eventual victory of Messiah over Caesar.