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Congressional Human Rights Caucus
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto
Dear Mrs. Prime Minister:
As members of the United States Congress, we would like to congratulate you on your recent electoral victory. We appreciate the time and consideration you have given to working with us on human rights issues in the past and we are looking forward to continuing that relationship in the future. We are writing to express our deep concern about recent events in Pakistan that restrict the right of religious freedom. We are concerned that recent changes made to civil and criminal law undermine the ability of religious minorities in Pakistan to worship freely.
We understand that the Supreme Court recently decided to uphold the constitutionality of Ordinance 20 (the Anti-Islamic Activities of Qadiani, Lahori Group and Ahmadiya Ordinance which makes it a criminal offence for Ahmadiya Muslims to practice or preach their faith). The Appeals Court ruled that Article 20 of Pakistan's Constitution, guaranteeing the right of freedom of religion, was not enforceable. We are told that the Supreme Court judges argued that the Ahmadiya may not refer to the call of prayers as Azan or recite Azan as used by the Muslims; may not describe themselves as Muslims; may not refer to their faith as Islam; and may not in any manner outrage the religious feelings of Muslims.
The U.S. Department of State and Amnesty International report several cases of religious persecution against members of the Ahmadiya minorities in Pakistan. Many have been detained on charges of blasphemy, which accuses them of defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammad - an accusation the Ahmadiya fervently deny. The punishment for blasphemy is death, pursuant to Article 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code. It is of great concern to us that under the blasphemy laws individuals may be arrested for pursuing their religious beliefs.
We are concerned about the cases of Mr. Muhammad Nisar Ahmad, Mr. Abdul Quadeer, Mr. Malik Muhammad Din, Mr. Muhammad Ilyas Munir, and Mr. Muhammad Haziq Rafiq Tahir, five members of the Ahmadiya community who were reportedly arrested on October 26, 1984, while they prayed inside a mosque with several other Ahmadiya. Their prayers were interrupted by some 50 Muslim activists who began erasing verses from the Koran and other writings on the mosque's malls. The activists were allegedly acting in accordance with Ordinance 20 which prohibits Ahmadiya from calling themselves Muslim or displaying Koranic verses. It is reported that when the mob threatened the lives of the worshippers and started destroying property, the mosque's caretaker opened fire on the crowd of activists and killed two.
Despite the sworn admission in court that the mosque's caretaker accepted complete responsibility for the two deaths, five Ahmadiya men were tried in 1985 by Special Military Court no. 62 in Multan [Pakistan] and convicted for involvement in the killings. Two of the prisoners were sentenced to death and the others received sentences for 25 years imprisonment. We are also concerned that these civilians were tried by a military court and we ask that your government consider re-opening the cases with the intent of hearing them in civilian court.
The right to freedom of religion is guaranteed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights documents. Several hundred members of religious minorities in Pakistan, including children, have been arrested due to the provisions in the blasphemy laws and recently several have received the death penalty for their religious beliefs. We are aware of your long term sensitivity to human rights issues and we hope you will give due consideration to our concerns. We look forward to your government's response.
[Tom Lantos, John Edward Porter, Steny Hoyer, Harris Fawell, Alcee Hastings, Benjamin Gilman, Martin Frost, David Price, Louise McIntosh Slaughter, Henry Waxman, Barney Frank, Christopher Smith, Herbert Bateman, Jan Meyers, Lane Evans, Tony Hall, Patricia Schroeder, Howard Berman, Ronald Dellums, Mike Kreidler, Jolene Unsoeld, Carolyn Maloney, Nita Lowey, Corrine Brown, Steven Schiff, Albert Wynn, Carrie Meek. Howard Coble, Jose Serrano, Frank McCloskey, William Hughes, Frank Wolf, Jim Leach, Eric Fingerhut and Tim Johnson.
Members of Congress.]