The vacuum created by the military regimes strategy of discrediting and sidelining political parties and their leaders was ideally suited to the orthodox clergy, and its militant formations took little time to move into the space left behind as political parties were pushed away. In a series of alarming actions, the clergy struck out fiercely against minority groups, especially the Ahmadi community, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), particularly those that tried to promote the rights of women. The outpourings of vicious hatred from these clergymen, in direct violation of law, not surprisingly resulted in numerous incidents of violence, harassment and even cold-blooded murder. The fact the authorities stood by as silent spectators indicated clearly that they were in fact colluding with the extremists against those peacefully, and lawfully, practising their beliefs or undertaking development work aimed at uplifting communities.
The heightened violence and intolerance within society was also exhibited by the numerous cases of blasphemy registered against individuals. In repeated instances this appeared to stem from disputes of various kinds. A minor administrative adjustment proposed by the government in investigating cases of blasphemy, aimed at attempting to check precisely such misuse of the law, was taken back within weeks following pressure exerted by the orthodox clergy.
Administration of justice
Cases on religious basis
Freedom of thought,
The state of intolerance
The freedom to express opinions continued to be challenged through the year 2000, with any opinion contrary to the beliefs held by orthodox religious groups drawing fervent protests from them. The freedom to think and the encouragement to express new ideas thus remained severely restricted. Fears of an onslaught from religious elements also meant that in practice certain topics, especially those linked to religious belief or the possibility of separating state from religion, continued to lie beyond the realm of most debate. Thus, the liberty of thought, conscience and religion remained strictly limited.
The impact such restrictions on thought are having within a society that has become increasingly closed from year to year stifling innovative or independent thinking, are perhaps best exhibited in the growing uniformity of discussion and the declining standards of debate, whether within institutes of higher learning or on the broader national platform.
Examples of the growing lack of tolerance continued to come in through the year:
¨ The most serious indication of the increasingly intolerant environment came in the death of at least ten members of the Ahmadi community, who were killed as a direct consequence of the views they held. [See section on Ahmadis].
¨ In March, a senior judge of the Lahore High Court, while commenting in response to a newspaper query, held that in his view the suggested changes in the blasphemy law were being considered because of the efforts by western governments to act against Islam. The judge, who had in 1999 advocated Ahmadis be beaten up if found propagating their religion in any way, also appeared unrepentant about these comments.
¨ A passing remark, made by Federal Religious Affairs Minister Dr. Mahmood Ghazi in September during an interview, suggesting that Ahmadis had been declared non-Muslims in an emotional atmosphere, brought a strong onslaught against the minister. Despite the fact that Ghazi himself is an established Islamic scholar, religious parties accused him of conspiring with the West against Islam. The fierce attack by religious parties eventually led the Minister to retract even this mild remark, which had been made during a wider discussion on how emotive an issue religion and religious laws frequently become.
The existence of specific laws denied Ahmadis the freedom to practise or propagate their religion. In instances where they chose to do so, many faced cases registered against them as persecution against the community continued. [See section on Ahmadis].
Laws on blasphemy
With pressure from human rights groups, both local and international, growing, the federal government announced on April 18 that as a step towards improving its record on human rights, it was planning measures to avoid the misuse of law. It was also stated that as part of this process, in all cases involving blasphemy, the case would be referred to the concerned Deputy Commissioner (DC). It would be referred to police only if the DC was satisfied the case warranted police intervention and an FIR (First Information Report) would be registered only after this.
The innocuous move aimed at curbing the registration of false blasphemy cases brought swift and fierce attack from religious groups, that threatened countrywide protests unless the minor change in procedure concerning blasphemy laws was taken back. Despite government efforts to reassure religious leaders, the threats continued and on May 16 General Pervez Musharraf announced a restoration of the previous procedure. The failure of the government to implement even this change, offering some protection against the misuse of the law, indicated the extent of religious intolerance in society and the vulnerability of governments to pressure from religious forces.
Freedom of religion
A considerable increase in violence against religious minorities was recorded during the year, with Hindu communities in Balochistan facing some of the worst threats in their history.
Though only Ahmadis are restricted under the law from practising their religion, due to increased social intolerance, members of all minority religious communities faced discrimination and harassment. In many cases, even administrative efforts failed to rescue them from the wrath of communities within which they lived. In other episodes the administration failed to make even an attempt to offer protection.
In repeated episodes, the places of worship of minorities were attacked. Frequently, the attacks appeared to have been orchestrated by local clerics and extremists, who incited people to violence in previously peaceful settlements.
The fact that hundreds were forced during the year to flee their homes after facing persecution because of their religious beliefs alone reflected the state of religious tolerance in society.
Ahmadis continued to be made the target of a growing hatred, spearheaded by groups such as the Tehrik-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat.
One of the most devastating episodes, causing the death of five Ahmadis, took place on October 30, at a village near Sialkot, where unknown assailants opened indiscriminate firing on the Baitul Zikr (House of Worship) in the area, at a time when Ahmadis were at prayer. The bullets killed five of those present at the premises.
The assailants, described by horrified eye-witnesses as bearded men in shalwarkameez caused panic in the village, where almost 50 percent of the population comprises of Ahmadis. The settlement had remained peaceful for many decades, with Ahmadis residing side by side with their neighbours. Initial findings suggested the brutal attack could have been the work of an extremist sectarian group. The attack highlighted once again the dangers presented by the negligence of the government in curbing the actions of such organisations and permitting the culture of intolerance to grow rapidly through the freedom allowed to orthodox clerics to preach hatred at sermons and advocate violent action against peaceful citizens. Police had by early December apprehended three of those accused of taking part in the attack, and were investigating the case, in which they believed an element of personal enmity could have played a part.
An equally frightening incident took place on November 10 at Takht Hazara, near Sargodha, where a protest was staged against Ahmadis led by a local clergyman linked to the Khatm-e-Nabuwat group, active in increasingly hostile attacks on Ahmadis. He was accompanied by some madrassah students. His provocative actions led, according to reports, to local Ahmadis rebuking him. As the incident flared up, a mob converged on the Ahmadis place of worship. While the Ahmadis climbed to the roof to save themselves, they were attacked with bricks and sticks, resulting in the death of five members of the community.
District officials arrived at the spot too late to avert this, while the Punjab Governor ordered a judicial inquiry into the episode soon after the violence broke out. An HRCP fact-finding team that visited the area in November found persisting tension and fear among the Ahmadis in the weeks after the incident.
Persecution of Ahmadis also seemed to be on the rise across the country during the year, with the number of episodes climbing during the later months of 2000. The incidents reported included those of Ahmadi places of worship being taken over, bodies of Ahmadis buried at graveyards being disinterred and religious edicts (fatwas) issued against Ahmadis. At least four Ahmadis were murdered over the year in cases that appeared to stem from intolerance for their beliefs. Cases also continued to be registered against members of the community under specific sections of law introduced under the constitutional amendment of 1974. A representative of the Ahmadi community appeared in October before a panel of the US Commission of International Religious Freedom, conducting a hearing on the state of religious freedom in Pakistan. He stated that since April 1984 to December 1999, as many as 753 Ahmadis had been arrested for displaying the Kalima and another 379 for posing as Muslims. [See also section on cases against Ahmadis].
Maulana Manzoor Ahmed Chinioti, one of the most active anti-Ahmadi leaders in recent years, again played a leading role in this respect. On August 24, he spoke as a guest at a Multan mosque, where he was introduced as the Conqueror of Ahmadis. Maulana Chinioti detailed to the audience over a two-hour period how his thirty-year jehad against Ahmadis had resulted in the name of Rabwah, the name given to a settlement of Ahmadis based on land leased by the community from the Punjab government soon after independence, being changed to Chenabnagar.
Chinioti also called on people to beat up with shoes any Ahmadis found practising their creed and then hand them over to the police. The Maulana had also delivered other similar attacks during the year.
Reports of violence against Ahmadis, including attacks on members of their community or on places of worship, continued to come in through the year from Karachi, Okara, Sargodha, Jhang, Manshera, Kotli and other locations. In many cases religious edicts had contributed to an incitement of hatred against Ahmadis.
A comparitively new trend which gained pace over the year was the disinterring of the bodies of Ahmadis buried at common graveyards. One case which came to light took place in August, at Chak 203 R/B near Faisalabad. After an Ahmadi, Malik Nazar Mohammad, was buried at the graveyard, where 15 Ahmadi graves already existed, extremists sent an application to the Deputy Commissioner, who directed the Superintendent of Police to take action. The Ahmadi community was then directed by police to disinter the body and take it elsewhere. Despite appeals by community elders to the local magistrate, the district administration, apparently under pressure from extremists had the body removed from the grave and shifted, ignoring protests from helpless Ahmadis.
A voice warning of the potential misuse of sections 298-B (2) and 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which prohibit the Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslim or their faith Islam, was raised by Justice (retd) Mamoon A Kazi, a former Supreme Court judge, in a major Karachi-based English language daily in July. However in other cases, the press did not fully realise the injustice and dangers in sensationalising such cases, levelling false allegations or contributing to the harassment faced by Ahmadis everywhere in the country.
In November, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) accepted a petition to set up a larger bench to hear a case challenging the decision of the NWFP government to ban books by Ahmadis. The Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) was made a respondent in the case.
Cases against Ahmadis
Under Sections 295-A and B
In March, Laeeq Ahmed was arrested in Sargodha for inscribing the name of the Holy Prophet on the walls of his shop.
On April 28, in Daryapur, District Sialkot, 10 Ahmadis were charged in two criminal cases. This was the fifth case in the district over the last year against Ahmadis in which the Anti-Terrorist Act applies. Ghulam Mustafa, president of the local Ahmaddiya community, and his brothers Mohammad Yousaf and Mohammad Afzal were arrested and seven others booked. They were accused of preaching and also charged in a twoyear old case involving objections to the building of a niche for Ahmadis in the local mosque.
On July 31, in Bharokay Kalan, District Sialkot, four Ahmadis were arrested for watching Muslim Television Ahmaddiya with their garage door partially opened. Ghulam Mustafa, Hamid, Maqsood Ahmed and Mian Fazil were charged with propagating their religion by local extremists.
Under Section 295-C
On April 12, the district and sessions judge Jaranwala, district Faisalabad, rejected a plea by Dr. Saeed against the application of section 295-C in his case. The defendant had been charged for preaching his faith two years ago. Later, a magistrate added a charge under Section 295-C.
Under Sections 298-B and C
On January 31, in Haroonabad, District Bahawalnagar, Ataullah Warraich was sentenced by a civil judge to three years in jail. He was charged by a magistrate in a case registered late last year for building a niche and minaret at the local prayer house.
In February, Sahib Khan who had recently become an Ahmadi was accused of preaching by his father in Mangat Unchai, District Hyderabad. He was arrested along with his teacher, Fazil Ahmed and another Ahmadi Sikander Hayat.
On July 30, two Ahmadis from Karachi, Khalil Ahmed and Saeed Ahmed, were arrested after a case was registered against them by local clergymen while they were attempting to visit an acquaintance in a village they had travelled to.
On August 19, three Ahmadis were arrested in village Chak 37/12-L, District Sahiwal on the accusation of posing as Muslims. A land dispute was reported to lie behind the case against Ghaffar Ahmed, Ilyas Ahmed and Manzur Ahmed registered on a complaint made by an opponent.
On August 29, in Sarai Siddhu, District Khanewal, three Ahmadis, Abdus Sami, Bashir Ahmed and Mohammad Ismail were arrested. They were accused of an offence under 295-B by local activists of the Sipahe-Sahaba Pakistan, following an altercation between Abdus Sami and a local.
There is an urgent need to review the law.
295-C, Ordinance XX: The blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws have in practice proved to be an encouragement to fanaticism and an instrument in the hands of the bigoted. There were repeated attempts by past governments to make amendments to at least prevent their abuse, but they backed down.
It will be a pity if the recognised injustice is allowed to continue.
Few commanders made a more craven retreat on a battlefield than the Chief Executive did over a minor move to check the abuse of the anti-blasphemy law. All that was proposed was that complaints of blasphemy would be examined at a slightly higher level before their registration.
Three aspects need to be pointed out. First, the Chief Executive claimed that he was acting in accordance with the popular wish. How did he ascertain this popular wish? Are the members of the Milli Yakjehti Council going to be the regimes barometer of public opinion?
Secondly, if the government can be so terrorised over a non-issue, what hope that it would make any meaningful advance on its grandiose objectives the objectives on the basis of which it obtained such a strong endorsement even from the Supreme Court?
Thirdly, it did not take long for the hollowness of the regimes commitment to human rights and human dignity to be shown up.
There is now a clear danger that the so-called religious parties, puffed up on their present success, will want to keep the momentum going. They have a long list of demands. These are all meant to advance their narrow agenda and set the society further back. The omens were never happy. They look even bleaker now.