Excerpts from “State of Human Rights in 2002”
The year also saw the unleashing of unprecedented violence within the country by terrorists. Dozens, almost all of them western nationals or local Christians, were killed by militants bullets, while the fear of more such attacks meant that minority communities were left more vulnerable than ever before. The fact that many of the killings were conducted by terrorists on suicide missions indicated an alarming change in the nature of militancy and a heightened zeal among those behind such attacks.
For vulnerable groups within society, including women, children, labourers and non-Muslims, the year brought no change for the better in their condition. While more women took up seats in national assemblies on reserved seats and in a widely welcomed move, the separate electorates for minorities were partially ended, this did not bring an immediate change for the better in the circumstances in which they lived. Indeed, the Ahmadi community, which continued to face an acute threat mainly from orthodox forces, remained on a separate list.
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Christians in the country faced increased militant violence during a year in which at least 38 died in terrorist attacks.
Ahmadis continued to face severe discrimination and remained placed on a separate voting list.
Blasphemy laws continued to be misused to settle petty disputes, with clerics in several cases inciting mobs against those whom they accused of blasphemy. At least two blasphemy accused were murdered before courts could deliver a final verdict in their cases.
Rule of Law
Laws and law-making
Chief Executives Orders, 2002
Order No 15. Conduct of General Elections (Second Amendment) Order, June 17; to further amend Order 7 of 2002 and provide for the enrolment of Ahmadis on a separate list for non-Muslims.
Administration of justice
Three members of the Ahmadiya community were convicted under various provisions (though one of them was subsequently acquitted). Two of them, Nazir Ahmad and Allah Rakhio, were awarded life-imprisonment by an anti-terrorism court in Hyderabad. They were accused of demolishing a mosque and desecrating the Quran. The third one, Hameedullah Bajwa, was awarded three years imprisonment by the Sr Civil Judge, Lodhran, for preaching his faith (under sections 295-A and 298-C). The case had begun in 1994. He was however, acquitted by the Sessions Judge.
Fresh cases pending against other members of the Ahmadiya community and all instituted in 2002 included:
Waris Khan (Peshawar), for preaching his belief, u/s 295-A and 298-C; Mushtaq Ahmad Saggon (Khangarh), for preaching, u/s 298-C; and Abdul Nasir and three others (Lahore) for distributing objectionable literature.
Two cases were reported from Azad Kashmir, one from Kotli and the other one from Mirpur. In the former case, four persons were accused of preparing to construct a prayer house and in the latter two persons were charged with preaching their faith.
Well-known journalist Ayaz Amir, who had contested a NA seat against the Estalishment partys candidate, was the target of two edicts one denouncing him as a Qadiani and the other declaring him wajib-ul-qatl (fair game for any zealot), all this for having commented on anti-Ahmadi legislation in one of his columns. No case was reported.
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
The swearing in of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) government in the NWFP and the strong showing by the coalition of religious parties in the centre also threatened to lead to a worsening of conditions for minorities, despite the fact that for the first time in over 15 years, most minority groups were able to cast votes alongside the mainstream Muslim populace as the joint electorate was restored for all communities except Ahmadis.
The dichotomy on official policy regarding militancy, with leaders of banned sectarian parties permitted to contest polls along with some groups, which despite their sectarian nature continued to operate freely in the country, created its own problems. The Sunni Tehreek (ST), for instance, a group involved in various incidents of sectarian violence in the past, remained on the list of parties permitted to contest polls. Maulana Azam Tariq, leader of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) a Sunni extremist group, won his seat from Jhang while leaders of the banned Tehrik-e-Jafriya Pakistan (TJP) were also able to contest polls.
Sectarian killings meanwhile also continued during the year, while the blasphemy law was repeatedly used to settle disputes between individuals, often arising as the result of a minor grudge.
In a major development as far as the political rights of minority groups were concerned, the federal government on January 16 announced that the next general elections would be held on the basis of a joint electorate. The ten reserved seats for minorities in the national assembly were abolished.
The decision was widely welcomed by groups representing minorities, as well as civil sector groups, which had consistently advocated an end to the separate electorates. At a seminar in Hyderabad organised by HRCP, it was noted that joint electorate would help minorities resolve some of their problems.
The minority community however continued to call for reserved seats to be retained, with this demand raised by groups representing Christians at seminars held in various cities. In Islamabad in February, the All Pakistan Buddhist Society, headed by former minorities minister Tridev Roy, demanded that minorities be granted a three percent reservation in the national assembly, in proportion to their population, and a minorities commission, headed by a Supreme Court judge, be set up.
Former NWFP minister and Pakistan Muslim League leader, Gian Singh, meanwhile advocated a dual vote for minorities at various meetings held in the province on means to increase minority participation in political affairs.
In an amendment to the Election Order 2002, made in August, reserved seats for minorities in parliament were restored, while seats for technocrats were abolished in the national and provincial assemblies. The ten seats for non-Muslims in the National Assembly were according to the notification to be filled by proportional representation on the basis of the number of seats won by parties who would nominate minority candidates according to a list system. Three seats each were reserved for minorities in the NWFP and Balochistan, eight in the Punjab and nine in Sindh.
In September, a petition filed before the Supreme Court sought a verdict on recent changes in the electoral laws, which barred an independent candidate from contesting a reserved seat forminorities. The petitioner argued that this amounted to discrimination againstminorities.
The elections of October 10, 2002 became the first to be held on the basis of a joint electorate since the 1977 polls. However, in a statement issued on October 16 in Karachi, the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), alleged widespread rigging of elections to get favoured candidates of religious parties elected.
Allegations meanwhile came in from Sindh, the Punjab and Balochistan that minority voters were in some cases not permitted to cast ballots. In the Tharparkar area, law enforcing agencies apparently acted at the behest of influential candidates to prevent Hindus from voting, while in other cases the names of minority voters were not found on polling lists.
After the elections, Christian MNAs continued to demand representation in the Senate as well, while in the Punjab, elected minority MPAs lamented the failure to increase seats reserved for them in the provincial assembly.
Apart from the joint electorate issue, the Protection of Communal Properties of Minorities Ordinance was promulgated in January. The Ordinance made the sale or transfer of property belonging to the minority community, including all places of worship, educational institutions, health centres, vacant lands and any other property subject to government clearance. The new law was intended to prevent the selling off of church lands and other property, most often in cases where a dispute existed between two groups over control of property. The law also intended to discourage the seizing of lands belonging to minority communities by land mafias.
There was however little evidence of other action taken to improve the situation of minorities or build a climate of greater tolerance in the country. Social and economic discrimination against minority groups continued, while violence against them seemed to increase.
A seminar held in Lahore in February on International Peace and Religious Harmony, which was attended by a large number of mainstream politicians, concluded that social injustice played a large part in promoting ethnic and sectarian tensions between communities.
At other seminars held during the year it was also noted that the continued existence of laws on blasphemy further aggravated the perceived sense of injustice, while even after the restoration of the joint electorate, there was little evidence that discrimination on the basis of religious belief had been narrowed.
Ahmadis and the right to vote
When the announcement of a joint electorate for the October polls was made, there was much enthusiasm within the Ahmadi community, and Ahmadis quickly began to enroll themselves to cast ballots and many voted in the referendum. The community, taking the stand that forcing them to enroll as non-Muslims under the system of separate electorates was a violation of their fundamental rights, had not participated in any election in the country since 1985.
However, their rejoicing was short-lived. In June, apparently under pressure from orthodox elements that had persistently attempted to hamper the enrollment of Ahmadis, the government revised its decision to have a single voting list. This resulted in an absurd situation, whereby the names of Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists were on a single list, while a second non-Muslim list contained only the names of Ahmadis.
Indeed, the clauses introduced in the Conduct of General Elections Order 2002 on June 17, amounted to being ridiculous. Section 7-B, headed Status of Ahmadis etc. to remain unchanged said that despite the revival of the joint electorate, the status of Ahmadis as non-Muslims in the constitution would remain unaffected. Since there had never been any doubt about this, it was uncertain why it was found necessary to add a new section to state the obvious. The use of etc was also mysterious, since only Ahmadis were mentioned. A second section, 7-C, stated that if a complaint was made to the revising authority that a person enrolled as a voter was not a Muslim, that person would be required to state his belief regarding the finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him). If he failed to sign such a declaration, his name would be deleted from the joint electoral roll, and placed on the supplementary list for non-Muslim voters.
The official explanation, that this sleight of hand as some described it, in no way discriminated against Ahmadis, and permitted them to vote for candidates on general seats or contest such seats, while preventing agitation by religious extremists, did not satisfy the Ahmadis. Their objections to being placed on a separate list for non-Muslims were forwarded to General Pervez Musharraf in September, while the community opted once again to abstain from polling in protest against the violation of the principle of joint electorate.
As such, extremist religious elements celebrated yet another victory, while a group of Pakistani citizens continued to suffer discrimination on the basis of religious belief. The Tehreek-e-Khtam-e-Nabuwat went to great lengths to have the names of Ahmadis enrolled removed from the common list for voters, while the decision to introduce a separate list for the community was criticised by HRCP as well as several political parties and groups representing the Ahmadis.
Freedom of religion
Some of the worst intolerance however continued to be faced by the Ahmadi community, with reports during the year suggesting they faced discrimination in the grant of jobs, in admissions to educational institutions and in many other spheres of day-to-day life.
Particularly disturbing were the indications of increased intolerance at university and college campuses, with press reports suggesting that at the Punjab University, some extremist student groups had demanded a separate kitchen for Ahmadi and Christian students, while claiming that theb majority Muslim students were reluctant to eat alongside them. This came amidst a campaign launched to have an Ahmadi lecturer appointed at the University dismissed.
The Ahmadi community in the country continued to suffer severe discrimination and harassment, in many cases fuelled by orthodox clerics. The Tehrik-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat in particular continued its campaign against Ahmadis, with sermons delivered from mosques and pamphlets circulated in communities demanding that they be ostracised.
The impact of such prejudice and discrimination on the basis of religious belief on Ahmadis was reflected in various incidents.
Late in 2002, Abdul Ala Najam-us-Saqib, an Ahmadi from Rabwah, had been appointed as a lecturer in biochemistry at the Punjab University. Within weeks of the appointment, as he began teaching, a fierce campaign was built up against him, driven on mainly by the Islami Jamiat-e-Tuluba (IJT). University authorities were warned not to give him accommodation and told that a law and order problem could develop if Mr. Saqib was permitted to continue teaching. Students were pressurised to boycott his classes.
Within three months, the unfortunate lecturer was dismissed on the basis of an adverse performance report. Representatives of the Ahmadi community however maintained that the real reasons were quite different. They stated that on March 27, Mr. Saqib was informed he had been selected by the ministry of science and technology for a scholarship, leading up to a Ph.D. after a course of study in the US. Mr. Saqib had reportedly obtained the highest ever marks awarded to any candidate from the Punjab University in a test administered by the US Education Testing Service. However, elements hostile to Ahmadis on the campus were angered by the grant of the prestigious scholarship to an Ahmadi, even though it would have removed Mr. Saqib from the campus. Succumbing to the pressure, university authorities dismissed Mr. Saqib. The action also made him ineligible for the scholarship he had been offered, as this was available only to a person holding an appointment at the Punjab University. No relief was provided to Mr. Saqib despite letters written to the concerned ministry and the Punjab University Vice Chancellor in April, May and June.
In July, two Ahmadi students present in Lahore to complete their education were approached at the Galaxy Hostel where they were residing by other students, and advised to shift or face serious consequences. A report was lodged with police, who advised the two youngsters to move to another location.
Raja Noman Ahmed, an Ahmadi student at the Agricultural University, Faisalabad, in August reported extensive harassment at the hands of students belonging to the Tableeghi Jamaat. This included wall chalkings attacking his faith and a social boycott, with students pressurised not to talk to him, dine with him, share a hostel room or socialise in other ways with him. University authorities made efforts to calm the situation, after receiving a complaint from the affected student, but the situation for him reportedly remained tense even in the months that followed.
One of the worst incidents of harassment of Ahmadi students took place at the prestigious Cadet College, Hasanabdal. Abdul Rahman, 16, was admitted by his widowed mother to complete his F.Sc at the college, after he obtained outstanding marks in his matric examination. His mother had used her life savings to pay for his education at the institute. Days after he joined the college, two fellow students discovered he was an Ahmadi and began a vicious campaign of harassment, apparently endorsed by their house-master who actively participated in it. The principal of the college received a complaint from the boys mother, but was apparently unwilling to take action. Abdul Rahman was, in early September, forced to leave the college because of the treatment he received and return to Rabwah only weeks after he had begun his studies at Hasanabdal.
Harassment by police was also common. In January, police arrived in force at a small Ahmadi place of worship in Baghbanpura in Lahore, where a handful ofAhmadis regularly gathered to offer prayers. Local residents had apparently informed police that these persons could be engaged in unlawful activities.
Nearly two months later, police in Goleki, in Gujrat district, raided Ahmadi homes early in the morning of February 27. A few Ahmadis, including the president of the local community was detained. Police claimed they were carrying out directives to suppress religious extremism and that the orders had been issued by the Superintendent of Police. The area had a history of sectarian strife and local Ahmadi leaders alleged the police raid was simply aimed at harassing the community.
In June, the Punjab home department issued a memorandum urging police to take necessary action on reports that the Ahmadi leadership had directed local office bearers to launch a campaign to convert at least 50 Muslims to Qadianiat annually. The fact that official action was considered necessary to tackle this matter signified the extent of the persecution Ahmadis faced, often at government hands. Ahmadi leaders held that no such orders had been issued and given the prevailing environment, pressing Muslims to convert was virtually unthinkable for any Ahmadi.
Another example of the official discrimination Ahmadis frequently faced came in September, with orders issued in Islamabad by the ministry of religious affairs making it compulsory for those intending to proceed for the Haj pilgrimage to sign a Proforma that he was not an Ahmadi. A clause added to this Proforma required that a statement be made on oath that Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, seen by Ahmadis as the founder of their faith, was a cunning and deceitful person.
In August, it was reported that Anjum Nazir, a soldier holding the rank of lance naib in the Pakistan army, was subjected to interrogation, threats and extremely harsh treatment after he informed his superiors, as per the rules, that he had adopted the Ahmadi faith. On August 2, he was detained and held within his unit.
Despite government claims of suppressing communal violence, authorities permitted the notoriously anti-Ahmadi Majlis Ahrar-e-Islam to hold a conference in the suburbs of Rabwah (renamed Chenabnagar) in February. The Shahuda-e-Khatame Nabuwat Conference (The Martyrs of the Finality of Prophethood Conference). In speeches at the conference, it was alleged that Ahmadis were conspiring against Islam. It was also stated that the youth of the Majlis-e-Ahrar would continue its efforts to exterminate Ahmadis, while a strong defence was made of the ousted Taliban regime of Afghanistan.
The Alami Majlis Tahaffuz-e-Khatame Nabbuwat (World Organisation for Protection of the Finality of Prophethood) held a conference at Rabwah (Chenabnagar) on October 31 and November 1, with the approval of authorities. The conference is held annually at Rabwah, a town where 95 percent of the population are Ahmadis, in a move apparently aimed at deliberately provoking them. Representatives of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI), the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and other mainstream parties spoke at the conference, though their leaders were not able to attend, as the flyers advertising the elaborately arranged event had stated. Among the anti-Ahmadi statements made at the conference, were the comments that Ahmadis would have to leave the country if they did not revert to Islam. According to press reports, in a telephonic talk with those present for the conference, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of his own faction of the JUI and a prime ministerial candidate, regretted his absence from the event and promised that if the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) succeeded in forming government, it would legislate to buttress Islamic provisions in the Constitution, the blasphemy laws and anti-Ahmadi laws and cooperate with the Aalmi Majlis Khatame-Nabuwat in devising policy.
Other provocative conferences and rallies were also held during the year in Rabwah (Chenabnagar), while groups representing Ahmadis reported that on May 24 and 25, using the occasion of Seerat-un-Nabi (Birthday of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him) as an excuse, speeches attacking Ahmadis were made during sermons and gatherings at Dera Ghazi Khan, Lahore, Islamabad and Rabwah (Chenabnahgar).
In June, a cleric who arrived at Ahmednagar, near Rabwah (Chenabnagar) delivered a sermon on Friday that was dominated by diatribes against Ahmadis. The local Ahmadi community believed he was making a deliberate effort to stir up trouble, and responded by asking members of the community to ensure peace was maintained.
In village Merle, district Sialkot, local clerics including the prayer leader of the village mosque, were apparently hugely angered when they learned that several Muslims had attended the funeral prayers of an elderly, and much respected, Ahmadi woman who had died in February. Following this, posters declaring Ahmadis to be apostates and infidels were put up on walls and a fatwa (religious edict) issued stating that Muslims should boycott all Ahmadi occasions, including funerals.
It was also noted that the press continued to promote anti-Ahmadi views. It was reported in May by groups representing Ahmadis that during the month of May alone, two Urdu language dailies had both published 36 items perceived as being anti-Ahmadi in their tone and content.
Attacks on places of worship
In October 2000, five Ahmadis were murdered when four militants opened fire at a place of worship in Ghatialian, Sialkot, while the Ahmadis were at prayer. Three of the alleged killers were apprehended three weeks later. The fourth accused was held in May 2001. However, since then, the case against them had dragged on, with Ahmadi representatives stating it was deliberately being prolonged. In April, a Rawalpindi anti-terrorist court sentenced the four accused to death and imposed a fine of Rs 100,000 on each of them.
According to press reports appearing in August, a group of terrorists arrested in Lahore told police they had planned to blow up the central Ahmaddiya place of worship in Lahore and had stockpiled explosive material and firearms for this purpose. The suspected terrorists were stated by police to have been earlier involved in the jihad in Afghanistan.
Acts of violence
There appeared to be an increase in the violence suffered by Ahmadis, with incidents in which members of the community had been threatened, harassed, beaten up or even murdered coming in from across the country. Some of the most persistent harassment seemed to take place in Sadiqabad, where orthodox clerics were stated to be particularly active.
On September 1, 2002, Maqsud Ahmed, 36, a tailor, was murdered at his house in Faisalabad after two intruders entered the premises at breakfast time and opened fire on him as his wife, sister and other family members watched helplessly. A third assailant kept guard outside the house. Maqsuds death left four children, aged between three and 12 years, fatherless. It was believed he had been killed due to his religious beliefs, with Ahmadi community leaders having made repeated complaints of anti-Ahmadi religious activity in Faisalabad for many months. They also stated that the district administration failed to take action against clerics guilty of spreading such hatred.
In Chak 475-EB, district Vehari, religious extremists attacked the house of an Ahmadi, Muhammad Yusuf, on the night of February 20. Their apparent attempt to kill Yusuf was blunted only by the bold defence put up by his sons. It was reported that a group of extremists led by a former member of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) had led the three armed assailants. A similar attack had reportedly been made in January. On May 23, Naveed Ahmed Qureishi, a young Ahmadi was abducted in Sukkur soon after he left his home on an errand. Four unknown persons allegedly took him first to the offices of the Khatame Nabuwat organisation and then the Jaishe Mohmmad. He stated that he was severely beaten, tortured using heated iron rods and threatened with death, The abductors wanted him to renounce his faith, which he refused to do. The president of the Ahmadi community in Khanewal, Naemulla Khan, received a threatening letter in August, warning that he would soon be killed. On the advice of other community elders, he left the town to live with relatives for some months. Soon after this, his Muslim neighbour, Sheikh Nazir, also received a letter that accused him of socialising with Ahmadis and warned that a bullet cannot distinguish between a Muslim and an infidel.
Cases against Ahmadis
Under Sections 295-A and B
Waris Ahmed, an Ahmadi, was arrested by police in Peshawar on September 2 after being accused by a cleric of preaching and of uttering words that hurt the religious belief of Muslims. He was charged under sections 295-A and B of the PPC, as well as Section 298-C. A plea for bail was rejected by the sessions court on September 3.
Hameedullah Bajwah, a former president of the Ahmadi community in district Lodhran, was in September sentenced to three years imprisonment by the senior civil judge Lodhran. The case dated back to 1994, when Bajwah, along with two co-accused, Nisar Ahmed and Muhammad Sharif were charged with preaching. Nisar Ahmed died during the trial while Muhammad Sharif fled abroad. Hameedullah Bajwah was sent to jail in September after arrest. He however lodged an appeal and was acquitted by the higher sessions court in October.
[Section 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code reads as follows:
Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. Whoever, with malicious and deliberate intention of outraging the religious feelings, of any class of the citizens of Pakistan, by words, either spoken or written or by visible representations insults or attempts to insult the religion or religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to (ten) years, or with fine, or with both.
Section 295-B reads
Defiling, etc. of copy of Holy Quran: Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.]
Under Section 295-C
In August 1998, 17 Ahmadis had been charged under the countrys blasphemy laws and several other laws after the kalima; and a prayer were found inscribed on their place of worship at Naukot, Mirpur Khas. The case arose from an incident in which a group of orthodox clerics had reportedly attacked the place of worship, clashing briefly with around two dozen Ahmadis who attempted to defend the place of worship before retreating. The building was badly damaged and parts of it set alight during the attack. 14 Ahmadis were arrested and charged with Blasphemy, while none of the attackers were held. After four years in detention, an anti-terrorism court, in January, acquitted them.
Astonishingly however, before the Ahmadis could be released, the State went into appeal against the decision and filed a petition before the Sindh High Court (SHC) urging it to review the decision of the lower court. As a result, the Ahmadis remain in jail.
[Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code reads as follows:
Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, and shall also be liable to fine.]
Under Sections 298-B and C
Police in Mangat Unche, district Hafizabad, in April registered a case against Zulfikar Ahmed and his wife, Misbah, after Misbah decided to adopt the Ahmadi faith, the religion of her husband. Rana Atallah, another villager, lodged a complaint with police that Zulfikar Ahmed was guilty of preaching to his wife and as such spreading the Ahmadi faith. The complainant alleged that Misbahs conversion had hurt the feelings of Muslims, and as such a criminal case should be registered against the couple. The police station Kassoki subsequently registered a case under section 298-C of the PPC and arrested the couple.
On August 31, police in Khangarh, district Muzzafragarh, registered a case against Mushtaq Ahmed Saggon, a local Ahmadi, under section 298-C on the accusation of preaching his views. A plea for bail was rejected on September 11 by the trial court.
[Section 298-B of the Pakistan Penal Code reads as follows:
Misuse of epithets, descriptions and titles, etc. Reserved for certain holy personages or places.
(1) Any person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who calls themselves Ahmadis or by any other name) who by word, either spoken or written, or by visible representation-
(a) refers to, or addresses, any person, other than a caliph or companion of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as Ameer-ul-Mumineen, Khalifat-ul-Muslimeen Sahaabi or razi Allah anho; (b) refers to, or addresses, any person, other than a wife of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as Ummul Muminnen;
(c) refers to, or addresses, any person, other than a member of the family (ahle-bait) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as Ahle bait; or
(d) refers to, or names, or calls, his place of worship as masjid; shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine.
(2) Any person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who calls themselves Ahmadis or by any other name), who by word, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, refers to the mode or form of the call to prayers followed by his faith as Azan or recites Azan as used by Muslims, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
Section 298-C reads
Person of Quadiani group etc., calling himself a Muslim or preaching or propagating his faith. Any person of Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who calls themselves Ahmadis or by any other name), who directly or indirectly 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 shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.]
Blasphemy laws and their impact
The evidence that blasphemy laws continued to be misused as a means to settle disputes continued to come in, while demands to alter or scrap the laws, mainly from leaders of minority communities who remained especially vulnerable to the misuse of the laws, failed to make visible impact.
Ahmadi and Christian groups, in particular, reported that they remained at risk from such laws. An increased number of cases of blasphemy were registered during the year against both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Particularly alarming were the vicious attacks made on those who advocated a repeal of the blasphemy laws and the evidence that orthodox clerics were using the laws to stir up dangerous mob frenzy.
In January, columnist Ardeshir Cowasjees demand for an abolition of blasphemy laws was greeted by the Aalmi Majlis-e-Khatme Nabuwat with a fierce attack and a demand made that the writer be prevented from interfering in the affairs of Muslims. Human rights activists called for action against those guilty of intimidating Mr. Cowasjee.
Even calls from the federal religious affairs minister to police and district administrations to ensure caution before registering cases of blasphemy, and a remark by him in July, in the course of a newspaper interview, stating that non-Muslims should not be punished for blasphemy, brought attacks on the minister, indicating the degree of intolerance that existed.
In an incident reported in July, at Chak Jhumra, near Faisalabad, a villager, Zahid Shah, 40, was stoned to death by a mob after the local mosque Imam accused him of blasphemy. Zahid Shah, who had been accused in 1994 of blasphemy by the same cleric, in a matter apparently stemming from a personal dispute with Zahid Shahs family, had been arrested under Section 295-B of the Penal Code. He had in 1997 been granted bail in the case and had recently returned to his village to visit his brother.
Other press reports suggested that the dispute arose after Zahid Shah converted to Christianity in 1994. Zahid Shah was stated by his family to be mentally unstable, a factor that was apparently exploited in bringing blasphemy charges against him.
The mosque Imam Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, is reported to have convened a panchayat (gathering of elders) upon learning of Zahid Shahs return, and ordered that he be stoned to death as a blasphemer. The mob first dragged Zahid Shah out of his brothers home, beat him with iron rods and then stoned him to death after he fell unconscious to the ground.
While local police initially passed the death of as accidental, press reports led to attention from the federal government. Subsequently, 300 people were booked and 20, including the mosque Imam, arrested a few days later. Hearing of the murder case lodged against them continued as the year closed.
In yet another case, in Jaranwala, another Imam at a mosque issued a fatwa (religious edict) against a Pakistani-American, Faraz Jawad, who had returned to his home-town. During the Friday sermon, Faraz Jawad, a US citizen, had apparently questioned the prayer leader on several points and accused him of engaging in politics. This led to the prayer leader accusing Jawad of blasphemy and demanding he be killed. After a telephone call by the victim to the US Embassy, he was rescued by police from his house and the prayer leader booked for inciting hatred.
The dangers faced by those arrested or convicted under blasphemy laws were meanwhile highlighted by the murder, on June 11, of blasphemy accused Yousaf Ali, at Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore. Yusaf Ali, 56, had been convicted in 2000 by a Lahore sessions court, while the hearing of his appeal before the LHC was awaited.
Media reports stated another inmate, Tariq Mota, sentenced to death in a murder case, and thought to be an activist of the banned militant organisation, the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), shotYusufAli dead while he was being shifted from one cell to another. The family of Yusaf Ali accused jail authorities of connivance in the affair, while it was also reported that had Tariq Mota failed, other executioners had been readied to carry out the murder.
In a statement, HRCP demanded steps to ensure protection for other persons accused of blasphemy in jails so that more incidents in which their fate was decided before courts could deliver their final verdict did not take place.
In 1992, another prisoner, Tahir Iqbal, also accused of blasphemy, was poisoned to death in the same jail, while others held on blasphemy charges faced a similar threat.
Even a slip of the tongue was enough to put people at risk of blasphemy charges. In August, at a seminar organised by an NGO at the local press club in Mianwali, a woman councillor from Kundian remarked while commenting on constitutional amendments that the Constitution was a sacred document. The comments were reported in the local press, and on August 9, the councillor was declared a blasphemer over mosque loudspeakers in Mianwali. Despite her apologies, she was arrested on charges of blasphemy on August and her bail application rejected on August 20. She was later freed after the matter was settled.
- The increased threat to the life and welfare of minority groups at the hands of militants cannot be tackled by expanding policing alone. Holistic policies, aimed at upgrading the declining status of non-Muslims and tackling the issue of militancy through broad-ranging changes in various spheres, need urgently to be put in place to avoid a further loss of life.
- All laws that discriminate against minorities and provide legal sanction for such discrimination must be scrapped. These include the continued separate electoral list for Ahmadis.
- Ahmadis should be granted the right to profess and practise their faith, as equal citizens of the country. Specific laws against them should be done away with while acts of discrimination by authorities must be halted.
- Those guilty of violence against minority communities or of instigating others to carry out attacks, whether through sermons, pamphlets, posters or any other means, must be acted against under relevant laws. The failure to penalise those carrying out such acts is encouraging attacks on minority communities and their places of worship. Minority groups must be given the full protection of the law.
- District administrative officials must be proceeded against under the law whenever they are found guilty of connivance with groups targettingminority groups for harassment and violence.
- The laws on blasphemy are in need of urgent review given their frequent misuse. The government has already acknowledged this itself by attempting to make a procedural amendment in the law in 2000 to guard against its abuse. It must now stand firm in its stance and amend or repeal all laws that can be used to settle disputes or enmities, with dangerous consequences for the accused. Capitulating to pressure fromthose threatening violence and failing to make essential changes in the law can only encourage the forces of obscurantism.
- Courts, district administrations and law enforcers must be made aware of the need to protect minority groups under the law and avoid falling victim to prejudices against them. The hasty registration of cases frequently encourages orthodox groups to initiate further such action and thus worsening the situation for minorities.
- The judiciary, at all levels, needs to be made aware of the rights of minorities and the dangers of encouraging further intolerance or prejudice in a society where many tensions already exist.
- The creation of hatred by delivering provocative speeches or issuing fatwas must be banned and laws to this effect fully implemented. Those guilty of inciting mob attacks on individuals must be punished under relevant laws.
- The expanded emergence of quasi-religious courts and informal court-like tribunals in various parts of the country presents a growing threat to citizens. A parallel legal system must not be allowed to operate.
- Sectarian violence must be curbed by enforcing laws against the keeping of arms and stopping the training of militants.
- In view of the increasingly dangerous situation in the country, efforts must be made to build an environment of greater tolerance and innovative means adopted for this. Incorporating material on the rights of minorities and the need for tolerance in school curriculums, providing more public space to the various schools of Islamic thought adhered to by many in the country, that are opposed to the orthodox interpretations imposed by militant groups and encouraging debate and discussion at all forums can all form a part of such a strategy.
- Forced conversions and undue pressure on members of minority communities to convert, must be halted. All citizens of the country, regardless of belief, also need to be protected from discrimination, intimidation or harassment of all kinds.
Interventions in political system
While some of the changes in the election laws, such as increased representation for women and revival of the joint electorate system were generally welcomed, the order to put Ahmadis on a separate voters list and expansion of the disqualification clause attracted a lot of legitimate criticism.
Minorities under attack
The situation for minority groups, which has worsened sharply over the last year, presenting new problems of harmony and unity within the country, can be improved only be putting in place measures aimed at raising their status as a whole. At the same time, there is a need to deal with the problem of militancy as something more than a mere issue of policing. Until efforts begin to tackle militancy in a holistic manner, there is a fear that the loss of life caused by militants will continue, inflicting still greater suffering on families across the country.