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Layyah,2 February 2009
Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district
February 1-2, 2009
On January 29, 2009, the print and electronic media reported that a case for blasphemy had been registered against five persons of the Ahmadiyya community under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) in Kot Sultan police station of Layyah district. A complaint lodged with the police accused five Ahmadis of writing the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on the walls of the mosque's toilet in village 172/TDA. The accused named in the First Information Report (FIR) included minor males and matriculation students. All accused subsequently voluntarily appeared before the police and were arrested. The accused denied the allegations vehemently.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) sent a fact-finding mission to Layyah on February 1-2, 2009 to verify the facts. The mission included Mr. Mehboob Ahmad Khan (HRCP legal officer), Mr. Nadeem Anthony (HRCP Council member), Mr. Irfan Barkat (human rights activist), Mr. Munawar Ali Shahid (journalist/HRCP member), Mr. Waqar Gillani (journalist), Mr. Abdul Manan (journalist), Mr. Asif Yaqoob (activist) and Mr. Fareedullah (journalist). During its visit to Layyah, the HRCP team met villagers, members of the Ahmadiyya community and the local administration.
The alleged incident occurred in village 172/TDA, which has a population of approximately 1,000 persons. Most of the villagers belong to the Sunni Barelvi sect and there is only one mosque, Gulzar-e-Madina mosque, in the village, located 40 kilometres northwest of Layyah. The majority of the village population consists of farmers. Around half a dozen families of the Ahmadiyya community reside here.
The FIR — No. 46/09 dated January 28, 2009 – does not mention the date or time when the alleged blasphemous act purportedly took place. The complainant is Mr. Liaquat Ali, a resident of village 172/TDA. The accused are charged under Section 295-C of the PPC.
According to the FIR: “A few days prior to the lodging of the FIR, Mr. Muhammad Safdar - a resident of Chak 173/TDA - saw the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) written in the mosque’s toilet. He told the prayer leader, Qari Muhammad Saeed, about the writing. The prayer leader said he knew about the writing and was probing the matter. The prayer leader scratched the name from the toilet’s walls. Thereafter, an employee of Government High School Chak 172/TDA, Shahbaz Qasim, also saw the writing in the toilet. Qasim told his father Noor Elahi Kaulachi who contacted Union Nazim Syed Ghazanfar Abbas. The nazim asked his secretary Mr. Ehsan to probe the matter. Kaulachi, who is a retired teacher, along with residents of villages 171/TDA, 172/TDA, 173/TDA and 174/TDA contacted Syed Iqbal Shah who made a telephone call to police station in-charge who visited the village. When Hakeem Muhammad Hanif, Safdar Mahr and Shahbaz Qasim tried to probe the incident they learned that four students from the Ahmadiyya community – Mohammad Irfan, Tahir Imran, Tahir Mehmood and Naseeb Ahmed - used to offer prayers in the mosque and used the toilets there. Mubasher Ahmed, another Ahmadi, was also seen offering Friday prayers in the mosque. Shahbaz Qasim stopped the Ahmadis from offering prayers in the mosque, due to which they [the accused] tried to create trouble. We [the complainant and other villagers] suspect since these Ahmadis are the only non-Muslims coming to the mosque, therefore they must have committed the offence.”
On January 29, 2009, the day following the FIR’s registration, some journalists visited the area and others telephoned local residents to learn about the situation.
Mr. Abdul Hameed Bhutta, naib nazim Union Council 172/TDA
Mr. Abdul Hameed Bhutta - naib nazim of Union Council 172/TDA, and president of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Layyah chapter - told the HRCP team that his Union Council was very peaceful and had religious harmony. He said he was not fully aware about the incident but added that the charge must be investigated in an unbiased manner and the culprits punished. However, he emphasized that innocent people should not be made to suffer. He said the person who had instigated action against the Ahmadis had been a member of a banned militant organization, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and later jointed another banned extremist outfit, the Jamaatud Dawa.
Mr. Masood Ahmed, representative of the Ahmadiyya community in Layyah
Mr. Masood Ahmed told the HRCP team that six Ahmadi families have been living in village 172/TDA for over 50 years and had had no dispute or enmity with any other community. Ahmadis have always been helpful towards the local residents. Some years ago, Mr. Noor Elahi Kaulachi asked the Ahmadiyya community for religious literature, which was not given to him. He continued to try and find ways and issues to harass and pressurize the Ahmadis. Kaulachi is a member of a banned extremist organisation. Four Ahmadis who were named in the FIR were students of Superior Academy in the village. The academy’s principal Mr. Niaz Kherani had requested the prayer leader at the Gulzar-e-Madina mosque to allow the Ahmadi students to offer prayers there and the prayer leader had said he would had no objections to that. The Ahmadis offered their prayers in the mosque for less than a week when Qasim Shahbaz stopped them from praying there. This was around 10 days before the blasphemy complaint was lodged with the police. The Ahmadi students did not go to the mosque again. The four students informed the Superior Academy principal that they had been barred from the mosque. The principal forbid them from going to the Gulzar-e-Madina mosque again.
Mr. Kaulachi instigated Mr. Syed Iqbal Shah, a local influential and a relative of the National Assembly member from the area – to register a blasphemy case against Ahmadis. Some Ahmadis also met Syed Iqbal Shah to clarify their position, but Shah preferred to believe the version of the local residents who back his family in the elections. Ahmadis are not even registered as voters. After the registration of the case, the Ahmadiyya community voluntarily handed over all the nominated accused to the police. Mr. Masood Ahmed said that he had met the four Ahmadi students and the fifth accused, Mubashir Ahmad, separately in police lockups. All the students assured Mr. Masood that they had not written the Prophet’s name in the mosque’s toilets nor committed any other crime and said they did not know who was responsible for the writing in the toilet. The students said that their matriculation examination was due to begin on March 4 and requested Mr. Masood to bring them their books to allow them to prepare for the examination. According to Mr. Masood, Mr. Mubashir, the fifth accused, said he was innocent and was worried about the situation.
Saddar police station, Layyah
The accused were transferred from Kot Sultan police station - around 20 kilometers from the village - to Saddar police station in Layyah city. The HRCP team went to the police station and requested permission to talk to the accused, but Station House Officer (SHO) Manzoor Ahmed turned down the request. The SHO met the HRCP team on the road in front of the police station and said he was only responsible for the custody of the accused since it was not his police station’s case.
Dr Muhammad Azam, Layyah district police officer (DPO)
On February 2, 2009, the HRCP team telephoned Layyah DPO Dr Muhammad Azam for an interview. The DPO asked the team to meet him at the office of the National Database and Registration Authority at 11am. The team reached the office at 10:40am and waited for the DPO to arrive until 12:10pm but the DPO did not show up, nor allowed the team access to the accused. Later, he switched off his cell phone. The team again telephoned the DPO at 5pm, when he said that he was preoccupied and could not see the team. The HRCP team felt the DPO was avoiding a meeting with them.
Mr. Khalid Rauf, SHO Kot Sultan police station
The HRCP team met Kot Sultan police station SHO Khalid Rauf to ask him about the case. Mr. Rauf said it is correct that Syed Iqbal Shah (an uncle of local parliamentarian Syed Saqlain Shah from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) contacted him on the phone for the registration of a blasphemy case and asked me to visit the place of occurrence. After Shah’s call, the SHO said he contacted DPO Dr Muhammad Azam who permitted him to register the case. He conceded that the law requires that an inquiry by a superintendent of police (SP) must be conducted about the occurrence before the registration of a case on charges of blasphemy. However, he added that an SP Investigation had not been appointed to the district for over two years, therefore, an investigation prior to the registration of the case could not be conducted. Now, the SP Investigation of Rajanpur district has been assigned to oversee the investigation of the case. SHO Khalid Rauf said he had visited the village and examined the place of occurrence. He said he found no eyewitnesses or any other evidence in the case and the FIR was based on suspicion about the accused. He said he saw reason in the stance of the complainant and the local residents that no Muslim can write the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on a toilet’s walls. When asked if an Ahmadi could do such a thing, he refused to answer.
Qari Muhammad Saeed, prayer leader of Gulzar-e-Madina mosque
The HRCP team subsequently proceeded to the village 172/TDA. As the team talked to Qari Saeed outside the Gulzar-e-Madina mosque, a crowd of over 100 villagers assembled there. Qari Saeed told the HRCP team that some of the villagers using the toilets had previously written obscenities there, at times also abusing the villagers by name. He said he had had the writings erased a number of times. He said that Ahmadi students from Superior Academy had offered their prayers in the mosque for some days, and that the academy’s principal also knew that. When the Ahmadi students were stopped from offering their prayers in the mosque, they never went there again. He said that he did not know the fifth accused, Mubashir Ahmad, and had never seen him in the mosque. He added that nobody knows who wrote the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on the toilet walls but the police had not asked him any questions as Shahbaz Qasim had advised him to remain absent from the mosque when the police came to inspect the site. While interviewing Qari Saeed, the team saw a banner at the mosque’s entrance announcing a Khatam-e-Nabuwat (finality of prophethood) Conference to be held in the mosque on 9th February, 2009. Qari Saeed said he did not know anything about the conference and outsiders had put up the banner without the knowledge or permission of the mosque committee. Qari Saeed added that on January 27, 2009, Shahbaz Qasim had forced him to join a press conference on the village road at 11:00pm to mobilize the people from the locality for the registration of a case against members of the Ahmadiyya community.
Haji Abdul Hakeem, vice president Gulzar-e-Madina mosque committee
Haji Abdul Hakeem, vice president of the Gulzar-e-Madina mosque committee, supported Qari Saeed’s statement and added that he was not certain that the Ahmadi students had written the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on the toilet walls because no evidence was available in this regard. He said he condemned the action, irrespective of the perpetrator. Haji Hakeem said that individuals from Chowk Azam town had visited the village and put up the banner at the mosque entrance regarding the February 9 conference. He said no one had sought permission from the Gulzar-e-Madina mosque committee — responsible for the mosque’s affairs — for holding the conference there. Meanwhile, some individuals in the crowd angrily disagreed with Haji Abdul Hakeem and shouted that the committee was informed about the holding of the conference, to which Haji Hakeem suddenly said: “Yes. Yes. The mosque committee was informed.”
Mr. Niaz Kherani, principal Superior Academy, village 172/TDA
Mr. Kherani also joined the crowd as the HRCP team talked to the mosque administration. Initially, Mr. Kherani started shouting apparently with a view to disrupt the fact-finding. However, later he agreed to give his version of the events to the HRCP team. He said he runs Superior Academy, a private tuition centre, along with his partner Mr. Asif. Kherani told the team that he did not discriminate on the basis of religion in admitting students to his academy. He said the academy has two sections – one for females and the other for male students. Since there is no toilet in the male section, male students used the toilets of the nearby Gulzar-e-Madina mosque. The Ahmadiyya students offered their prayers in the academy premises but Mr. Niaz said he had recently advised the Ahmadi students to offer their prayers in the mosque. He said the prayer leader of the mosque had permitted that and none of the worshipper had objected to the Ahmadis offering their prayers in the mosque either. Niaz said that around 10 days before the registration of the case, the Ahmadi students told him that Shahbaz Qasim, a teacher in the village’s government high school, stopped them from visiting the mosque. Niaz says that he advised the students not to visit the mosque any more. He added that on January 27, 2009, Shahbaz Qasim organized a press conference on the road of the village where Niaz urged the local residents persons not to lodge a case against the Ahmadi students on alleged blasphemy charges, because no witness or evidence was available against the Ahmadi students. He said he had assured the residents that he knew the students personally and could vouch that they would never do such a thing. He said the Ahmadi and other students often remained at the academy until late nights as they prepared for their annual matriculation examination, due in the first week of March 2009. However, he added that subsequently he became convinced that no Muslim could be disrespectful towards the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), therefore he concluded that non-Muslims (Ahmadis) must have done it.
Niaz conceded that no evidence was available against the Ahmadis named in the FIR and that they were trying their best to identify the perpetrator/s.
Parents of the DEATINED Ahmadi students
Members of the local Ahmadiyya community and parents of the four Ahmadi students in police custody said they are law abiding citizens, but added that they knew they were vulnerable being Ahmadis. They told the HRCP team that Superior Academy was constructed on land owned by two Ahmadis – Aslam Cheema and Sufi Nasir – and Niaz had rented the land and paid Rs 10,000 in advance for the construction and it was understood that this amount would be deducted from the rent. They said Ahmadi children offered their prayers in the mosque close to the academy on the advice of Niaz and following permission from the prayer leader. They added that when Shahbaz Qasim stopped the children from visiting the mosque, they strictly forbid the children from ever going there for fear of any problem for their community. They said they also met Niaz who assured them that he would also make sure that the Ahmadi children did not visit the mosque again. They said that they were thankful to the police and the local administration for preventing anti-Ahmadiyya elements from torching their houses, but added that they still felt vulnerable. They said the Ahmadiyya community was facing a social boycott and shopkeepers in the village refuse to deal with them.
Mrs. Karimaan, wife of accused Mubashir
Mrs. Kareeman, wife of the fifth accused Mubashir Ahmed told the team that her husband was innocent and would never commit blasphemy. Mubashir had never been to the Gulzar-e-Madina mosque. She added that she was stopped from collecting fodder for her cattle from a field her husband had leased.
After four days in police custody, the accused were sent to the judicial lockups of Dera Ghazi Khan district’s prison on February 4, 2009. They continue to be confined there.