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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
PAKISTAN: The electoral process is self-contradictory and denies the Ahmadi minority its right to vote
Pakistan claims to provide a universal right to vote to all its citizens, which proves to be contradictory to the facts. Indeed, the members of the Ahmadi community have been denied this fundamental right. The shameful regulations implemented against Ahmadis are in violation of the 1973 Pakistani Constitution and the process of democracy itself.
Right before the elections, the Election Commission issued instructions based on the circular [No.F.1 (6)/2001-Cord] of 17th January, 2007 to maintain a separate electoral lists system, entitled “Preparation of Separate List of Draft Electoral Rolls for Ahmadis/Quadianis”. The eighth amendment to the 1973 Constitution, enacted in 1985, imposed this separated system. Since then, elections have been held in the country with separate electoral lists for different religious groups. This system is primarily aimed at Ahmadis, the most vulnerable and discriminated minority in Pakistan. In 2008, for being registered as voters, those who claimed to be Muslims had to sign a certificate of faith and deny the veracity of the holy founder of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Of course no Ahmadi would agree to do so; they were thus de facto denied their right to vote.
The marginalization of Ahmadis, leading to a discriminatory electoral system based on religious beliefs is in violation of national and international legislations, as well as the spirit of democracy itself. Under the Pakistani Constitution, every Pakistani citizen has the right to vote irrespective of their race, religion, creed or belief. Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also states that “every citizen shall have the right and opportunity to vote and to be elected.” Articles 19 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also guarantee the right to vote to every citizen. The right to vote is one of the most basic and fundamental rights that must be guaranteed to every citizen and without which a state cannot call itself a democracy.
The fact is that the Pakistani legislation is discriminatory against all religious minorities in general, and against Ahmadis in particular. It is not only about the right to vote, but all aspects of public and private life. In 1984, General Zia ul Haq promulgated anti-Ahmadiyya Ordinance XX in which the Ahmadis were outlawed. The Penal Code explicitly discriminates the Ahmadi community in its section 298-C:
“any person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who call 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.”
It must be reminded that Article 20 of Pakistan’s Constitution guarantees each citizen’s freedom “to profess religion and to manage religious institutions”. Article 33 gives the state the responsibility to “discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian and provincial prejudices among the citizens”. Moreover, Article 36 ensures that the state “shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services”.
The Asian Human Rights Commission therefore strongly calls for significant governmental measures in order to tackle this issue and restore the democratic norms in their true spirit. The Pakistani government must repeal all discriminatory laws against religious minorities, for all Pakistani citizens must be equal before the law. The 1973 Constitution before the shameful anti-Ahmadi amendments must be restored. Moreover, all national and international texts that guarantee fundamental rights, such as the right to vote, must be literally implemented. The electoral system based on separated lists must be outlawed and all Pakistani citizens must be treated equally, irrespective of race, religion, creed or belief. It is only through these essential steps that justice and the rule of law can be restored and that Pakistan could finally call itself a democracy.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.