Religious Persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
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Home U.S. Department of State Annual Report (IRF) 2008: Pakistan
Int’l Religious Freedom Report - 2008: Pakistan

Excerpts from
U.S. Department of State
Pakistan International Religious Freedom Report 2008 External Link - Opens new browser window
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
September 19, 2008

The country is an Islamic republic. Islam is the state religion, and the Constitution requires that laws be consistent with Islam. The Constitution states that “subject to law, public order and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion“; however, in practice the Government imposes limits on freedom of religion. Freedom of speech is constitutionally “subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam.”

The Government took some steps to improve its treatment of religious minorities during the period covered by this report, but serious problems remained. Law enforcement personnel abused religious minorities in custody. Security forces and other government agencies did not adequately prevent or address societal abuse against minorities. Discriminatory legislation and the Government’s failure to take action against societal forces hostile to those who practice a different religious belief fostered religious intolerance, acts of violence, and intimidation against religious minorities. Specific laws that discriminate against religious minorities include anti-Ahmadi and blasphemy laws that provide the death penalty for defiling Islam or its prophets. The Ahmadiyya community continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and legal bars to the practice of its religious beliefs. Members of other Islamic sects also claimed governmental discrimination.

Relations between religious communities were tense. Societal discrimination against religious minorities was widespread, and societal violence against such groups occurred. Societal actors, including terrorist and extremist groups and individuals, targeted religious congregations.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. During the period covered by this report, U.S. embassy officials closely monitored the treatment of religious minorities, worked to eliminate the teaching of religious intolerance, and encouraged the amendment of the blasphemy laws.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 310,527 square miles and a population of 170 million. Official figures on religious demography, based on the most recent census taken in 1998, showed that approximately 97 percent of the population was Muslim. Groups comprising 2 percent of the population or less include Hindus, Christians, and others, including Ahmadis. The majority of Muslims in the country are Sunni, with a Shi’a minority ranging between 10 to 20 percent. Parsis (Zoroastrians), Sikhs, and Buddhists each had approximately 20,000 adherents, while the Baha’i claimed 30,000. Some tribes in Baluchistan and North West Frontier Province (NWFP) practiced traditional animist religious beliefs.

Less than 0.5 percent of the population was silent on religious affiliation or claimed not to adhere to a particular religious group. Social pressure was such that few persons would claim no religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion. It also declares that adequate provisions shall be made for minorities to profess and practice their religious beliefs freely; however, in reality the Government imposes limits on freedom of religion, particularly on Ahmadis.

A 1974 constitutional amendment declares Ahmadis to be non-Muslim. Section 298(c), commonly referred to as the “anti-Ahmadi laws,” prohibits Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims, referring to their religious beliefs as Islam, preaching or propagating their religious belief, inviting others to accept Ahmadi teachings, or insulting the religious feelings of Muslims. The punishment for violation of the section is imprisonment for up to 3 years and a fine. Other religious communities were generally free to observe their religious obligations; however, religious minorities are legally restricted from public display of certain religious images and, due to discriminatory legislation and social pressure, are often afraid to profess their religious beliefs freely.

Freedom of speech is subject to “reasonable” restrictions in the interests of the “glory of Islam.” The consequences for contravening the country’s blasphemy laws are death for defiling Islam or its prophets; life imprisonment for defiling, damaging, or desecrating the Qur’an; and 10 years’ imprisonment for insulting another’s religious feelings. These laws are often used to settle personal scores as well as to intimidate vulnerable Muslims, sectarian opponents, and religious minorities. Under the Anti-Terrorist Act, any action, including speech, intended to incite religious hatred is punishable by up to 7 years of imprisonment. Under the act, bail is not to be granted if the judge has reasonable grounds to believe that the accused is guilty; however, the law is applied selectively.

Any speech or conduct that injures another’s religious feelings, including those of minority religious groups, is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment. However, in cases where the religious feelings of a minority religious group were insulted, the blasphemy laws were rarely enforced and cases rarely brought to the legal system. A 2005 law requires that a senior police official investigate any blasphemy charge before a complaint is filed. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), this law was not uniformly enforced.

The Government designates religious affiliation on passports and requests religious information in national identity card applications. Citizens must have a national identity card to vote. Those wishing to be listed as a Muslim must swear to believe that Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet and denounce the Ahmadiyya Movement’s founder as a false prophet and his followers as non-Muslims, a provision designed to discriminate against Ahmadis. Before the 2002 general elections, President Musharraf abolished the requirement to take this oath, but he later reversed his decision, resulting in an election boycott by the Ahmadiyya community. Initial voter registration no longer requires such an oath, but the Election Commission claimed that any Muslim registrant whose religious beliefs were challenged by the public would have to take the oath. As a result, Ahmadis continued to boycott the elections. No new policies based on religion were made for the February 2008 elections.

The Constitution provides for the “freedom to manage religious institutions.” In principle, the Government does not restrict organized religious groups from establishing places of worship and training members of the clergy. In practice, however, religious minorities suffered from restrictions on this right. The Government, at the district level, consistently refused to grant permission to construct non-Muslim places of worship, especially to the Ahmadiyya and Baha’i communities, citing the need to maintain public order. There is no official restriction on the construction of Ahmadiyya places of worship; however, Ahmadis are forbidden from calling them mosques. District governments often refuse to grant Ahmadis permission to hold events publicly, therefore they hold their meetings in members’ homes. The Government can shut down these gatherings if neighbors report hearing the recitation of Qur’anic verses.

The Constitution specifically prohibits discriminatory admission to any governmental educational institution solely based on religious affiliation. Government officials stated that the only factors affecting admission to governmental educational institutions were students’ grades and home provinces; however, students must declare their religious affiliation on application forms. This declaration is also true for private educational institutions, including universities. Muslim students must declare in writing that they believe that Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, a measure that singles out Ahmadis. Non-Muslims must have their religious affiliation verified by the head of their local religious community.

A March 2007 report indicated that unregulated, extremist madrassahs in Karachi continued to thrive in the sprawling city with a large population of young, unemployed men. International Crisis Group reported that after 5 years of trying to reform madrassahs, the Government’s program had not fully succeeded, and that extremist groups were operating mosques and madrassahs in the open in Karachi and elsewhere, due to lack of consistent regulation. Despite the fact that reforms were stalled, the majority of the country’s madrassahs have been registered, foreign students are now required to obtain a no-objection certificate before attending madrassah classes, and all madrassahs are required to report their finances. Additionally, the new government announced that there would be a uniform curriculum in the madrassahs, with a more secular tone to be introduced.

All wafaqs mandated the elimination of teaching that promoted religious or sectarian intolerance and terrorist or extremist recruitment at madrassahs. Inspectors mandated that affiliated madrassahs supplement religious studies with secular subjects, including English, math, and science. Wafaqs also restricted foreign private funding of madrassahs. Examination concerns remained under active discussion with the Government. Some unregistered and Deobandi-controlled madrassahs in the FATA, Karachi, and northern Baluchistan continued to teach extremism. Similarly, the Dawa schools run by Jamat-ud-Dawa continued such teaching and recruitment for Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

The Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA)-led provincial government, a coalition of six conservative parties that ruled in the NWFP until November 2007, continued to pass directives and legislation in accordance with conservative Islamic views. If implemented, many of these initiatives would impose Shari’a on all citizens, regardless of religious affiliation. Existing laws include antiobscenity measures under which advertising has been torn down, stores fined for selling certain western recordings, a complete ban on alcohol, and a requirement for civil servants to pray five times daily.

The Government does not restrict religious publishing in general; however, the sale of Ahmadi religious literature is banned. The law prohibits publishing any criticism of Islam or its prophets or insults to another’s religious beliefs.

Missionaries (except Ahmadis) operate in the country and can proselytize, as long as there is no preaching against Islam and the missionaries acknowledge they are not Muslim. ……

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government generally enforced existing legal restrictions on religious freedom.

Since 1983 Ahmadis have been prohibited from holding public conferences or gatherings, and been denied permission to hold their annual conference. Ahmadis were banned from preaching and were prohibited from traveling to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj or other religious pilgrimages. Ahmadiyya publications were banned from public sale, but they published religious literature in large quantities for a limited circulation.

While the Constitution guarantees the right to establish places of worship and train clergy, in practice Ahmadis suffered from restrictions on this right. According to press reports, authorities continued to conduct surveillance on Ahmadis and their institutions. Several Ahmadiyya mosques reportedly were closed; others reportedly were desecrated or had their construction stopped.

Public pressure routinely prevented courts from protecting minority rights. These same pressures forced justices to take strong action against any perceived offense to Sunni orthodoxy. Discrimination against religious minorities was rarely placed before the judiciary. According to several NGOs, cases against Christians and Ahmadis continued to grow during the reporting period; however, the judiciary, even at the lower levels, acted in a more judicious manner in dealing with these cases as compared with previous reporting periods. NGOs reported that cases against both the local Christian and Hindu communities continued but to a lesser degree, and that social discrimination remains at high levels. There was generally a long period between filing the case and the first court appearance. Lower courts were frequently intimidated, delayed decisions, and refused bail for fear of reprisal from extremist elements. Bail in blasphemy cases was usually denied by original trial courts, arguing that since defendants faced the death penalty, they were likely to flee. Many defendants appealed the denial of bail, but bail was often not granted in advance of the trial.

The Government sometimes funded and facilitated Hajj travel but had no similar program for pilgrimages by religious minorities. Due to the passport requirement to list religious affiliation and denounce the Ahmadi prophet, Ahmadis were restricted from going on the Hajj, because they were unable to declare themselves as Muslim. In addition, given the Government’s lack of recognition of Israel, religious believers, regardless of religious affiliation, were unable to travel to Israel on pilgrimage. This especially affected Baha’is, since the Baha’i World Centre, the spiritual and administrative heart of the Baha’i community, is located in northern Israel.

Shi’a and other religious minorities contended that the Government persistently discriminated against members of their communities in hiring for the civil service and in admissions to government institutions of higher learning.

Promotions for all minority groups appeared limited within the civil service. These problems were particularly acute for Ahmadis, who contended that a “glass ceiling” prevented them from being promoted to senior positions and that certain government departments refused to hire or retain qualified Ahmadis.……

Members of minority religious groups volunteered for military service in small numbers, and there were no official obstacles to their advancement; however, in practice non-Muslims rarely rose above the rank of colonel and were not assigned to politically sensitive positions. A chaplaincy corps provided services for Muslim soldiers, but no similar services were available for religious minorities. In September 2007 the Government of Punjab commissioned a Sikh traffic warden in Lahore, and he was the first non-Muslim recruit in the Punjab police department.

Officials used bureaucratic demands and bribes to delay religious groups trying to build houses of worship or obtain land. While Ahmadis were prevented from building houses of worship, Sunni Muslim groups built mosques and shrines without government permission, at times in violation of zoning ordinances and upon government-owned lands. According to the press reports in December 2007, locals of Rasool Nagar protested against the district government for demolishing a newly constructed two-room Sunni mosque. The mosque attendees claimed that they were granted permission from the district; however, district administrators deny granting permission.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

Police reportedly tortured and mistreated those in custody, and at times, engaged in extrajudicial killings. It was usually impossible to ascertain whether adherence to particular religious beliefs was a factor in cases in which religious minorities were victims; however, both Christian and Ahmadiyya communities claimed their members were more likely to be abused. Non-Muslim prisoners generally were accorded poorer facilities than Muslim inmates, including a lack of access to spiritual resources. Conversion to other minority religious groups generally took place in secret to avoid a societal backlash.

Ahmadiyya leaders claimed the Government used regular sections of the Penal Code against their members for religious reasons. Authorities often accused converts to the Ahmadiyya community of blasphemy, violations of the anti-Ahmadi laws, or other crimes. The Government used anti-Ahmadi laws to target and harass Ahmadis. The vague wording of the provision that forbids Ahmadis from directly or indirectly identifying themselves as Muslims enabled officials to bring charges against Ahmadis for using the standard Muslim greeting and for naming their children Muhammad. According to the Islamabad-based Jamaat-e-Ahmadiya, the Ahmadiyya community claimed that during the period covered by this report, 45 Ahmadis faced criminal charges under religious laws or because of their religious beliefs: 7 under the blasphemy laws, 23 under Ahmadi-specific laws, and 15 under other laws but motivated by their adherence to Ahmadiyya religious beliefs.

At the end of the reporting period, four Ahmadis were arrested on blasphemy charges; one was in prison, and three others were out on bail. The Ahmadiyya community claimed these were falsely brought due to their religious beliefs. Fifteen more criminal cases, ranging from killings to destruction of property, were filed against prominent members of the Ahmadiyya community during the reporting period. The cases remained unprosecuted, and the accused were allowed to post bail.

In June 2008 an antiterrorism court at Gujranwala, Punjab, acquitted five persons arrested for the murder of eight Ahmadis of Mandi Bahauddin District. The killings took place in October 2005 when a group attacked Ahmadi worshippers during the morning congregational prayers at their mosque, injuring 20 persons and killing 8.

On March 6, 2008, police arrested 80-year-old Ahmadi Altaf Husain in Kabeerwala for desecrating the Qur’an. According to police, a student saw Husain rip pages out of the Qur’an and throw them on the ground. Members of the Ahmadiyya community stated that Husain was just reading the power meter outside his home when the student warned him that he was stepping on a page of the Qur’an. Police arrived and arrested Husain.

In January 2008 authorities arrested an Ahmadi in Wazirabad, Punjab, on charges of distributing Ahmadi-related pamphlets. He was granted bail in March 2008 and forced to leave the area after receiving numerous death threats.

In January 2008 police charged an Ahmadiyya businessman, Manzur Ahmed, with destroying pages that included religious inscriptions. At the end of the reporting period, he remained behind bars on destruction of holy material.

In September 2007 police accused Mumtaz Ali, an Ahmadi, of subscribing, receiving, and subsequently distributing the newsletter of the local Ahmadiyya community. He was taken in police custody for 10 days and released because of his old age. In October Ali died, but the police refused to drop the charges and threatened the doctor’s family with imprisonment if the household continued to receive the newsletter.

In November 2007 three Ahmadis were arrested in Sargodha, Punjab, on charges of proselytizing when they invited other locals to their places of worship. They were given bail in mid-February 2008.

In December 2007 Larkana police arrested 21 Ahmadis on charges of gathering and worshipping like Muslims after neighbors claimed to police that they heard Islamic verses coming from the home of one of the members. At the end of the reporting period, three of the 21 remained in prison.

In 2007 authorities released Mian Mohammed Yar, the president of the local Ahmadiyya community in the Okara District of the Punjab, who was arrested in August 2006 under the anti-Ahmadi laws on the charge of preaching.

Authorities routinely used the blasphemy laws to harass religious minorities and vulnerable Muslims and to settle personal scores or business rivalries. Authorities detained and convicted individuals on spurious charges. Judges and magistrates, seeking to avoid a confrontation with or violence from extremists, often continued trials indefinitely.

During the reporting period, authorities arrested at least 25 Ahmadis, 11 Christians, and 17 Muslims on blasphemy charges. Many remained in prison at the end of the reporting period. The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) stated “Generally we do not request bail because of security. Blasphemy suspects are often safest in prison under police protection.”

On June 18, 2008, Mohammad Shafeeq was sentenced to death for blasphemy after he allegedly defiled the Qur’an and used derogatory language to refer to the Prophet Mohammad. Shafeeq was arrested in 2006, on the complaint of local religious leaders, in a village near Sialkot where the trial was held.

In June 2008 four Ahmadis were arrested and charged for blasphemy in Kotri. The arrests were made after a dispute occurred over construction of an Ahmadiyya prayer center and protests from mullas of Tahafuz Khatame Nabuwwat.

In October 2006 police arrested Ahmadi Mohammed Tariq and charged him under blasphemy laws for allegedly tearing off anti-Ahmadiyya stickers inside a bus. Police released him on bail in December 2006, and at the end of the reporting period, he was awaiting trial.

In September 2006 police released on bail two Ahmadiyya journalists working for an Ahmadiyya publication, Al Fazl, whom they had charged under blasphemy laws. Three others from Al Fazl, an editor, a publisher, and a printer, remained in confinement awaiting court proceedings on the same charges. According to Jamaat-e-Ahmadiya, all were released but were given strict warnings by the police to stop publishing. Reports also indicated that strong pressure was placed on the provincial and district governments by many religious leaders to shut down the publication activities of all Punjabi Ahmadis following this case.

In the spring of 2007, members of the Ahmadiyya community purchased 6 acres of land outside Lahore to expand a preexisting cemetery. Local clerics denounced the purchase and held demonstrations against the Ahmadiyya community. Police sided with the clerics, and local authorities claimed the construction of a wall on the land would be used to form a “center of apostasy.” When the Ahmadis refused to remove the wall, five buses of policemen arrived and destroyed it in the middle of the night. Officials admitted the action was taken under pressure of local clerics.

In October 2006 police stopped construction of a new Ahmadiyya school in Sialkot district. Mullahs reportedly then destroyed the partially constructed building. At the end of the reporting period, the school had yet to be constructed.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations between the country’s religious communities remained tense. Violence against religious minorities and between Muslim sects continued. Most believed that a small minority was responsible for attacks; however, discriminatory laws and the teaching of religious intolerance created a permissive environment for attacks. Police often refused to prevent violence and harassment or refused to charge persons who commit such offenses.

Mobs occasionally attacked individuals accused of blasphemy, their family, or their religious community prior to their arrest. When blasphemy and other religious cases were brought to court, extremists often packed the courtroom and made public threats against an acquittal. Religious extremists continued to threaten to kill those acquitted of blasphemy charges. High-profile accused persons often went into hiding or emigrated after acquittal.

In October 2007 the National Engineering and Science Commission cancelled a fellowship awarded to Amna Zaheka upon learning that she was an Ahmadi. The public organization stated that she was not found suitable for employment based on the grounds that her religious beliefs could lead to her being a security risk.

Ahmadi individuals and institutions long have been victims of religious violence, much of it organized by religious extremists.

On June 5, 2008, the Principal of Punjab Medical College expelled 15 Ahmadi women students and 8 men students accused of preaching Ahmadiyyat in the university. On June 5, 2008, students went on strike, surrounded the principal’s office, and demanded expulsion of all Ahmadi students. The principal held a session of the Disciplinary Committee and issued orders to expel 23 Ahmadi students. Four of the women students were in their final year of studies. At the end of the reporting period, the case was pending.

In April 2008 a large group of Islamic scholars held an international conference dealing with the question of the Ahmadi Muslims in Chichawatni. The participants demanded that all Ahmadis serving in the armed forces be discharged and that their property be confiscated by the Government.

In July 2007 Minhajul Quran Council, a Braelvi religio-educational organization, advertised in the press that it would hold a week long course on “Radd-e-Qadianiyat” (Rejection of the Ahmadi Faith) at Madrassah Daarul Ulema, Nuria Rizvi, in the Gulberg area of Faisalabad. The seminary also hired small vans that toured Faisalabad and other nearby towns and cities announcing this course. The course was held and its proceedings were published in local newspapers. The seminary used loudspeakers during the course, read material, delivered speeches against the Ahmadiyya group, and called for attendees to be aware of the “fallaciousness of the religious group.”

Some Sunni Muslim groups published literature calling for violence against Ahmadis, Shi’a Muslims, other Sunni sects, and Hindus. Some newspapers frequently published articles that contained derogatory references to religious minorities, especially Ahmadis, Hindus, and Jews.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

U.S. embassy officers maintained a dialogue with government, religious, and minority community representatives to encourage religious freedom and discuss the blasphemy laws, the Hudood Ordinance, curriculum reform in the public education and madrassah education systems, treatment of the Ahmadiyya and Christian communities, and sectarian violence. Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, met with leaders from communities of all religious groups and NGOs working on religious freedom problems. Embassy officials also raised and discussed treatment of the Ahmadis with parliamentarians.

As part of its overall public education reform program, valued at $100 million (6 billion rupees), the U.S. Government provided substantial financial support to the Government’s curriculum reform initiative, which included eliminating the teaching of religious intolerance.

Related: Newsreports.
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