Ahmadis under fresh attack, Pakistan

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In the continuing attacks on the Ahmadi community in Pakistan, Najeeb Ahmed, peshimam (presiding cleric) of the Sarai Alamgir mosque was punished by unknown assailants with sharp shaving blades in Gujrat district, Punjab province. Three days ago, on December 1, 2015, just as Najeeb Ahmed entered his house, he was pounced upon, his clothes were removed and his upper body was attacked with shaving blades. His cries caused his attackers to then run away. So far no security has been provided to him nor has any action been taken against any assailants. Reports say that he has so far not been provided with any medical treatment.

Recent weeks have shown an acceleration of violence against Ahmadis especially after the burning of an Ahmadi owned chipboard factory. An Ahmadi mosque in Kala Gujram, not far from the factory, has also been targeted, where attackers burned copies of the Quran. The local police and other authorities reportedly failed to control or disperse the crowd allowing destruction of the properties of the Ahmadis. Contrarily, there have been arrests of a senior member of the Ahmadi Community in Jhelum.  "I begged the mob for the life of my wife and children, and they freed them only after attempting to burn (them?) in the factory's boiler”, states Asif Shezad, an Ahmadi who survived a lynching attempt, and was quoted in a statement  by the Asian Human Rights Commission. The mob attack followed the usual pattern. An allegation of blasphemy aroused a mob to set the Jhelum chipboard factory on fire on November 20, 2015. The 2000 strong mob also burnt down the owner’s residence adjoining the factory. Instead of controlling the charged mob and the arsonists, the police arrested three Ahmadis on the local cleric’s allegation that they had burnt the holy Quran. The very next day an Ahmadi mosque adjacent to the factory was ransacked. Shezad and his family have since gone into hiding, fearing for their lives.

In another incident, the owner of a spectacles shop was arrested along with his employee on blasphemy charges for selling Ahmadi literature. The shop was situated at Chanab Nagar (former Rabwa, the centre of the Ahmadi community). Although Mr. Abdul Shakoor does not sell anything apart from eye glasses, the local administration ordered his arrest merely on the complaint of an anti-Ahmadi organisation.

Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law does not clearly define blasphemy but says the offence is punishable by death. Anyone can thus file a blasphemy case claiming their religious feelings are injured for any reason. The accused are often lynched, and lawyers and judges defending or acquitting them have been attacked. Blasphemy laws are increasingly being used to seize money or property.

Since its inception, Pakistan has been battling a religious existential fight with itself. A country attained in the name of religion is yet to establish the definition of a Muslim. The judiciary often also appears complacent and meek in the face religious fundamentalism and orthodox clergy who are bent on enforcing and implementing the firebrand version of Wahabbism (a religious movement to restore Islam to its original form). While minorities in general are persecuted and beleaguered, the Ahmadi community suffers the brunt of the country’s religious discrimination and hatred. In the course of 2015, the Ahmadiyyas suffered severe curbs on their right to freedom of speech and to practise and propagate their religious belief, as well as the deaths of many innocent Ahmadis targeted by religious zealots.

Since its inception, Pakistan has been battling a religious existential fight with itself. A country attained in the name of religion is yet to establish the definition of a Muslim.

On 20 October 2015, 37-year-old Ikramullah was killed in broad daylight by four assailants who opened fire at him and later fled the scene. Ikramullah was in the pharmacy that he owned when four gunmen on motorbikes stormed the store and opened fire. Ikramullah was shot several times and one of the bullets went through his skull. Earlier that month, three members of the Ahmadicommunity survived a gun attack in Karachi.

Anti-Ahmadiyya literature is continuously being published and distributed, endangering the lives of community members. Several Anti-Ahmadiyya conferences were held in Lahore during 2015, where the speakers—many belonging to the ruling party—incited people against the community. In one such conference held on 11 September 2015 at Mughalpura, Lahore, the attendees declared Ahmadis to be rebels of the religion and the country, demanded their removal from important posts, and the banning of products manufactured by Ahmadi companies.

Ahmadis have been arrested in Pakistan for reading the Holy Quran, holding religious celebrations and having Quranic verses on rings or wedding cards, and even for using Islamic greetings. They suffer incessant discrimination in procuring ID cards, passports, and even educational certificates. Many Ahmadis avoid using their right to vote as they must declare themselves non Muslim Ahmadiyya, making themselves vulnerable to physical attacks and socio-economic boycott.

Years of institutionalized discrimination against the Ahmadicommunity and its persistent vilification have led to extreme apathy, where even the mass murder of Ahmadis in Lahore on May 28, 2010 failed to elicit any kind of public outrage. The blood of Ahmadis, Christians, Shias or Hindus, is not the same as Sunni blood; the bloodletting of these groups is acceptable and tolerated as a remote event that does not affect the majority.

The religious intolerance spawning in Pakistan has created a major fault line in the moral and social fabric of the society. If this inaction and apathy on the part of the state and society continues, the time is not far when the country will fall into civil strife and anarchy.

As attacks against Ahmadis and other minorities grows, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed alarm and opposition over Pakistan voting last week against a United Nations General Assembly resolution that called for recognising the role of human rights defenders (HRDs) and the need for their protection. In a statement issued recently, the Commission said: “HRCP welcomes the passing of the UN General Assembly resolution, titled ‘Recognizing the role of human rights defenders and the need for their protection’, by 117 votes on November 25. It is unfortunate that the resolution had to be put to vote this year and could not be adopted by consensus as had been the norm in the past” At the same time, HRCP must express alarm and great disappointment that Pakistan chose to be one of the 14 nations that voted against the resolution. It is ominous that all 14 countries opposing the resolution are from the Afro-Asian region, as is the predominant majority of the 40 states that abstained from voting. The HRDs in the region work in such perilous circumstances that the hope was for the states to be more enthusiastic about protecting them and facilitating their work. It seems that the rights’defenders are going to have a rough time in Asia and Africa in the coming days.While regretting Pakistan’s decision to oppose the resolution, the civil society is entitled to ask what rights’ defenders have done to deserve this step-motherly treatment. It is unfortunate that the government wishes to see civil society as an adversary. The civil society cannot, and must not, surrender its role as a watchdog for people’s rights because that constitutes an entitlement, by virtue of citizens’ social contract with the state, and not a concession. “HRCP also stresses people’s right to know through an explanation in parliament the reason why the government chose to deny the need for protection for HRDs, who include, besides human rights groups, journalists, lawyers, political and social activists.”



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