Exclusive: Pakistan: Abuse of Christian and Other Religious Minorities (Part Two of Three)
by ADRIAN MORGAN
October 7, 2009
Methodology of Oppression
Christians are not the only group to have been affected by Pakistan's blasphemy laws. These statutes have been used against Hindus, Muslims, and members of the Ahmadiyya (or Ahmadi, Qadiani) sect, who consider themselves "Islamic" yet are shunned as heretics. The laws are also used to "punish" people as a result of feuds, arguments over land, and other reasons. In these cases, innocent Muslims are often the victims of the blasphemy statutes. But there are other ways of oppressing minorities in Pakistan.
Forcibly converting people is one means of oppression that has been used against minority groups. On May 26, 2006, a conference was held in a Lahore hotel, sponsored by the Minority Rights Commission of Pakistan (MRC). It was claimed at this meeting that although only 100 cases of forced conversions were reported in the Pakistan media, the true annual figure ranged between 500 and 600 a year.
I.A. Rehman, a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) told the conference: "In Pakistan we do not have any law against forced conversion and converting from Islam to any other religion means death. To change this state of affairs, we must consider the issue as a struggle for democracy and invite Muslims as well to these meetings, so they can help us to better understand all points of view of the argument."
The practice of forcing Hindu girls to convert has been documented in Pakistan. In November, 2005, there had been 19 such cases reported in Karachi, the main city in Sindh province. Hindus are generally in low numbers in Pakistan, but in Sindh, there are two districts (Jacobad and Larkana) where (according to the 1998 census) they comprise about 40 percent of the local population. Hindu girls were abducted, converted to Islam and hastily married to young Muslims before their families could trace them.
The most offensive method of forcible conversion is gang-rape. In the fall of 2005, a young Christian girl was allegedly gang-raped to force her to convert to Islam. The 12-year-old girl was abducted from her home and forced to have sex with numerous men. The case was presented by the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA). One former influential member of APMA, Shahbaz Batti, is now the Minorities Minister in the current government.
Christian news sites have several details of such cases of forcible conversions through rape that have taken place in Pakistan. A report by the Asian Human Rights Commission from March 2007 describes how a 15-year-old Shia Muslim girl was gang-raped in Layyah in Punjab province, as a means to force her to convert to Sunni Islam.
Ahmadis are said to comprise less than one percent of Pakistan's population. They are treated by the majority population and by the establishment in a manner that should invoke the outrage of "rights groups" like CAIR, but strangely, few groups are prepared to defend the rights of the Ahmadis. The group has as its slogan: "Love for All, Hatred for No One," yet the group has received vilification from conventional Muslims. In Pakistan in 2005, more than 1,300 reports containing hate material against Ahmadis were published in the Urdu press. The group has also been subjected to violent attacks in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
The persecutions of the Ahmadiyya in Pakistan are similar to those endured by Christians. Occasionally villages are attacked, or individuals are accused of blasphemy, often in an attempt to invoke sectarian violence against the community of the "blasphemer." Such an instance happened on June 24, 2006, when a village was attacked after allegations were made that two Ahmadi youths had burned a copy of the Koran. Seven Ahmadis had been arrested under Section 295-B of the Penal Code (desecration of Koran), but a mob nonetheless rampaged through the village of Jhando Shai in Punjab province. Thirteen Ahmadi families lived in the village. Twelve families were forced to flee, while their homes (and some shops) were burned down. The Ahmadi families who fled could not return to register complaints against those who had vandalized their abodes – the police had banned them from coming back.
Between 1986 and 1999, a total of 189 Ahmadis were imprisoned for contravening Section 295-C of the Penal Code. This outlaws blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, and is the most serious of the religious statutes, potentially meriting the death penalty.
In 2002, Ahmadi political candidates in the general election were forced to sign a pledge confirming that Mohammed was the final prophet (khatm-e-nabbuwat), essentially forcing them to deny the prophethood of their founder Ghulam Ahmad. The Ahmadis do, however, state that Muhammad was the last law-giving prophet.
The discriminatory oath seemed designed to oust Ahmadis from the political process. Not only are Ahmadi candidates placed in the uncomfortable position of either denying the tenets of their faith or sacrificing their rights to stand for election, the same oath must be signed by voters. As a result, Ahmadis are denied the right to partake in the political process.
The Ahmadiyya were officially declared to be non-Muslims on September 21, 1974. This declaration was made by the National Assembly, and became the second amendment to the constitution. The government then was under the leadership of Fazal Elahi Chaudry, of the PPP party.
The official demonization of the Ahmadis obviously contradicts Jinnah's original vision of Pakistan as a nation where people of all faiths should be equal. The machinations of anti-democratic fanatics and dictators have betrayed not only Jinnah, but the first government after independence. The first foreign minister of Pakistan was Sir Zafrullah Khan (1893 - 1985), who was an Ahmadi. A figure of international politics, and champion of the Third World, Zafrullah Khan's religion seems to be the reason why he is not remembered in Pakistan.
Political discrimination continues. The leaders of Pakistan's Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam party (JUI) follow strict Deobandi beliefs. Sami ul-Haq, who leads the "S" wing of the party, heads the Haqqania madrassa which educated most of Afghanistan's Taliban, including Mullah Omar (even though the latter did not finish his course). The "F" wing of JUI is led by Fazlur Rehman. Both have argued for Sharia law to replace Pakistan's democracy. On September 29, 2009, Senator Dr. Khalid Mehmood Soomro of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (F) publicly condemned the exiled leader of the MQM party for supporting the Ahmadi. Soomro also condemned the governor of Punjab for supporting the Ahmadis, and vowed that JUI activists would ensure people knew about khatm-e-nabbuwat.
In December 2004, the Pakistani authorities removed the necessity of a column in a person's passport that declared one's religion. Briefly, it seemed that Ahmadis would be able to join the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. However, in March 2005 government ministers restored the religious identification section on all Pakistani passports. They had apparently been pressured by fundamentalist groups.
Scattered as they are across Pakistan, the cohesion of Ahmadis as a group is maintained through publications. Now, the Internet is used to keep Ahmadis aware of what is happening to their communities both nationally and globally. On September 9, 2006, the offices of an Ahmadi newspaper in Rabwah, Punjab, were raided by police. The Blasphemy laws (298-B and 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code), introduced in 1980 by dictator Zia ul-Haq to deny Ahmadis the right to present themselves as "Muslims," were invoked to justify the raid. Additionally, the newspaper was said to have published "hate literature." Arrests were made, some staff escaped. The Daily Alfazl newspaper, which was founded in 1911, was forced to stop printing. It continues, and has an online edition.
The Ahmadis face discrimination even after death. When an Ahmadi is buried in a Muslim graveyard, there are often protests, leading to exhumations and reburials, as happened to a 60-year old-woman in June 2007 and a 17-year-old Ahmadi girl in March 2006. This girl, Nadia Hanif, was reburied because local clerics, supported by extremists, campaigned against her body lying amongst "true" Muslims. A family spokesman said: "How can peace and harmony be built in society?" Between 1988 and 2006, there were a total of 28 Ahmadi exhumations from Muslim cemeteries. Attempts by Ahmadis to expand or alter their own cemeteries are limited by the actions of fanatical Muslims.
In April 2007, when Ahmadis wished to place a fence around a graveyard at Wagah Town near Lahore, a radical cleric declared this unacceptable. The cleric, Dr. Sarfaraz Ahmed Naeemi, promised retaliations if the government allowed it. He said that as the cemetery was near the Indian border, having it enclosed appeared to suggest they wanted a headquarters. Naeemi added: "The government should remember that according to our belief, apostates should be killed within three days. It is only the difference of opinion on this decree within Muslims that has stopped us from doing so."
Ahmadis – like Christians – are killed for the sake of their faith. Between 1984 and 2004, at least 79 Ahmadis were killed. On March 1, 2007 a senior police officer shot dead Muhammad Ashraf, an Ahmadi man who was eating his breakfast in a hotel in a village near Lahore, Punjab province. Before shooting him, the policeman shouted: "You are an infidel, and are preaching an infidel creed in the area."
Early on Friday October 7th, two gunmen burst into an Ahmadi mosque in Mong, Mandi Bahuddin town, 60 miles south of Islamabad, the capital. The assailants fired Kalashnikovs at Ahmadis who were offering morning prayers. Eight people were killed and 14 more were injured. The gunmen fled on a motorcycle of a third man, who waited outside. A witness said: "The floor of the one-room place of worship was littered with blood."
On Monday January 19, 2009 a 55-year-old Ahmadi shopkeeper was shot dead in Kotri district, Sindh province. Saeed Ahmed had been returning home from work when he was shot in front of his house. The only reason for his killing, claimed an Ahmadi spokesman, was his faith. The spokesman blamed a media fatwa for allowing such killings to happen (see below).
Killings are horrific but when children are criminalized under the law on account of their faith, there can be no moral justification. In February 2007, it was revealed that police in Khushab district in Punjab province had registered a case against five young Ahmadis. Their "crime" had been to subscribe to an Ahmadi children's magazine called Tasheezul Azhan. The police officer who made the case claimed the magazine was "banned" and contained "hate material," even though it had been printed since 1906. Two of the accused were preteens. One was an 11-year-old girl, Nusrat Jahan, and one was an 8-year-old boy called Umair Ahmed.
In Layyah district in Punjab province, another incident involved children being criminalized. Four Ahmadi boys from the district were arrested on January 28th this year. The boys, named Muhammad Irfan, Tahir Imran, Tahir Mahmood and Naseeb Ahmad, were said in the FIR (First Information Report) to have written "blasphemous material" in the latrines of the Gulzar-e-Madina mosque in Kot Sultan. They were all charged under Section 295-C of the Blasphemy Laws. This statute, which outlaws the use of "derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet", is the most serious, as it can lead to the death penalty.
Following a well-established pattern, the accusations of blasphemy were followed by mob violence. On January 29, 2009, a day after the arrests, a mob tried to burn Ahmadi houses in Layyah district. The protagonists of the violence were said to be banned Islamist extremist groups.
The case is serious. It is the first time since 1986, when Section 295-C of the PPC was introduced, that it has been used against children. The "banned groups" who led the agitation against the Layyah Ahmadiyya community, were the Sipah-i-Sahaba. Apparently a retired schoolteacher called Noor Elahi Kulachi, who is a member of the Sipah-i-Sahaba, led the campaign to have the children arrested. Kulachi approached a relative of a member of the National Assembly, who then convened a meeting. This had the boys branded as "guilty."
On Friday January 30 a 45-year old man called Mubaser Ahmed was also arrested. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released a statement. This asserted that the boys had not been part of the mosque where the graffiti was found, nor were they from the area.
The AHRC statement also read: "After contacting Dr Muhammad Azam, the district police officer (DPO) of Layyah, family members were told that the police were under pressure from fundamentalists to act against the children. If he did not arrest them, Azam said, the group had threatened to close down the whole city and attack the houses of Ahmedi sect members. Worried about civilian deaths, the officer arrested the children."
On February 7, 2009, it was revealed that the four accused children had been sent to Dera Ghazi Khan Central Jail. A local community leader sent them books in jail, so they could review for their examinations. Members of the banned Islamist groups that were said to be responsible for attacking Ahmadiyya homes in Layyah were not charged or arrested.
I contacted a British Ahmadiyya mosque and was told that the four Ahmadi boys have since been bailed. Even though they are no longer in prison, they are still awaiting their trial for blasphemy.
In a country that receives so much money from Western nations, particularly from the United States, it is shocking that some officials and politicians flout the rule of law and show no respect for the human rights of others. On September 7, 2008, a former government minister repeatedly declared that as Ahmadis did not believe Mohammed to be the last prophet, it was necessary under Islamic teachings to kill them. He also persuaded his two guests to agree with the statement. Within 48 hours, two Ahmadis had been murdered.
Dr. Amir Liaquat Hussain had formerly been the religious affairs minister for Pakistan, and used to be with the MQM party. On July 4, 2007, he was forced to resign from his post as religious affairs minister, on the orders of the MQM party. The party was unhappy with Liaquat Hussain's comments that Salman Rushdie should be killed for blasphemy.
Liaquat Hussein made his comments on the popular religious show that he had fronted as anchorman, called "Aalim Online," This show is on Geo TV. Shortly after his calls for Ahmadis to be killed, the MQM party also dropped Liaquat Hussein from their main committee.
Eighteen hours after Liaquat Hussein called for Ahmadis to be killed as a "religious duty" (Wajib ul Qatal), six people walked into a clinic in Mirpur Khas, Sindh province. Here, Dr. Abdul Manan Siddiqui had a medical practice. They called for the doctor, an Ahmadi, to come to assist a patient. When the doctor came down to see them, he was shot eleven times and died. A woman and a guard were injured by gunfire. On September 9, 2008, a 75-year-old man was killed in Nawab Shah, Sindh province. Mr. Yousaf was a rice trader and head of his local Ahmadi group. He was shot at by men on motorbikes, hit three times, and died in an ambulance before it reached hospital.
On May 29, 2009 the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat issued a press release. This stated that a 54-year-old Ahmadi man from Faisalabad in Pakistan had been killed in what appeared to be a targeted assassination. Mian Liaq Ahmad was driving home when he found a car blocking access to the road where he lived. Men jumped from a car and shot Mr Ahmad in the head. The press release stated: "He becomes the 5th Ahmadi to be martyred in 2009 and the 101st to be killed in Pakistan since anti-Ahmadiyya laws were introduced by the Government of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1984."
In Part One I mentioned the case of Fanish "Robert" Masih, who was apparently murdered in his jail cell. His extra-judicial killing is not without precedent. On May 28, 2004 a Christian called Samuel Masih died from injuries. Samuel had been a suspect in a blasphemy case, and while incarcerated, he had developed tuberculosis. On May 22, 2004, he had been escorted to hospital by police guards. One of these police officers, Faryad Ali, hit Samuel on the head with a brick-cutter. Apparently, the police constable claimed that he wanted to gain a place in heaven by killing Samuel.
Christians are most frequently murdered in connection with blasphemy cases, but occasionally acts of naked sectarian violence are used against them. On Christmas Day 2002, three girls were killed in a grenade attack at a church. The incident happened in Chianwala, north of Lahore in Punjab province. The assailants who threw the grenade wore burkas. Two girls died instantly, and another died later. The victims were aged 6, 10 and 15.
The grenade attack happened after a local Muslim cleric told his congregation: "It is the duty of every good Muslim to kill Christians. You should attack Christians and not even have food until you have seen their dead bodies." The cleric, Nazir Yaqub, was a supporter of banned group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is linked with al Qaeda.
On September 25, 2002, seven Christians were killed in Karachi, Sindh province. On March 17, 2002 another church was attacked with grenades in Islamabad. Five people were killed and 45 were injured.
On Monday August 5, 2002, six people were killed at the Murree Christian School near Islamabad. On August 9, 2002 grenades were thrown into a Christian hospital in Taxila, 25 miles from Islamabad. Three nurses died.
The worst sectarian attack against Christians happened on October 28, 2001 when 18 people died after gunmen attacked a church service in St. Dominic's church in Bahawalpur in Punjab province. In July 2002, four people were arrested in connection with the incident. Two of these belonged to the banned group Lashkar-i-Jhvangi.
Challenging the Blasphemy Laws
In May 2007 Christians in Charsadda in North-West Frontier Province, close to the Afghan border, were threatened by Islamists. A letter telling them to convert or die was circulated in the town. The threats came after a legal attempt to change the blasphemy laws had failed.
Attempting to challenge the blasphemy laws has always invoked the ire of Islamic fanatics. These are highly organized. Lashkar-Jhvangi comprises former fighters who were in Afghanistan, fighting the Soviets. Other groups, such as Tehrik-e-Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat, have been instrumental in oppressing the "heretical" Ahmadiyya, and also challenging any proposed changes to the blasphemy legislation. The Tehrik-e-Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat reappeared in the news in May last year demanding that Pakistan cut ties with the Netherlands and Denmark.
The aggression of this group was expressed by its leader, Hanif Tayyab, who said: "We put the government on one-month notice to expel these envoys and recall our ambassadors from the two countries, otherwise we will ask our followers to march on Islamabad."
Lashkar-i-Jhvangi and Sipah-i-Sahaba appear to have been instrumental in many notorious instances of communal violence against Pakistani Christian communities (as well as their documented attacks upon Ahmadi and Shia Muslim communities). Often they invoke "blasphemy" accusations against individuals to better mobilize groups to violence against whole communities. This appeared to have happened at Sangla Hill in Punjab province in 2005, and also at Gojra in August this year.
The first major case of such communal violence happened against the Christian village of Shanti Nagar near Karachi, Sindh province. On February 6, 1997, thousands of Islamic protesters descended on the village with placards stating: "Kill the Christians because they are Blasphemers towards the Holy Quran and Holy Prophet." In the village of Shanti Nagar 785 houses were destroyed, four churches were burned, and 2,500 people forced to flee. Two days before, Muslims had run riot in the town of Khanegal. In all, 13 churches were destroyed and 2,000 Bibles were destroyed. The mob violence, in which incendiary devices were used, had stemmed from the discovery of a ripped Koran, which had Christians' names written on the pages.
The problems with attempting to challenge the blasphemy laws are plain: Anyone who attempts to alter the laws is seen as an "enemy of Islam," and the Islamist groups can mobilize support with little resistance from the authorities.
Lawyers who have acted to defend those accused of blasphemy have been threatened. Aslam Pervaiz is one individual who had received death threats and had been assaulted for defending those accused of blasphemy. Sheikh Anis A Saadi is the Chairman of a free advocacy service and said in November 2008 that he has been subject to social stigma from defending alleged "blasphemers." His office had been set on fire, he had been assaulted, and his family had received written threats from a "jihadi" group.
The Asian Human Rights Commission reports that a lawyer has been mentioned in a printed Urdu advertisement, placed in several newspapers. The lawyer in question is called Rao Zafar Iqbal, and he is head of the National Council for Human Rights. He received threatening letters in July 2009. These demanded that he stop defending religious minorities. They came from Jan Nisaran-e-Nabuwat and Aqeeda-e-Tahafuz-e-Kathme Nabuwat. When he went to Faisalabad police to request protection, they refused. He was then shot at.
On August 4, 2009, an advertisement appeared in the Daily Pavel newspaper. It is reproduced above. This advertisement declared that Rao Zafar Iqbal is deserving of death, because he defended a man called Mohammed Ayube who claims to be Prophet Mohammed. Even though Ayube appears to be mentally ill, fatwas appeared against him in the Daily Pavel and Daily Express newspapers. The advertisement mentioning Rao Zafar Iqbal stated that murdering the lawyer would be doing a service to Islam.
The police appear to have taken no action against the newspapers, and in so many cases of alleged "blasphemy," as well as when sectarian riots occur, the police are said to have stood back and done nothing.
When lawyers have been successful, and their clients are freed, the acquitted individuals have to flee for their lives. Several have been killed after gaining freedom. For example, Manzur Masih, Rahmat Masih and Salamat Masih had been arrested in May 1993, accused of blasphemy, under Section 295-C of the PPC.
The Christians were said to have passed pieces of paper into a mosque in Punjab province. The slips of paper allegedly bore insulting comments about Mohammed. The three had been accused by a cleric, Maulvi Fazl-e-Haq, who was a leader of the militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba, which at that time was not banned. Fazl-e-Haq claimed the three had also scribbled graffiti on the mosque wall.
At Lahore High Court, the three were acquitted, and set free, accompanied by another young man who had been falsely accused. Standing on the steps of the courthouse, the four were shot at by gunmen. Manzur Masih was killed. The judge who had acquitted him would also later be killed by extremists for freeing the Christians.
Bishop John Joseph, the first ethnic Pakistani to become Bishop of Faisalabad, attended the funeral of Manzur Masih, and even kissed the feet of the dead man. He vowed that he would be the next person to die under the blasphemy laws. Later, in his frustration, Bishop Joseph would give his own life. But even his own sacrifice brought no change to the laws.
In Part Three, I will discuss the events of Bishop Joseph's mission to stop the persecution of Christians and to repeal the blasphemy statutes. I will also present a timeline of some of the most interesting Pakistani legal cases of blasphemy.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Adrian Morgan is a British based writer and artist. He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society. He is currently compiling a book on the demise of democracy and the growth of extremism in Britain.