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Pakistani police officers gather at the district court in Peshawar following the killing of Tahir Shamim Ahmad, who was in court on charges of blasphemy, July 29, 2020.
© 2020 AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad
(New York) – Pakistani authorities should urgently and impartially investigate a surge in violent attacks on members of the Ahmadiyya religious community, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today. The authorities should take appropriate legal action against those responsible for threats and violence against Ahmadis.
Since July 2020, there have been at least five apparently targeted killings of members of the Ahmadiyya community. In only two of the cases have the police taken a suspect into custody. Pakistani authorities have long downplayed, and at times even encouraged, violence against Ahmadis, whose rights to freedom of religion and belief are not respected under Pakistani law.
“There are few communities in Pakistan who have suffered as much as the Ahmadis,” said Omar Waraich, head of South Asia at Amnesty International. “The recent wave of killings tragically underscores not just the seriousness of the threats they face, but also the callous indifference of the authorities, who have failed to protect the community or punish the perpetrators.”
On November 20, a teenage assailant is alleged to have fatally shot Dr. Tahir Mahmood, 31, as he answered the door of his house in Nankana Sahib district, Punjab. Mahmood’s father and two uncles were injured in the attack. The police reported that the suspect “confessed to having attacked the family over religious differences.”
Several recent attacks have occurred in the city of Peshawar, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. On November 9, Mahmoob Khan, 82, was fatally shot while waiting at a bus station. On October 6, two men on a motorcycle stopped the car of Dr. Naeemuddin Khattak, 57, a professor at the Government Superior Science College, and fired five shots, killing him. His family said he had a “heated argument over a religious issue” with a colleague a day before. Jamaat-i-Ahmadiyya, a community organization, issued a statement saying Khattak had previously received threats and was targeted because of his faith.
On August 12, Meraj Ahmed, 61, was fatally shot as he was closing his shop in Peshawar. On July 29, an alleged 19-year-old assailant killed Tahir Ahmad Naseem, 57, inside a high-security courtroom. Naseem was facing trial for blasphemy accusations. In a video that circulated on social media, the suspect states that Naseem was a “blasphemer.”
Successive Pakistani governments have failed to protect the human rights and security of the Ahmadiyya community. The penal code explicitly discriminates against religious minorities and targets Ahmadis by prohibiting them from “indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim.” Ahmadis are banned from declaring or propagating their faith publicly, building mosques, or making the Muslim call for prayer.
The authorities arbitrarily arrest, detain, and charge Ahmadis for blasphemy and other offenses because of their religious beliefs. The police have often been complicit in harassment and bringing fabricated charges against Ahmadis or have not intervened to stop anti-Ahmadi violence. The government’s failure to address religious persecution of Ahmadis has facilitated violence against them in the name of religion.
“Pakistan was part of the consensus at the UN General Assembly that required that states take active measures to ensure that persons belonging to religious minorities may exercise fully and effectively all their human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law,” said Ian Seiderman, legal and policy director at the International Commission of Jurists. “The Pakistani government has completely failed to do so in the case of the Ahmadis.”
The Pakistani government also promotes discriminatory practices against Ahmadis. For example, all Pakistani Muslim citizens applying for passports are obliged to sign a statement explicitly stating that they consider the founder of the Ahmadi community an “imposter,” and consider Ahmadis to be non-Muslims.
Pakistani laws against the Ahmadiyya community violate Pakistan’s international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Pakistan ratified in 2010, including the rights to freedom of conscience, religion, expression, and association, and to profess and practice one’s own religion.
Independent experts of the United Nations Human Rights Council, including the special rapporteurs on the freedom of religion or belief and the UN special rapporteur on minority issues, and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, have previously expressed concern at the persecution of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan.
“Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments should take immediate legal and policy measures to eliminate widespread and rampant discrimination and social exclusion faced by the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should repeal the blasphemy law and all anti-Ahmadiyya provisions.”