KARACHI: Different strategies are being used to silence vulnerable communities in Pakistan at the moment and the solution lies in the way the law is written and interpreted, said representatives of the Ahmadi community at a consultative meeting on Sunday.
Representing the panel consisting of members from the Ahmadi community, Supreme Court lawyer Syed Ali Ahmad Tariq said: “The wording ‘subject to law and constitution’ leaves the law against the Ahmadis open to interpretation and eventual harassment.”
Among the changing trends, which he quoted from a report compiled by the central office of the community in Rabwa, advocate Tariq spoke of persistent “harassment perpetrated by the administration” in Punjab which had eventually seeped into other provinces through clerics.
Organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) at a hotel, the meeting included views, suggestions and changing media attitude towards the community, vulnerable because of their belief.
Excerpts from the report, compiled by the community, were read out and then presented to the HRCP panel, which included its chairperson Zohra Yusuf and secretary general I.A. Rehman.
The first part of the meeting was spent hearing out the Ahmadi representatives, who spoke of discriminatory attitude they faced at their workplaces and in educational institutions. The panel, while noting down the grievances of the community, interrupted only when a clarification was needed.
Giving a backdrop of the current situation, Zohra Yusuf explained that the Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims through the second constitutional amendment passed by Pakistan Peoples Party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during his tenure as prime minister in 1974.
Following up on it, military dictator General Ziaul Haq introduced further amendments making it punishable for the Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims or to call their places of worship mosques.
Answering questions, spokesperson for the Ahmadis, Mujeebur Rehman, said the harassment came in many forms. Recounting one instance, he said the syllabus at the primary school in Punjab included a chapter on the reverence of the last Prophet (PBUH) and “teachers usually try to single out Ahmadi students while explaining it”.
He said that since most people felt isolated, they had found a solution by opening schools for the community. “Now, the problem is that those who send their children to those schools are called out for keeping a soft corner for the Ahmadis,” he added.
Another representative, and attorney, Waqas A. Rahman, said the harassment and singling out was limited to the schools with only a few instances occurring at the university and postgraduate level.
Speaking about the recent trends, he said the community was not attacked directly but rather faced a reluctant administration which “seems to be acting in collusion with the unruly characters who want to eliminate us”.
Human rights activist Tahira Abdullah pointed out the campaign on television by “a renowned host announcing fatwas against the Ahmadi community that led to death threats and subsequent killing of an Ahmadi man in Nawabshah (in 2012).” This prompted a question from the panel asking the representatives if they saw the media as an ally or adversary. Explaining his stance, Mujeebur Rehman said the media was an ally for sure.
“But it depends on the language of the publication. We get a lot of coverage in the English language publications; the same can’t be said about the Urdu press, which is discriminatory and agenda driven in their coverage of our community,” he added.
When asked about the solutions to their present predicament, Waqas Rahman said it should be a campaign on social media. “The point should be emphasised that protection of human rights is most crucial in an Islamic state,” he said.
Whereas Mujeebur Rehman, not agreeing with the proposed solution, said “that’s the problem. We are not an ideological state but a pluralistic country.”
Speaking about the meeting, Zohra Yusuf said the situation, though very much prevalent in Punjab, was also making its way into Sindh. “There’s still time for the state to take note of the growing incidents of harassment faced by the minorities. There is a dichotomy in the way the media covers these incidents, while the judiciary is pressurised,” she added.
Published in Dawn, October 5th , 2015