‘52pc of forced conversion cases reported in Punjab’

LAHORE: Minority rights organisation Center for Social Justice (CSJ) held a consultation where they denounced the rise in the incidents of forced conversion of women, and specifically of underage girls from the religious minority communities.

The discussion titled ‘Forced Conversion Complaints and Religious Freedom’ was held online on Saturday.

CSJ stressed that around 162 questionable conversions had been reported in the media between 2013 and 2020 and abuses which had occurred in violation of religious freedom enshrined in Pakistan’s constitution of 1973.

According to CSJ data, around 52 per cent of the incidents of alleged forced conversions had occurred in Punjab, 44pc in Sindh, while 1.23pc each were reported in the federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa areas, while one case (0.62pc) was reported from Balochistan.

The highest number of such cases — 21 — was reported in Bahawalpur during the past seven years roughly. Similarly 14 cases were reported in Lahore, 12 in Karachi, 10 in Faisalabad, 8 in Hyderabad, 6 each in Tharparkar, Ghotki and Kasu, 5 in Badin, 4 each in Umarkot and Sialkot.

The figures show that 54.3pc of the victims (girls and women) belonged to the Hindu community, 44.44pc Christian while 0.62 pc belonged tothe Sikh and Kalash communities.

Over 46.3pc of the victims of forced conversion were minors clearly (some 32.7 pc of them aged between 11-15 years), while only 16.67pc of the victims were above 18 years, though the claim was not always verified by the lower courts through record of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), school etc.

Speakers at the event agreed that the actual ratio of the underage victims could be higher because the exact age of over 37pc of the victims was not mentioned in the reportage.

A steady increase in conversions from three cases in 2013, to 13 in 2014, 20 in 2015, to 31 in 2016 was reflected in the data. Dropping slightly to 23 in 2017, then further to 11 in 2018. However, the highest number of 49 cases was reported in 2019, while 13 cases have been reported till November 2020.

Peter Jacob, Executive Director of CSJ and Chairperson of the People’s Commission for Minorities’ Rights stated that due to the absence of adequate response from the state, involuntary, unethical and manipulated conversions and marriages pose a serious threat to the social cohesion, religious freedom and the respect for human rights.

They said an administrative and policy intervention on an urgent basis was necessary to protect the rights of religious minorities, especially of minority women and children.

“The government should strengthen institutional protection of minority rights by undertaking legal, policy and administrative measures to cater to the challenges of forced conversions in Pakistan,” he said.

The participants initiated a signature campaign addressed to the prime minster, urging the government to consider recommendations presented by the People’s Commissions for Minorities Rights and CSJ.

The recommendations urged the federal human rights ministry to carry out a comprehensive study and analysis of the issue, including the under-trial cases; the parliamentary committee established in November 2019 should only make statements based on factual inquiries and comprehensive data analysis.

It was demanded that police must investigate all such cases under Section 498-B of the Pakistan Penal Code, as this enactment was particularly relevant to forced conversion and marriages involving minority women. The law has not been applied since its enactment in 2017.

They also said that the majority Act be amended to bring it in conformity with the NADRA Act and other laws.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2020

Rights groups decry attacks on Pakistan’s minority Ahmadis

By MUNIR AHMED

Three international human rights groups on Thursday denounced recent attacks on Pakistan’s minority Ahmadi community and asked Islamabad to “urgently and impartially investigate a surge” in violence.

The joint appeal from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists came days after a sixteen-year-old Muslim youth opened fire on a group of Ahmadis gathering for worship at a home. The attack killed a doctor, Tahir Mehmood, and wounded three other Ahmadi men, including the doctor’s father.

Mehmood’s family have since gone into hiding for security reasons. The suspected attacker was taken into in police custody.

In Sunday’s statement, the three rights groups called on Pakistan to “take appropriate legal action against those responsible for threats and violence against Ahmadis.”

Since July, five members of the Ahmadi community have been killed in separate attacks.

“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.”

Ian Seiderman, legal and policy director at the International Commission of Jurists, reminded Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government of commitments made in the United Nations General Assembly to actively protect minorities’ human rights.

Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, also called on Pakistan to take “immediate legal and policy measures to eliminate widespread and rampant discrimination and social exclusion” of Ahmadis.

The Ahmadi faith was established on the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, whose followers believe he was a prophet.

Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974. Since then, Ahmadis have repeatedly been targeted by Islamic extremists in the Muslim-majority nation.

Earlier this month, gunmen shot and killed an 82-year-old Ahmadi man. In October, a Muslim professor shot and killed an Ahmadi professor a day after the two allegedly had a heated discussion over a religious matter.

Pakistan: Surge in Targeted Killings of Ahmadis

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.”

How Shia Women In Narowal Were Beaten Up, Dragged By Police During Raid

“It was around 12.30 in the night when they jumped inside my house. A boot landed right onto my son’s face, who was sleeping, and it broke his nose. They started dragging my husband out of the house and when I tried to stop them, I was beaten with batons”, said Fatima Kauser, who was one among the many Shia women brutally beaten by the Punjab Police officials during a raid carried out in Narowal.

The Shia women were beaten by batons and dragged by the Narowal police which had raided their homes to arrest their men for participating in the Chehlum procession.

Peaceful processions were taken out across the country to commemorate the 40th day (Arbaeen) of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom. The main procession of Narowal was taken out by the permit-holder, who had the NOC. But smaller rallies, joining from the villages in the outskirts, were not licensed.

The police tried to book them on this pretext and lodged FIRs against 17 men in the religious rally, under the Loudspeaker Act. The next night officials cordoned off the area and conducted raids on the Shia families as per the orders of DPO Narowal Zulfiqar Ahmad.

“What did we do to deserve such inhumane treatment,” Fatima breaks into tears asking if it is a crime to participate in the Shia processions in Pakistan.

There was no police lady constable during these raids. The men were arrested and women manhandled, harassed and detained. Even children were not spared from the beating by the police and were heard wailing in the neighbourhoods.

Shia women of Narowal share their ordeal

“It was a horrendous night for us, the police officials had surrounded the entire area from 12 AM to 2 AM and six of them broke into my house. After attacking me with a baton, the police made derogatory remarks about me and swore at me in front of my children who were extremely terrified watching all of it,” Kauser said.

The villagers filed an application next morning in the court urging the police to release the illegally abducted women after right hours.

12 of these men are still behind bars facing non-bailable offences registered against them. We have learnt that the detained men face quite a lot of difficulty in sitting down in the jail due to the brutal torture done during the raid. They have not been granted the permission for a medical checkup inside the jail.

“Weeks have passed since the incident, yet the bruises on my body have still not healed. I still limp whenever I try to walk,” recalled Sakina, another woman of the village who was harassed and kicked by the police officials when she tried to stop them from arresting her husband.

Zehra, 40, broke in tears on the phone call. “Not only did they violently hit me with the baton but they pulled my veil away from my head and the manhandling tore my clothes. How is this not a blatant human rights violation?”

Punjab police did not spare pregnant women either. “At least they could have some consideration for the unborn child inside of me before kicking me so ferociously. Since the day the police raided our area, I am in indescribably intense pain and my tears do not stop flowing”, said Sughra, a pregnant woman, manhandled and harassed by the police during the raid.

Ruqaiyya expressed concern about her two sons. “One of them was detained by the police while the other escaped the village during the raid and still hasn’t returned”, she said.

The children who saw their parents assaulted in such a crude manner have been traumatized to the level that they have trouble falling asleep at night. One of the mothers mentioned how the kids shake with terror if they see a man in police uniform walk nearby.

DPO Zulfiqar Ahmed, known for his cruel way of dealing

The entire raid operation was executed by SHO Narowal Riaz Taseer Cheema on the direct instructions from DPO Zulfiqar Ahmed. The latter has a history of being in headlines for all the wrong reasons. In 2018, Zulfiqar Ahmed was sacked from his post as DPO Kasur after Kasur police had opened fire on protesters demanding immediate arrest of rapist and killer of seven-year-old Zainab. It was reportedly done on his orders.

The firing led to the death of two protestors and a few being critically injured. Later that year, he was given a clean chit and appointed as DPO Chiniot. In fact he has been transferred again this week, to the Sargodha office.

Aimen, 19, explained how unsafe she feels living in her home with no gate. “The police have broken down the gate of my place and since my husband is behind bars, I feel vulnerable living in my home with my daughter,” Aimen says. She further told that whenever a man walks down the street, she frantically rushes to check the house’s locks and fears an assault.

The residents raised voice against the inhumane behavior of the police officials, and the SHO was suspended but the DPO, on whose order the entire operation was carried out, remains untouched.

The bread earners of the Narowal families are detained in the jail, their wives and children suffer at homes with inadequate supplies of daily necessities. The legal, medical and household expenses become unimaginably difficult for the poor families to bear. No condemnation of such blatant human rights violation by the government representatives adds to the agony of the persecuted Shia families.

Pseudonyms have been used to protect identities.