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3 Ahmadi Men Sentenced to Death in Pakistan on Charges of Blasphemy; Minority Communities are increasingly facing the Heat in the Country

“Blasphemy is a very sensitive issue in Pakistan. Rights groups say the controversial blasphemy law has often been abused to settle personal vendettas and disputes.

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Pakistan-protest
Pakistani students of Islamic seminaries take part in a rally in support of blasphemy laws in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Hundreds of students of Islamic seminaries rallied in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, urging government to remove blasphemous content from social media and take stern action against those who posted blasphemous content on social media to hurt sentiments of Muslims. The placards, in center, in Urdu language are reading as "Authorized Institutions immediately take action on the incidents of blasphemy and remove blasphemous content on social media". (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed) (VOA)
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Washington, October 15, 2017: A court in Pakistan’s Punjab province has sentenced three men of a minority religious group to death on charges of violating the country’s controversial blasphemy law.

Mubasher Ahmad, Ghulam Ahmed and Ehsan Ahmed were found guilty and convicted by the trial court Wednesday for insulting the prophet of Islam.

The men were tried under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s penal code, commonly referred to as the blasphemy law, which recommends either life imprisonment or the death penalty for anyone found guilty of deliberately insulting Islam.

The men were arrested in May 2014 in a remote village in Punjab province after residents filed a complaint with the police and accused the defendants of tearing down a religious poster.

Four men were arrested at the time. The fourth man, Khalil Ahmad, was shot dead by an angry man while in police custody just a few days after the incident.

Saleemuddin, a spokesperson for the Ahmadi community, told VOA that the charges against the defendants and the court’s verdict were unfair.

“The convicted men were trying to take down a poster, which had anti-Ahmadi slogans and text that urged the community to socially boycott the already persecuted Ahmadi community,” Saleemuddin said.

“We will challenge the trial court’s decision in high court,” he added.

Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, but Pakistan’s state does not recognize them as such and labels them heretics. There are more than a half-million Ahmadis living in Pakistan under the constant threat of persecution.

The Ahmadi community “is one of the most mistreated communities in the country. They have had been a target of blasphemous charges, sectarian violence and target killings,” said Mehdi Hasan, a prominent human rights activist in Pakistan.

ALSO READ Military Dictatorship Always Halted Progress in Pakistan, says Pakistan Prime Minister

Ahmadis ‘a threat’

The death sentence for the three individuals came just a few days after Muhammad Safdar, a prominent member of the ruling party and son-in-law of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, publicly denounced Ahmadi community members as a threat to Pakistan and urged the country’s institutions not to hire them in the military or the civil service.

Safdar’s remarks stirred a debate in the country on the issue of minorities and their rights.

Pakistan Minister of the Interior Ahsan Iqbal, without mentioning Safdar by name, denounced the anti-minority rhetoric coming from politicians.

“It is tragic to see hate speech against minorities in National Assembly. We believe in inclusive Pakistan. Pakistan respects all minorities,” Iqbal said in a tweet.

Abuse of law

“Blasphemy is a very sensitive issue in Pakistan. We’ve seen several incidents where angry mobs killed those accused of committing blasphemy without giving them a right to face the trial,” human rights activist Hasan told VOA.

Rights groups say the controversial blasphemy law has often been abused to settle personal vendettas and disputes. Due process is often ceremonial, the rights activists add, and decisions are often informed by the growing religious intolerance in the country.

Even if courts do drop charges against defendants, mobs and local residents attack them, and law enforcement authorities look the other way in most cases, the activists charge.

blasphemy
Members of a Pakistani civil society demonstrate April 22, 2017, in Karachi, Pakistan, against the killing of Mashal Khan, a student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan. Police say the lynching of Khan, falsely accused of blasphemy, was organized by other students who saw him as a political rival. (VOA)

Social media posts

Nadeem James, a Christian, was sentenced to death last month in Punjab after the court established that he sent a blasphemous poem to a friend via WhatsApp, an instant message application.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a recent report said 15 people were arrested on charges of blasphemy in 2016, including 10 Muslims and five members of religious minorities.

In April 2017, Mashaal Khan, a journalism student, was accused of posting blasphemous content online and was beaten to death by fellow students at Abdul Wali Khan University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Pakistan’s government is being criticized for strictly enforcing the blasphemy laws.

In April 2017, the government used newspapers and mobile phone services to warn its citizens not to post or upload any blasphemous materials on social media.

The government has also reportedly encouraged people to report those who violate the blasphemy law. (VOA)

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Will prohibiting Burqa result in freedom from under house arrest or religious bias?

According to Islam, it is not necessary to cover the face.

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Due to Burqa women can go and vote multiple times. This increases corruption in the election. Wikimedia Commons
Due to Burqa women can go and vote multiple times. This increases corruption in the election. Wikimedia Commons

In recent years there have been several incidents involving the Burqa. In 2009, a state college in Karnataka told a student she was not allowed to attend classes wearing a Burqa. It was later reported that the young girl reached a “compromise arrangement” with the college but did not continue in the same college. Days later, violent protests sparked in Hyderabad after a college principal allegedly told students not to wear a Burqa.

But opposite episodes have also occurred. In July 2010, a teacher at Kolkata’s Aliah University, which has a focus on Islamic studies, was not allowed to teach without a Burqa. The report followed an official notice released in April 2010, in which the university dismissed suggestions it enforced a dress code, mentioning specifically the use of the Burqa within its campus.

There is steep rise in the cases related to crime against burqa clad women. Wikimedia Commons
There is a steep rise in the cases related to crime against Burqa-clad women. Wikimedia Commons

At some point imposing a ban on Burqa will be beneficial…
Point 1:
According to Islam, it is not necessary to cover the face. Hands and face can be uncovered. So banning won’t conflict freedom of practicing religion. And it will not be against any religion.
Point 2:
There are security issues. Imagine man/women under burqa leaves a bag in a public place which later blasts. Now, what do police have? CCTV cameras, forget face they cannot determine if is it male or female due to Burqa. It is the biggest security Loophole.
Point 3:
Many Muslim women do not have a bank account because they are not allowed to cover their face in bank premises. If you didn’t know then yes you cannot cover your face with bank premises and ATM.
Point 4:
It’s easy to have multiple voters ID. Due to Burqa women can go and vote multiple times. This increases corruption in the election.
Point 5:
Crimes under Burqa are on the rise. Murder, kidnapping, robbery are been carried out using Burqa. It’s the biggest advantage for criminals.

What Noorjehan Safia says…
Noorjehan Safia Niaz, a founding member of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, a movement which works to improve the status of Muslim women in India, said security concerns have not been a major issue when it comes to dressing. “Muslim women in India comply with all the laws. They are active participants when it comes to elections and has their photos on their passports. So identification and security have never been an issue as such,” she said.
Discrimination, however, has sometimes caused problems, said Ms. Niaz. “There are cases when women are not considered for a particular job because they wear a Burqa. In such cases, women have negotiated. They do not wear Burqa while at work but before and after it they put it on.” Overall, Ms. Niaz said that women themselves – not the law – should decide what to wear. “Let each woman decide what she wants to wear. Neither can you enforce a ban on Burqa nor can you force women to wear it.”