If someone was to explore the streets of Lahore, as I often do since I am always fascinated to explore and discover new cities, one comes to notice subtle differences that exist between my newly adopted city and the city I use to live previously.
Originally from Karachi, Lahore’s extravagant cultural life and awe-inspiring historic heritage inspires you a lot. But one can see something that’s really in your face that I never noticed or was mostly confined to wall-chalking against sectarian minorities or political group groups back home.
That something are bannerswith hate speech written all over them against the Ahmadi community.You can even come across posters which call for ‘death of bloggers’ who are supposedly blamed forcommitting blasphemy through their blasphemous content.
Now this kind of public display of hate speech is on a startling rise across the country, not just Lahore –it is almost unseen and unheard of anywhere else in the world. So yes, in a way, one can say that hate and intolerance, it seems, is really in your face nowadays.
And when that hate reaches a point where it becomes unbearable, people do retaliate not in a violent way but in a peaceful and democratic fashion – but this too is a right that minorities are not afforded in Pakistan.
Just last month, four men belonging to the Ahmadi community who tore down posters of hate speech in Bhoiwal, a village just 22km southwest of the city of Lahore, were sentenced to death.
In what might seem like an audacious move, particularly by those who support minority rights in Pakistan, villagers contrary accused the four Ahmadis of committing blasphemy (an offence that punishable by death according to Pakistan’s penal code) for hurting religious sentiments of the Muslim majority by tearing down the poster with mention of Quranic verses and the Prophet’s name.
Mubasher Ahmad, Ghulam Ahmed and Ehsan Ahmed, convicted for committing blasphemy, were immediately sentenced to death by a district court in Sheikhupura, while the fourth accused had been killed in police custody days after all these Ahmadi men were arrested.
While such grotesque violations of human rights continue in Pakistan, after two years of tireless efforts Pakistan was able to secure a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
A decision that was hailed by Pakistan’s permanent ambassador to UN MaleehaLodhi as something of a ‘ringing endorsement’ of Pakistan’s ‘strong commitment’ towards human rights.
Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif together with his entourage of ministries presented Pakistan’s national report on Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the Human Rights Council in Geneva which outlined policy measures taken by the government to advance and safeguard human rights in the country. This is the third report submitted by Pakistan since the beginning of UPR process in 2006, the previous being submitted in 2008 and 2012.
But one has to question here: what are our ‘strong commitments’ in regards to human rights and are we truly able to ‘safeguard’ it in Pakistan?
If we go through news after news of daily happenings in Pakistan, we would come across grave violations of human rights, much of which remains unreported in the mainstream media.
There seems to be an ever increasing rise in number of incidents where intimidation and attacks against freedom of expression and media by both state and non-state actors remains uncontrolled; restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and journalists continues with impunity; torture and ill-treatment of dissents and rights activist in custody stays rampant; discrimination against religious minorities as Shias, Ahmadiyya and Christian community; and a failure to protect the rights of women, children and LGBT people.
Although progress has been made since the establishment of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), a statutory authority to monitor human rights, Pakistan has been able to enact legislation which seeks to criminalize domestic violence and workplace harassment, addressing the menace of anti-honor killing, empowering the transgender community and even enacting a law to register Hindu marriages.
Pakistan’s UPR report was thoroughly examined by around 117 countries, out of which an overwhelming majority welcomed the progress made in regards to human rights situation in the country, but a significant few notably India, USA, and UK did raise the question of Pakistan’s deplorable treatment of its minorities particularly the Christian and Ahmadi community.
UK deeply concerned about #Pakistan’s #HumanRights. This includes limits on #FoRB, esp. for the #Christian& #Ahmadiyya Muslim communities & misuse of terror legislation to portray religious publications of minorities as hate material.
— UK Mission Geneva (@UKMissionGeneva) November 13, 2017
While we continue to make hue and cry over the tragic genocide happening right now in Syria, Kashmir, and Myanmar, yet we remain shamelessly and irrationally silent over the wholescale systemic persecution of our religious minorities, especially the Ahmadis and Christians, who remain persecuted even by representatives of the political elite such as retired Captain Safdar Awan, son-in-law of former premier Nawaz Sharif who called for “ban on recruitment of Qadianis [Ahmadis] in the armed forces” in a speech delivered unopposed in the National Assembly of Pakistan.
Many say that the real reason behind Safdar’s tirade was simply to appease right-wing voters in Lahore and wider Punjab province, especially to win them over from being won over by more radical political parties such as the Milli Muslim League (MML), who are slowing gaining electoral power because of their extremist rhetoric as seen in September’s by-elections.
In statement at #Pakistan#UPR, U.S. notes concern about restrictions against Ahmadi Muslims & calls for repeal of blasphemy laws, as it does in countries around the world. Blasphemy laws violate freedoms of religion & expression. https://t.co/V09e2HO95n
— US Religious Freedom (@State_IRF) November 14, 2017
The issue of ‘blasphemy law’ remained another contagious hot topic during Pakistan’s UPR review with many UN members condemning its abusive use, particularly used to terrorize the country’s already oppressed religious minorities.
But as the world condemns and demands reform of the controversial ‘blasphemy laws’, we bear witness to a protest staged at the Islamabad since last week by a hardline Islamist cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi and 3,000 plus supporters who had since last week held the nation’s capital hostage to their demands which call for the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid over his alleged tampering of the country’s electoral law which altered wording of the oath for lawmakers that dealt with a declaration of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as Islam’s final prophet, an offense that is deemed blasphemous by the protesting hardliners.
Our state wasn’t established to govern personal beliefs of its citizens – this isn’t the reason why Pakistan was created.
Father of the nation, Quid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his address to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on Aug 11, 1947 said, “You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State … Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State”
Now, was Pakistan created to be held hostage by a group of religious fanatics, who are now more than ever hell bound on distorting the very progressive ideals of compassion, pluralism and equality that Jinnah wanted to establish?
— Rabwah Times (@RabwahTimes) November 14, 2017
Law Minister Zahid Hamid did help pass the Elections (Amendment) Bill at the National Assembly restoring the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat laws (finality of prophethood clause) to its original state, ensuring the house that he and his family “were Muslims and believed in the finality of prophethood”.
“My family and I are ready to lay our lives for the honor of Prophet Muhammad,” Law minister said in an attempt to silence his critics, some of whom have even called for a trial held against him under the notorious blasphemy law.
I still remember a few months back when I was in Karachi’s Saddar area (Main Market), where one can observe on a busy commercial street, a Catholic nun going to her Church walking pass a Sunni Barelvi mosque with a Parsi priest crossing the road just distance away from a Bohra Community’s JamatKhana.
Now, this sense of profound religious tolerance and pluralism that I have grown up with is sadly fading away due to an ever-increasing rise in hate and intolerance within the public sphere.
Nevertheless, Pakistan’s review of its national report on human rights remains a call for ‘action’ for many in the civil society and the activist community to push towards humanizing of its “human rights policy”, for we simply can’t live in a regressive state where religious minorities are persecuted for practicing their religion, where human rights activists are abducted and detained without any notice and where journalists are killed and attacked for speaking the truth because such abysmal state of affairs is never acceptable or benevolent towards “promoting and protecting human rights”.What we need to do is to review and reconcile our ‘state of affairs’ especially when it came to ‘safeguarding human rights’ in the country.