By Ateet Sharma
New Delhi, Jan 15 (IANS) In a move being described as “a new frontier” in persecution of Ahmadi Muslims, Pakistan has demanded that two Ahmadi citizens of the US remove the American Ahmadi community’s website, alleging it violates Pakistan’s blasphemy and new cybercrime laws. Amjad Mahmood Khan and Harris Zafar, two prominent leaders of the American Ahmadiyya Muslim community, have been told by the Pakistani authorities that failure to remove the website TrueIslam.com would result in fines of up to $3.14 million or criminal sanctions, including possible 10-year-prison sentences.
The legal takedown notice was issued by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on December 24 and is a first instance of Pakistan attempting to prosecute Ahmadi US citizens for digital blasphemy.
“This is a new frontier in persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in the digital space. Pakistan wants to impose its abominable blasphemy laws on the whole world by targeting US citizens and US websites,” Khan, who is President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Lawyers Association USA and a spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, told Religion News Service (RNS), a Washington-based news agency covering religion, ethics, spirituality and moral issues.
Khan has through the website’s attorneys replied to the PTA notice terming it as “legally infirm, but also patently absurd in its reach”.
He told RNS that as many as five of Pakistan’s top Ahmadi leaders have also had cases filed against them in recent weeks over religious activity on WhatsApp.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which had recommended last year that the Department of State continue to designate Pakistan as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ or the CPC, has also condemned the latest Pakistani attempt to further repress the minority community. USCIRF Commissioner Johnnie Moore described the takedown notices as “recklessly brazen” and expected fierce, bipartisan condemnation from both Donald Trump and Joe Biden officials.
“Surely, the Pakistani government doesn’t intend on threatening American citizens within the US? Surely, Prime Minister Imran Khan doesn’t want this controversy, now?,” questioned Moore, a leading religious freedom advocate who has also fought against the injustice and silencing of the Hong Kong rights activists in the past.
It was after the USCIRF advice, a recommendation the commission has made since 2002, that the outgoing Trump administration had last month, while redesignating Pakistan as CPC, found the Imran Khan government “engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
“The systematic enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, and authorities’ failure to address forced conversions of religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs, to Islam, has severely restricted freedom of religion or belief,” the commission said in its report.
IndiaNarrative.com has highlighted the deep and direct involvement of Pakistani state agencies in the enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of minorities, especially in Balochistan and against the Ahmadis all over Pakistan.
In December 2020, USCIRF published a report on ‘Violating Rights: Enforcing the World’s Blasphemy Laws’, which examines the enforcement of blasphemy laws worldwide. This report found that the country with the most cases of state enforced blasphemy laws was Pakistan, with 184 cases identified between 2014-2018.
Last week, the US watchdog also demanded an immediate release of a Ramzan Bibi, a 55-year-old Pakistani Ahmadi woman, who has been detained and accused of making blasphemous remarks
Bibi was detained on April 30, 2020 and accused of making blasphemous remarks during a personal dispute over the return of her charitable donation to a local mosque in Cheleki village in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Bibi was charged under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, an offence that carries the death penalty. She is currently imprisoned at Central Jail Lahore.
“The Pakistani government must immediately release Ramzan Bibi, and all others detained for blasphemy,” said USCIRF Commissioner James Carr.
“Authorities allowing these laws to be used for personal gain or vendetta are only enabling systematic discrimination based on religious belief. This is clear in Bibi’s case, as she is facing imprisonment simply because of her Ahmadi faith.”
The dissidents and critics of the Pakistan authorities who are living in exile are under constant fear with the increasing threats and attacks on them. The mysterious death of Karima Baloch in Toronto and Baloch journalist Sajid Hussain in Sweden last year have made them feel more insecure than ever.
While Pakistan’s attempt to curb Ahmadis’ voice in the United States may only result in the movement getting more stronger, the likes of Amjad Mahmood Khan and Harris Zafar who are US citizens, do fear for the safety of their relatives back home.
Just like the Chinese government which has targeted the families of exile Uyghur activists in Xinjiang, its ‘iron brother’ is also crushing the minorities vehemently in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
(This content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)
By Ateet Sharma