Pakistan is trying to do more for human rights but international covenants of United Nations have not been practically implemented.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) chairperson Zohra Yusuf pointed this out while talking to The Express Tribune. Today’s Human Rights Day marks the 50 years of the United Nation’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. While both covenants have been signed by Pakistan, activists feel that much more is required to bring them into effect. “It [Pakistan] is trying to do more but, practically, the covenants have not been implemented.”
A sad example is that of Zahid*, a member of the Ahmadi community, who avoids praying in public. “When I am at the airport or at any other public place, I miss out on prayers. I fear that if I pray, someone will identify me as an Ahmadi and I will be sent to jail.”
The world celebrates the Human Rights Day today with the theme, ‘Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always’, emphasising rights, which include the freedom of worship. But Zahid and his community have long been deprived of their right to religion. “We helped in the creation of Pakistan so that Muslims can practise [their faith] freely. But here, we can’t call ourselves that.”
Under the anti-Ahmadi laws of the country, a person of the Ahmadi community caught practising his/her faith as a Muslim can be imprisoned and fined. “I, therefore, pray in my house or [those of] our relatives. Even our house of worship has no legal status and after the Lahore attack, we don’t feel safe anymore,” says Zahid, who lives in a neighbourhood of Defence Housing Authority (DHA).
Speaking from Rabwah, the incharge of the press section of Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya, Amir Mahmood, said that the right to worship is a fundamental law but the anti-Ahmadi laws in the country forbids them from following or preaching their faith. “Since the 1984 Ordinance against the Ahmadis coming into force, hundreds and hundreds of our [people] have been charged for simply giving out the azaan,” he said. Data compiled by the community shows that between April 1984 and September 2015, around 765 Ahmadis have been charged for displaying the kalma, 447 for posing as Muslims, 93 for offering prayers, 303 booked under the blasphemy law, 796 booked for preaching, and 27 of their mosques have been demolished.
There are 0.5 to 0.6 million Ahmadis in Pakistan, but because of the law, Mahmood says that they cannot build new houses of worship, cannot call it a masjid and cannot call for the prayer aloud.
Freedom of speech is another covenant that Pakistan needs improvement in, according to the HRCP, who raised the issue of Saleem Baloch. In March 2006, the Jamhoori Watan Party leader was detained allegedly by security forces for raising his voice against missing persons and the rights of the Baloch people. Over nine months after he was released, Baloch held a press conference at the organisation’s office, talking about spending time in solitary confinement and being blindfolded most of the time. Less than a month later, he was picked up again and detained for some more months. His colleague, HRCP field officer Abdul Hai, recalled that Baloch was told to ‘remain silent for the rest of his life or he won’t be found in one piece again’. Today, Baloch, supposedly ‘free’, doesn’t talk about his past. “Those who speak the truth will always be punished for it,” said Hai.
*Name has been changed to protect identities
Published in The Express Tribune, December 10th, 2015.