Pakistan, Ahmadis targeted by extremists and police: places of worship attacked and demolished
by Shafique Khokhar

The latest episode on 18 January in Karachi, with an assault on a centre and damage to the minaret. In December, the security forces had struck another community in Gujranwala. Radical groups call for the enforcement of blasphemy laws against the minority. Christian and Ahmadi activists claim the right to religious freedom and respect for treaties.

Toba Tek Singh (AsiaNews) - The Ahmadi minority is once again the target of extremist groups in Pakistan, who attack and demolish their places of worship. The latest episode took place on January 18 in Karachi, where the headquarters of the local community was attacked at 3:45 in the afternoon: some men armed with sticks gathered outside the gate chanting slogans and threats, then climbed over the fence and ransacked the interior, damaging the minaret.

An Ahmadi member, Zaheer Ahmed, who was present at the time of the assault filed a complaint, but so far there have been no developments and the assailants remain unpunished. 

Previously, on 7 December, the authorities had ordered the demolition of the minaret of an Ahmadi place of worship in Baghbanpura (Gujranwala, Punjab). The security forces surrounded the building and switched off the lighting in the area, before proceeding with the demolition.

On 12 September, the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik movement had denounced the minority prayer centres as "illegal" and the worshippers guilty of "blasphemy" under Article 295-C of the Penal Code.

Among the other Ahmadi places of worship targeted by extremists and at risk of attack is the one in the village of Aadha, in Gojra (the scene in 2009 of a bloody anti-Christian raid, with residents being burned alive), built in 1964 and capable of accommodating up to 100 people.

The Ahmadis (about 2% of Pakistan's population) are an Islamic-inspired religious movement that arose in the late 19th century, whose founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, believed himself to be a prophet who appeared after Muhammad, which is why Sunnis consider them heretics.

They are the most persecuted community in the country. According to a 2018 report, between 1984 and 2017, 260 worshippers were killed, 27 religious places demolished, 33 others closed, 22 set on fire or damaged, and 17 forcibly occupied. 

Aamir Mehmood, an Ahmadi activist interviewed by AsiaNews, denounces "the suffering" the minority is subjected to and loudly raises the right to "religious freedom".

However, he adds, "the police are afraid of fundamentalists and that is why they hit the Ahmadis, who are a weak target. The country is experiencing the worst economic crisis in history, but the police and fundamentalists prefer to hit defenceless minorities'.

Among those condemning the attacks is Christian activist Naveed Walter, president of Human Rights Focus Pakistan (Hrfp), who calls for an end "to the violations against minorities, including Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus".

Walter adds that 'the state must act swiftly against the atrocities and pay attention to development, economic stability, and the promotion and implementation of the fundamental rights of every citizen, in accordance with the vision of the founder [of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah], the treaties and commitments signed with the international community'.