Pakistan's Penal Code explicitly discriminates against religious minorities and targets Ahmadis, prohibiting them from "directly or indirectly impersonating Muslims". Ahmadis are prohibited from declaring or propagating their faith publicly, building mosques or making the Muslim call to prayer.
On 24 December 2020, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) sent a legal notice to the administrators of trueislam.com, stating that the website violated the Constitution of Pakistan and warning that they could be charged with blasphemy, a charge that could carry the death penalty, for referring to themselves as Muslims. The site's administrators have also been threatened with a fine of PKR 500 million (USD 3.1 million) if they do not remove the website.
Ahmadi Muslims follow the same scriptures and teachings as other Muslims. The fundamental difference is that Ahmadi Muslims believe that the messiah has come and established the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in 1889 in India. Since then they have spread around the world, but in many countries, including Pakistan, they are discriminated against and even killed because of their religion. In recent years there has been an increase in violent attacks against members of the religious community, attacks that have been denounced by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists among other bodies.
In order to give visibility to this problem in order to address it, the NGO CAP Freedom of Conscience held an online event during the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council entitled "The Persecution of Ahmadi Muslims Worldwide". Speakers at the meeting were Sir Edward Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats (chair of the session); Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Dr Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on Minorities; and Ms Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression.
The first speaker was Dr Ahmed Shaheed, who first of all wanted to acknowledge the extreme situation faced by Ahmadi Muslims, who are forced to deny their religion and culture in order to integrate into civil society. This is a question of human rights, freedom of religion and community. During his speech, he emphasised that this minority should not be left behind, as abuses of their rights often go unnoticed and have little media coverage. He concluded by saying that the international organisations that promise to protect this group from discrimination and racial hatred should keep their promises, citing the UN Sustainable Development Goals as an example.
Dr Fernand de Varennes' speech was based on two fundamental pillars. The first is that the Ahmadi Muslims should be recognised as a minority, as they meet the criteria for being a minority whether the government recognises them as such or not. Pakistan's executive does not recognise the Ahmadi community as a minority, as the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony adopted the following statement: Ahmadis would be excluded from the membership and protection of the (Pakistan Religious Affairs) Commission because they "do not fall within the definition of minorities". As they are not recognised by the government as a minority, the protection and rights of minorities, according to the UN, do not apply to them.
Secondly, he argued that it is important for Ahmadis to claim their right to be considered a minority, a community in their own right. This issue goes beyond individual rights. From the point of view of international relations and international law, if a minority is considered to be discriminated against, it is not only their rights as individuals but as a community that are being violated. Article 27 on the rights of minorities in the UN International Human Rights Instruments states that the rights of minorities constitute separate rights from individual rights, and they have the right to have their own cultural life, to profess and practice their own religion and to use their own language, among other provisions.
Irene Khan began her speech by pointing out that Ahmadi Muslim women are doubly persecuted and are subject to gender discrimination and religious discrimination. She denounced that the Pakistani government wants to censor posts and articles online and on social media that highlight the suffering and discrimination faced by this community. It is important that tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Google are made aware of this and prevent their freedom of expression from being violated, that they do not allow governments to censor these messages. It is therefore important for the state to protect its own citizens.
In line with Kahn's speech, Professor Amjad Khan expressed that Pakistan's persecution of Ahmadis has taken a technological turn, they are now also persecuted and censored on digital platforms. According to section 37 of the PTA on unlawful online content, the government has unlimited powers to block access to or remove expression not only on the internet, but transmitted through any device, domestically and abroad.
Subsequently, a number of testimonies were aired, detailing their personal experiences and how they had suffered job discrimination, dismissal, assault and school discrimination because of their Ahmadi religious orientation. Some of the victims chose not to show their faces in the video out of fear. Some said they even had to immigrate to escape threats of hatred.
Umaad Farooq, originally from Pakistan, was shot in the head. He was mugged in the street with his family. His father, who was shot six times, survived, but his newly married brother died. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He says that this kind of violence ruins the lives of people and families, it happens every day. She ended her testimony with the following sentence: "You live in fear that if you leave home you may not come back".
Finally, other speakers included Dr. Katrina Lantos, Rabina Mehmood and Lisa Pattison from the US State Department. Dr. Katrina Lantos denounced Pakistan as the definition of systemic state discrimination, where oppression is intentional and inescapable and that other states must hold Pakistan accountable for its human rights violations.
Rabia Mehmood highlighted that extremist religious sects are promoting hate messages on social media in a systematic and organised way. Very dangerous conversations, which talk of murder. Social media platforms have a responsibility in this regard, these messages violate their own rules and should be censored and removed.