The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is highly concerned about the recent news that lawyers belonging to the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan – a numeric minority community in the country – are being required to renounce their religion as a prerequisite to practice law. This is a flagrant violation of their right to freedom of religion or belief.
According to news reports, Ahmadi Muslim lawyers have also faced physical attacks in court on account of their faith. For example, on 27 April 2023, a 77-year-old Ahmadi Muslim Supreme Court advocate, Syed Ali Ahmad Tariq, was reportedly assaulted by other lawyers while practising in court. The lawyers allege that Mr Tariq violated Section 298 B of Pakistan’s Penal Code (Misuse of epithets, descriptions and titles, etc reserved for certain holy personages or places) for having signed an affidavit in court using his full name which includes the prefix ‘Syed’, as this ‘made him out to be a Muslim’.
Mr Tariq has been detained and faces a potential custodial sentence of three years. Commenting on this attack in his judgment, the presiding Judge, Omar Sial J (High Court of Sindh Karachi) stated: ‘Not only an attempt was made to intimidate the court and interfere in the smooth administration of justice, but a lawyer… was physically abusive towards… one of the learned counsel for the applicant. […] This was simply unacceptable behaviour and conduct and must necessarily be condemned by the Bar Associations and Councils.’
IBAHRI Co-Chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, commented: ‘Pakistan must ensure that its laws and policies are in accordance with international standards without exceptions. Religious minority communities such as the Ahmadiyya must be granted all rights as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR] and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR], including the right to freedom of religion or belief as per Article 18 and Article 27 respectively. In particular, the latter that grants extra protections for minority communities.’
In March 2023, the District Bar Association of Gujranwala announced that any applicant must positively assert that they are Muslim and denounce the teachings of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. A similar announcement was made by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council in May 2023. The requirement is contrary to international legal standards, and specifically the right to freedom of religion or belief, as affirmed in Articles 18 of both the UDHR and ICCPR. Pakistan ratified the ICCPR in 2010, and as such, is bound by its provisions.
IBAHRI Co-Chair Mark Stephens CBE stated: ‘I am appalled by yet another attack on this marginalised community as well as lawyers in Pakistan. It is clear from the blatantly unfair treatment of the Ahmadiyya community that Pakistan is far from affirming and implementing international protections. As long as hate speech is directed at, and violence perpetrated against, Ahmadis because of their religious identity, the international community has a duty to speak out and speak up. The Ahmadis are being squeezed out of civic and public spaces by constant restrictions, and such treatment must be brought to a halt. Pakistan needs to affirm, without delay and without excuse, the rights of this marginalised people in accordance with international standards.’
IBA Executive Director Dr Mark Ellis commented: ‘While the situation of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan has been of significant concern for many years, the targeting of the Ahmadiyya lawyers is yet another attack on this discriminated and marginalised group. Pakistan must implement its international law obligations and ensure human rights for all.’
Members of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan are one of the most marginalised and discriminated minority groups in the country. They are often subject to Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, with almost any public act of religious manifestation or expression falling within the purview of such laws, which can lead to the death penalty.
Reportedly, since 2019, 61 Ahmadis have been charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Furthermore, those accused of blasphemy have been violently attacked. Some have been killed. Members of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan are also prevented from utilising several services, purely because of their religious identity. For example, to apply for a passport or to register to vote, Ahmadis are required to either swear Muhammad was the final prophet of Islam, denounce Mirza Ghulam Ahmad or declare themselves as non-Muslim, all of which are contrary to their beliefs. Members of the community are excluded from many offices and jobs by virtue of their religious identity and their places of worship and sacred sites, including graveyards, are common targets of attacks.
Furthermore, it is a crime for Ahmadis to identify as Muslims. Article 260(3) of the Pakistani Constitution defines a non-Muslim as ‘a person who is not a Muslim and includes a person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Parsi community, a person of the Quadiani Group or the Lahori Group (who call themselves Ahmadis or by any other name), or a Bahai, and a person belonging to any of the scheduled castes.’ In addition, Article 298 C of Pakistan’s Criminal Code states that ‘any person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves “Ahmadis” or by any other name), who directly or indirectly, poses himself as a Muslim, or calls, or refers to, his faith as Islam, or preaches or propagates his faith, or invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.’
The new announcement targeting Ahmadiyya lawyers is yet another example of the attacks on members of the Ahmadiyya community, which will prevent many from entering the legal profession or force them to choose between their religion and their profession.
Original post can be read HERE.