WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemns in the strongest possible terms the heinous attack on an Ahmadi Muslim factory and mosque on November 21 and 22 in the Jehlum district located in the Punjab province.
“USCIRF strongly condemns this attack against the Ahmadi Muslim community and is saddened by reports that people are fleeing their homes in fear for their lives,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George. “While the Pakistani government reportedly has dispatched the army to restore peace and detained more than 40 suspects, the government needs to do much more to stem the climate of impunity that pervades Pakistan. To these ends and as a first step, the government should provide protection to the Ahmadi community and denounce language clerics use that incites hatred and violence.”
The attacks on the factory and mosque reportedly occurred when an Ahmadi factory worker was accused of desecrating the Qur’an, an act that under Pakistani law is considered blasphemous and punishable by death. A mob of several hundred people reportedly destroyed the factory by setting it ablaze. Additional reports indicate that inflammatory speech by religious clerics incited the additional violence that lead to the mosque attack.
USCIRF has long documented systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan. Since 1974, Ahmadis have faced severe legal restrictions which are codified in both the country’s constitution and its criminal code and under which, for example, Ahmadis cannot refer to themselves as Muslims and can face criminal charges for professing, propagating, or practicing their faith. Additionally, the country’s blasphemy laws continue to be problematic for Ahmadis and others. These laws, which are contrary to international standards of the freedom of religion or belief, seek to punish individuals who allegedly defile a place of worship or the Qur’an, or insult religious beliefs or the Prophet Muhammad. At least 38 people in Pakistan have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison or death for blasphemy, the largest number of any country in the world.
“This latest attack against the Ahmadi community is yet another example in a long list that underscore the fact that Pakistan represents one of the worst situations in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. government as “countries of particular concern” (CPC). The United States government should designate Pakistan a CPC and vigorously urge the Pakistani government, among other measures, to repeal their anti-Ahmadi and blasphemy laws,” said Chairman George.
Since 2002, the Commission has recommended Pakistan be named a “Country of Particular Concern” by the State Department under the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act. For additional recommendations and analysis please see USCIRF’s 2015 Pakistan report here.