An Ahmadi jeweller in Silanwali, Sargodha was charged with blasphemy for the second time in his life for “posing as a Muslim” and for putting up a translation of the Quranic text in his shop.
Muhammad Ashraf, who was earlier charged along with his co-workers in 2009 for posing as Muslims, was charged with blasphemy on July 23 this year under Section 298-C on the complaint of Hafiz Muhammad Imran.
Ashraf was sent to Central Jail Sargodha on July 24 and was released on bail on the exchange of bail bonds worth Rs50,000 on July 31. The case is under trial at a local magisterial court in Sargodha.
The FIR registered against Ashraf mentioned that he had put up translations of text from the Holy Quran in his shop at Kobi Market, Saeed Bazar, which was against the Section 298-C of 1984 Ordinance.
As per Section 298-C, an Ahmadi who “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” will be punished with up to three years in prison and is liable to pay a fine.
The text translation in Ashraf’s shop read, “O people of faith always speak the straight truth.”
The Station House Officer (SHO) of the Silanwali Police Station, Irfan Safdar, told The Express Tribune that, “After the complaint, our security constable Aslam and other investigation staff of police went to verify if the translation of the Quranic text was actually there at Ashraf’s shop, and it was. So we registered the FIR.”
The SHO said the security constables verified that, “Ashraf was spreading his faith and pretends to be a Muslim.” He further said that the “entire process of verification and taking Ashraf into custody took about two hours. Ashraf was taken into custody and then the FIR was registered quickly after that.”
According to details shared with The Express Tribune, on July 22, Hafiz Imran came to the jeweller’s shop which has been in the market for seven years, and asked for removal of the translation, which Ashraf refused to take off.
Ashraf recalled that Imran said to him “these are good words, but this (Ashraf’s shop) is not a good place.”
The next day, when Ashraf went to open his shop at around 11am, he met the police security constable Aslam, who according to the SHO verified the presence of the Quranic text translation in Ashraf’s shop.
Ashraf said the police security constable was followed by another man in civilian clothes from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) who picked him up and said that the SHO wanted to speak to him.
Ashraf was then taken to the police station and put behind bars. Eventually he was imprisoned for six days in the Central Jail Sargodha where he stayed in the same section as that of murderers and prisoners on death row.
In 2009, Ashraf and two other Ahmadi men who have businesses in the same market, were arrested for ‘posing as Muslims’ and for praying inside a room in the market. After spending 28 days in jail after that FIR, Ashraf and his co-accused got bail from the court.
District Police Officer (DPO) Sargodha Dr Rizwan told The Express Tribune that, “In my field of experience, the intolerance against Ahmadis has considerably decreased, over the last few years – I mean the use of violence against them by the extreme right wing. The use of legal apparatus to redress perceived transgression is indicative of improved civility.”
Spokesperson of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan, Saleemuddin asked, “Does the Punjab police have nothing better to do, than to register FIRs against peaceful citizens on complaints of every cleric? Do they not have terrorists and criminals to catch for people’s protection?”
The community says that there are a number of cases which are pending in courts against Ahmadi citizens, in which even women and children have been charged with 298-C. There is also an active FIR registered against the residents of the entire town of Rabwah with the same charges. Rabwah, or Chanab Nagar, is in district Jhang of Punjab and has the highest population of Ahmadi community in Pakistan.
Leading human rights activist, former chairperson HRCP and former president Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan Asma Jahangir while speaking to The Express Tribune said that the government officials have always given a message that they do not recognise the Ahmadi community, which is “treated like lepers and Jews” in Pakistan.
Commenting on the current state of Ahmadi persecution, Jahangir said that “the situation is so bad that I, who do not support the Ahmadi faith but oppose their persecution, have been threatened.”
Jahangir added that the “politicians will only care about Ahmadi community when they are not on the separate electorate anymore.”