May 2012

 

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Pakistan’s Maimed Democracy Denies Its Citizens the Right to Vote

Asian Human Rights Commission


The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has had discussions with the leaders of the Ahmadis, a religious minority community of Islam, in Lahore in Pakistan’s Punjab Province. During these discussions, it was found that they are denied access to practice their religion at local mosques and that Qur’anic scriptures engraved or painted on the walls of their mosques are erased by Muslim extremists in the very presence of the police. According to Islamic law, no Qur’anic verse may be removed. However, in a country that is always ready to utilize blasphemy laws for one’s advantage, no action has been taken against either the extremists or the police.

Furthermore, during the discussion, it was also revealed that, being a minority community, they are denied their basic right to vote to elect their representatives and that under the present civil government they have been swiftly and effectively expelled from the whole electoral process.

Internationally, a democracy is defined by a government elected by the people. However, in Pakistan, there is an exception to this rule in that Ahmadis, because of their faith and beliefs, are excluded from Pakistan’s electoral system.

Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto in 1974 not only declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims in the country’s Constitution, but he also introduced a change in the electoral system and allocated a few seats to religious minorities in the general assemblies. As Ahmadis did not accept the imposed status of being a non-Muslim minority, they never availed themselves of these seats.

Gen. Zia ul Haq in 1985 introduced the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan that imposed the system of a separate electorate. Since then, elections are held in the country on the basis of separate electoral lists for different religious groups. Those who claim to be Muslims (and Ahmadis are Muslims) have to sign a certificate of faith in Khatmi Nabuwwat (the end of Prophethood, an organization which is exclusively working against the Ahmadis under the patronage of the State) and deny the veracity of the holy founder of the Ahmadi religion. The separate electorate system has divided the Pakistani polity into numerous entities based on religion, but the worst case is that of the Ahmadis who have been forced out of their proclaimed faith and denied a fundamental civil right, damaging and maiming Pakistan’s claim to be a democracy.

In 2002, the leader of the country, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, instead of introducing a joint electoral system, required voters to sign a declaration concerning their belief about the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and those who refused to sign the certificate were to be deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters as non-Muslims.

These devious and unacceptable procedures have usurped the fundamental civil rights of Ahmadis. For decades, they cannot stand as candidates for any assembly at the national, provincial or even district level. Ahmadis have no representation even in the town council of their own community of Rabwah where they make up 95 percent of the population.

To fool the world community, Pakistan has now introduced a form for the registration of all voters, but every applicant who ticks themselves as a Muslim must sign a certificate printed on the back of the form declaring that they are not associated with the Qadian or Lahori group or calls himself an Ahmadi. This form includes a warning that a violation will be punished with imprisonment.

The irony of the matter is that Article 20 of Pakistan’s Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and Pakistan is also a signatory to the U.N. Charter of Human Rights, which makes it obligatory upon the government to safeguard the fundamental rights of all people without any discrimination whatsoever based on religion, faith or belief.

The United Nations, European Union, human rights organizations and the world media urged the government of Pakistan before the 2008 general elections to establish a joint electorate roll system that was free of discrimination based on one’s faith, belief, caste, race or color.

Now that Pakistan is preparing for the next general election in 2013 it is time to place pressure on the government to take immediate steps to end its inhumane discrimination against Ahmadis. For the credibility of Pakistan’s claim to be a democracy, it is vitally important that all discrimination in the form of declarations and orders be withdrawn and that joint electoral lists be prepared without any reference to religion.

The right of Ahmadis to vote must be restored, and facilities must be provided for the members of this minority community to participate safely and without duress as voters and candidates in the forthcoming elections.

If Pakistan does not heed this call, it will continue to remain a maimed democracy and an embarrassment to the respectable democracies of the world.


* The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is a regional non-governmental organization monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. More information is available on AHRC’s web site at <http://www.ahrchk.net/index.php>