Highlighting attacks and mistreatment of minorities in Pakistan – particularly Ahmadiyya Muslims – several MPs have asked the UK government to review aid to Pakistan to ensure it is not misused to promote religious intolerance.
Participating in a debate in the House of Commons on “Persecution of Religious Minorities: Pakistan”, more than 15 MPs recalled the plight of Christians, Sikhs and Hindus along with that of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in the country to seek a review of aid.
Pakistan is one of the largest recipients of British bilateral aid, receiving nearly £1.17 billion between 2011 and 2015. The MPs paid tribute to Britain’s peaceful Ahmadiyya Muslim community and recalled Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s 1947 speech promising a secular Pakistan.
Siobhain McDonagh (Labour), who led the debate, said:
“The Ahmadiyya community is also denied the right to religious freedom and expression in Pakistan. On orders from the united religious clerics board, all works by that religious group are now banned in the region of Punjab.
“That includes books, CDs, periodicals and newspapers, and it means that hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Ahmadi Muslims in Punjab face police searches, criminal charges and up to five years in prison. Those texts are all religious, and their censorship is totally unjustified.”
Focussing on the plight of women from minorities, Fiona Bruce (Conservative) said: “Following this debate, I hope that the UK government and those responsible for disseminating aid in Pakistan will pay particular attention to the plight of women and girls in religious minorities, because they are doubly at risk of discrimination, regardless of the faith they adhere to.”
She added: “They risk systematic abduction, extortion, hijacking, being held for ransom, trafficking, rape, forced marriage, forced conversions, and allegations of blasphemy…Women are treated as second class, but if they come from a minority group, they are third class citizens. For example, Hindu girls in Sindh and Christian girls in Punjab are abducted, raped, or forced to convert to Islam in the face of extreme pressure, including threats to them and their families.”
Siobhain McDonagh MP, is also Chair of UK All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
MPs also called on the Pakistan Government to release 70-year-old Mr Abdul Shakoor, an Ahmadi shopkeeper from Rabwah who was jailed in January for 7 years under the country’s anti-terror laws and anti-Ahmadi laws for possessing copies of the Holy Quran and some religious books.
Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP, Foreign Affairs Spokesperson for the Scottish National Party and Fabian Hamilton MP, Labour Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs noted the dire situation of freedom of religion in Pakistan and called for urgent action by the Pakistan Government to address this issue. Other MPs who attended included Steve McCabe MP, Nic Dakin MP, Naz Shah MP, Alison Thewliss MP, Rt Hon Tom Brake MP, Chris White MP, Gareth Thomas MP, Stephen Timms MP, John Spellar MP, Steve McCabe MP, Kate Green MP
Responding to the debate, Tobias Ellwood of the Foreign Office assured MPs that the government will continue to take every opportunity to raise issues of concern with the Pakistan government, particularly the Ahmadiyya issue with the chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which has roots at Qadian in India’s Punjab, comprises nearly 0.2% of Pakistan’s population. MPs listed several threats the community faced, including anti-Ahmadi laws and discrimination.
The three-hour debate also covered the persecution of Shia Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and minority women, and featured speakers from all parties of the political divide.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK welcomed the UK Parliamentarians’ call to end persecution of religious groups in Pakistan.
Mr Rafiq Hayat, National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK said:
“It was an important and timely debate. The persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan must end as must the horrific violence against Christians and other minorities. Pakistan must repeal is discriminatory laws that deny its own citizens their basic human rights. I thank Siobhain McDonagh MP for calling the debate and all who contributed – it sent a loud and clear message that such persecution will not be accepted and Pakistan must be held to account. We pray for peace in Pakistan and for the success of the country based on justice and equality for all.”