ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s Ahmadi community faces growing institutionalized discrimination fanned by last year’s election campaign by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the minority movement said in a report issued on Monday.
Ahmadis, a group that originated in British-controlled India in the 19th century who see themselves as an Islamic movement, are regarded as heretical by orthodox Muslims and forbidden from calling themselves Muslims or using Islamic symbols in their religious practices.
They face discrimination and violence over accusations their faith insults Islam and community leaders say legislative moves in 2018 and anti-Ahmadi rhetoric during the elections have entrenched legalized hate.
“Ahmadis have no religious freedoms in Pakistan and recent actions taken by the authorities mean that the situation is going to deteriorate even further and make it impossible for Ahmadis to carry on with their everyday lives,” spokesman Saleem ud Din said in a statement.
Religious discrimination has long been a problem in Pakistan, a mainly Sunni Muslim state of more than 200 million people, with attacks against Shi’ites, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs in recent years.
Ahmadis have faced particular pressure since a 1974 constitutional amendment which declared them non-Muslim and a ruling a decade later by military ruler General Zia ul Haq explicitly forbidding them from calling themselves Muslim.
Two major events underlined in the report are a High Court verdict requiring citizens to declare their religion when applying for identity documents, which rights activists said specifically targeted the Ahmadi community.
The other was electioneering by Pakistan’s main parties, including the prime minister’s party, in which they have supported religious laws and anti-Ahmadi groups to curry favor with the religious right.
The Ahmadi community, in a statement on the report, accused Khan of fanning “the flames of religious hatred against Ahmadis”.
Khan’s office did not respond to request for comment.
The Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims. But their recognition of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the sect in 1889, as a “subordinate prophet” is viewed by many Sunnis as a breach of the Islamic tenet that the Prophet Mohammad was God’s last direct messenger.
The report said 62 Ahmadis were booked under discriminatory religious laws in 2017 and that more than 2,500 anti-Ahmadi news items appeared in Pakistan’s Urdu-language newspapers.
In May, a mob attacked a 100-year-old Ahmadi mosque in eastern Pakistan, spurred by the words of a cleric.
“It is not just extremists who carry out hate campaigns against Ahmadis, but the political class also fans these flames too,” Din added.
(The story corrects paragraph four spokesman’s name to Saleem ud Din.)
Reporting by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez