Pakistan’s Ahmadis under increasing threat after recent attack in Jhelum
The toddler’s family have had little contact with anyone since they were forced to flee for their lives on November 20 when hundreds of people torched a factory in the eastern city of Jhelum after rumours spread workers were burning copies of the Quran.
Sabiha’s father Asif Shahzad was one of the employees — all Ahmadis — and that night the mob took him away.
“I begged them for the life of my wife and children and they freed them only after taking me to burn in the factory’s boiler,” he told AFP this week from where his family are hiding.
“It was my good luck that some kind-hearted Muslims helped me to escape,” he said.
His wife Hafsa said she had almost accepted him dead.
“I never wanted to leave him but he said that he would join us if he survived, and I must save mine and our daughters’ lives,” the 24-year-old told AFP tearfully.
Along with other Ahmadi families fleeing Jhelum that night, Hafsa managed to escape in a car her husband had arranged before he was torn away by the mob.
The driver, she said, was Muslim. “(He) treated me and the other ladies… as his daughters,” she said, navigating them through the mob to safety.
The largest Ahmadi community in the world is in Pakistan, where they number about 500,000, and followers are frequently the target of blasphemy allegations. Legislation framed in 1974 and 1984 bans Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims .
“Ahmadis in Pakistan face daily harassment, intimidation and persecution on the basis of their religion,” Dennis Jong, the co-chair of a European Parliament body on religious tolerance, said in a press release this week slamming the factory attack.
The attacks, he said, “show the continued lack of protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms offered by the Pakistani government to the Ahmadis”.
In July 2014, a mob, in echoes of the attack in Jhelum, burnt three Ahmadis alive and torched their homes in Gujranwala.
The state, for its part, says Ahmadis — like all minorities in Pakistan — are “constitutionally protected”.
“When legislation was formed about the Ahmadis, the law was passed after complete debate in the national assembly,” Sardar Muhammad Yousaf, federal religious affairs minister, told AFP.
“The Ahmadis were given full chance to raise their point of view… If the Ahmadi community has some concerns and fears, they must come and discuss that with us and we will address them,” he said.