The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA) and rules made thereunder define the whole range of cybercrimes along with their punishment, set down the process of investigation and conduct of trial of cases before the designated court.
The Ahmadiyya Community which is facing the brunt of state sponsored persecution for the last many decades under the Anti-Ahmadiyya laws (Ordinance XX of 1984), Anti Terrorism laws (Anti Terrorism Act, 1997) and the blasphemy laws (sections 295-A, 295-B & 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code) are now being further oppressed and victimised by the state apparatus by misusing rather abusing the power under PECA.
In order to comprehend the precarious situation of the Ahmadis living in Pakistan we need to understand the process of their victimisation in which the antagonists of Ahmadiyya Community with the active support and connivance of officials of the state has created such a hostile atmosphere in which no Ahmadi living in Pakistan can feel to be safe and a constant fear of persecution has crept in their ranks and their peace of mind has been completely shattered.
Role of Mr. Hassan Muaviyah:
Mr. Hassan Muaviyah, the brother of a known religious scholar Maulana Tahir Ashrafi (presently holding the positions of Special Assistant to Prime Minister, Member of Islamic Ideology Council and Chairman of Mutahidda Ulema Board of Province of the Punjab) a known nemesis of Ahmadiyya Community who first came in picture nearly a decade ago when he got registered first criminal case against an Ahmadi in Lahore under section 295-A PPC and thereafter he and his associates got registered number of case against Ahmadis under Anti-Ahmadiyya, Anti Terrorism and blasphemy laws and many Ahmadis had to undergo many years of imprisonment in different areas of Punjab. At one point of time the Punjab Police was actively supporting Mr. Muaviayh in his endeavour to persecute Ahmadis and in this regard many unauthorised raids were conducted in the worship places and homes of Ahmadis living in Lahore resulting in arrest of a number of worshippers and inmates.
After a couple of years Mr. Muaviyah started a campaign against the Ahmadis living in Rabwah, especially the prominent Ahmadis. One of his targets was Abdul Shakoor commonly known as Shakoor Bhai in the community who ran a bookshop in the main bazar of Rabwah. He tried to manage the local police in order to register a case against Shakoor Bhai on the ground of selling books to Ahmadis. The local police resisted him and did not register case against Shakoor Bhai, then he turned towards the Counter Terroism Department, Punjab (CTD) and with the connivance of CTD a case was registered against Shakoor Bhai under the provisions of Anti Terrorism Act, 1997 and Anti Ahmadiyya laws and he was arrested and remained in jail for more that three years. On the instigation of Mr. Muaviyah the CTD raided one of the offices of the Ahmadiyya Community and the Ahmadiyya Press and also arrested a number of officials of the community during these raids and those arrested remained incarcerated for more than a year.
Role of Mr. Muaviyah in the present scenario of registration of cases against Ahmadis by the Cybercrime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA):
In the year 2019 Mr. Muaviyah approached the Lahore High Court, Lahore by filing a Constitutional Petition seeking a declaration that Ahmadis are not allowed to keep copies of the Holy Quran with then and they are also not allowed to translate the Holy Quran and he further seek a direction in the name of law enforcement agencies to take action against Ahmadis who are in possession of copies of Holy Quran or who are involved in translating the same. The Lahore High Court, Lahore through its judgment rendered on 05.03.2019 in W.P. No. 214966 of 2018 (reported as PLD 2019 Lahore 448) allowed the petition of Mr. Muaviyah and declared that Ahmadis are not allowed to translate the Holy Quran and if any translation of the Holy Quran of the Ahmadiyya is surfaced then law enforcement agencies would take action not only against the individual but also against the community. This judgment of the Lahore High Court is the starting point of persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community under the PECA.
Cybercrime Wing, Lahore and its connivance with Mr. Muaviyah:
After the decision of the Lahore High Court the Cybercrime Wing, Lahore which is an organ of the FIA has registered a number of cases against Ahmadi life devotees and missionaries who were performing their duties in Rabwah. One of those cases has been registered by Mr. Muaviyah while the other has been registered by other members of his group while in one of the cases the complainant is an official of the Cybercrime Wing, Lahore. It is strange to note that all these cases have been registered in Cybercrime Wing, Lahore while there is not a single case in any other Cybercrime Wing all over Pakistan. It is also important to note that Rabwah is situated in the jurisdiction of Cybercrime Wing, Faisalabad and almost all the accused Ahmadis are residents of Rabwah but not a single case has been registered in Faisalabad which shows that Mr. Hassan Muaviyah who is resident of Lahore has purposefully managed things with Cybercrime Wing, Lahore so that he can supervise the issues conveniently.
Another important aspect which needs to be highlighted is that some of those cases have been registered by practicing lawyers and those lawyers represent Mr. Muaviyah in courts against Ahmadi accused persons while one of the cases, which has already been mentioned, has been registered by an official of Cybercrime Wing, Lahore. This shows the nexus of all the complainants of different cases with each other and their connivince with the Cybercrime Wing, Lahore.
Court proceedings and violation of rights of fair trial and due process:
Application seeking release of an accused during trial is considered an urgent issue and there are instructions to the courts to decide the application for grant of bail as early as possible but in cases of Ahmadis the courts do not decide the applications for months and on the pressure of the complainant the courts keep these applications sometimes for indefinite period. Even the High Court does not decide applications for Ahmadis for months. There are four applications pending in the Lahore High Court, Lahore. Two of them are pending since 19.03.2021, third is pending since 23.04.2021 while the fifth is hanging fire since 03.05.2021.
On the second last date of hearing the counsel for the complainant appeared before Mr. Justice Shehram Sarwar Ch, and made a statement that his client, the complainant of the case, has no trust on the judge. Such a statement amounts to contempt of court but the judge instead of taking any action against the complainant or his lawyer recused himself from hearing the case and sent the file to the Chief Justice to refer the case to another judge.
On the last date of hearing the case was taken up by Mr. Justice Anwaar-ul-Haq Pannu and the same episode repeated and once again on showing distrust on the judge by complainant counsel the judge refused to hear the case and once again referred the case to the Chief Justice to nominate any other judge for hearing these bail applications.
These incidents clearly show that the judiciary is either not free of bias against the Ahmadis or the judges are not brave enough to face the pressure of the rowdy elements which results in serious violation of fundamental rights of fair trial and due process of Ahmadis.
The trial of these cases are being conducted by the Additional Sessions Judge, Lahore which is subordinate to the Lahore High Court, Lahore and the said court is even more vulnerable then the High Court. Under the law the accused persons are entitled to receive the copies of all the evidence which has been collected by the investigation agency before the commencement of trial but in all the cases against Ahmadis the Additional Sessions Judge, Lahore has refused to deliver the most important evidence to the accused Ahmadis. The evidence which has been withheld includes the forensic and technical analysis reports as well as the data collected by the Cybercrime Wing, Lahore and stored in DVDs and USBs. How an Ahmadi accused would be able to know what evidence is going to be produced against him during the trial and how their lawyer would be able to cross examine the witnesses if he would not be in possession of the relevant evidence.
It is also important to mention here that the Additional Sessions Judge, Lahore remains in constant pressure of Mr. Muaviyah and his group who dictates the judge to pass orders of their choice. The judge has even been dictated by the complainant party in fixing dates for hearing. If an independent observer may be able to access the video recordings of the proceedings which are available in the Sessions Court then it would become crystal clear that what kind of hostile atmosphere has been created by the complainant party in which the rights of fair trial and due process of accused Ahmadis could not be protected at all.
It is deplorable that the Government of Pakistan especially Maulana Tahir Ashrafi continuously claiming that there is no misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan while situation on the ground is in complete contrast with his claim and his real brother with his active support is persecuting the innocent Ahmadis only because of their beliefs.
Ahmadis are not safe even in their houses and worship places:
Another very alarming development has taken place in Pakistan. A couple of weeks ago the Lahore High Court, Lahore has passed an order whereby it has been declared that writing Kalma (the basic creed of Islam) by Ahmadis inside their worship place is an offence under section 295-C PPC. It has further been held that reciting the Holy Quran by Ahmadis is an offence under sections 295-B and 295-C PPC. The court also stated in the judgment that keeping the copies of Holy Quran in Ahmadiyya worship place, which (as per the decision) is an unholy place is an offence under section 295-B PPC. This judgment of the Lahore High Court, Lahore has given a licence to the opponents of the Ahmadis to rope in any Ahmadi of their choice and register a case against him on the charges of blasphemy. Police would be allowed to raid the worship places and houses of Ahmadis in order to search whether Kalma is written inside or whether there is any copy of Holy Quran therein.
In present circumstances there is no hope that the State of Pakistan would protect the rights of Ahmadis rather it is evident that the apparatus of the State is being ruthlessly used by the Mullahs with impunity. It would be appropriate that the international community should raise its voice against the abuse of power by the State of Pakistan and make it answerable for its violations of international commitments.