Nation special report
LONDON: Taking stocks the overall situation of Ahmediya community and other minorities in Pakistan, the British Parliamentarians have urged Islamabad Government to take extra arrangements to care these communities and their genuine fundamental rights.
At the end of 3 hours 45 minutes debate over these sensitive issues the House of Commons resolved that this house notes with concern the rising tide of persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan, Algeria and other countries around the world. [The Parliament used the word Muslim during the debate and in resolution].
It further notes the effect that hate preachers have on radicalising people internationally and in the UK, through the media, social media and otherwise. The House notes with concern the past activities of hate preacher, Syed Muzaffar Shah Qadri, who radicalised Tanveer Ahmed, who in turn murdered Mr Asad Shah in Glasgow in March 2016. The House calls on the Government to make representations to the Governments of Pakistan and Algeria on the persecution of Ahmadis; and further calls on the Government to make more stringent the entry clearance procedures to the UK for hate preachers by ensuring that entry clearance hubs and the Home Office have adequate numbers of Urdu speakers to monitor visa applications and online radicalisation.
The debate was started on Thursday (24th May) at 12.45 pm and continued till 3.30pm at the initiative of Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) and twenty Parliamentarians including her took part in the proceedings. The Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Mark Field, briefed the House about the government’s point of view of these issues. While publishing here the abridged version of the debate comprising over 19,000 words, we seek apology from the honourable Parliamentarians for not accommodating their whole speeches this time. In the beginning, Mark Field expressed heartfelt tribute to Siobhain McDonagh MP for her work as chair of the all-party group for the Ahmadiyya community, and for all she has done to support the community in the UK and overseas. He said; “ I addressed the House in another debate about the persecution of Christians. On that occasion, Members from across the House gave horrifying accounts of the suffering of Christians in the middle east and in north and west Africa. Today, we have heard similarly appalling descriptions of the discrimination suffered by Ahmadis.
I hope that the world outside, in particular the countries mentioned today that clearly discriminate against Ahmadi populations, do not think that that calm does not underpin a certain amount of anger and our real sense of mission. The plight of the most peaceable of communities should be in all of our hearts. I hope we continue to work consistently and persistently on it. He said that there is a great worry that in the world at large minorities are becoming increasingly undermined. We need to recognise that and stand up to it. The Government will continue to challenge extremism in our own community.
All religious persecution, in whatever form it manifests itself, is abhorrent and deplorable. “I would like to address specific issues raised in the motion, which, if I may say, was extremely comprehensive, about the prosecution of Ahmadis overseas and on UK policy on counter-extremism. I will be travelling to Indonesia inAugust and I am very happy to ensure that the very specific points raised by the Member for Mitcham and Morden are brought up in the context of that visit”.
Explaining the arrival of religious figures as mentioned by a number of Members, Mr. Mark Field said; “I know that a number of Members had concerns about that. Ministers of religion and religious workers can come to the UK through one of two routes: either tier 2 as a minister of religion, for longer-term postings, or tier 5 as a religious worker, for temporary positions of up to two years.
Those routes cover coming to preach, to carry out pastoral duties, to work as a missionary or to be part of a religious order, and other religious duties. Both visa routes sit under the points-based system and require a certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor”. “It is important that we look at context in this debate. In October 2013, in a relatively recent change—as recent as four and a half years ago, although we have to keep the situation under constant review, given the matters raised in this debate—the Government introduced a genuineness test to better identify those who may be trying to abuse either of those routes.
The test applies to applications under the points-based system and is part of a wider policy of assessing the credibility of visa applicants. “That is ultimately a Home Office—rather than a Foreign Office—matter, but we will try as far as possible to have as joined-up an approach as we can. However, I am concerned that the system is being played to a certain extent, and that there are people who may be on dark lists in their home countries— as people who would incite religious hatred—but who are able to come to this country through the rules that we have in place and utilise being based in the UK to preach against Ahmadis in particular. We will do all that we can, and the fact that we have had this debate is useful. This is perhaps something that my Home Office colleagues need to work on more closely, but I give my pledge to the hon. Lady, and indeed, to all Members here, that between us and the Home Office, we will try to ensure that these abuses do not continue. Referring the GSP Plus issue raised by Member for Kingston and Surbiton, Mark Field said that the most recent report was produced in January this year, and made a number of recommendations to Pakistan, among other countries.
Along with our European Union partners, we will continue to press Pakistan in this regard. “We are aware of a number of reports of Ahmadis being arrested in Algeria.The Government in Algiers have said that the arrests relate to breaches of law applicable to all religions. However, it is also the case that, while the Algerian constitution provides for freedom of religion, it is not always compatible with domestic law.We will continue to raise our concerns with the Government of Algeria, and urge them to rectify the anomaly and to respect the right of freedom freligion or belief.
Last October my colleague the human rights Minister, Lord Tariq Ahmad discussed the plight of the Ahmadiyya with the Algerian Minister for Religious Affairs, and our ambassador also raised the issue with him at the beginning of this year. “Let me say a little about our relationship with Pakistan. We have a tremendous high commissioner there, Tom Drew. He and his team do a great deal of challenging work in relation to counter-terrorism and a huge number of consular issues. The Department for International Development has its biggest single programme there, and efforts are being made to work with British Pakistanis to develop trade connections for the future. It all involves a huge amount of work, but that is not in any way to downgrade the work that we do in standing up for the Ahmadi community. I will take the opportunity to ensure that we raise that issue more extensively. I have been to Pakistan once in my present post, and I shall be going again later in the year. “I feel, to an extent, that we are not doing enough, but I hope the House will recognise that we are not ignoring the plight of people who are deprived of freedomo freligious belief. There is a huge agenda, not least given the importance of Pakistan as a neighbour of Afghanistan, its relationship with China, and the sense in which the United Kingdom is a trusted partner at a time of uncertainty in that part of the globe. I accept that we may need to do a little more, and that we may do more publicly. That was raised by a number of Members today. I did not wish to suggest that because we tend to deal with these issues privately and quietly—and we do, very persistently, with all of our counterparts—there is no opportunity to go a little more public on them, and I will do my level best to achieve that.
“It is entirely unacceptable that the Ahmadi, for example, are electorally disenfranchised. However we also work at state level, and in my visits going out to Mardan, for instance—I will be heading out to Karachi and Lahore in due course— Itry to speak to seniors tate officials. Pakistan is a large country with over 210million citizens and many of the states are as populous as parts of the United Kingdom. He said; “We have raised, and will continue to raise, with the Pakistan Ministry of Human Rights the issue of the protection of minority religious communities. I have also done so in writing to the Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, and my ministerial colleague Lord Ahmad raised this issue as recently as February with the Pakistan Minister of Interior.
The Ahmadi community are prevented by the terms of the Pakistan constitution and penal code not just from practising their religion freely, but from being electorally franchised or indeed, dare I say it, from really being full members of the Pakistani community. That is unacceptable; we state that here and now and will continue to state it in our conversations with our Pakistani counterparts. Followers of other religions, including Christians and Shi’a Muslims, also suffer persecution, and at the UN last November the UK pressed Pakistan to strengthen the protection of minorities. We also urged it to explain the steps being taken to tackle the abuse of blasphemy and anti-terror laws, which leads to attacks against members of religious minorities. Algeria and Pakistan are not the only countries where this persecution takes place. In Bangladesh, regrettably, the authorities have often failed to protect minority religious groups. Altogether twenty speakers including Siobhain McDonagh (Mitchamand Morden)(Lab), Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab), Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con), Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab), Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op), Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab), Paul Sweeney (Glasgow North East) (Lab/Co-op), Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD), John Spellar(Warley)(Lab), SirEdward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD), Hugh Gaffney (Coatbridge, Chryston andBellshill) (Lab), Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle), Justine Greening (Putney)(Con),Bob Stewart (Beckenham)(Con),MinisterforAsia and the Pacific Mark Field, Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con), Paul Scully (Sutton and Cheam) (Con), Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con), Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP), Patrick Grady (Glasgow North)(SNP) and Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab) expressed their views on the subject.