Digital sanctions are latest Pakistani tools for persecuting Ahmediya Muslims

Pakistan’s religious intolerance against Ahmediyya Muslims has graduated to another level with state institutions clamping down on the community using digital tools and sanctions. Ahmadis number about 4 million in Pakistan, but the community has been forbidden to call itself Muslim since 1974. Ironically, it is the only country to label them as non-Muslims. Here, Ahmadis are not even allowed to call their houses of prayer “mosques,” while basic religious practices associated with Islam are forbidden for them. The followers are subjected to different forms of discrimination including hate speech. Institutional apathy is matched by societal hatred on ground which is reflected in frequent incidents of killing of the Ahmadis on the ground.

Motivated by lopsided interpretation of Islam in favor of Sunni majority of the country, Pak institutions leave nothing to chance when it comes to aiding the persecution of the vulnerable minorities. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has emerged as the latest tool used in furthering intuitional harassment of minorities like Ahmediyyas.  Through the authority, the government of Pakistan is curbing the information sharing by and among the Ahmadias; individually as well as a group. PTA recently dictated Google and Apple to take down mobile apps in the country created by developers based in other nations who are part of religious minorities. The target was seven religious apps created by the Ahmadi community in the United States, published under the name “Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.” Despite being available on app stores in other countries, some of these apps have been taken down by Google in Pakistan. The order provides a unique instance of a government using anti-blasphemy rules to force international tech companies to censor content.

Pakistan’s government and PTA maintain criminal silence when it comes to hate speech and flow of anti-Ahmadi toxic information among Pakistani social media users. Social media platforms in Pakistan are flooded with anti-Ahmadiyya content including hate videos targeting the community.

Mobile apps are not the only avenues being used for crushing the voice of Ahmediyya Muslims. PTA is also targeting smaller groups within the community who exchange views online including on their websites. Such websites are frequently getting blocked or disrupted. Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat (AMJ) International became a recent victim of PTA, when the authority blocked access to one of its websites in Pakistan in October 2021.

The website was managed by Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Switzerland for disseminating peaceful content about their religious beliefs. The Community was officially registered as ‘Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Switzerland’ in 1958. Its charitable works include organizing blood donation drives, aid to the poor and needy, distributing food, helping disabled, etc.

However these deeds did not mean anything to PTA which suddenly blocked its access by all traffic from Pakistan.  The action was absurd considering the fact that the website was not operating in the jurisdiction of Pakistan. Taken aback by PTA’s unilateral decision, AMJ international has now initiated legal action against the authority highlighting Pakistan’s lack of jurisdiction over AMJ Switzerland’s operations. The fact that PTA has no power over the website or any of its actions clearly reveals the true intentions behind the move.

The legal case from AMJ should come as a shock to the PTA whose tyrannical actions against the minority communities have met with little resistance. The case would also serve as an inspiration for all similarly oppressed communities and their platforms.