Pakistan: Persecution of Ahmadis must end as authorities attempt shutdown of US website

Pakistan: Persecution of Ahmadis must end as authorities attempt shutdown of US website

The Pakistani authorities must end their ongoing persecution of the Ahmadiyya religious minority, which is now extending across borders, said Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the ICJ, following an attempt by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to shut down the website of the Ahmadis’ US-based community.

On 24 December 2020, the PTA sent a legal notice to the administrators of, stating that the site was in violation of Pakistan’s Constitution, and warning they could be charged with blasphemy – a charge potentially carrying the death penalty – for referring to themselves as Muslims. The site’s administrators have also been threatened with a fine of 500 million PKR (US$3.1 million) if they fail to take the website down.

The website provides general information about Ahmadi history and beliefs, details the work carried out by the Ahmadi community in the US, including blood drives and veterans’ support, and features interviews with prominent community members such as the actor Mahershala Ali.

“Ahmadis in Pakistan have long been the target of systematic attacks, and successive Pakistani governments have failed to respect, protect and promote their human rights, forcing many to flee to other countries. The PTA’s efforts to close down their US website shows that even then, a life free from discrimination can be out of reach,” said Samira Hamidi, Deputy Regional Director at Amnesty International.

“Digitally policing Ahmadis on what they can or can’t preach, no matter where they are, is a flagrant violation of Pakistan’s legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the country is a state party. We urge the PTA to desist from its targeted campaign against Ahmadis and to ensure that everyone in Pakistan is able to express themselves and profess their religion freely, without fear of reprisals or discrimination.”

According to a PTA press release on 22 January 2021, access to has now been blocked in Pakistan. Amnesty International has been shown an email sent by the head of the PTA on 27 December 2020 to various servers in the country, instructing them to remove access to the website, along with three others related to the Ahmadi community.

“Pakistan has an obligation to protect the rights to freedom of expression and religion online every bit as much as in places of worship or in public spaces. Far from facilitating such protection, the PTA is extending its long arm to violate the rights of persons well beyond Pakistan’s own borders,” said Ian Seiderman, ICJ Legal and Policy Director.

The administrators of the website told Amnesty International that prior to receiving the notice, they received emails from various sources filled with hate speech.

“I was suddenly inundated with hate-filled messages from extremists on my email.  And then a few days later, on December 24, the PTA emailed me a notice threatening criminal prosecution and fines for blasphemy and giving 24 hours to remove the website,” said Amjad Mahmood Khan, a US-based Ahmadi lawyer who was targeted.

“It’s obvious the PTA seeks to prosecute US citizens operating a US-based website.  This is an unprecedented act to extend the reach of Pakistan’s abominable blasphemy laws to US citizens, and it’s a new frontier in persecution for Ahmadis worldwide,” Khan said.

The legal notice to is part of a broader pattern of state overreach by the PTA in recent months, which has included issuing notices to Google and Wikipedia to remove “sacrilegious content”.

“The attempt to extend Pakistan’s persecution of Ahmadis to other jurisdictions is a dangerous escalation. The Pakistani government should end its policing of Ahmadi speech outside the country and focus on providing an enabling environment for free speech, expression, and freedom of religion inside Pakistan,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.


The Pakistani penal code explicitly discriminates against religious minorities and targets Ahmadis by prohibiting them from “indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim.” Ahmadis are banned from declaring or propagating their faith publicly, building mosques, or making the Muslim call for prayer. For more information on the persecution of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan, see here.

On 25 December 2020, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority issued a press release saying that Google and Wikipedia had been issued notices. On 28 December 2020, the Lahore High Court Chief Justice Qasim Khan ordered the Federal Investigative Agency to issue notices to Google, stating that shutting down websites was not enough.

For more information about the law on blasphemy in Pakistan, see here.


Reema Omer, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Advisor (South Asia), reema.omer(a)

Enhancing access to justice for women in the context of religious and customary Law

Enhancing access to justice for women in the context of religious and customary Law

The ICJ today spoke at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, highlighting issues of access to justice for women in the context of religious and customary law.

 The statement, delivered during a High Level Panel discussion commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women, read as follows:

“The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) welcomes this opportunity to celebrate the progress made in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years after its adoption and to address the remaining challenges to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

We have indeed seen an expansion in many countries of women’s legal entitlements and protection of their rights. However, there is also a growing trend to push these advances back and violate women’s human rights, invoking as justification religion, tradition, culture, and custom. This came out clearly when ICJ, UN Women and the OHCHR hosted a consultation for the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief last year, where women human rights defenders from all over Asia raised concerns about the resurgence of intersecting forms of discrimination by religion and culture based on patriarchal attitudes. They specifically narrated how women and girls were denied their sexual and reproductive rights.

Recalling the vision of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we reiterate the obligation of States not to invoke, “any custom, tradition or religious consideration”, to avoid their obligations to combat gender-based violence and discrimination against women. The Human Rights Committee also provides that “State parties should ensure that traditional, historical, religious or cultural attitudes are not used to justify violations of women’s right to equality before the law and to equal enjoyment of [ICCPR] rights[1].”

We therefore urge the Council to foster an open and inclusive discourse with Member States on the regressive interpretations of religious and customary laws that discriminate against women, and to acknowledge the voices and the diversity of women in that process. We urge States to ensure the full implementation of the human rights of women as an inalienable part of all fundamental freedoms.”

[1] Para 5, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.10

India: Discriminatory citizenship law passed by Parliament violates international and constitutional law

India: Discriminatory citizenship law passed by Parliament violates international and constitutional law

The ICJ today condemned The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 passed by the Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Indian Parliament) on 11 December 2019, after the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Parliament) adopted it on 9 December.

The ICJ calls on India to reconsider and repeal, or substantially amend, the Bill to bring it in line with international legal obligations and Indian Constitutional principles.

“The implementation of this proposed legislation would violate core principles of non-discrimination, equal protection of the law and freedom of religion, guaranteed under international law and the Indian Constitution,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia Director.

The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955, which governs questions of citizenship and aspects of lawfulness of migration status in India. While it purports to provide protection and shelter to religious groups such as Hindus and provides them paths to citizenship, it excludes from its ambit certain religious groups such as Muslims.

The Bill gives protected status to Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, all Muslim-majority countries, who entered India on or before 31 December 2014. Similarly situated Muslims are categorized as “illegal migrants”.

Furthermore, the Bill provides to the above-mentioned religious communities and countries an expedited route of citizenship giving them the opportunity to be eligible for citizenship by naturalization if they have lived or worked in India for six years, as opposed to twelve years, as otherwise required.

“The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill creates two tiers of citizenship and migration status in India based on religion, with Muslims relegated to the lower end,” added Rawski. “This Bill, which entrenches discriminatory practices into law, must not be implemented unless substantially amended to provide for equal protection for persons of all religions or other status.”

The legal framework for citizenship identified by this Bill is incompatible with bedrock rule of law and democratic principles. It is highly discriminatory and arbitrary, and manifestly fails to satisfy the State’s obligations under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a party.

The arbitrary inclusion of some groups while excluding others violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution and Article 26 of the ICCPR. India’s international obligations require that its regulation of citizenship under domestic law be compliant with the principle of non-discrimination, equality before the law, and equal protection of the law without discrimination on the grounds of, inter alia, race, religion, or ethnic or national origin. This Bill, which provides for differentiated criteria for citizenship and other legal protection based on membership of religious group, complies neither with international law nor Indian constitutional law.

The arbitrary inclusion of some groups while excluding others would only be permissible under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution and Article 26 of the ICCPR if the classification is founded on an intelligible differentia between the group excluded and the group that is included, and (ii) the differentia has a rational relation to the objects sought to be achieved by the Act.

The Bill claims religious persecution as the ground of reasonable classification, but then arbitrarily excludes several similarly situated and widely persecuted religious minorities such as Ahmediya Muslims and Shia Muslims from Pakistan and Bangladesh, Rohingyas from Myanmar, Hazaras from Afghanistan from its protective ambit.  It therefore does not meet these criteria under the Indian Constitution and international law.

The adoption of the Bill comes as the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Indian Government issued a directive on August 8, 2017 to state governments to “identify and deport” 40,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, which has led to deportation of 7 Rohingya men to Myanmar already.

In addition, the Indian Government has indicated that it will pursue nationwide National Register of Indian Citizens, which will likely exclude numerous people, many also Muslim, who should be recognized as Indian Nationals. A similar exercise undertaken in Assam earlier this year was an arbitrary and discriminatory process that rendered some 1.9 million people stateless. This violates international law and standards which protects the right to nationality and safeguards against statelessness.


Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia-Pacific Director, t: +66 64 478 1121; e: frederick.rawski(a)

Maitreyi Gupta, ICJ India Legal Adviser, t: +91 77 560 28369 e: maitreyi.gupta(a)

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