Pakistani law fuels hatred of Ahmadis-UN experts

Geneva, Switzerland - Official discrimination in Pakistan against the Ahmadi Muslim sect fuels hatred of the community and prompts violent attacks against them, according to three U.N. human rights investigators.

In a statement issued by the United Nations in Geneva on Monday following deadly bombings last Friday of two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, the three said the authorities had failed to head off the attacks despite many signs that they were coming.

"Members of this (Ahmadi) religious community have faced continuous threats, discrimination and violent attacks in Pakistan," said the experts, who included Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir.

The fact that Ahmadis were officially declared non-Muslims and had been subjected to restrictions and institutionalized discrimination "emboldens opinion makers who wish to fuel hatred and perpetrators of attacks against religious minorities," the statement declared.

More than 70 Ahmadi worshippers were killed by suspected Islamic militants in the attacks and around 80 injured, according to official figures.

Ahmadis, whose sect was founded in the 19th century and who believe there have been prophets of Islam since its founder Mohammad although he retains primacy, are barred under Pakistani law from calling themselves Muslims. The sect has some 4 million adherents around the world, including 2 million in Pakistan.

Members of the sect say hundreds of its adherents are in Pakistani jails for violating the law by insisting they are Muslims. They say hundreds more have died in other incidents.

Pakistani officials condemned the Friday attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers, but the U.N. rights investigators said immediate steps should be taken to protect Ahmadis and other religious minority groups to prevent any repetition.

"This is all the more important since there have been numerous early warning signs which have not been properly heeded," their statement said.

Exiled Ahmadis say Pakistani television stations and Urdu- language newspapers regularly run verbal attacks on the sect, describing them as heretics who are not part of the nation.

Jahangir is a special rapporteur on freedom of religion to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which opened a three-week session in Geneva on Monday. The other two signing the statement were expert on minorities Gay MacDougall and arbitrary execution investigator Philip Alston.

In a speech to the 47-nation Council, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also condemned the Lahore attacks.

But a Pakistani delegate made no reference to the killings in another address. He told the body that Muslims' rights were grossly violated in Western countries, a long-standing accusation made by Islamic countries in the council.