Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK

Introduction

1. We welcome the opportunity to provide evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee as it considers its inquiry into online safety. This submission is on behalf of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK. Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are subject to various forms of discrimination, violence and persecution in a number of countries around the world.

2. There is an increase of cases within the UK, where extremists are now using media such as online websites and television programmes to promote their extremist views to members of the public in the UK. There have been many cases where in turn this has led to discrimination and promotion of hatred in the UK against the Community.

3. We would like to take the opportunity to make representations in relation to extremist material, including material intended to promote hatred, terrorism or other acts of violence on the internet and also in relation to preventing abusive and threatening comments on social media.

4. This submission focuses on some illustrative examples of such material, and makes a number of recommendations. Further details giving the background of the Community can be found in the annex to this submission

Issues AbroadCase Study: Pakistan

5. As is well known, the internet is a global phenomenon that transcends national boundaries, and as a consequence also transcends national laws. The implication of this is that whilst historically, extremism was contained within national boundaries and national legal systems, modern trends of extremism transcend those historic constraints through the internet, including through social media. As a result, extremism in one country of the world can now be directly targeted and have direct effects on individuals and communities in other parts of the world.

6. In order to explain the range of issues faced in the UK predominantly through extremist material online, this submission will look at the example of Pakistan and how extremists are now using material online to infiltrate extremist views here in the UK.

7. The persecution faced by the Community and its members in Pakistan is well documented and has been entrenched within the Pakistani state and society for decades. A brief overview of the effects of this persecution and discrimination is outlined in Table 1 below.

Table 1

PAKISTAN PERSECUTION STATS: 1984 TO DEC 2012

Number

Ahmadis Killed

226

Ahmadiyya Mosques Demolished

24

Ahmadiyya mosques sealed by the authorities

28

Ahmadiyya mosques set on fire

13

Ahmadiyya mosques forcibly occupied

16

Ahmadiyya mosques, construction barred by the authorities

46

Ahmadi bodies exhumed after burial

35

Burial of Ahmadis was denied in common cemetery

58

Ahmadis assaulted for their faith

175

8. In Pakistan, members of the Community are legally prohibited from calling themselves Muslims, cannot engage in any Muslim rites and practices, cannot vote, and cannot speak in defence of their faith in the media. In particular, the Community and its members are declared “wajbul qatl” (deserving to be killed) publicly by clerics with no one—the police, media, government, nor the military—willing to defend the Community and its members from the extremists.

9. The persecution of the community in Pakistan is a case of the politicisation of religion by extremists. Legislation has entrenched the persecution and discrimination of the Community and its members in law. This has emboldened extremists (for examples groups such as the Majlis Ahrar, the Jamate Islami and the Majlis Khatme Nabuwwat) that have used these laws as a pre-text to discriminate, attack and kill members of the Community in Pakistan.

10. As a result, in Pakistan, extremists have had an open hand and regularly transmit or publish hate messages, death threats and even hit lists of members of the Community declaring that killing of an Ahmadi is a noble act (for example, such lists were distributed openly in Faisalabad in 2011).

Material Intended To Promote Terrorism or other Acts of Violence

11. The significance of this situation faced by the Community and its members in Pakistan is twofold. First, given the global nature of the internet, the extremism that has been entrenched in Pakistan (and indeed in other places in world) now has a foothold to spread across the world, including in the UK. Second, some of the large Pakistani diaspora in the UK has, at best, sympathies with these extremist views, and at worst, is encouraging and promoting these extremist views in the UK.

12. There is, at present, no specific regulation governing content on the internet. This lacuna is allowing a range of groups to successfully advocate their extremist views, including to audiences in the UK.

13. At present, the only scope for targeting such extremist material online in the UK is prosecutions under The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. Part 3A of the Act states that “A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred.”

14. Although it would appear that any threatening written material would be governed by this provision, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has been limited in its ability to prosecute such incitement to hatred on the basis of the present laws. Additionally sometimes when a potential breach comes to light, the offender withdraws it from the internet and it can no longer be traced for prosecution purposes. But his damage has been inflicted and there is no remedy against this.

15. In order to successfully prosecute under the law for acts of hatred there is a two limb test. Firstly, whether the accused incited and secondly whether the accused had the necessary intention to incite. The first test is nearly always fulfilled however it is the intention that is extremely difficult to prove. The consequence is that whilst clear incitement is made out, the threshold to prosecute is not fulfilled.

16. Whether or not through criminal laws, there is a clear need for online regulation to be enforced to prevent the dissemination of extremist material promoting hatred and leading to violence. Due to the lack of any such regulation, extremists groups are finding it an easy location to promote their material. This in turn is having a direct effect on the Community and its members here in the UK.

Examples of such Material Inciting Hatred and Murder Online

17. Various websites are deliberately promoting hatred online against the Community and its members, and have openly promoted the notion of “WajbulQatl” (deserving to be killed) as has been done in Pakistan.

18. A few examples of various websites promoting such online material are set out below.

www.madni.org/Qadiani/difference.htm

On this website it describes three types of “disbelievers”. Subsequently (extracted below) it is explained that Muslims should kill an apostate. It is further explained in the last screen shot that Ahmadi Muslims referred to as Qadianis are the third type of disbelievers and they should also be killed.

http://www.paklinks.com/gs/all-views/405097-qadiani-ahmadi-population-in-pakistan-globally.html

This is an example of a blogging site where it shows that it is now widely known among online users that Ahmadi Muslims should be killed.

http://irshad.org/exposed/fatwas/edesai.php and http://irshad.org/brochures/message.php

Inciting hatred and calling for a social boycott of Ahmadi Muslims.

19. The above examples are by no means exhaustive, but provide an insight into the many websites widely accessible on the internet, which are promoting discriminatory material and openly promoting violence and hatred online.

Consequences of Discriminatory Online Material

20. The Community and its Members have faced direct consequences due to such and similar material published online. Posters and leaflets have been distributed inciting hatred and worryingly there have been cases where children have been able to access such material and bullied Ahmadi Muslim children at school.

21. Below are a few examples of such incidents:

http://www.channel4.com/news/hate-crime-investigation-into-threats-against-ahmadi-muslims

This news report by Channel 4 illustrates the use of posters explaining how the businesses of Ahmadi Muslims should be boycotted and one example of a member of the Community being dismissed from employment due to his religion. There is also mention of online videos on YouTube which also call for Ahmadi Muslims to be boycotted. Leaflets which are readily available online are also shown posted on shop windows.

http://www.khatmenubuwwat.org/media/File/leaflets/mta_tv_eng.pdf

This link shows posters in shop windows calling for Muslims to be aware of Qadianis (Ahmadi Muslims). The poster displayed on that shop is readily available on the internet.

The poster states: “This notice is to serve warning that we should all be aware of the transgression by the Qadiyanis and not fall into their trap”. It further calls on readers to make more copies of this poster and distribute it.

The hate campaign leaflet was also reported in local news:

http://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/8451668.Relgious_hate_leaflets_found_in_Tooting__Streatham_and_Kingston/?ref=ar

http://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/local/wimbledonnews/8451429.Hate_campaign_discovered_against_Islamic_minority/

The above news report shows how leaflets have been posted in shops calling for the boycott of Ahmadi Muslim businesses.

22. Even at universities leaflets are being distributed which incite hatred against Ahmadis. As majority of these leaflets are made digitally it is extremely easy for such material to be made accessible online or to be distributed using the internet.

23. It is also well known that there has also been an increase in discriminatory content and promotion of terrorist views on digital television channels such as the Ummah Channel and Takbeer TV. Although the Committee is not investigating television safety, we believe that the importance of having stricter regulations is highlighted by some cases of discrimination and promotion of hatred on television.

24. The biggest difference between discriminatory and extremist materials online and on television is that the broadcast media is regulated by OFCOM. As such, OFCOM is able to investigate and address cases of extremist and discriminatory material that is broadcast. However, OFCOM has jurisdiction in UK borders and invariably surrenders supervisory control to overseas broadcasting regulators (even if such programmes are broadcast on the internet and can reach UK audiences) where different definitions and thresholds for what constitutes hatred and abuse may apply.

25. Below are two reports by OFCOM in relation to hate material against the Community and its members:

http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/enforcement/broadcast-bulletins/obb167/

http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/enforcement/broadcast-bulletins/obb222/obb222.pdf

26. OFCOM has since fined Takbeer TV £25,000 as they were found to be in breach of regulations: http://www.media247.co.uk/bizasia/ofcom-fines-takbeer-tv-25000-for-verbal-abuse.1

Conclusion

27. It is our view that it is evident that there is a serious issue that must be dealt with. Inaction at this stage will simply provide a blank cheque to extremists who wish to promote their hatred and violence in the UK, and allow discrimination and persecution to take root in communities in the UK. Material online needs to be subject to controls that prevent the promotion of discrimination, terrorism and other extremist views.

28. The limited examples set out in this submission are only a few such examples. However, what is plain is that where there is statutory regulation, authorities such as OFCOM have been better able to address this material.

29. There is no doubt that freedom of expression must be protected. Individuals and groups must be permitted to express their views and opinions, even where those views can be considered as critical and even distasteful by those against whom they are targeted at. Indeed, the Community and its members have no objections whatsoever to legitimate criticism and robust debate aimed at it and its views, and is always ready to welcome and engage debate and criticism.

30. However, where such views are expressed in a way that promotes discrimination, hatred and violence, they cannot be tolerated. Indeed, such speech is not protected by freedom of expression. It is necessary for the State to take robust action where such material is disseminated, in order to protect those who are the target of such discrimination.

31. A possible range of options open to the State might be:

32. There are plainly advantages and disadvantages to these options (and indeed the wider range of options that may exist). These would need to be considered carefully by the Committee, and we stand ready to provide further evidence, as necessary.

33. It is our view that if the flow of extremist material is not halted then it feeds the process of radicalisation and poses a serious threat to community cohesion and the security of the UK. It is therefore in our national interest to take action on this important issue.

Annex 1

ABOUT THE AHMADIYYA MUSLIM COMMUNITY

1. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was established in a small village called Qadian, (Punjab, India) in 1889 by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who claimed under Divine guidance to be the Promised Messiah who had been prophesied in various world religions as well as the Imam Al-Mahdi of Islam.

2. His claim is unique in the Muslim world and his mission was to revive the true teachings of Islam that had become eroded over time. He brought no new laws or scriptures but emphasised the spiritual and humanitarian aspects of faith saying that Islam teaches man to love God and to love his creation and that Islam’s true beauty lay in its powerful message of peace.

3. He advocated that true Jihad was an inner struggle for peace not a violent war against unbelievers as had been popularised by fanatic clerics. He also stated that religion and state were separate entities so the perception of the need for Sharia law to be imposed over the citizens of a country was unfounded in Islam. He noted that whilst Islam certainly offered guidance to God but the Holy Quran was clear that “There should be no compulsion in religion” (Ch 2: V.257).

4. After his claim to be the Promised Messiah and a Prophet (albeit one without a new law) he and his community faced strong opposition. That opposition in some cases has since grown into full-blown state sponsored persecution.

5. After his demise in 1908 the system of Khilafat (“Caliphate” or Spiritual Leadership) was reinstated. The Khalifa is elected by members of the community via an electoral college and the post is held for life. This has provided the community with leadership that is unique in the Muslim world. Due to persecution in Pakistan—where the Community had moved to followed the Partition of India in 1947—the fourth Khalifa migrated to the UK and the seat of the Khilafat has been based in London ever since. The current Khalifa is His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad who was elected to office in April 2003 as the community’s fifth Khalifa.

6. The Community is established in 204 countries and has more than 100 branches across the UK alone. It works tirelessly for the wider community in which it exists with its work well known among the current government with the support of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour Party. The Community is also well known for building London’s first mosque (also known as The London Mosque). The community has also built the landmark Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, which is also the largest mosque in Western Europe.

7. For further information see www.alislam.org and www.LoveForAllHatredForNone.org

September 2013

1 Despite this offence, the presenter hopped channels and committed the same offence but this time the new channel was able to put a stop to it.

Prepared 18th March 2014