The following op-ed article appeared in The Hill publication
July 16, 2012:
On June 27, along with members of Congress and other guests,
I heard a message of peace and freedom from the Ahmadiyya
world leader, His Holiness Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, at a
Capitol Hill reception co-sponsored by the U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), of which I am
chair, and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Founded in India in 1889, the Ahmadiyya is a peaceful,
reformist movement claiming tens of millions of adherents
worldwide. While its members oppose violence and support
freedom for others, they often face severe violence and other
violations of their own freedom.
In Pakistan, the constitution labels them
"non-Muslims." For more than a quarter century,
Pakistan's government has barred the community from calling
its own worship centers "mosques," publicly uttering the
traditional Islamic greeting or quoting from the Qur'an, and
displaying Islam's basic affirmation.
Throughout Pakistan, Ahmadiyya are prohibited from sharing
their faith with others or publishing or disseminating their
own material. They are restricted from building houses of
worship and holding public gatherings. And since they must
register as non-Muslims to vote, Ahmadiyya who insist they
are Muslims are effectively disenfranchised.
Coupled with Pakistan's blasphemy laws which affect every
faith community, these laws have helped foster a climate of
violence against Ahmadiyya members. The terrible attack on
two of their mosques in Lahore in May of 2010, killing nearly
100 people, was but one example.
Unfortunately, Pakistan isn't the only country which violates
freedom of religion for Ahmadiyya.
In Indonesia, since June 2008, the government has seriously
limited Ahmadiyya activity to private worship and prohibited
members from telling others about their faith. Since that
time, at least 50 Ahmadiyya mosques have been vandalized and
36 mosques and meeting places shut down. In parts of East and
West Java and elsewhere, extremist religious groups consider
any Ahmadiyya activity "proselytizing" and pressure local
officials to close places of worship or ban Ahmadiyya
In Saudi Arabia, Ahmadiyya members have been deported for
their beliefs. In Egypt, they have been charged under its
blasphemy laws. In 2010, USCIRF's intervention helped a
number of members leave Egypt for safety abroad.
The Ahmadiyya message includes a positive call for world
harmony and liberty. It points beyond today's sufferings to
tomorrow's hopes and possibilities.
Nonetheless, we who believe in peace and freedom must shine
the spotlight on these sufferings.
So what can we do?
First, we must realize that the same societies that violate
the religious freedom of Ahmadiyya abuse the rights of
others. As USCIRF has documented, where Ahmadiyya suffer,
Hindus and Christians, Sikhs and Baha'is, Shi'a and other
Muslims, often are persecuted as well.
Second, in order to protect the rights of all, including the
Ahmadiyya, we who are in Washington must make religious
freedom a truly compelling foreign policy priority, woven
into every aspect of our relationships with other
Finally, the United States should confront governments which
target the Ahmadiyya. It should urge Pakistan to amend its
constitution and rescind all anti-Ahmadiyya laws. It should
encourage Indonesia to overturn its 2008 decree and all
provincial bans against Ahmadiyya practice. It should press
both governments to investigate acts of violence thoroughly
and prosecute perpetrators vigorously. And until
Pakistan is serious about reform, USCIRF believes that it
qualifies as a "country of particular concern" as a severe
religious freedom abuser.
The rights of people everywhere to think as they please,
believe or not believe as they wish, peacefully practice
their beliefs, and express them publicly without fear or
intimidation are inviolable. We are proud to stand with the
Ahmadiyya community and proclaim together that these and
other freedoms are the birthright of humanity.
Katrina Lantos Swett is the Chair of the U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). This article is
based on her remarks at the June 27, 2012 event she
To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact Samantha
Schnitzer at This e-mail address is being protected from