CP Reporter | Aug 12, 2018 8:49 AM (Photo: USCIRF)Thousands of Ahmadis gathered during the 52nd Annual Convention (Jalsa Salana) of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the United Kingdom in August 2018.
Evangelical Trump adviser Johnnie Moore is now personally advocating for the release of a persecuted elderly minority Muslim who‘s been jailed for years in Pakistan for selling commentary about his religious beliefs.
As one of the newest members of the United States Commision on International Religious Freedom, Moore joined in on the commission‘s this week by “adopting” 81-year-old Ahmadiyya Muslim Abdul Shakoor as his religious prisoner of conscience.
Expand | Collapse (Photo: USCIRF)Abdul Shakoor
Under the project, each USCIRF commissioner picks a religious prisoner of conscience to personally dedicate time to advocate for. For example, USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga has selected imprisoned pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey. She has been at the forefront of USCIRF‘s advocacy for him and has even met with Brunson in Turkish prison.
Moore, an adviser who has been at the heart of the conservative evangelical engagement with the Trump administration, made the announcement before a gathering of 37,000 Ahmadis at an annual convention for the Ahmadiyya community in the United Kingdom.
“I have a personal commitment to make sure that you are not forgotten,” Moore said. “USCIRF will continue to make it a priority to raise a voice for the Ahmadiyya community.”
Similar to Christians in the predominantly Sunni Islamic republic, Ahmadis face severe persecution as they are adherents to a minority sect of Islam that promotes peace and tolerance. USCIRF reports that Pakistan‘s constitution declares Ahmadis to be non-Muslims and the penal code prevents Ahmadis from claiming that they are Muslims.
Ahmadis also must disavow their spiritual leader or claim they are not Muslims in order to vote in Pakistan, according to USCIRF.
As for Shakoor, he has been in prison since December 2015 and has been charged with inciting “religious hatred” and promoting the Ahmadiyya faith. According to USCIRF, he was sentenced to three years for violating Pakistan‘s notoriously abused blasphemy laws and sentenced to five years under the anti-terrorism act of 2016.
Shakoor managed an optician‘s store and bookshop in the Punjab province city of Rabwah, a town where Ahmadiyya comprise about 95 percent of the population. Shakoor‘s shop was raided by government officials on Dec. 2, 2015. He and a Shia Muslim employee were arrested on grounds that they were selling books on the Ahmadiyya commentary of the Quran.
The prosecution claimed that Shakoor had violated a provincial law prohibiting the sale of Ahmadiyya publications. The prosecution is accused of planting a letter in the shop telling Shakoor that the Ahmadiyya publications were banned. However, advocates contend that the law banning the sale of the materials was not enacted until after Shakoor‘s trial.
“Mr. Shakoor is over 80 years old and has been a celebrated member of his community for his entire life,” Moore wrote in an email to The Christian Post. “His case is emblematic of Pakistan‘s systemic efforts to marginalize this community, a community which — ironically — has included many of the founders of Pakistan, including Pakistan‘s first ever Nobel laureate Dr. Abdus Salam. It is an honor to be an advocate for Dr. Shakoor.”
Johnnie Moore receives “medal of valor” from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Moore, a public relations executive who is also an award-winning religious freedom advocate, told CP that he actually plans to adopt more than one religious prisoner of conscience.
“I think I will adopt five prisoners conscience in addition to continuing my ,” Moore explained.
Key Fact: 80-year-old Ahmadi manager of a bookshop and optician store
Detained Since: December 2, 2015
Charges: Propagating the Ahmadiyya faith and stirring up “religious hatred” and “sectarianism”
Sentence: Three years in prison under the Penal Code for blasphemy and five years under the Anti-Terrorism Act on January 2, 2016
Biography: Abdul Shakoor was born February 2, 1937 in Qadian, India. He is married and the father of five daughters and two sons.
Before his arrest, Mr. Shakoor was the manager of an optician’s store and bookshop in the main bazaar of Rabwah (also known as Chenab Nagar), Punjab province, Pakistan. The population of the Ahmadiyya community in Rabwah is about 70,000 about 95 percent of the city’s total population. Many view the city as the de factoheadquarters of Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya community.
On December 2, 2015, officials from the Counter Terrorism Department of the Punjab Police and Pakistan’s Elite Force raided the bookshop Mr. Shakoor managed. He was arrested along with the shop’s assistant, Mazhar Abbas – a Shia Muslim – accused of selling an Ahmadiyya commentary on the Qur’an, among other publications. The officials confiscated Ahmadiyya publications during that raid and a later raid that took place on December 9. After their arrest, the two men were held in unknown locations and were not permitted to contact their families.
Mr. Shakoor’s trial was held in the Anti-Terrorism Court in Faisalabad, Punjab province, with the officers who raided the bookstore as the only witnesses. The prosecution entered into evidence a letter that was ostensibly recovered during the December 9 raid from the Ahmadiyya Director of Public Affairs to Mr. Shakoor notifying him that the Punjab province government had banned some Ahmadiyya literature and that he should neither display nor sell the banned literature. Ahmadiyya leaders assert that the prosecution fabricated the letter to support their story, noting that none of the literature cited in the letter was banned until January 20, 2016, after the trial’s conclusion. Mr. Shakoor contended during the trial and maintains the position that he did not distribute any of the literature listed, although he admits to being in possession of some of them. However, possession of Ahmadiyya literature is not a crime in Pakistan.
On January 2, 2016, Mr. Shakoor was given a five-year prison sentence for violating article 11-W of the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) which involves “printing, publishing, or disseminating any material to incite hatred.” He also was given a three-year sentence for violating article 298-C of the Pakistani Penal Code, for a total of eight years. (Section 298 of Pakistan’s Penal Code criminalizes acts and speech that insult a religion or religious beliefs or defile the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad, a place of worship, or religious symbols.) Mazhar Abbas, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for violating article 11-W of the ATA. Mr. Shakoor filed a writ petition for bail and appeal against the verdict with the Lahore High Court. On multiple occasions, the Lahore High Court listed Mr. Shakoor’s appeal on the daily docket, but each time the case was postponed. The last postponed hearing date was believed to be June 22, 2017.
Mr. Shakoor remains in prison and is suffering from a hernia and back pain.
Article: Catholic News Agency — US leaders tell persecuted believers: ‘You are not alone’ (April 6, 2017)
Related Reports & Briefs
Press Release: PAKISTAN: USCIRF Condemns Egregious Treatment of Ahmadis (December 9, 2016)
Op-ed: Philadelphia Inquirer — Commentary: Release every religious prisoner of conscience (October 27, 2016)
Op-ed: Berkley Cornerstone — Religious Freedom Abroad: A Road Map of Deterioration (May 2, 2016)
Press Release: Pakistan: USCIRF Calls for the Immediate Release of Abdul Shakoor and the Dropping of all Charges (February 1, 2016)
Press Release: Pakistan: USCIRF Condemns Attack on Ahmadis (November 30, 2015)
Testimony: USCIRF Chair Thomas J. Reese, S.J., testifies at a Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on “Blasphemy Laws and Censorship by States and Non-State Actors: Examining Global Threats to Freedom of Expression.” (July 15, 2016)