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Another two extremist Pakistanis charged in a Dutch court for calls to murder far-right leader Geert Wilders
Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/CC0 1.0 Universal

Another two extremist Pakistanis charged in a Dutch court for calls to murder far-right leader Geert Wilders

| @indiablooms | 10 Mar 2024, 06:21 pm

Reuters reported on 28 February that a Dutch court had said that it had charged two Pakistani nationals over public calls for the murder of far-right anti-Muslim leader Geert Wilders, who aims to lead a new government after his party won the Dutch general elections in November last year.

The court said in a statement that prosecutors had asked authorities in Pakistan to extradite the two suspects – aged 55 and 29 – to stand trial in the Netherlands. It said the two Pakistanis were suspected of publicly calling on people to kill Wilders and promising them a reward in the afterlife if they did so.

The court scheduled its first hearing on the case at a highly-secure courthouse near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport on 2 September.

The trial of the two Pakistani extremists in a Dutch court is symptomatic of a larger malaise – unbridled religious extremism that has been promoted and used for narrow and self-serving political gains by successive generations of the Pakistani military establishment as well as the country’s political elite.

Earlier, in September 2023, a Dutch court had sentenced Khalid Latif, a former Pakistani national-level cricketer, to 12 years in prison after he was tried in-absentia for publicly urging people to kill Wilders as the divisive Dutch politician had sought to arrange a competition for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Most Muslims regard such caricatures as highly offensive. In a video that he put on Facebook in 2018, Latif had offered an amount equivalent to Euros 21,000 for the murder of the Dutch politician.

The Hague district court had said that the words Latif used in the video in which he had made the threat were “explicit”. It had added, “He promises to pay a considerable sum of money to anyone who engages in a specific act, namely the killing of Mr. Wilders. It is very likely that someone – anywhere in the world – would feel compelled to act on this call”. In fact, Latif’s call to kill Wilders actually did appear to resonate, with another Pakistani man, Junaid I., being arrested in The Hague in August 2018 for plotting Wilders’ assassination in the wake of the cancelled cartoon contest. In February 2021, the court in The Hague sentenced Junaid I. to 10 years in prison for, among other things, preparing a terrorist attack on Wilders.

The case regarding Latif was the first time that the Dutch Public Prosecution Service had prosecuted someone abroad for threatening a Dutch politician. Dutch authorities had sought in vain to question Latif over the case and had requested legal assistance from Pakistan, but to no avail. The Netherlands and Pakistan do not have an extradition treaty, so the cricketer remains at large within Pakistan.

Reacting to the court’s verdict on Latif, Wilders had said at that time that “It is a good sentence, but it is a pity that the accused is not here in court. It is no longer acceptable that the Pakistani authorities refuse to cooperate. I am going to ask the Prime Minister to ensure that Khalid Latif is arrested in Pakistan and extradited to the Netherlands”. 

While the same frustrating scenario is expected to play out for the Dutch authorities after the presently announced trials, that should not detract from the importance of prosecuting extremist elements no matter where they are, and irrespective of their calling or creed.

The Dutch Public Prosecution Service has, accordingly, said that it was prosecuting the two Pakistani nationals, the older one a religious leader and the other a political leader, “who have called upon their followers to murder a Dutch Member of Parliament. This was done both during meetings and on social media through video and text messages”.

The Dutch Public Prosecution Service added in its statement that the religious leader had allegedly called for Wilders’ murder with an assurance to his followers that they would be “rewarded in the afterlife”, while the political leader had said that Khalid Latif’s conviction meant that it was “up to his own followers to carry out the task”. While Dutch authorities have again asked Islamabad for legal assistance to question the suspects and serve their summons to appear in court, it is most likely that the absence of a mutual legal assistance treaty with Pakistan will mean that the two men will never appear in the dock in the Netherlands.

Geert Wilders has been under 24-hour State protection since 2004 because of a string of Fatwas and threats issued against him. He had been compelled to cancel his proposed cartoon contest after massive protests had broken out in Pakistan and he was inundated with death threats.

Even within the Netherlands, Wilders’ plan to stage the cartoon contest had been criticized widely, with politicians, local media and ordinary citizens slamming the idea as needlessly antagonizing Muslims.

Reacting to the Dutch court’s decision to charge the two Pakistanis, even though the Dutch prosecutors did not disclose the names of the Pakistani suspects because of privacy reasons, Wilders claimed on X that the men in question were Mullah Muhammed Ashraf Jalali and Saad Hussein Rizvi, a leader of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a right-wing political and religious organization that had recently been banned by Pakistan. Wilders had expressed hope last year that the two Pakistanis would be prosecuted for the fatwas they had issued against him, and he said after the court’s statement that “I hope they are extradited, convicted, and sent to jail!”

The involvement of Pakistani nationals in terrorist and extremist activities across the world has become too well documented over the past decade to warrant reiteration. The reasons for this are not too difficult to decipher. As the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies aptly noted, “In Pakistan, the political use of Islam by the State promoted an aggressive competition for official patronage between and within the many variations of Sunni and Shia Islam, between the clerical elites of major sects and sub-sects. The focus on building an ideological State has undoubtedly affected Pakistan negatively in all areas that define a functional modern State. Pakistan’s government, its society and the military, are at ideological crossroads”.

The Istanbul-based journal Transatlantic Policy Quarterly (TPQ), formerly known as the Turkish Policy Quarterly, pointed out in an analysis tiled ‘Extremism in Pakistan: Causes & Remedies’ that “In the 1980s Islamization dominated Pakistan’s foreign and domestic policy. Pakistan became the United States’ partner against the Soviet Union in 1979 when Western forces were supporting traditional political sections against those with leftist inclinations. Pakistan covertly upheld conservative components to restrain the developing impact of liberals..... Religious extremism and terrorism were present in our society well before the United States entered Afghanistan. Pakistan was struggling with religious extremism and extremist groups of different sects well before 9/11. This struggle continues today, as hate-filled, prejudiced, and misogynistic speeches and preaching of religious leaders continue to increase religious extremism and intolerance in Pakistani society. Everyone considers it as their responsibility to judge others’ piety; this self-assumed mentality puts the lives of ordinary people in danger”.

The TPQ continued, “Ever since religious extremism emerged, both political and military rule have weakened the strength of Pakistan’s democratic and political institutions… State resources and lust for power lead to even some parties receiving the support of extremist groups and being lenient toward these groups. Some extremist groups also take advantage of Pakistan’s weak judicial system. Pakistan has had a weak political system and lack of sincere leadership since Quaid-e-Azam’s death, and has since lost its political track. Lack of leadership and highly incompetent politicians and administrators have damaged the country’s basic foundations and democratic institutions. These reasons have led to the split of society and the consequential weakening of state foundations, creating the vacuum in which terrorism flourishes today”.

Pakistan’s current permissive approach towards religious extremism was highlighted in the Annual Report for 2023 of the United States (US) International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Pakistan figured prominently in the list of 17 countries that were recommended for ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC) designation. Outlining the background that has propelled Pakistan in this unenviable direction, the report said that “Pakistan’s population is an estimated 96.5 percent Muslim (85–90 percent Sunni, 10–15 percent Shi’a, and 0.2 percent Ahmadi) with smaller populations of Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’is, and Zoroastrians comprising the remaining 3.5 percent. Pakistan was established as an Islamic Republic in 1956, granting special status to Islam; the constitution establishes Islam as the state religion, defines the country’s purpose ‘wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives... in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam’, and allows only Muslims to serve as president and prime minister. Pakistan’s constitution nominally protects religious freedom by prohibiting faith-based discrimination and guaranteeing the right to religious practices and education while reserving 10 seats for religious minorities in the National Assembly, four in the Senate, and 23 in four provincial assemblies. However, a 1974 constitutional amendment declares Ahmadis non-Muslims, excluding them from representation. In addition, Pakistan maintains several laws, including criminal blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, that further restrict the freedom of religion or belief”.

The IRFA report underlined that “In 2022, Pakistan’s religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate. Religious minorities were subject to frequent attacks and threats, including accusations of blasphemy, targeted killings, lynchings, mob violence, forced conversions, sexual violence against women and girls, and desecration of houses of worship and cemeteries.

Members of the Shi’a Muslim, Ahmadiyya Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and Sikh communities faced the continued threat of persecution via harsh and discriminatory legislation, such as anti-Ahmadiyya and blasphemy laws, as well as increasingly aggressive societal discrimination amid a rise in radical Islamist influence. These laws have enabled and encouraged radical Islamists to operate with impunity, openly targeting religious minorities or those with differing beliefs, including nonbelievers”.

It added that “The new government under Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, which took office in April, weaponized the country’s blasphemy laws against former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members.

Religious minorities, however, were especially vulnerable to prosecution or violence based on blasphemy allegations in a society that has grown increasingly intolerant of religious diversity. Blasphemy cases remained a substantial threat to religious freedom, as did the sort of mob violence that has long accompanied such accusations… Societal violence and targeted killings also continued to plague the country’s religious minorities”.

On radical Islamist influence, the report concluded that the situation “continued to worsen in 2022, including through armed groups, political factions, and individuals, many of whom used rhetoric, disinformation, or direct violence targeting religious minorities. Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) gained popularity, using blasphemy laws as rallying points. In March, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) killed over 60 in a deadly attack on a Shi’a mosque, marking yet another instance of extremist violence against religious minorities”.

Among the IRFA’s key recommendations to the US government was to “Redesignate Pakistan as a ‘country of particular concern’, or CPC, for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), and lift the waiver releasing the administration from taking otherwise legislatively mandated action as a result of the designation”. The recommendations also included addressing radical Islamist rhetoric, which often precedes attacks on minorities, while protecting freedom of expression; holding accountable individuals who incite or participate in vigilante violence, targeted killings, forced conversions, and other religiously based crimes; reforming educational textbooks, curricula, and teacher training materials to ensure content is inclusive of and not discriminatory toward religious minorities; and incorporating religious freedom concerns into its larger oversight of the US-Pakistan bilateral relationship through hearings, letters, and congressional delegations and advocate for the release of religious prisoners of conscience in Pakistan.

Recommendations such as these, as also the reality that extremist Pakistanis seeking to expand their violent ideology into foreign lands are increasing coming under judicial scrutiny in countries such as the Netherlands, would suggest that Pakistan is at a crossroads – the choice before it is to either remain hostage to extremist religious groups or to look very closely at where its promotion of extremism as a State policy was taking its external relationships, as also its image and its standing in the international order.

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