Fareed Ahmad, Secretary External Affairs, Jamaat UK
On 5 and 6 July 2022, the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) was held at Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London and side events were also held at Parliament.
The conference had 800 delegates (including parliamentarians, government officials, faith and belief representatives and civil society), 27 ministers and attendees from over 100 countries.
It was the largest UK Government conference this year. It was split into two main elements, the main conference and the fringe event. The main conference (in the QEII Centre) consisted of plenary and breakouts sessions.
The opening plenary session was one hour long and was the main session with the maximum attendance in the main hall. Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaa sent a special video message as well.
The following dignitaries were in the opening session:
1. HRH Prince Charles (video)
2. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, UK Minister for Human Rights (and host minister for the conference)
3. Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, UK Prime Minister (video)
4. The Most Reverend Justin Welby, The Archbishop of Canterbury
5. His Excellency, Sheikh Mohammad al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League and Head of the Intellectual Warfare Centre in Saudi Arabia (set up to counter extremism) (video)
6. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
7. Mrs Trupti Patel, President, Hindu Forum of Britain
8. Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International
9. Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Chairman of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jutha
10. Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, UK Foreign Secretary
By the Grace of Allah, the 5-minute special message of Huzooraa was very well received – and as it was in the main plenary it had maximum reach, all the more so because the programme was live streamed globally.
Over the course of the conference, many new contacts were made at a national and international level.
We hosted, supported and participated in 12 events giving the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community a very strong presence at the conference, alhamdulillah.
The Jamaat hosted and spoke at the following events at the Ministerial conference:
Prisoners of conscience: In the firing line of blasphemy laws
This had over 50 attendees including BBC Urdu correspondent Aleem Maqbool. Amir Sahib Jamaat UK outlined how the authorities are ruthlessly targeting Ahmadis through the blasphemy laws with nearly 5,000 charged under these laws and with prisoners of conscience behind bars to this day, charged on false grounds simply because they are Ahmadis. The host who introduced the session said it was one of the best-attended side events at the conference centre.
From cradle to grave: Life under persecution as an Ahmadi Muslim
This included a screening of the new documentary Section 298: Illegal by Birth, Persecuted to Death on the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan. This had 105 attendees and Amir Sahib Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya UK gave a comprehensive account of the history and nature of persecution and how that has worsened over time including recent murders and exhumation of bodies from graves.
Paul Bristow MP and Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP also attended the event.
Leaving no one behind – tackling discrimination
The discussion had 50 attendees and covered how denial of freedom of religion impacts the daily life of people. My humble self gave examples of how the persecution is from the cradle to the grave and impacts education, worship, voting rights, the judiciary and how even our graves are targeted. The session was live streamed.
Digital persecution: Emerging threats to FoRB in a digital age
There were 45 attendees. The event highlighted the growing threats to FoRB via surveillance and censorship and the need to hold companies to account. My humble self highlighted the issue of Pakistan’s cyber-laws and how they are being used to charge innocent people with blasphemy. The event also saw the launch of Open Door’s latest report that also features a case study of Ahmadis in Pakistan and the PTA issue.
Exhibition booth, hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK
This was one of 12 stands and was running for the full two days. The material displayed included:
• The 2020 APPG report: Suffocation of the Faithful: The Persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan and the Rise of International Extremism
• Briefing on prisoners of conscience
• Briefing on denial of voting rights
• Briefing on targeting of Ahmadis in Pakistan via digital persecution
• Briefing on the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan
• New leaflet on “In the Words of the Caliph: Islam and Freedom of Religion” featuring quotes from Hazrat Amirul Momineenaa
• IHRC reports on persecution in Pakistan and on the refugee crisis
• Brochure on introduction to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
The stall remained busy over the two days and was visited by many people over the two days including Rt Hon Liz Truss MP (UK Foreign Secretary), Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Human Rights Minister), Archbishop Justin Welby, Baroness Fiona Hodgson, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Archbishop Angaelos, Staff from the US State Department and from USCIRF, and various other NGO representatives and government officials
Interview on stage with Farhan Saleem Sahib, a victim of persecution
A special interview was conducted with Farhan Saleem Sahib who spoke of his father’s martyrdom in Nankana Sahib and how deep-rooted the persecution is in Pakistan.
IHRC held a successful side event in the Attlee Suite, Portcullis House, Parliament on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Pakistan:
The event was well attended with over 50 attendees.
My humble self attended a prayer breakfast hosted by the Bishop of Truro and Archbishop Angaelos. Lord Ahmad spoke at the event as did Fiona Bruce MP and other senior dignitaries, and I had the opportunity to meet the UK Ambassador to Egypt, the Bishop of Truro and various representatives from the Jewish, Christian and NGO communities.
No 10 reception
Nasser Khan Sahib, Naib Amir Jamaat UK represented the Jamaat at the Downing Street reception.
Post-conference meeting at Lancaster House
As a member of the Foreign Office Advisory Group for the conference, my humble self was invited to attend this meeting that focused on how to take forward the connections and ideas emerging from the conference to generate action.
Reception at US embassy at the Deputy Ambassador’s house
My humble self and members of the National External Affairs team attended a special reception on Wednesday evening attended by around 70 people including the US Charge D’Affaires to the UK. Sir Eric Pickles, Ambassador Rashad Hussain, Fiona Bruce MP, David Burrowes and others.
Algeria side event
Amjad Khan Sahib from Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya USA was a speaker at a side event in parliament on persecution in Algeria that was well attended.
The conference was attended and covered as part of the media by MTA International (for opening plenary only), MTA International UK (all two days) and Voice of Islam (all two days).