A prominent leader of the pro-blasphemy law demonstrations in Pakistan, who called for the immediate execution of Aasia Bibi was a key speaker at an anti-terrorism conference in Manchester, in July. The radical cleric spoke alongside police chiefs and a family member of a victim of the IS-claimed terror attack on Manchester Arena last year, which claimed 22 lives.
Even more disturbingly, the Sunday Times report also revealed that the police officer in charge of the North West Counter Terrorism Unit accepted an award from this Pakistani cleric, Hassan Haseeb ur Rehman. This was despite Barnabas Fund raising concerns with the government about a previous visit by this man to the UK.
In 2016 large scale demonstrations swept across Pakistan following the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who had murdered Salman Taseer, a liberal Muslim who was governor of Punjab province. Qadri, who was Mr Taseer’s police bodyguard, gunned him down because governor Taseer had spoken up in support of Aasia Bibi.
Aasia Bibi was sentenced to death for “blasphemy” in 2010. She was accused of insulting Muhammad during an argument with fellow women field-labourers, which started when they refused to drink water that she had fetched because she was a Christian.
The pro-blasphemy law demonstrations which swept across Pakistan following Qadri’s execution demanded the immediate execution of Aasia Bibi, before her Supreme Court appeal hearing and called for Qadri to be declared an Islamic martyr and national hero. Two prominent leaders who spoke at those demonstrations were Hassan Haseeb ur Rehman and his father Muhmaad Naqib ur Rehman.
Qadri’s actions, and the pro-blasphemy law demonstrations that followed, directly inspired Tanveer Ahmed a Muslim taxi driver in Bradford to travel to Glasgow and murder Asad Shah, a peace loving Ahmaddiya Muslim who he accused of Islamic blasphemy.
However, just a week after Tanveer Ahmed’s trial had hit national headlines, these two leaders of the demonstrations in Pakistan arrived in the UK for a two month preaching tour of mosques, even speaking at a Glasgow mosque on the very day Ahmed was jailed.
On 9 September 2016 we wrote to the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd expressing serious concerns that these men had been granted UK visas. However, the response we received a month later from the immigration minister simply stated: “I cannot comment on individual cases. All applications are confidential and considered on their own merits.”
However, despite publicly raised concerns, during the rest of 2016 other leaders of the pro-blasphemy demonstrations continued to arrive in the UK for preaching tours. Disturbingly, Scotland’s Sunday Post uncovered one such preacher, finding that the government had flagged concerns about him before he arrived and that he had been legally banned from addressing crowds in Pakistan due to his extremism. Yet, alarmingly, his visa for the UK was still not revoked.
At the weekend Sara Khan, the UK’s Counter Extremism Commissioner strongly condemned the decision of those organising the conference to invite Mr ur Rehman to the anti-terror conference, where relatives of those killed in the Manchester Arena bombings were present:
“Rehman attended and spoke at the funeral of Qadri and described him as a martyr. There is no defence or justification for celebrating an ideologically motivated assassination. It is clear that many of those at the conference ... would not have known about his vile views.”
However, Home Office officials and senior police responsible for counter terrorism clearly should have known about his views.