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USCIRF Annual Report 2005 - Pakistan

Publisher United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Publication Date 1 May 2005
Cite as United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, USCIRF Annual Report 2005 - Pakistan, 1 May 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4855697ec.html [accessed 25 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The response of the government of Pakistan to persistent sectarian and religiously motivated violence in Pakistan continues to be inadequate. In addition, official government policies, such as the anti-Ahmadi and blasphemy laws, frequently result in imprisonment and other violations of freedom of religion or belief. The Commission continues to recommend that Pakistan be designated a "country of particular concern," or CPC. To date, the State Department has not designated Pakistan a CPC.

Successive governments have severely violated religious freedom in Pakistan. Discriminatory legislation has fostered an atmosphere of religious intolerance and eroded the social and legal status of members of religious minorities. Government officials provide fewer protections from societal violence to non-Muslims than to members of the majority Sunni Muslim community. Perpetrators of attacks on minorities are seldom brought to justice. Belated efforts to curb extremism through reform of Pakistan's thousands of Islamic religious schools continue to have little effect. Many of these schools provide ongoing ideological training and motivation to those who take part in violence targeting religious minorities in Pakistan and abroad. President Pervez Musharraf did ban a number of militant groups several years ago, but most of those have since reemerged, under new names, and have continued to function.

Sectarian and religiously-motivated violence, much of it committed against Shi'a Muslims by Sunni militants, is chronic in Pakistan. Ahmadis, Christians, and Hindus have also been targeted by Sunni extremist groups. In January 2005, a leading Shi'a cleric was seriously wounded by gunmen, sparking sectarian violence that killed 15. In March 2005 in Baluchistan province, the scene of recent tribal violence, a bomb killed 24 worshippers at the tomb of a Shi'a saint. Sunni Muslims are also victims of Shi'a militant groups. In the last two years, there has been an upsurge in anti-Christian violence, including fatal attacks on churches and other Christian institutions. In January 2004, a church compound that includes a Christian school for girls was bombed. On Easter 2005, gunmen attacked Christian worshippers as they emerged from services in a village church near Lahore, killing one man and injuring seven others. In April 2005, a Christian pastor and his driver were found dead in Peshawar; both had been shot, and the pastor had reportedly been mutilated. Police protection from these attacks appears ineffective, and rarely has anyone been successfully prosecuted for these crimes. Although arrests have been made, the case of the brutal murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in early 2002, whose Jewish background was highlighted in a video of his decapitation by his Islamic extremist killers, is not yet fully resolved.

Ahmadis, who number three-four million in Pakistan, are prevented by law from engaging in the full practice of their faith. The Constitution of Pakistan declares members of the Ahmadi religious community to be "non-Muslims," despite their insistence to the contrary. Barred by law from "posing" as Muslims, Ahmadis may not call their places of worship "mosques," worship in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer rooms which are otherwise open to all Muslims, perform the Muslim call to prayer, use the traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quote from the Koran, or display the basic affirmation of the Muslim faith. It is also illegal for Ahmadis to preach in public, to seek converts, or to produce, publish, and disseminate their religious materials. Ahmadis have been arrested and imprisoned for terms of up to three years for all of the above acts, and they are reportedly subject to ill treatment from prison authorities and fellow prisoners. Because they are required to register to vote as non-Muslims, a policy that was reaffirmed by Pakistani government officials in February 2004, Ahmadis who refuse to disavow their claim to being Muslims are effectively disenfranchised. The one potentially positive development, the December 2004 abolition of the religion column in Pakistani passports, thereby, among other advances, enabling Ahmadis to participate in the hajj, was derailed the following March, when members of a government ministerial committee decided to restore the column. The decision reportedly came after religious parties demonstrated against the change. There continues to be no indication that the current government intends to institute any reforms to the anti-Ahmadi laws.

Prescribed penalties for blasphemy include death for whoever "defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad" and life imprisonment for whoever "willfully defiles, damages, or desecrates a copy of the holy Koran." Blasphemy allegations, which are often false, result in the lengthy detention of, and sometimes violence against, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and members of other religious minorities, as well as Muslims on account of their religious beliefs. The negative impact of the blasphemy laws is further compounded by the lack of due process involved in these proceedings. In addition, during blasphemy trials, Islamic militants often pack the courtroom and make public threats about the consequences of an acquittal. Such threats have proven credible, since they have sometimes been followed by violence. Although no one has yet been executed by the state under the blasphemy laws, some persons have been sentenced to death. Several accused under the blasphemy laws have been attacked, even killed, by vigilantes, including while in police custody; those who escape official punishment or vigilante attack are sometimes forced to flee the country. Others have died in police custody under allegedly suspicious circumstances. In December 2004, an Ahmadi was given a life sentence and a heavy fine for purported blasphemous statements. In January 2005, a Christian was acquitted of blasphemy charges; however, he remains in hiding due to death threats from extremists. Following an abortive attempt in 2000 at introducing procedural reforms, the Musharraf government has made no further effort to reform, much less repeal, the blasphemy laws. Although they were amended in October 2004 with the aim of reducing the more maliciously applied charges, the procedural changes called for will not likely have a significant affect on the way the blasphemy laws are exploited in Pakistan.

Pakistan's Hudood Ordinances, Islamic decrees introduced in 1979 and enforced alongside the country's secular legal system, provide for harsh punishments, such as amputation and death by stoning, for violations of Islamic law. The UN Committee Against Torture, as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, have stated that stoning and amputation do constitute inhuman or degrading treatment under international human rights standards and treaties. Although these extreme corporal punishments have not been carried out in practice due to high evidentiary standards, lesser punishments such as jail terms or fines have been imposed. Rape victims run a high risk of being charged with adultery, for which death by stoning remains a possible sentence. In October 2003, the National Commission on the Status of Women in Pakistan issued a report on the Hudood Ordinances that stated that as many as 88 percent of women prisoners, many of them rape victims, are serving time in prison for violating these decrees, which make extramarital sex a crime and adultery a criminal offense. The Hudood laws apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The Commission's May 2001 report on Pakistan played a key role in highlighting to U.S. and Pakistan government officials the un-democratic nature of the Pakistani separate electorate system for religious minorities. In January 2002, the Pakistan government abolished the system of separate electorates.

In May 2004, Commissioner Richard D. Land testified on behalf of the Commission at a Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing titled "Pakistan: A Human Rights Update." Commissioner Land discussed Pakistan's record on religious freedom and the Commission's recommendation to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that Pakistan be designated a "country of particular concern."

Throughout 2004, the Commission continued to meet with representatives of the various religious groups in Pakistan, including Muslims, Ahmadis, and Christians, as well as with human rights organizations, academics, and other experts. Also in 2004, Commissioners received briefings from noted Pakistan experts on domestic developments in, and U.S. policy toward, Pakistan.

In addition to recommending that Pakistan be designated a CPC, the Commission has recommended that the U.S. government should:

  • take the position that the existence and enforcement of laws targeting Ahmadis which effectively criminalize the public practice of their faith violate the right to freedom of religion guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • urge the government of Pakistan to implement procedural changes to the blasphemy laws that will reduce and ultimately eliminate their abuse;
  • urge the government of Pakistan to take effective steps to prevent sectarian violence and punish its perpetrators, including disarming militant groups and any religious schools that provide weapons training; and
  • support, in conjunction with other donors: (a) improvements in the public education system; (b) judicial reform and law enforcement training; (c) legal advocacy to protect the right to freedom of religion; and (d) educational programs in religious tolerance.

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