State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Pakistan
|Publisher||Minority Rights Group International|
|Publication Date||11 March 2008|
|Cite as||Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Pakistan, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48a7eae4c.html [accessed 2 September 2015]|
As Muslim-majority Pakistan celebrated its 60th year of independence in 2007, ethnic and religious minorities criticized the government for failing to live up to the pledges of the nation's founding fathers to protect human rights. The All Pakistan Minority Alliance (APMA) on 11 August 2007 organized a historic mass rally to demand more religious freedom in the country. In a 30-point Charter of Demands to the government, the APMA called for adequate political representation of minorities in national and provincial legislatures, and the scrapping of laws that discriminate against religious minorities. The charter particularly referred to anti-blasphemy and Huddod laws, which put Pakistan's non-Muslim minorities under threat simply for asserting their religion.
During most of 2007, Pakistan's Christian and Hindu minority populations continued to face persecution, particularly at the hands of religious extremists. Just weeks after the charter was presented to the government, the media reported that a Christian Bishop Arif Khan and his wife were murdered in Islamabad. In the same month of August, websites promoting religious freedom and Christian news websites reported that Christians in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, were asked to convert to Islam or face death. Seven churches and five Christian settlements received the threatening letters. Earlier, in May, Christians in Charsadda, also in the North West Frontier Province, were given ten days to convert to Islam and warned of 'dire consequences and bomb explosions', said Christian Today newspaper, which has headquarters in London with worldwide correspondents. Minority political rights were also under threat in the province. In July 2007, APMA said that 18 per cent of eligible voters belonging to minorities were left out of the new voters' list in North West Frontier Province.
Both Hindu and Christian children have also been the victims of abductions and forced conversions. In August a South Asian News Agency, ANI, reported two missing children, forcibly married and converted to Islam.
Pakistan's minority Ahmaddiya community, who profess a different version of Islam, have also historically faced severe human rights violations amidst the rising trend of Islamism in the country. In 2007 Human Rights Watch issued a statement accusing the Pakistan government of pandering to fundamentalists and violating the rights of groups such as the Ahmaddiyas. The statement said police in Lahore had supervised the demolition of a boundary wall in an Ahmaddiya graveyard. Two Islamic groups had for some time exerted pressure on the provincial authorities to bring down the wall.
Laws discriminating against minorities remained in place through 2007. In May Pakistan's National Assembly overwhelmingly rejected proposed amendments to the blasphemy laws, which were tabled by a minority Member of Parliament, saying they were 'un-Islamic'. Under the existing blasphemy laws, a person can face indefinite imprisonment or the death penalty for criticizing the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. The reforms called for the punishment for blasphemy to be reduced to a maximum five-year prison sentence and a fine. In a special report on Pakistan the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) said that in 2007 some 25 people, of whom 16 were Christian and 9 were women, were victims of the blasphemy laws. The report also said that on 30 May 2007, Younis Masih, a Christian, was sentenced to death under the law.
In August, Pakistan's Christian National Party, in a rare legal challenge, petitioned the Supreme Court to amend a law that reserves the office of president only for Muslims. The petition said that this particular clause in the constitution violates other sections that guarantee equal rights to all citizens.
In January 2007, 13 members of the Baluchistan Provincial Assembly appealed to international human rights organizations and the UN to ask the Pakistani government to halt ongoing military operations and stop the 'genocide' and human rights violations in the area. Following the killing of a government spokesman by the separatist group, the Balochi National Army, in Quetta, the town has come under intense military scrutiny with increased checkpoints particularly in Balochi areas, opposition MPs claimed. In the same month, media reports said police raided and arrested up to 100 people also in Quetta following the killing of a police officer. According to the AHRC report, on the morning of 30 March 2007, Pakistani soldiers cordoned off the villages of Lanju and Sagari in the Sui area, while air force jets and helicopter gunships fired at the village. Some 18 people, including women and children, were killed as a result of the indiscriminate use of force.
Ethnic tensions rose as political turmoil gripped the country through most of 2007. The sacking of the Chief Justice by President Musharraf led to weeks of violent street protests. The protests culminated in two days of carnage in the city of Karachi in May, when more than 30 people were killed and over 150 injured. Pakistan's Human Rights Commission (HRCP), in a statement issued soon after the incident, accused the government, the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM) and provincial government for being responsible for the violence. Much of the fighting reportedly took place between the MQM, which the Commission accused of supporting the government, and ethnic Pashtuns. 'The events in Karachi indicate that the government, in collusion with the MQM wants to return Karachi to a state of ethnic hostilities,' the HRCP said in a statement. According to human rights groups, violence against lawyers continued in Sindh, including incidents of harassment and arrest, but no action has been taken by the central government.
As the year drew to a close Pakistan was submerged in political violence, protests and the arrest and detention of several human rights activists and opponents of the government. In November 2007 General Musharaff stepped down as head of the army but remained president. He has called for elections in January 2008.
Cross-border refugee problem
Another significant issue that affected the region was a cross-border refugee problem. Bhutan, India and Nepal were locked in the problem facing ethnic Nepalese who were born in Bhutan but were expelled or fled from there nearly two decades ago. In 1990, more than 100,000 ethnic Nepalese, who faced severe discrimination in Bhutan, were expelled for protesting against their treatment by the state. They have since lived in impoverished conditions in Nepal. In May 2007, 80 refugees were injured and thousands attacked by Indian border guards as they attempted to cross through India to return to their birthplace in Bhutan. The refugees want to return to Bhutan as the country is heading for a transition from monarchy to democracy in 2008. The UN has said the Bhutanese refugees should be given the freedom to make an informed decision about their future.