Covering events from January - December 2003

There was a sharp increase in sectarian violence in the second half of the year particularly in the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. Hundreds of people were arbitrarily detained in the context of the US-led "war on terror". Human rights abuses against women, children and religious minorities continued to be ignored by the government. There were severe restrictions on freedom of expression in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) particularly targeting musicians and artists. At least 278 people were sentenced to death and at least eight were executed.


There was serious concern about constitutional amendments introduced under the Legal Framework Order (LFO) in 2002. President Pervez Musharraf as head of state and chief of army staff retained sweeping powers. The government sidelined the main opposition parties and only held talks on the LFO with an alliance of religious opposition parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). The talks, which had been initiated in July, did not produce any agreement as the government failed to set a firm date by which President Musharraf would resign as chief of army staff.

The judiciary, especially at the lower level, remained ineffective and prone to political interference and corruption.

In June, the MMA implemented Shari'a law in NWFP, introducing a conservative criminal code reminiscent of that enforced during the Taleban's control of neighbouring Afghanistan. During demonstrations, MMA supporters destroyed billboards displaying images of women in Peshawar and surrounding areas, saying they were "un-Islamic". The national and international media criticized the MMA and some multinationals initially threatened to withdraw their investment from the NWFP unless such actions were stopped.

Having become a nuclear state in May 1998, Pakistan continued test firing its nuclear-capable short and medium range missiles. In June a Foreign Office spokesman stated that Pakistan's nuclear program would not be rolled back. A series of nuclear tests was carried out in October.

Sectarian violence

At least 76 people were killed during sectarian violence, mostly carried out by unidentified gunmen who were believed to belong to organized sectarian groups.

In June unidentified attackers fired at a vehicle and killed 12 Shi'a Hazara police cadets in Quetta. Several investigations were initiated; however by the end of the year they had stalled.

In July at least 50 Shi'a worshippers were killed and over 80 injured during an attack on their mosque in Quetta. A series of Shi'a and Sunni murders followed, mainly in Karachi. Between August and September, six Sunnis and seven Shi'a were killed in targeted killings in Karachi.

In October tensions ran high after the killing of Azam Tariq, a senior Sunni religious leader. Azam Tariq was shot dead in Islamabad with his driver and three bodyguards as he drove to parliament. No one claimed responsibility for the killings.

Arbitrary detention

The government's continuing support for the US-led "war on terrorism" resulted in a further undermining of human rights protections. Hundreds of people were arrested and deported, in violation of Pakistan's Extradition Act of 1974. More than 500 people including Pakistani and foreign nationals, among them Arabs and Afghans, were arbitrarily detained and handed over to US officials on suspicion of being members of al-Qa'ida or the Taleban.

  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was arrested in February and handed over to the US authorities in early March. His two young sons, nine-year-old Yousaf Al-Khalid and seven-year-old Abed Al-Khalid, who were taken into custody in September 2002 in an apparent attempt to force their father to give himself up, were also reportedly flown to the USA in March. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the government of Pakistan denied these reports. The whereabouts of the children remained unknown at the end of 2003.

Violence against women

Women and girls in Pakistan continued to be subjected to abuses in the home, the community and in the custody of the state. Impunity for such abuses persisted. Very poor women and women from religious minorities were particularly vulnerable to violence in the community and home. According to the local human rights organization, Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid, at least 631 women and six girls died in "honour killings" in the first eight months of the year. About half of these deaths were reported in Sindh province. Many more killings went unreported in Balochistan and NWFP.

  • In September, Riasat Bibi was killed in Peshawar. Her father accused her former fiancé of the killing. However, neighbours believed that she was killed by her own family for choosing her marriage partner. No one had been arrested for her murder by the end of the year.

The review of discriminatory laws by the National Commission on the Status of Women announced in 2002 had not been published by the end of 2003.

Abuses against children

The government failed to ensure that officials in the criminal justice system were made aware of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) of July 2000. Children continued to be brought to court in chains and tried before judges not empowered to hear their cases, in breach of the JJSO. Children were also sentenced to death in violation of both the JJSO and international law. President Musharraf had announced in December 2001 that all children sentenced to death before the JJSO came into force would have their sentences commuted. Despite this, several of those juvenile offenders remained under sentence of death.

In October the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern at the poor implementation and awareness of the JJSO. There was widespread failure on the part of the authorities to implement the provisions of the JJSO during the arrest, trial and imprisonment of children.

In September, a sexual abuse scandal which stretched back over two decades surfaced at a government school in Peshawar. Several teachers and other employees were accused of involvement in supplying students as child prostitutes to guests in a local hotel. Five employees of the school including two teachers were suspended by the education authorities but no action was taken by police.

Restrictions on freedom of expression

The MMA government in NWFP introduced a series of measures to curtail freedom of expression, effectively banning musicians and artists from performing in public. Local police reportedly instructed all music shops to keep their shutters down so that musical instruments could not be seen from the streets. Balakhanas (gathering places for musicians) in Dabgari bazaar, Peshawar, were closed down by local police without any legal basis. Dozens of musicians who had shops in the area were directly affected. Several artists alleged that they were harassed, arrested and fined by local police for playing music.

  • Fazal Wahab Wahab, a resident of Mingora, Swat district, NWFP, was shot dead by unidentified individuals in January allegedly because of his writings on political issues. Local observers believe that Fazal Wahab Wahab was killed because he had written several books in which he was critical of the role of clerics in Pakistan. There were reports that those responsible were known to the police, but no action was taken against them.

Religious discrimination

Pakistan's blasphemy law continued to be abused to imprison people on grounds of religious belief, contributing to a climate in which religiously motivated violence flourished. President Musharraf had announced in 2001 that the law would be amended to make it less open to abuse. This move had been fiercely resisted by religious political parties and groups and the amendment was hastily shelved. The law continued to be abused to settle all kinds of personal scores.

  • In February, Mushtaq Zafar was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen. He was on his way home from the High Court while on bail in a blasphemy case brought against him by his neighbours. In November 2001, a dispute between Mushtaq Zafar and his neighbours apparently resulted in his house being set alight and shots being fired at him, killing a friend of his. The neighbours were arrested for the murder; court proceedings in the case were continuing at the end of the year. However, according to Mushtaq Zafar's son, the neighbours' family put pressure on his father to withdraw the murder case and the accusation of blasphemy against him was part of an attempt to intimidate him. Friends and relatives of the neighbours allegedly wrote to religious leaders, demanding Mushtaq Zafar's death.

Torture and ill-treatment and deaths in custody

Torture and ill-treatment by the police and prison officers remained routine and the perpetrators were rarely held to account. Several people died in custody.

  • In May, Nasim Bibi was accused under the blasphemy law of desecrating the Holy Qur'an. She had initially been granted bail by the Lahore High Court but was later taken back into judicial custody. In August she died in the Kot Lakhpat Jail, Lahore, the same prison where Yousuf Ali, also accused of blasphemy and held in solitary confinement, died in 2002. Nasim Bibi, who suffered from asthma, was allegedly denied medical treatment while in prison. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called for an investigation into her death. The Deputy Superintendent of the prison claimed Nasim Bibi had a pre-existing heart condition and died of heart failure.

Death penalty

At least 278 people were sentenced to death, bringing the total number of people under sentence of death by the end of the year to over 5,700. At least eight people were executed. Difficulties in determining the ages of those detained made it impossible to establish the exact number of children under sentence of death. In Punjab Province alone, it was believed that the age of detainees held on death row had been challenged in more than 300 cases.

AI country reports/visits

AI delegates visited Pakistan in June and July.

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