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Home U.S. Department of State Annual Report (IRF) 2003
Int'l Religious Freedom Report - 2003

Excerpts from
U.S. Department of State
International Religious Freedom Report 2003 : Pakistan
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, December 18, 2003

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and states that adequate provisions are to be made for minorities to profess and practice their religions freely; however, in practice the Government imposes limits on freedom of religion. Pakistan is an Islamic republic; Islam is the state religion. Islam also is a core element of the country’s national ideology; the country was created to be a homeland for Muslims, although it was not envisaged by its founders as an Islamic state. Religious freedom is “subject to law, public order, and morality”; accordingly, actions or speech deemed derogatory to Islam or to its Prophet are not protected. In addition, the Constitution requires that laws be consistent with Islam and imposes some elements of Koranic law on both Muslims and religious minorities. …… [ Para # 1 ]

There were no significant changes in the Government’s treatment of religious minorities during the period covered by this report. The Government fails in many respects to protect the rights of religious minorities. This is due both to public policy and to the Government’s unwillingness to take action against societal forces hostile to those who practice a different faith. The accretion of discriminatory religious legislation has fostered an atmosphere of religious intolerance, which contributes to acts of violence directed against minority Muslim groups, as well as against Christians, Hindus, and members of Muslim offshoot groups, such as Ahmadis and Zikris. The Government does not encourage sectarian violence and during the period covered by this report specifically condemned it; however, there were instances in which the Government failed to intervene in cases of societal violence directed at minority religious groups. The lack of an adequate government response contributed to an atmosphere of impunity for acts of violence and intimidation against religious minorities. Parties and groups with religious affiliations have been known to target minority groups. [ Para # 2 ]

Prior to the October 2002 elections, President Pervez Musharraf announced the reinstatement of joint electorates, ending a 15-year practice, which had been sanctioned by the Constitution, that prevented religious minorities from voting for local representatives in the provincial and national assemblies. In addition, in August 2002, the Government announced that reserved seats in the assemblies for religious minorities would be restored in the October 2002 elections. [ Para # 3 ] **

In the October 2002 elections, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of religious parties that includes both Sunni and Shi’a groups, won approximately 20 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, far more than its component parties had previously won. It did even better at the provincial level, gaining a majority in Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and governing through a coalition Baluchistan. The MMA contingents in the National Assembly and Baluchistan Provincial Assembly called for the implementation of stronger forms of Shari’a law. Minority groups claim the MMA’s outspoken calls for Islamic laws and morals have made the social climate more hostile to people of other religions. [ Para # 4 ]

Specific government policies that discriminate against religious minorities include the use of the “Hudood” Ordinances, which apply different standards of evidence to Muslims and non-Muslims and to men and women for alleged violations of Islamic law; specific legal prohibitions against Ahmadis practicing their religion; and blasphemy laws that most often are used against reformist Muslims and Ahmadis. The number of cases filed under the blasphemy laws continued to be significant and more than 100 persons were detained for blasphemy offenses as of the end of the period covered by this report. Several high profile blasphemy cases remained unresolved because the courts repeatedly postponed hearings and the Government did not press the courts to proceed. However, the Lahore High Court overturned several lower court convictions, acquitting several blasphemy defendants, during the period covered by this report. Approximately 1,600-2,100 persons were imprisoned under the Hudood Ordinances as of the end of the period covered by this report. [ Para # 5 ]

Relations between different religious groups frequently were tense, acts of sectarian and religious violence continued, and scores of deaths were attributed to sectarian violence during the period covered by this report. The worst religious violence was directed against the country’s Shi’a minority, who continued to be disproportionate victims of individual and mass killings. [ Para # 6 ]

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialogue and policy of promoting human rights. [ Para # 7 ]

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 310,527 square miles, and its population is approximately 150 million. According to the most recent census, taken in 1998, an estimated 96 percent of the population are Muslim; 1.69 percent are Christian; 2.02 percent are Hindu; and 0.35 percent are “other” (including Ahmadis). The majority of Muslims in the country are Sunni. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of the Muslim population is Shi’a, including some 550,000 to 600,000 Ismailis. Most Ismailis in the country are followers of the Aga Khan; however, an estimated 50,000 Ismailis, known as Borahs, are not. [ Para # 8 ]

Religious minority groups believe that they are underrepresented in government census counts. Official and private estimates of their numbers can differ significantly. The most recent official census estimates place the number of Christians at 2.09 million and the Ahmadi population at 286,000. The communities themselves each claim membership of approximately 4 million. Estimates for the remaining communities are less contested and place the total number of Hindus at 2.8 million; Parsis (Zoroastrians), Buddhists, and Sikhs at as high as 20,000 each; and Baha’is at 30,000. The “other” category includes tribes whose members practice traditional indigenous religions and who normally do not declare themselves to be adherents of a specific religion, and those who do not wish to practice any religion but remain silent about that fact. Social pressure is such that few persons would admit to being unaffiliated with any religion. [ Para # 9 ]

Ahmadis, who consider themselves Muslims but do not accept that Muhammad was necessarily the last Prophet, *** are concentrated in Punjab and Sindh. The spiritual center of the Ahmadi community is the large, predominantly Ahmadi town of Rabwah in Punjab. [ Para # 12 ]

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and states that adequate provisions shall be made for minorities to profess and practice their religions freely; however, in practice the Government imposes limits on freedom of religion. The Constitution provides that there is no taxation for propagation of a religion that is not one’s own, no obligation to receive instruction in a religion that is not one’s own, and no denial of admission to public schools on the basis of religion. According to the Constitution, the country is an Islamic republic, and Islam is the state religion. Islam also is a core element of the country’s national ideology; the country was created to be a homeland for Muslims, although it was not envisaged by its founders as an Islamic state. Under the Constitution, both the President and the Prime Minister are to be Muslims, and all senior officials are required to swear an oath to preserve the country’s “Islamic ideology.” Freedom of speech is provided for; however, this right is subject to “reasonable restrictions” that can be imposed “in the interest of the glory of Islam.” Actions or speech deemed derogatory to Islam or to its Prophets are not protected. [ Para # 19 ]

Under the Constitution, the Ahmadi community is defined as non-Muslim because Ahmadis do not believe that Mohammed was the last prophet of Islam; however, most Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims. *** [ Para # 20 ]

The Constitution specifically prohibits discriminatory admission to any governmental educational institution solely on the basis of religion. Government officials state that the only factors affecting admission to governmental educational institutions are students’ grades and home provinces. However, students must declare their religion on application forms. Muslim students must declare in writing that they believe in the unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Mohammed, a measure designed to single out Ahmadis, who do not necessarily adhere to this tenet of Islam. Non-Muslims must have their religion verified by the head of their local religious community. Many Ahmadis and Christians reported discrimination in applying to government educational institutions due to their religious affiliation. [ Para # 28 ]

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government does not ban formally the public practice of the Ahmadi faith, but the practice is restricted severely by law. A 1974 constitutional amendment declared Ahmadis to be a non-Muslim minority because, according to the Government, they do not accept Mohammed as the last Prophet of Islam. However, Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims and observe Islamic practices. In 1984, the Government added Section 298(c) into the Penal Code, prohibiting Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslim or posing as Muslims; from referring to their faith as Islam; from preaching or propagating their faith; from inviting others to accept the Ahmadi faith; and from insulting the religious feelings of Muslims. This section of the Penal Code has caused problems for Ahmadis, particularly the provision that forbids them from “directly or indirectly” posing as Muslims. This vague wording has enabled mainstream Muslim religious leaders to bring charges against Ahmadis for using the standard Muslim greeting form and for naming their children Mohammed. The constitutionality of Section 286(c) was upheld in a split-decision Supreme Court case in 1996. The punishment for violation of this section is imprisonment for up to 3 years and a fine. This provision has been used extensively by the Government and anti-Ahmadi religious groups to target and harass Ahmadis. Ahmadis also are prohibited from holding any public conferences or gatherings. [ Para # 35 ]

The Constitution provides for the “freedom to manage religious institutions.” In principle the Government does not restrict organized religions from establishing places of worship and training members of the clergy. However, in practice Ahmadis suffer from restrictions on this right. Several Ahmadi mosques reportedly have been closed; others reportedly have been desecrated. Ahmadis also are prohibited from being buried in Muslim cemeteries. According to press reports, the authorities conducted surveillance on the Ahmadis and their institutions. [ Para # 36 ]

The “blasphemy laws” are contained in Sections 295, 296, 297, and 298 of the Penal Code and address offenses relating to religion. Section 295(a), a colonial-era provision, originally stipulated a maximum 2-year sentence for insulting the religion of any class of citizens. In 1991 this sentence was increased to 10 years. In 1982 Section 295(b) was added, which stipulated a sentence of life imprisonment for “whoever willfully defiles, damages, or desecrates a copy of the holy Koran.” In 1986 during the martial law period, another amendment, Section 295(c), established the death penalty or life imprisonment for directly or indirectly defiling “the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed.” In 1991 a court ruled invalid the option of life imprisonment for this offense. Section 296 outlaws voluntary disturbances of religious assemblies, and Section 297 outlaws trespassing on burial grounds. Section 298(a), another colonial-era provision, forbids the use of derogatory remarks about holy personages. Personal rivals and the authorities have used these blasphemy laws, especially Section 295(c), to threaten, punish, or intimidate Ahmadis, Christians, and even orthodox Muslims. No person has been executed by the State under any of these provisions; however, some persons have been sentenced to death, and religious extremists have killed persons accused under the provisions. The blasphemy laws also reportedly have been used to “settle scores” unrelated to religious activity, such as intra-family or property disputes. There were 67 blasphemy cases pending throughout the country as of the end of the period covered by this report. [ Para # 37 ]

President Musharraf attempted to modify the blasphemy laws in April 2000. The attempted reform would have required complainants to register new blasphemy cases with the local deputy commissioners instead of with police officials, in an attempt to reduce the number of persons who are accused wrongly under the laws. Religious and sectarian groups mounted large-scale protests against the proposed change and some religious leaders stated that if the laws were changed, even just procedurally, persons would be justified in killing blasphemers themselves. In May 2000, in response to increasing pressure and threats, Musharraf abandoned the proposed reforms to the blasphemy laws. [ Para # 38 ]

When blasphemy and other religious cases are brought to court, extremists often pack the courtroom and make public threats against an acquittal. Judges and magistrates, seeking to avoid a confrontation with or violence from extremists, often continue trials indefinitely. As a result, those accused of blasphemy often face lengthy periods in jail and are burdened with increased legal costs and repeated court appearances. …… [ Para # 39 ]

Under the Anti-Terrorist Act, any act, including speech, intended to stir up religious hatred is punishable by up to 7 years of rigorous imprisonment. Under the act, bail is not to be granted if the judge has reasonable grounds to believe that the accused is guilty. The law is selectively applied, however. Many extremists, including Hafiz Sayeed, leader of the former Lashkar-e-Taiba, have been quoted extensively calling for Hindus to be killed and for jihad against Westerners, without any repercussions from the authorities for this inflammatory speech. [ Para # 40 ]

Ahmadis charge that they suffer from restrictions on their press. …… [ Para # 43 ]

In January 2002, the Government eliminated the country’s system of separate electorates, which had been a longstanding point of contention between religious minorities and human rights groups on one side and the Government on the other. With the elimination of the separate electorate system, political representation is to be based on geographic constituencies that represent all residents, regardless of religious affiliation. Minority group leaders believe this change may help to make public officials take notice of the concerns and rights of minority groups. Because of their concentrated populations, religious minorities could have significant influence as swing voting blocks in some constituencies. Few non-Muslims are active in the country’s mainstream political parties due to limitations on their ability to run for elective office under the previous separate electorate system. [ Para # 45 ]

In May 2002, under increasing pressure from fundamentalist leaders, the Government reinstated a column on the voter registration form that requires Muslims to take an oath accepting the finality of the Prophethood of Mohammed. When joint electorates were restored in January 2002, this oath was removed from voter registration forms, but religious leaders protested heavily because voter lists no longer identified Ahmadis. In June 2002, the Election Commission announced that it would accept objections to Ahmadis who registered to vote as Muslims from members of the public. Voters with objections filed against them are required either to sign an oath swearing to the finality of the prophethood of Mohammed or be registered as non-Muslims on the voter list. In protest, the Ahmadi community notified the President on September 5, 2002, that they would boycott the October 2002 elections. No Ahmadis are known to have broken the boycott, but there has been no change in the Government’s policy as a result. [ Para # 47 ]

Links with coreligionists in other countries are maintained relatively easily. The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Pakistan report no difficulties. Ismailis are in regular contact with their headquarters, and their officials, including Prince Karim Aga Khan, visit the country regularly. Under reciprocal visa arrangements, Indian Hindu and Sikh leaders and groups travel regularly to the country. However, the Government prohibits Ahmadis from participating in the Hajj (the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia), and Baha’is are effectively prohibited from traveling to their spiritual center in Israel because Pakistan does not recognize Israel as a state. [ Para # 48 ]

The Government designates religion on citizens’ passports. To obtain a passport, citizens must declare whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim; Muslims also must affirm that they accept the unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Mohammed, declare that Ahmadis are non-Muslims, and specifically denounce the founder of the Ahmadi movement. [ Para # 49 ]

Proselytizing (except by Ahmadis) is permitted as long as there is no preaching against Islam and the missionaries acknowledge they are not Muslim. …… [ Para # 51 ]

While there is no law instituting the death penalty for apostates (those who convert from Islam), social pressure against such an action is so powerful that most such conversions reportedly take place in secret. [ Para # 54 ]

…… Ahmadis report severe discrimination in the civil service. They complain that a “glass ceiling” prevents them from being promoted to top positions and that certain government departments have refused to hire or retain qualified Ahmadis. [ Para # 55 ]

Human rights monitors and women’s groups believe that a narrow interpretation of Shari’a has had a harmful effect on the rights of women and minorities, as it reinforces popular attitudes and perceptions and contributes to an atmosphere in which discriminatory treatment of women and non-Muslims is accepted more readily. Some Islamic scholars also stated privately that the Hudood Ordinances are a misapplication of Shari’a. [ Para # 63 ]

Abuses of Religious Freedom

There have been instances in which police have used excessive force against individuals because of their religious beliefs and practices; however, it sometimes is difficult to determine whether religious affiliation is a factor in police brutality. The police also have failed to act against persons who use force against other individuals because of their religious beliefs (see Section II). The Government admits that police brutality against all citizens is a problem. However, both the Christian and Ahmadi communities have documented instances of the use of excessive force by the police and police inaction to prevent violent and often lethal attacks on members of their communities. [ Para # 65 ]

Prison conditions, except for the “class A” facilities provided to wealthy and politically high-profile prisoners, are extremely poor and constitute a threat to the life and health of prisoners. According to the NCJP and the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement (CLAAS), non-Muslim prisoners do not enjoy the same facilities as Muslim inmates. [ Para # 67 ]

No estimate of the total number of religious detainees exists; however, the Government has arrested and detained numerous Muslims and non-Muslims for their religious beliefs and practices under the blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws. According to the NCJP, religious minorities constitute a proportionally greater percentage of the prison population. Government officials state that although religious minorities account for approximately 5 percent of the country’s population, 25 percent of the cases filed under the blasphemy laws are aimed at religious minorities. According to one report, between 1984 and 2002, there were 150 blasphemy cases filed against Ahmadis, 31 against Christians, and 7 against Muslims. There were 67 blasphemy cases pending throughout the country as of the end of the period covered by this report. [ Para # 68 ]

The blasphemy laws were intended to protect both majority and minority faiths from discrimination and abuse; however, in practice these laws frequently are used by rivals and the authorities to threaten, punish, or intimidate religious minorities. Credible sources estimate that several hundred persons have been arrested since the laws were implemented; however, significantly fewer persons have been tried. Most of the several hundred persons arrested in recent years have been released due to a lack of sufficient evidence. However, many judges reportedly have issued guilty verdicts to protect themselves and their families from retaliation by religious extremists. When blasphemy and other religious cases are brought to court, extremists often pack the courtroom and make public threats about the consequences of an acquittal. Lower level magistrates generally were more susceptible to pressure by religious extremists than the higher-level judiciary. The Government provided protection to human rights lawyers defending accused blasphemers following threats and attacks on lawyers by religious extremists. Many of those accused of blasphemy face harassment and even death before reaching trial, during incarceration, or even after acquittal on clear-cut proof that the charges were false. Islamic extremists have categorically vowed to kill all accused blasphemers, regardless of judicial acquittals. As a result, the accused often are denied requests for bail on the grounds that their lives would be at risk from vigilantes if released. When released, many of the acquitted go into hiding until they can secure asylum. [ Para # 69 ]

Blasphemy laws often target members of the Ahmadi community. According to Ahmadi sources, 89 Ahmadis were charged formally in criminal cases on a “religious basis” (including blasphemy) in 2002, compared to 70 cases in 2001 and 166 cases in 2000. In March 2002, a foreign Ahmadi of Pakistani origin was arrested, tried, and acquitted of publishing blasphemous pamphlets. In April 29, 2001, four Ahmadis, including Abdul Majeed, president of the local Ahmadi community, were charged with blasphemy for constructing minarets and the Mihrab (prayer niche inside the mosque in the wall facing Mecca) of an Ahmadi mosque; the case was still under trial at the District and Sessions Court in Layyah District, Punjab, at the end of this reporting period. [ Para # 71 ]

The 1999 blasphemy case against Mohammad Nawaz, an Ahmadi leader in Okara District, Punjab, was still pending, although Nawaz and his two sons (who had also been charged) were released on bail after several days of imprisonment. [ Para # 72 ]

SSP Leader Maulana Mohammad Azam Tariq, who was arrested in a 1999 crackdown on extremists, released after a year of imprisonment, and arrested again in February 2002, was allowed to contest the October 10, 2002, elections from jail, despite a number of terrorism and murder cases pending against him in anti-terrorism courts. He was released on October 30, 2002, on the orders of the Lahore High Court. [ Para # 79 ]

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Many religious and community leaders, both Muslim and non-Muslim, reported that a small minority of extremists account for the vast majority of violent acts against religious minorities. However, discriminatory religious legislation has encouraged an atmosphere of religious intolerance, which has led to acts of violence directed against Ahmadis, Shi’as, Christians, Hindus, and Zikris. Members of religious minorities are subject to violence and harassment, and police at times refuse to prevent such abuses or charge persons who commit them (see Section II). Wealthy religious minorities and those who belong to religious groups that do not seek converts report fewer instances of discrimination. [ Para # 84 ]

Ahmadi individuals and institutions long have been victims of religious violence, much of which is instigated by organized religious extremists. Ahmadi leaders charge that militant Sunni mullahs and their followers sometimes stage marches through the streets of Rabwah, a predominantly Ahmadi town and spiritual center in central Punjab. Backed by crowds of between 100 and 200 persons, the mullahs reportedly denounce Ahmadis and their founder, a situation that sometimes leads to violence. The Ahmadis claim that police generally are present during these marches but do not intervene to prevent trouble. In August 2001, a mob destroyed an Ahmadi mosque in Sheikhpura; authorities did not stop the violence and later arrested 28 Ahmadis in connection with civil disorder. The Ahmadis were quickly released, but there have been no steps to prosecute the real offenders or compensate for the loss of the mosque. [ Para # 88 ]

Several Ahmadis were killed during the period covered by this report. On February 25, Mian Iqbal Ahmed, a lawyer and District President, was killed at his home in Rajanpur by unknown gunmen. On September 1, 2002, Maqsud Ahmed was killed in Faisalabad. Dr. Rashid Ahmed, a medical doctor, was killed at his clinic in Rahim Yar Khan on November 9, 2002. Abdul Waheed was killed on November 14, 2002, in Faisalabad. All of these killings appeared to have been motivated by anti-Ahmadi sentiment. [ Para # 89 ]

In July 2001, Sheikh Nazir Ahmed, an Ahmadi leader in Faisalabad, was killed. The accused, Behram Khan, was arrested and then released on bail. His case is still pending. On September 14, 2001, Noor Ahmed and his son Tahir were killed and two others were injured in an armed attack on their house in Narowal. Two of the four people accused of killing them were tried and then acquitted in early 2003. In October 2001, Ahmadi Ejaz Ahmed Basra and his son Shahjehan were shot and killed in Ghatilalian. Basra had provided evidence in a trial against several men accused of killing five Ahmadis the previous year, and the shooting was thought to be in retaliation for his testimony. Three of six people suspected of the shooting were arrested, but there have been no developments in their cases. In January 2002, Ghulam Mustafa Mohsin, an Ahmadi who had received previous death threats, was killed in his home in District Toba Tek Singh. There were no developments in this case during this reporting period. [ Para # 90 ]

Ahmadis suffer from societal harassment and discrimination. Even the rumor that someone may be an Ahmadi or have Ahmadi relatives can stifle opportunities for employment or promotion. Most Ahmadis are home-schooled or go to private Ahmadi-run schools. Those Ahmadi students in public schools often are subject to abuse by their non-Ahmadi classmates. The quality of teachers assigned to predominately Ahmadi schools by the Government reportedly is poor. In late May 2002, in response to a question from Islamic clerics, President Musharraf denounced Ahmadis as “non-Muslims.” [ Para # 95 ]

Some Sunni Muslim groups publish literature calling for violence against Ahmadis and Shi’a Muslims. Some newspapers frequently publish articles that contain derogatory references to religious minorities, especially Ahmadis and Hindus. [ Para # 100 ]

While there is no law instituting the death penalty for apostates (those who convert from Islam), social pressure against such an action is so powerful that most such conversions reportedly take place in secret. According to missionaries, police and other local officials harass villagers and members of the poorer classes who convert. Reprisals and threats of reprisals against suspected converts are common. [ Para # 103 ]

There are a number of NGOs and civic groups that promote interfaith dialogue. In January the Pakistani Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumanism declared 2003 a National Year of Peace. Accordingly, during the year a number of interreligious meetings, religious festivals, literary courses, and other events centered on peace and dialogue took place. Several Muslim leaders applauded the bishops’ initiative. In February the Sacred Heart Church in Lahore hosted a peace service, attended by people of various faiths. [ Para # 105 ]

** Under the pressure of mullahs Pervez Musharraf issued “CHIEF EXECUTIVE'S ORDER NO. 15 OF 2002” to place Ahmadis on a separate electoral list for ‘non-Muslims’ thereby destroying the concept of joint electorate. See Newsreports for June, July and September, 2002. (Ed.)
*** See Ahmadiyya Belief.
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