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U.S. Department of State
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 11, 2008
The human rights situation worsened during the year, stemming primarily from President Musharraf’s decision to impose a 42-day State of Emergency (SOE), suspend the constitution, and dismiss the Supreme and High Provincial Courts. During the year the judiciary sought to check executive power and reverse President Musharraf’s March decision to suspend the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Civil society and the press widely supported the judiciary. The restored chief justice then began a series of legal interventions that received some public support but were considered excessive by the government. When he believed the Supreme Court was about to rule him ineligible for reelection as president, on November 3 Musharraf declared the SOE and suspended the constitution, which enabled him to replace the Supreme and High Court justices. Additionally, he demanded, as he had in 1999, that all judges, both replacements and sitting judges, swear an oath of loyalty to his new legal order, which they did in December. Under the SOE, Musharraf suspended basic civil liberties, including freedom of speech and assembly. In December Musharraf lifted the SOE and restored an amended constitution, which enhanced presidential powers. Regulatory restrictions continued on press activities and freedom of assembly.
During the 42 days of the SOE, the government imposed curbs on the media and arrested and/or detained over 6,000 lawyers, judges, political party workers/leaders, and civil society activists. By the end of the year, approximately one dozen activists, primarily lawyers and judges, remained under house arrest. The government restored public cable access to all but two channels of one private television station, but the government required the media to sign a code of conduct that discouraged criticism of the government and led to self-censorship. Other major human rights problems included restrictions on citizens’ right to change their government, extrajudicial killings, torture, and disappearances. While the civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were instances when local police acted independently of government authority. Violence from a low-level secessionist movement in Balochistan continued. Lengthy trial delays and failures to discipline and prosecute those responsible for abuses consistently contributed to a culture of impunity. Poor prison conditions, arbitrary arrest, and lengthy pretrial detention remained problems, as did a lack of judicial independence. Corruption was widespread within the government and police forces, and the government made few attempts to combat the problem. Rape, domestic violence, and abuse against women, such as honor crimes and discriminatory legislation that affected women and religious minorities, remained serious problems, although implementation of the 2006 Women’s Protection Act improved conditions. Widespread trafficking in persons and exploitation of indentured, bonded, and child labor were ongoing problems. Discrimination against religious minorities continued. Child abuse, commercial sexual exploitation of children, discrimination against persons with disabilities, and worker rights remained concerns.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions did not meet international standards and were extremely poor, except for those cells of wealthy or influential prisoners. Overcrowding was widespread. According to SHARP, there were 90,000 prisoners occupying 87 jails originally built to hold a maximum of 36,075 persons. The number increased from the previous year because of an increase in the number of political prisoners held under the Maintenance of Public Order Act after President Musharraf declared an SOE on November 3, according to SHARP. Under the SOE, approximately 6,000 individuals were arrested and held in temporary detention for a few hours to a few weeks.
Inadequate food in prisons led to chronic malnutrition for those unable to supplement their diet with help from family or friends. Access to medical care was a problem. Foreign prisoners often remained in prison long after their sentences were completed because there was no one to pay for deportation to their home countries.
Police reportedly tortured and mistreated those in custody and at times engaged in extrajudicial killings. Christian and Ahmadi communities claimed their members were more likely to be abused. Non-Muslim prisoners generally were accorded poorer facilities than Muslim inmates. They often suffered violence at the hands of fellow inmates.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
Courts routinely failed to protect the rights of religious minorities. Judges were pressured to take strong action against any perceived offense to Sunni orthodoxy. Discrimination cases dealing with religious minorities were rarely brought before the judiciary.
Laws prohibiting blasphemy continued to be used against Christians, Ahmadis, and members of other religious groups including Muslims. Lower courts often did not require adequate evidence in blasphemy cases, which led to some accused and convicted persons spending years in jail before higher courts eventually overturned their convictions or ordered them freed.
Bail in blasphemy cases usually was denied by original trial courts, arguing that since defendants faced the death penalty, they were likely to flee. Many defendants appealed the denial of bail, but bail was often not granted in advance of the trial. Lower courts frequently were intimidated, delayed decisions, and refused bail for fear of reprisal from extremist elements.…
The constitution states that adequate provisions shall be made for minorities to profess and practice their religions freely; [**] however, the government limited freedom of religion in practice. Islam is the state religion, and the constitution requires that laws be consistent with Islam. According to the constitution, Shari’a can be applied to a situation that is deemed to be in contradiction to the Koran, and therefore citizens who are normally governed by secular law can be subject to these laws based on these loose criteria. Shari’a is applied in some tribal areas. All citizens were subject to certain provisions of Shari’a and the blasphemy laws. Reprisals and threats of reprisals against suspected converts from Islam occurred. Members of religious minorities were subject to violence and harassment, and police at times refused to prevent such actions or charge persons who committed them, leading to an atmosphere of impunity. The constitution stipulates that the president and the prime minister must be Muslim. The prime minister, federal ministers, and ministers of state, as well as elected members of the Senate and National Assembly (including non-Muslims), must take an oath to “strive to preserve the Islamic ideology,” the basis for the creation of Pakistan.
The law declares the Ahmadi community, which considers itself a Muslim sect, to be a non-Muslim minority. The law prohibits Ahmadis, who claimed approximately two million adherents, from engaging in any Muslim practices, including using Muslim greetings, referring to their places of worship as mosques, reciting Islamic prayers, and participating in the Hajj or Ramadan fast. Ahmadis were prohibited from proselytizing, holding gatherings, or distributing literature. Government forms, including passport applications and voter registration documents, require anyone wishing to be listed as a Muslim to denounce the founder of the Ahmadi faith. In 2005 the government reinstated the religion column for machine readable passports. The Ahmadi community claimed that between July 2006 and June 30, 28 Ahmadis faced criminal charges under religious laws or because of their faith.
The penal code calls for the death sentence or life imprisonment for anyone blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. The law also provides for life imprisonment for desecrating the Koran and up to 10 years in prison for insulting another’s religious beliefs with the intent to offend religious feelings. The latter was used only against those who allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad. Groups such as the Khateme Nabuwwat Movement, which considered anyone who questioned the finality of Prophet Muhammad to be a heretic, were known to insult Ahmadi beliefs; however, the law was not used against them.
On January 27, an Intelligence Bureau district officer ordered the arrest of five Ahmadis, including two minors ages eight and 11, after a teacher discovered the minors carrying an Ahmadi children’s magazine, Tashhizul Azhan, in their schoolbags. The case received wide press coverage and the charges were dropped; however, the case was refiled on February 3 against two adults. By year’s end no movement on the case had occurred.
On March 1, a retired police officer shot and killed a recent Ahmadi convert in a restaurant in Seerah, Mandi Bahauddin District. The retired officer later surrendered to police and admitted to the killing, claiming the act was justified under Islamic apostasy laws. The trial was ongoing at year’s end.
In late October journalist Abdul Dogar was released after agreeing that he would not “indulge in any religious activity against Islam.” Dogar was arrested in September 2006 on anti-Ahmadi provisions of the law, maintenance of public order, and the Anti-Terrorism Act.
In the case of human rights lawyer Parvez Aslam Chaudhry, a case was registered in Punjab against the unknown assailant, but no one was arrested. Chaudhry, a prominent human rights lawyer and chairman of the NGO Legal Aid for Destitute and Settlement, was attacked in January 2006 and beaten by extremists who tried to intimidate him because of his work defending blasphemy cases. Chaudhry continued to receive threats while contesting the case of Shahid Masih, who was charged with burning the Koran in Sangla Hills in September.
Complaints under the blasphemy laws were used in business or personal disputes to harass religious minorities or other Muslims. Most complaints were filed against the majority Sunni Muslim community. Most blasphemy cases ultimately were dismissed at the appellate level; however, the accused often remained in jail for years awaiting the court’s decision. Trial courts were reluctant to release on bail or acquit blasphemy defendants for fear of violence from religious extremist groups. In 2005 the president signed a bill into law revising the complaint process and requiring senior police officials to review such cases in an effort to eliminate spurious charges. However, according to human rights and religious freedom groups, this was not effective because senior police officers did not have the resources to review these cases. During the year the courts convicted two persons and acquitted two others under the blasphemy laws; 70 cases were ongoing.
…All religious minority groups experienced bureaucratic delays and requests for bribes when attempting to build houses of worship or obtain land. According to Jamaat-e-Ahmadiya, Islamabad, the government prevented Ahmadis from building houses of worship.
According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), two churches, three Ahmadi mosques, and one Hindu temple were burned, attacked, or destroyed in different parts of the country, with most occurring in Punjab. The NCJP reported that 51 Ahmadis and 98 Christians faced trials or were in prison on charges for desecrating the Koran.…
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Three suspects were on trial by year’s end under the Anti-Terrorist Act for the 2005 attack in Mongh, Mandi Bahauddin District, that killed eight Ahmadis and wounded 14. According to the Ahmadi community, judges feared for their lives if they accepted such cases.
Ahmadi leaders charged that militant Sunni mullahs and their followers sometimes staged 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 denounced Ahmadis and their founder, creating a situation that sometimes led to violence. The Ahmadis claimed that police generally were present during these marches but did not intervene to prevent violence.
The Ahmadi, Christian, Hindu, and Shi’a Muslim communities reported significant discrimination in employment and access to education, including at government institutions.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2007 International Religious Freedom Report.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The law provides for equality for all citizens and broadly prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, caste, residence, or place of birth; in practice, however, there was significant discrimination based on each of these factors.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
The Shi’a, Christian, Hindu, and Ahmadi communities faced discrimination and societal violence. The government removed religiously sensitive material on religious differences and on how to worship from new text books. Other religions can opt out of these readings and read the more generic “Book of Ethics.”