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U.S. Department of State
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 31, 1994.
There was no significant change in the human rights situation in 1993, with serious problems remaining in several areas. Government harassment of political opponents declined during the year, especially after the neutral caretaker government took power in July. However, repression against a Sindh-based political party continued. The arbitrary detention, arrest, torture, and other abuse of prisoners and detainees continued to be a serious problem, and there were no significant efforts to reform the police or judicial systems or to prosecute and punish those responsible for abuses. Religious zealots continued to discriminate against and persecute non-Muslims, basing their activities in part on discriminatory legislation against religious minorities. The Government did little to curb these activities. Sectarian riots between the Sunni and Shi'a communities were less intense, but religious and ethnic-based rivalries resulted in numerous murders and occasional civil disturbances. Traditional social and legal constraints kept women in a subordinate position in society, and significant restraints remained on workers' rights. The use of child and bonded labor remained widespread in spite of legislation to restrict these practices. [ Para 5 ]
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. Pakistanis are generally free to discuss and debate public policy issues. However, some laws restrict free speech, such as laws against bringing Islam or the armed forces into discredit or ridicule and the Shari'a bill signed by the President in 1991, which calls for promoting Islam through the mass media and the censoring of objectionable and obscene material. In addition, the Pakistan Penal Code mandates the death sentence for anyone convicted of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. Most of those accused of blasphemy are Ahmadis or Christians. Two persons have been convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Their cases are on appeal. (See Section 2.c.) [ Para 1 ]
c. Freedom of Religion
Pakistan is an Islamic republic with a population that is 97 percent Muslim. The Constitution requires all laws to be consistent with Islam. With notable exceptions (see below), members of minority groups may practice their own religion openly, maintain links with coreligionists in other countries, and travel for religious purposes. Conversions are permitted, but the Government prohibits proselytizing among Muslims.
Minority groups fear that the 1991 Shari'a law's goal of Islamizing all aspects of Pakistan's government and society may further restrict freedom to practice their religion. The religious legislation has encouraged an atmosphere of religious intolerance which has led to acts of violence directed at Ahmadis and Christians. For example, in 1993 a landlord from Sindh province bulldozed over 30 homes, a church, and a school, destroying a 30-year old Christian village, rather than wait for a civil court's order in a land dispute. No action had been taken against the landlord as of the year's end.
A 1974 constitutional amendment declared Ahmadis to be a non-Muslim minority because they do not accept Muhammad as the last prophet of Islam. (Note: See Ahmadiyya Belief). The Ahmadis, however, look on themselves as Muslims, for whom many Muslim practices are an important feature of their religion. In 1984 the Government inserted Section 298(c) into the Pakistan Penal Code which made it illegal for an Ahmadi to call himself a Muslim and banned Ahmadis from using Muslim terminology. The punishment is up to 3 years' imprisonment and a fine. Section 298(c) has been used since 1984 to harass Ahmadis. According to an Ahmadi rights organization, as of the end of 1992 at least 2,133 Ahmadis had criminal cases brought against them, most of which were still pending before the courts. New cases were brought during 1993.
Attacks on Ahmadi places of worship continued in 1993. On June 20 three youths attempted to set fire to an Ahmadi house of worship in Lahore while Ahmadi elders were praying there. The incident was reported to the police, but no action was taken.
In 1986 legislation was passed inserting Section 295(c) into the Pakistan Penal Code, making blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad a capital offense. The law was apparently aimed at Ahmadis but has been increasingly used against Christians and Muslims as well. In 1992 the Senate unanimously adopted a bill to amend the blasphemy law so that the death penalty is mandatory in cases of conviction for defiling the name of the prophet Muhammad, and in 1993 a bill was introduced to extend the law to include defiling the names of the Prophet Muhammad's family and companions. The latter bill, generally supported by anti-Shi'a groups as a means of persecuting the Shia's, had yet to be acted upon. According to a respected Pakistani human rights organization, since 1986, 107 Ahmadis have been charged with blasphemy under section 295(c) in at least 25 separate cases. As of the end of 1993, there had been no convictions. One case had been dropped, and two persons had been acquitted. At least four Ahmadis were charged with blasphemy in 1993.
Eight Christians have reportedly been charged with blasphemy. Two other Christians were stabbed to death by their accusers without formally being charged. Of those charged before 1993, Tahir Iqbal died under mysterious circumstances in jail in 1992 while awaiting trial, Gul Masih was convicted in 1992 and his appeal was still pending, and Sarwar Masih was still awaiting trial. One individual was acquitted in January but remains in fear for his life from local religious groups. Four of the eight were charged in 1993. In one case, three Christians were arrested in May and accused of writing blasphemous words on a mosque wall in violation of Section 295(c). One of those accused was Salamat Masih, a 13-year-old illiterate boy. Salamat was released on 50,000 rupees bail ($1,666) on November 8. At year's end, the two adults remain in prison. In another case, Anwar Yaqoob Masih was charged with blasphemy following an argument with a shopkeeper over 1 rupee (less than 4 cents) worth of candy. When the shopkeeper, who was a friend of Anwar Masih, refused to press charges, a local Muslim religious leader filed the charges instead.
The most prominent case of a Muslim charged with blasphemy is that of Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan, a noted social worker, who was charged with blasphemy in both Sindh and Punjab provinces. In 1992 charges were dropped in Sindh. However, the charges were not dropped in Punjab, and at the end of the year he remained subject to arrest in that province.
Three Muslims are known to have been charged with blasphemy in 1993. Mohammad Arshad Javed was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in February, despite being found insane by two government-appointed doctors. His case has been appealed to the Lahore High Court.
In late 1992, the Supreme Court issued a ruling favorable to the Ahmadis by granting bail to members of an Ahmadi family accused of using Islamic expressions on wedding invitations. In its ruling, the Court observed that use of Islamic expressions by Ahmadis does not create in a Muslim, or for that matter anyone else, any of the feelings of hurt, offence or provocation, nor is it derogatory to the holy Prophet Muhammad.
In 1993, however, the Supreme Court ruled against the Ahmadis in a major case regarding the constitutionality of Section 298(c). Rejecting the argument that it violated the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution, the Court upheld the law. The judge writing for the majority found that Islamic phrases are in essence a copyrighted trademark of the Islamic religion. Therefore, use of the Islamic epithets by Ahmadis was equivalent to copyright infringement and violated the Trademark Act of 1940. The majority also found that use of certain Islamic phrases was equivalent to blasphemy. Ahmadis and some human rights monitors fear the Supreme Court judgment upholding the law will lead to more cases being brought against Ahmadis and possibly more rapid convictions.
Pakistani passports carry a designation of religion which the Ahmadis find especially vexing. Ahmadis are classified as non-Muslims on their passports, leading Saudi authorities to prevent them from performing the religious pilgrimage, the hajj. Despite having issued an order in 1992 requiring that a similar designation be included on the national identity card, the Government did not submit implementing legislation in 1993. Although the order has not been formally withdrawn, widespread protests in 1992 appeared to have persuaded the Government to abandon the proposal, which is a longstanding demand of fundamentalist religious parties.
The Constitution requires that the President and Prime Minister be Muslims. Members of minority religious groups are not permitted to vote in Muslim constituencies. They must cast their ballots in countrywide, at-large constituencies reserved for them in the national and provincial assemblies, an arrangement that has been widely criticized. Many Ahmadis, disputing their designation as non-Muslims, have refused to exercise this option. Minorities, especially Christians and Hindus, complain that this system of separate electorates has marginalized their voting power, allowing the local Muslim candidates to ignore them as a voting block. As a result, minority areas receive significantly less development funds and other government assistance. [ Para 7 ].
There is much discrimination against religious minority groups in employment and education, and several International Labor Organization bodies expressed concern in 1993 that Pakistani laws facilitate discrimination in employment based on religion. In Pakistan's early years, minorities were able to rise to the senior ranks of the military and civil service. Today, many are unable to rise above mid-level ranks. Because of the lack of educational opportunities for some religious minority groups, discrimination in employment is believed to be increasingly prevalent. Christians, in particular, have difficulty finding jobs above those of menial labor.
Officially designated as non-Muslims, Ahmadis in particular suffer from harassment and discrimination and have limited chances for advancement in the public sector. Young Ahmadis and their parents complain of increasing difficulty in gaining admittance to good colleges, forcing many children to go overseas for higher education. They complain that charges are often filed against them for the purpose of harassment or extortion and that the police will not accept their complaints when they and their property are attacked; few cases ever come to trial. Among religious minorities, there is a belief that the authorities, even if they do not prosecute them, afford them less protection under the law than is afforded Muslim citizens. There were several incidents in 1993 in which Ahmadis were physically assaulted by both police and civilians.
Many Christians continue to express the fear of forced marriage of Christian women to Muslims, although some human rights monitors believe the practice is relatively rare. Many Christians also believe they are subject to harassment by the authorities. They cite difficulty in obtaining permission to build churches and the blasphemy laws as primary examples.