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U.S. Department of State
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February, 1995.
Although the Government made strong public commitments to address human rights concerns, particularly those involving women, child labor, and minority religions, most human rights abuses are rooted deeply in the social fabric. At year's end, these efforts had not resulted in a significant change in the overall human rights situation. Serious problems continue in many areas. Government forces continued to use arbitrary arrest and detention, and have tortured or otherwise abused prisoners and detainees. [ Para 4 ]
Islamic religious zealots continued to discriminate against and persecute religious minorities, basing their activities in part on discriminatory legislation against those religious minorities. The Government proposed changes in the enforcement of the so-called blasphemy law to limit its abuse, but no changes were enacted and abuse continued. However, in November the Lahore High Court overturned the 1992 blasphemy conviction of a Christian, Gul Masih. [ Para 5 ]
c. Freedom of Religion
Pakistan is an Islamic republic in which 97 percent of the people are Muslim. The Constitution requires that laws must be consistent with Islam. The Government permits Muslims to convert to other faiths but prohibits proselytizing among Muslims.
Minority groups fear that the Shari'a Law and its goal of Islamizing government and society may further restrict the freedom to practice their religion. Many reportedly live in terror because the religious legislation has encouraged an atmosphere of religious intolerance which has led to acts of violence directed at Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Zikris, and others. Several incidents in 1994 heightened the sense of insecurity and fear among the religious minorities.
In April men riding a motorcycle shot and killed Manzoor Masih, a Christian, as he departed a courthouse in Lahore where he was being tried for blasphemy. The authorities had arrested Masih and two other Christians, including a 13 year old boy, in 1993 for allegedly writing blasphemous remarks about the Prophet Muhammad on a wall -- even though two of the three were illiterate. Two other persons with Manzoor were injured in the attack. The police arrested three suspects, among them the complainants who brought the blasphemy case against Masih. At year's end, the suspects were free on bail. While government officials condemned the incident, Christian leaders and human rights groups maintain that the Government reacted weakly and has done little to discourage extremists or offer increased protection to religious minorities. In at least two other instances, the inhabitants of two villages of Christians, including Masih's village, were forced to move after receiving threats from Muslim extremists.
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). However, Ahmadis regard themselves as Muslims and observe many Islamic practices. In 1984 the Government inserted Section 298(c) into the Penal Code which prohibited an Ahmadi from calling himself a Muslim and banned Ahmadis from using Islamic terminology. The punishment is up to 3 years' imprisonment and a fine. Since 1984, the Government has used Section 298(c) to harass Ahmadis.
In 1993 the Supreme Court ruled against the Ahmadis in a case on the constitutionality of Section 298(c). The Court upheld that section of the law, rejecting the argument that it violated the right of freedom of speech and religion. The judge writing for the majority found that Islamic phrases are in essence a copyrighted trademark of the Islamic religion. He reasoned that the use of Islamic phrases by Ahmadis was equivalent to copyright infringement and violated the Trademark Act of 1940. The majority also found that the use of certain Islamic phrases by Ahmadis was equivalent to blasphemy.
The judgment has emboldened anti-Ahmadi groups and resulted in more court cases against Ahmadis. In 1994 the Government promised that it would defend Section 298(c) from an appeal on other grounds. In the first 9 months of 1994, 17 cases under Section 298(c) were filed against Ahmadis resulting in 1 conviction. Rashood Ahmad of Sangahr was sentenced to 2 years in prison and fined $166 for displaying a verse from the Koran on his wall.
In January the authorities arrested five journalists, including the septuagenarian editor of Al Fazal, the Ahmadi daily, under Section 298(c). The arrests were made because of general complaints that the writers in Al Fazal had propagated their faith and passed themselves off as Muslims, thus injuring the feelings of Muslims. The five were released on bail on March 7. At year's end, their case was pending in the courts.
In another incident, the Rawalpindi Development Authority demolished an Ahmadi center in Rawalpindi on September 15. The Government claimed that the land was illegally converted to a place of worship --despite the fact that the land had been used for worship for 40 years. On the building plans submitted to the city, the Ahmadi community did not describe the building on the land as a mosque, because that would have violated Section 298(c). In other incidents, several prominent Ahmadis, including a university professor, were killed during the year in what some regard as sectarian murders. Investigations of the cases are continuing.
The Government classifies Ahmadis as non-Muslims on their passports. This has led the authorities in Saudi Arabia to prevent Ahmadis from performing the religious pilgrimage to Mecca. In 1992 the Government ordered national identity cards to convey the bearer's religion, but so far the Government has not submitted implementing legislation.
In 1986 the Government inserted Section 295(c) into the Penal Code which stipulates the death penalty for blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. This provision has been used by litigants against Ahmadis, Christians, and even Muslims. In 1992 the Senate unanimously adopted a bill to amend the Blasphemy Law so that the death penalty is mandatory upon conviction.
According to Ahmadi sources, 5 blasphemy cases, involving 15 persons, were registered against Ahmadis in the first 9 months of 1994. Since 1986 over 100 blasphemy cases have been registered against Ahmadis with no convictions. In the same period, at least nine blasphemy cases have been brought against Christians and seven against Muslims.
Two persons were convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death: Mohammad Arshad Javaid of Bahawalpur, a 37-year-old Muslim who is reportedly mentally unsound and remains in prison, and Gul Masih, a Christian of Sargodha. However, Gul Masih was acquitted of blasphemy by the Lahore High Court on November 27 and released from prison.
The Blasphemy Law has also been used to justify extrajudicial killings. In Gujranwala, Punjab, a mob lynched a Muslim in April in front of the police station after falsely accusing him of burning a copy of the Koran. In May a judge sentenced a Muslim accused of killing a Christian school teacher to 14 years in prison. Nevertheless, some observers criticized the ruling because the judge took into account the defendant's claim that he committed the offense because the teacher had blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad. The judge reportedly stated that blaspheming the Prophet would be conducive to a total loss of control by every Muslim.
When such religious cases are brought to court, extremists often pack the courtroom and make public threats against an acquittal. As a result, judges and magistrates often continue trials indefinitely, and the accused is burdened with further legal costs and repeated court appearances.
A Sunni Muslim group, the Anjuman Sipah-i-Sahaba, unsuccessfully sought to introduce legislation in 1994 that would have declared the Zikri sect in Balochistan as a non-Muslim sect. There were also continued reports in the year of attacks by extremists on Hindus.
The security of religious minorities was a major issue of discussion in the Government and the press in 1994. The Government promised to introduce measures to reduce the abusive litigation under the blasphemy laws, but defended the laws themselves. At year's end, the Government had not taken any remedial action.
In addition to the violence and harassment noted in previous sections of this report, religious minority groups experience much discrimination in employment and education; 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 midlevel 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. Ahmadis find that they are prevented from entering management levels in government service. Even the rumor that someone may be an Ahmadi or have Ahmadi relatives can stifle opportunities for employment or promotion.
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. Among religious minorities, there is a well-founded belief that the authorities afford them less legal protection than they afford Muslim citizens.
Many Christians continue to express the fear of forced marriages between Muslim males and Christian women, although the practice is relatively rare. Christians are also subject to harassment by the authorities, notably including the blasphemy laws and difficulty in obtaining permission to build churches.