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c. Freedom of Religion
Pakistan is an Islamic republic in which 96 percent of the people are Muslim. The Constitution requires that laws be consistent with Islam. The Government permits Muslims to convert to other faiths but prohibits proselytizing among Muslims. Islamiyyat (Islamic studies) is compulsory for all Muslim students in state-run schools. Students of other faiths are not required to study Islam but are not provided with parallel studies in their own religion. In practice, however, many non-Muslim students are compelled by teachers to complete the Islamiyyat studies.
Minority religious groups fear that the Shari'a Law and its goal of Islamizing the Government and society may further restrict the freedom to practice their religions. Discriminatory religious legislation has encouraged an atmosphere of religious intolerance, which has led to acts of violence directed at Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and Zikris.
A 1974 constitutional amendment declared Ahmadis to be a non-Muslim minority because they do not accept Mohammed as the last prophet of Islam. (Note : See Ahmadiyya Beliefs). However, Ahmadis regard themselves as Muslims and observe many Islamic practices. In 1984 the Government inserted Section 298(c) into the Penal Code (PC), 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 that time, the Government has used this provision to harass Ahmadis.
In 1986 the Government inserted Section 295(c) into the Penal Code, which stipulates the death penalty for blaspheming the Prophet Mohammad. This has been used by litigants to threaten and intimidate Ahmadis, Christians, and even Muslims in the past. According to the HRCP, the Government's unofficial changes to the procedures for filing formal blasphemy charges, made in 1995, have been followed by a significant drop in the number of blasphemy charges. According to the HRCP, one FIR was registered against a Christian, Ayub Masih, under section 295(c) in 1996. No such charge was brought against a Muslim this year. However, three cases were filed under this section against Ahmadis. Under the new procedures, magistrates are now required to investigate allegations of blasphemy to see whether they are credible before filing formal charges.
In October in one well-publicized case, 14 (some say 19) Christian families fled the Punjab village Number 35 Eb Arfiwala following the arrest of one of their community for alleged blasphemy. The families allegedly feared attack by Muslim neighbors angered over the alleged incident. By December the families had not returned to their homes in the village.
The police at times refuse to prevent harassment and violence against Ahmadis or to prosecute those who commit such acts. In January a group of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat Youth Force (Finality of Prophethood Youth Force) accompanied by police attacked the house of an Ahmadi in Abbottabad, NWFP, where Ahmadis were offering their Friday prayer. (Use of the house was necessary because activists of this militant organization had earlier demolished the Ahmadi mosque.) The mob dragged the Ahmadis out of the building and beat them in the presence of the police. The police refused to register a case against the attackers. An Urdu daily added to the tension by reporting that Ahmadis had attacked the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat Vice President, which resulted in threats to Ahmadis living across the district. Under pressure by the mullahs, the district administration sealed the Ahmadi house that had been used as a place of worship, and charged seven Ahmadis under Section 298(c) of the PC.
In April an Ahmadi, Abdul Khaliq, was arrested in Faisalabad under Section 188 of the PC for tearing an anti-Ahmadi poster printed and displayed by local mullahs. He was later released on bail by the court. The outraged mullahs exploited the situation by holding public meetings. The authorities arrested 22 Ahmadis and 12 mullahs who were later released. The mullahs, however, succeeded in getting an elderly Ahmadi, Mohammad Iqbal, arrested under section 298(c).
In March two Ahmadi women were attacked in Karachi for reportedly using a piece of cloth with Koranic inscriptions. Both were seriously injured. Under pressure from the militant Sunni organization, Sunni Tehrik, police registered a case against the women under section 295(a) and 295(c) of the PPC. The sessions court released the women on bail, finding that the piece of cloth had no script on it.
In December demonstrations broke out in Karachi against the appointment of an Ahmadi to the caretaker Sindh government.
According to a press report, in January there were 658 cases under blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws pending in different courts across the country. Reportedly, 2,467 individuals either are on bail or in jail under blasphemy charges, awaiting a decision on their cases.
When such religious cases are brought to court, extremists often pack the courtroom and make public threats about the consequences of an acquittal. As a result, judges and magistrates, seeking to avoid a confrontation with the extremists, often continue trials indefinitely, and the accused is burdened with further legal costs and repeated court appearances. Lahore High Court Justice Arif Iqbal Hussain Bhatti, one of the two judges who in 1995 ruled to acquit accused Christian blasphemers Salamat and Rehmat Masih has received several death threats.
In May the Peshawar High Court acquitted on appeal two Shi'a Afghans condemned to death in January 1995 for blasphemy. The Afghans had been convicted of violating Penal Code Section 295(c) prohibiting the use of representations of the Prophet Mohammad after they allegedly attempted to have 10,000 copies made of a "photo print" of the Prophet. The High Court concluded that the prosecution had failed to substantiate the blasphemy charges.
In September, 20 persons were killed in an attack by gunmen on a Sunni mosque in the Punjab city of Multan.
A Sunni Muslim shopkeeper stabbed and seriously wounded an Ahmadi teacher in Khushab. According to Ahmadi sources, the attack was instigated by the anti-Ahmadi speech of a local mullah. A case could not be registered against the culprit because the hospital refused to issue a report of attempted murder.
In May about 300 religious extremists demolished an Ahmadi place of worship in Dulmial. When the district administration barred them from occupying the mosque, furious mullahs forced Ahmadi shopkeepers to evacuate properties owned by non-Ahmadis, boycotted businesses owned by Ahmadis, forced parents to withdraw their children from a school owned by an Ahmadi, and filed false cases against several Ahmadis.
Human rights activist and lawyer Asma Jehangir, who represents minorities in cases involving religious persecution, remained the target of religious extremists' criticism. She is accused by extremists of being "an infidel" and "a foreign agent." Following an attack on her family last year, widely assumed to have been carried out by religious extremists, Jehangir now is accompanied by an armed guard.
In April the district Sessions Court of Lahore acquitted three persons accused of murdering an alleged Christian blasphemer, Manzoor Masih. Masih was killed allegedly by religious extremists in April 1994. The court refused to accept written evidence of two eyewitnesses, Salamat and Rehmat Masih (accused along with the deceased in the 1995 blasphemy case) who fled to Germany following their acquittal.
Due largely to the efforts of the Milli Yakjehti Council (MYC - Alliance of Religious/Sectarian Groups to Develop Tolerance and Harmony) and strict measures taken by the Punjab government, in 1996 there were no bombings or attacks on Shi'a or Sunni places of worship. However, tension between the Sunni extremist organization Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), and the Shi'a organizations Tehrik-i-Jafria Pakistan (TJP) and Sipah-i-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) erupted in mid-year with a rash of sectarian-motivated killings. Those murdered included the Commissioner of Sargodha division, an excise and taxation officer, a renowned poet, and the spokesman of the extremist Shi'a organization SMP. Government officials have publicly blamed the SSP and the SMP for these murders.
According to a press report, from January 1 to August 19, 52 people were killed and 100 injured in 53 sectarian-motivated incidents across the country. In 2 weeks of August alone, 25 people were killed. On August 14, 11 people were killed when an Independence Day rally in Karachi, organized by the Sunni militant organization SSP, was attacked by unknown gunmen. Also in August, armed persons fired on a Shi'a religious gathering in Vehari district, killing 14 persons.
Religious minority groups also experience considerable discrimination in employment and education; the 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. There are also restrictions on testimony in court by non-Muslims (see Section 1.e. [A non-Muslim, for example, may not testify against a Muslim but may testify against another non-Muslim.]).
Christians in particular have difficulty finding jobs other than those of menial labor. Many Christians continue to express the fear of forced marriages between Muslim males and Christian women, although the practice is relatively rare. Christians are among the least educated citizens. According to one Christian rights advocate, only 8 percent of Christian males and 6 percent of Christian females are literate.
Ahmadis suffer from harassment (see Section 2.c.) and discrimination and have limited chances for advancement into 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. Young Ahmadis and their parents complain of increasing difficulty in gaining admittance to good colleges, forcing many children to go abroad for higher education.
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