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U.S. Department of State
Pakistan Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, - February 26, 1999.
The Government imposes limits on freedom of assembly, movement, and--for the Ahmadis in particular -- of religion. [ Para 4 ]
Political groups, including rival Sunni and Shi'a sectarian extremists, various factions of the Muttheda Quami Movement (MQM), and MQM opponents, were responsible for killings, while religious extremists continued to discriminate against and persecute religious minorities, particularly Ahmadis and Christians, justifying their activities in part on legislation that discriminates against non-Muslims. Despite government imposed procedural changes that made the registration of blasphemy charges more difficult, at least two more Christians were charged with blasphemy and remain in prison in Punjab. A Shi'a Muslim and a Christian both were convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death, although to date such sentences have never been carried out. A Roman Catholic Bishop committed suicide, apparently to protest the Christian's sentencing. The suicide was followed by communal disturbances in Punjab. Another Christian was convicted of blasphemy on a lesser charge and released for time served (4¸ years). Three Ahmadis sentenced in 1997 to life in prison for blasphemy remained incarcerated. Religious and ethnic-based rivalries resulted in numerous murders and civil disturbances. [ Para 5 ]
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Penal Code mandates the death sentence for anyone defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed, life imprisonment for desecrating the Koran, and up to 10 years in prison for insulting another's religious beliefs (i.e., any religion, not just Islam) with intent to outrage religious feelings (see Section 2.c.). The effectively suspended Anti-Terrorist Act stipulates imprisonment with rigorous labor for up to 7 years for using abusive or insulting words, or possessing or distributing written or recorded material, with intent to stir up sectarian hatred. No warrant is required to seize such material. On January 19, the editor of the Urdu daily Pakistan and several other journalists from that paper were arrested and held briefly for publishing a routine passage from a serialization of a popular account of the life of the Prophet Mohammed. The work quoted an incident in which the Prophet's son-in-law, Ali, who is revered by members of the Shi'a sect, reportedly drank alcohol before the revelation of its prohibition. Any concerns that publication of this item would enrage the Shi'a were proved groundless. After a published apology, authorities released the editor and journalists. [ Para 3 ]
c. Freedom of Religion
Pakistan is an Islamic republic in which 96 percent of the population is Muslim, and the Government imposes limits on freedom of religion. While the majority belong to the Sunni sect, some 20 to 25 percent of the population is Shi'a. The Constitution requires that laws be consistent with Islam and imposes some elements of Koranic law on both Muslims and religious minorities. While there is no law establishing the Koranic death penalty for apostates (those who convert from Islam), social pressure against such an action is so powerful that most such conversions take place in secret. Reprisals and threats of reprisals against suspected converts are common. For example, according to the HRCP, Muhammad Akram was threatened with death by an influential local religious organization after he joined the Ahmadiyya community, whose members are regarded as non-Muslims under the Constitution. The threat was published on the organization's own letterhead, but no legal action was taken against the group. [ Para 1 ]
Minority religious groups fear that the explicit constitutional imposition of Shari'a (Islamic law) favored by the Prime Minister in his proposed 15th amendment and his goal of Islamizing government and society may further restrict the freedom to practice non-Islamic religions. The Government counters that the proposed amendment contains specific language protecting the rights of minorities. Discriminatory religious legislation has encouraged an atmosphere of religious intolerance, which has led to acts of violence directed against minority Muslim sects, as well as against Christians, Hindus, and members of Muslim offshoot sects such as Ahmadis and Zikris (see Section 5). [ Para 3 ]
The Ahmadis are subject to specific restrictions under 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 regard themselves as Muslims and observe Islamic practices (Note : See Ahmadiyya Belief). In 1984 the Government inserted Section 298(c) into the Penal Code, prohibiting Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslim and banning them from using Islamic words, phrases, and greetings. The constitutionality of this Section 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 harass and to persecute Ahmadis (see Section 5). Ahmadis continue to suffer from a variety of restrictions of religious freedom and widespread societal discrimination, including violation of their places of worship, being barred from burial in Muslim graveyards, denial of freedom of faith, speech, and assembly, and restrictions on their press. Several Ahmadi mosques remained closed. Waheed Ahmed, an Ahmadi living in Golarchi, Sindh province, was arrested on March 14, beaten by police, and sentenced on April 21 to 10 years' imprisonment by an antiterrorist court for allegedly misrepresenting the religion of Laiq Punhor on his census form. Punhor was fearful of admitting on his form that he was an Ahmadi and asked Waheed for advice. When authorities confronted Punhor, he denied that he was an Ahmadi and implicated Waheed in the false census entry. Tabloid-style Urdu newspapers also frequently whip up popular emotions against Ahmadis by running conspiracy stories. On June 20 at Swat, in the Northwest Frontier Province, local police and ruling party officials raided the home of an Ahmadi scholar and local leader of the Ahmadi community. They seized all of his religious literature, claiming that he was running a center of proselytization. The scholar was not at home, but his son was arrested. The raid appeared to have been instigated by a June 18 story in the Urdu daily newspaper Ausaf alleging the existence of an Ahmadi preaching headquarters in Swat. [ Para 7 ]
Ahmadi sources also reported that on June 4 the district magistrate of Loralai, Baluchistan, summarily expelled three Ahmadis from the district on charges of preaching. [ Para 8 ]
Section 295(a), the blasphemy provision of the Penal Code, originally stipulated a maximum 2-year sentence for insulting the religion of any class of citizens. This sentence was increased to 10 years in 1991. 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 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 struck down the option of life imprisonment. These laws, especially Section 295(c), have been used by rivals and authorities to threaten, punish, or intimidate Ahmadis, Christians, and even orthodox Muslims. No one has been executed by the State under any of these provisions, although religious extremists have killed some persons accused under them. Since 1996 magistrates have been required to investigate allegations of blasphemy to see whether they are credible before filing formal charges. On September 8, a Shi'a Muslim, Ghulam Akbar, was convicted of blasphemy in Rahimyar Khan, Punjab, for allegedly making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed in 1995. He was sentenced to death, the first time a Muslim had been sentenced to death for a violation of the blasphemy law. Akbar had been free on bail prior to this sudden and unexpected conviction. [ Para 9 ]
Three Ahmadis were convicted of blasphemy in December 1997. Abdul Qadeer, Muhammad Shahbaz, and Ishfaq Ahmad were found guilty of violating Section 295(c) and sentenced to life imprisonment and $1,250 (PRs 50,000) fines. Lawyers for the men have appealed the decision to the Lahore High Court, whose ruling had not been issued by year's end. The Lahore High Court has turned down an application for bail while this appeal is under consideration. Their request for bail has been taken to the Supreme Court, which has not yet given a date for a bail hearing. In the meantime, the men are serving their sentences in the Sheikhupura jail. A number of other persons are in jails awaiting trial on blasphemy charges. A Muslim religious scholar, Muhammad Yusuf Ali, was charged under Sections 295(a) and (c) and has been jailed in a class C cell since March, 1997. Due to threats by religious extremists, his wife had to resign from her job as a professor and go into hiding with their children. According to Ahmadi activists, 44 Ahmadis were charged with violating blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws during 1998. Ahmadi leaders state that 145 Ahmadis were awaiting trial on blasphemy charges under section 295(c), as of September 30. [ Para 10 ]
The case of Anwar Masih, who has been jailed since December 1993, was settled with his conviction on a lesser blasphemy count under Section 295(a). Conviction under this section does not require the death sentence, and he was released for time served on April 24. Ayub Masih (detained since October 1996), was convicted of blasphemy under Section 295(c)for making favorable comments about author Salman Rushdie and was sentenced to death on April 27. Ayub's family and 13 other landless Christian families were forced from his village in 1996 following the charges. Although the case was pending appeal before the Lahore High Court, Ayub's principal defender, Faisalabad Roman Catholic Bishop and human rights activist John Joseph, committed suicide on May 6 with a handgun outside the Sahiwal court where Ayub had been convicted, to protest the conviction. The High Court appeal still was pending at year's end. Bishop Joseph's remains were taken to his hometown for burial, but a congregation of thousands of Christians prevailed upon the family to allow burial at the Faisalabad Cathedral. The day of his funeral, May 10, was marked by violence, as angry Christians confronted police. Mobs of Muslim extremists moved to attack Christian property, and they, in turn, were repelled by police. Another Christian, Ranjha Masih, was arrested as a mob was beating him for allegedly throwing stones at an Islamic sign. He, too, was charged with blasphemy, and remains in Faisalabad prison. After the Faisalabad authorities quelled Muslim extremist mobs on May 11, the violence spread to Lahore, where on May 15, a Christian demonstration marred by vandalism was dispersed by police using excessive force. Hundreds were arrested and scores injured by the police (see Section 2.b.). However, the police prevented retaliatory attacks on Christians by those whose property had been destroyed by demonstrators, and, within several days, nearly all of those arrested were released. The provincial government issued orders to civil administrators to keep the peace and block registration of frivolous blasphemy charges. [ Para 11 ]
Nevertheless, Shafiq Masih, another Faisalabad Christian, was charged with blasphemy on May 31, following a dispute with a neighbor. In Faisalabad a crowd of over 1,000 persons soon converged on Shafiq's home and were prepared to lynch him when the police intervened. Despite instructions to investigate thoroughly any charges before registering a case, the local police chief charged Shafiq with blasphemy to calm the sentiments of the mob. Another Christian, Nazir Masih, was charged under Sections 298 and 298(a) for allegedly insulting the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed and was arrested on August 11 at Patoki. These charges do not carry the death penalty. He is being held at the central jail in Sahiwal. [ Para 12 ]
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. 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. Many judges also seek to pass the cases to other jurists. Prior to his killing in 1997, 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, received several death threats from Islamic extremist groups. Bhatti's killer, presumed to be a religious extremist, has not been arrested; there were unconfirmed reports that the killer himself may have been killed in a staged encounter with the police. [ Para 14 ]
The Constitution provides for equality before the law for all citizens and broadly prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, caste, residence, or place of birth. In practice, however, there is significant discrimination based on these factors.
Ahmadis are often targets of religious intolerance, much of it instigated by organized religious extremists. For example, in a July 11 sermon at a rally in Lahore, the head of the influential Tanzeem Islami organization, Israr Ahmed, stated that the Government and Muslims have a right to commit a general massacre of the Ahmadis, since they are heretics. 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 mobs of 100 to 200 persons, the mullahs purportedly stride down the streets uttering diatribes against the Ahmadis and their founder, a situation that often leads to violence. Police are generally on hand during these marches, the Ahmadis claim, but as a rule do not intervene to prevent trouble. A number of Ahmadis were seriously injured in attacks by religious extremists, and Ahmadi leaders attribute several killings of Ahmadis during the year to anti-Ahmadi extremists. Mohammad Ayub Azam was shot on July 7 in Wah, Punjab. Before he died in the hospital an hour later, he reported that the killers asked if he was an Ahmadi before shooting him. On August 4, Malik Naseer, age 85, a retired police inspector, was killed in Vehari on his way to attend religious services. He was the leader of the Ahmadi community in Vehari, and Ahmadis believe he was killed for that reason.
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. Ahmadi students in public schools are subject to abuse by their non-Ahmadi classmates, and the quality of teachers assigned to predominantly Ahmadi schools by the Government is poor. However, most Ahmadis are home-schooled or go to private Ahmadi-run schools. Young Ahmadis and their parents also complain of difficulty in gaining admittance to good colleges, forcing many children to go abroad for higher education. Certain sections of the Penal Code also have caused problems for the group (see Section 2.c.), particularly the provision that forbids Ahmadis from directly or indirectly posing as Muslims. Armed with this vague wording, mullahs have brought charges against Ahmadis for using the standard Muslim greeting form and naming their children Mohammed.