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Home U.S. Department of State Annual Report (IRF) 2001
Int'l Religious Freedom Report - 2001

Excerpts from
U.S. Department of State
2001 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom: Pakistan
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, October 26, 2001

The Constitution (which was suspended following the October 1999 coup) provides for freedom of religion, and states that adequate provisions shall be made for minorities to profess and practice their religions freely; however, the Government imposes limits on freedom of religion. Pakistan is an Islamic republic; Islam is the state religion. Islam also is a core element of the country's national ideology; the country was created to be a homeland for Muslims. Religious freedom is “subject to law, public order, and morality;” accordingly, actions or speech deemed derogatory to Islam or to its Prophet, for example, are not protected. In addition, the suspended Constitution requires that laws be consistent with Islam and imposes some elements of Koranic law on both Muslims and religious minorities. [1]

There were no significant changes in the Government's treatment of religious minorities during the period covered by this report. The Government fails in many respects to protect the rights of minorities. This is due both to public policy and to the Government's unwillingness to take action against societal forces hostile to those that practice a different faith. Specific government policies that discriminate against religious minorities include: The use of the ‘Hudood’ Ordinances, which apply different standards of evidence to Muslims and non-Muslims and to men and women for alleged violations of Islamic law; specific legal prohibitions against Ahmadis practicing their religion; and separate political electorates for minorities under the suspended Constitution. The number of cases filed under the “blasphemy laws” increased during the period covered by this report. A Christian nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported that 58 cases were registered during the period covered by this report, compared to 53 cases during the same period in 1999-2000. The Government of Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf, which took power in a military coup on October 12, 1999, reportedly made efforts to seek minority input into decision-making and offered cabinet positions to individuals from minority communities; however, such efforts tapered off during the period covered by this report. [2]

Relations between different religious groups frequently are tense, and the number of deaths attributed to sectarian violence increased during the period covered by this report. Discriminatory religious legislation adds to an atmosphere of religious intolerance, which contributes to acts of violence directed against Muslim groups, as well as against Christians, Hindus, and members of Muslim offshoot groups, such as Ahmadis and Zikris. The Government does not encourage sectarian violence; however, there were instances in which the Government failed to intervene in cases of societal violence directed at minority religious groups. The lack of an adequate government response contributed to an atmosphere of impunity for acts of violence and intimidation committed against religious minorities. Parties and groups with religious affiliations target minority groups. [3]

Section I. Religious Demography

Religious minority groups believe that they are underrepresented in government census counts. Official and private estimates of their numbers can differ significantly. Current population estimates place the number of Christians at 3 million and the number of Ahmadis at 3 to 4 million. Current estimates for the remaining communities are less contested and place the total number of Hindus at 2.8 million; Parsis (Zoroastrians), Buddhists, and Sikhs at as high as 20,000 each; and Baha'is at 30,000. The “other” category also includes a few tribes whose members practice traditional indigenous religions and who normally do not declare themselves to be adherents of a specific religion, and those who do not wish to practice any religion but remain silent about the fact. [6]

Social pressure is such that few persons would admit to being unaffiliated with any religion. [17]

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The blasphemy laws refer to Sections 295, 296, 297, and 298 of the Penal Code and address offenses relating to religion. Section 295(a), a colonial-era provision, originally stipulated a maximum 2-year sentence for insulting the religion of any class of citizens. In 1991 this sentence was increased to 10 years. 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 during the martial law period, 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 ruled invalid the option of life imprisonment for this offense. Section 296 outlaws voluntary disturbances of religious assemblies and Section 297 outlaws trespassing on burial grounds. Section 298(a), another colonial-era provision, forbids the use of derogatory remarks about holy personages. Personal rivals and the authorities have used these blasphemy laws, especially Section 295(c), to threaten, punish, or intimidate Ahmadis, Christians, and even orthodox Muslims. No person has been executed by the State under any of these provisions; however, some persons have been sentenced to death, and religious extremists have killed persons accused under the provisions. The blasphemy laws also have been used to “settle scores” unrelated to religious activity, such as intrafamily or property disputes. [25]

Due to increasing local and international pressure to repeal or modify the blasphemy laws, General Musharraf announced a proposal in April 2000 to modify the administration of the laws so that complainants would have to register new blasphemy cases with the local deputy commissioners instead of with police officials. The goal of the proposed change was to reduce the number of persons who are accused wrongly under the laws; however, many religious minority representatives stated that this suggested administrative change would have done little to protect members of their communities from being charged under the blasphemy laws. Other observers believed that the changes could have led to a reduction in the overall number of cases filed under the blasphemy laws. Religious and sectarian groups mounted large-scale protests against the proposed change and some religious leaders stated that if the laws were changed, even just procedurally, persons would be justified in killing blasphemers themselves. In May 2000, in response to increasing pressure and threats, Musharraf abandoned his proposed reforms to the blasphemy laws. In July 2000, the Government incorporated the Islamic provisions of the suspended Constitution into the Provisional Constitutional Order, including the clause declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. [26]

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, low level judges and magistrates, seeking to avoid a confrontation with, or violence from extremists, often continue trials indefinitely. As a result, those accused of blasphemy often face lengthy time in jail and are burdened with further legal costs and repeated court appearances. [27]

Ahmadis charge that they suffer from restrictions on their press. Christian scriptures and books are available in Karachi and in traveling bookmobiles. However, in recent years, the owner of a Christian bookshop in Karachi has reported frequent questioning by local Muslim religious leaders and occasional questioning by the police. Such questioning may lead to self-censorship among Christians. Hindu and Parsi scriptures are freely available. Foreign books and magazines may be imported freely, but are subject to censorship for objectionable religious content. [29]

The Government does not ban formally the public practice of the Ahmadi religion, but the practice of the Ahmadi faith is restricted severely by 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 consider themselves to be Muslims and observe Islamic practices. In 1984 the Government added Section 298(c) into the Penal Code, prohibiting Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslim or posing as Muslims; from referring to their faith as Islam; from preaching or propagating their faith; from inviting others to accept the Ahmadi faith; and from insulting the religious feelings of Muslims. This section of the Penal Code has caused problems for Ahmadis, particularly the provision that forbids them from “directly or indirectly” posing as Muslims. This vague wording has enabled mainstream Muslim religious leaders to bring charges against Ahmadis for using the standard Muslim greeting form and for naming their children Mohammed. The constitutionality of Section 286(c) 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 target and harass Ahmadis. Ahmadis also are prohibited from holding any conferences or gatherings. [30]

Missionaries are allowed to operate in the country, and proselytizing (except by Ahmadis) is allowed as long as there is no preaching against Islam and the missionaries acknowledge that they are not Muslim. ....[36]

The Government designates religion on citizens' passports. In order to obtain a passport, citizens must declare whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim; Muslims also must affirm that they accept the unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Mohammed, declare that Ahmadis are non-Muslims, and specifically denounce the founder of the Ahmadi movement. [39]

The suspended Constitution specifically prohibits discriminatory admission to any governmental educational institution solely on the basis of religion. Government officials state that the only factors affecting admission to governmental educational institutions are students' grades and home provinces. However, students must declare their religion on their application forms. Muslim students must declare in writing that they believe in the unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Mohammed; non-Muslims must have their religion verified by the head of their local religious community. Many Ahmadis and Christians report that they face discrimination in applying to government educational institutions due to their religious affiliation. [42]

The suspended Constitution provides for the “freedom to manage religious institutions.” In principle, the Government does not restrict organized religions from establishing places of worship and training members of the clergy. However, in practice, Ahmadis suffer from restrictions on this right. Several Ahmadi mosques reportedly have been closed; others reportedly have been desecrated. Ahmadis also are prohibited from being buried in Muslim graveyards. [44]

Abuses of Religious Freedom

No estimate of the number of religious detainees exists; however, the Government has arrested and detained numerous Muslims and non-Muslims for their religious beliefs and practices under the blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws. The blasphemy laws were meant to protect both majority and minority faiths from discrimination or abuse; however, in practice these laws frequently are used by rivals and the authorities to threaten, punish, or intimidate religious minorities. Credible sources estimate that several hundred persons have been arrested since the laws were implemented; however, significantly fewer persons have been tried. Most of the several hundred persons arrested since 1989 have been released due to a lack of sufficient evidence. However, many judges reportedly handed down guilty verdicts to protect themselves and their families from retaliation by religious extremists. Many judges also repeatedly postpone action in certain blasphemy cases in response to religious extremists; the result of this practice is that accused blasphemers remain in prison for extended periods of time. According to the NCJP, religious minorities constitute a proportionally greater percentage of the prison population. Government officials state that although religious minorities account for approximately 5 percent of the country's population, 25 percent of the cases filed under the blasphemy laws are aimed at religious minorities. [48]

According to Ahmadi sources, 166 Ahmadis were charged formally in criminal cases on a “religious basis” (including blasphemy) in 2000, compared to 80 cases in 1999. On September 6, 1999, police officials arrested Ahmadi practitioner Dr. Abdul Ghani for preaching; he was denied bail by the anti-terrorist court. In November 2000, the court found him not guilty and ordered his release from prison. On December 1, 2000, Ahmadi practitioner Khaled Ahmed Shams was released; Shams was arrested in 1994 for allegedly preaching in violation of Section 298(c). On August 19, 2000, three Ahmadis were charged with blasphemy for allegedly posing as Muslims and preaching the Ahmadi faith. One of the men, Ghaffar Ahmad, was arrested and remains in prison. The other two, Ilyas Ahmad and Manzur Ahmad, avoided arrest by arranging for bail. On August 25, 2000, a blasphemy case was filed against Manzur Qadir Khan, Dr. Khalid Mahmood, Mohammad Hayat, and Mohammard Idrees of Sargodha district for allegedly preaching the Ahmadi faith to a neighbor, Mohammad Suleiman; Suleiman provided a signed statement denying that the accused ever proselytized him. Khan and Idress were arrested and held in Sarghoda jail; however they were released after several weeks. On October 13, 2000, a blasphemy case was registered against Nasir Ahmad, an Ahmadi, for allegedly defiling a copy of the Koran. According to Ahmadi sources, Ahmad had engaged in an argument with a Sunni Muslim. When the Sunni struck Ahmad with a brick, Ahmad knocked him to the ground along with the copy of the Koran that was in his pocket. Ahmad remained in custody and his trial had not been concluded at the end of the period covered by this report. On April 29, 2001, four Ahmadis, including Abdul Majeed, president of the local Ahmadi community, were charged with blasphemy for constructing minarets and the Mihrab of an Ahmadiyya mosque. Three Ahmadis were convicted of blasphemy in December 1997; they were found guilty and were sentenced to life imprisonment and $1,250 (PRs 50,000) fines. Lawyers for the men appealed the decision to the Lahore high court, which ruled that the defendants were guilty of blasphemy. However, the court ruled that the men should be released as they had already served a sufficient amount of time in prison. [50]

According to Ahmadi sources, on July 30, 1999, a subdivisional magistrate ordered an Ahmadi mosque sealed in Naseerabad, Sindh; it remained sealed at the end of the period covered by this report. In December 1999, several hundred persons looted and burned property in Haveli Lakha, Okara district, Punjab, which belonged to Mohammad Nawaz, a local Ahmadi leader accused of planning to build an Ahmadi house of worship. A neighbor reportedly incited the incident by accusing Nawaz of building the house of worship after the two were involved in a property dispute. Nawaz, a doctor, reportedly intended to build a free clinic next to his home. The mob looted and burned Nawaz's home. According to Ahmadi sources, police personnel arrived at the scene, but did nothing to stop the crowd. As of the end of the period covered by this report, neither the neighbor nor anyone in the crowd had been arrested or questioned in connection with the incident, and police had not taken steps to find or return any of Nawaz's property. However, Nawaz and his two sons were arrested and charged with blasphemy. Several days later, they were released on bail; however, the blasphemy case against them was pending at the end of the period covered by this report. Three other Ahmadis in Haveli Lakha also were charged with blasphemy in connection with the incident despite being out of town at the time. [51]

There have been press reports that the authorities are conducting surveillance on the Ahmadis and their institutions. [64]

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Many religious and community leaders, both Muslim and non-Muslim, report that a small minority of extremists account for the vast majority of violent acts against religious minorities. However, discriminatory religious legislation has encouraged an atmosphere of religious intolerance, which has led to acts of violence directed against Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and Zikris. Members of religious minorities are subject to violence and harassment, and police at times refuse to prevent such abuses or to charge persons who commit them (see Section II). Wealthy religious minorities and those who belong to religious groups that do not seek converts report fewer instances of discrimination. [70]

Sectarian violence between members of different religious groups continued to be a serious problem throughout the period covered by this report; Ahmadis, Christians and other religious minorities often were the targets of this violence. On October 11, 2000, a mob led by Muslim clerics attacked the homes of several Hindu families in Baluchistan province after a Hindu woman was accused of destroying a copy of the Koran. The woman, who reportedly is illiterate, wrapped sweets in pages torn from a book that allegedly contained excerpts from the Koran. Police filed charges against several members of the mob; however, they dropped the case after local leaders agreed to pay compensation to the Hindu families. On October 30, 2000, four unidentified assailants attacked with automatic weapons an Ahmadi mosque in Sialkot district, killing five persons and injuring six others. Following the attack, police arrested three of the suspects. According to Ahmadi sources, the suspects were in custody at the end of the period covered by this report; however, no charges had been filed against them. Police also arrested 25 Ahmadis, including 5 who witnessed the killings. On November 10, 2000, a violent crowd ransacked and set fire to an Ahmadi mosque in the Punjab, killing five persons. Prior to the attack, Akhtar Shah, the local mullah reportedly led a mob through the streets shouting anti-Ahmadi slogans. Shah was accused of inciting the riot and was being tried for murder at the end of the period covered by this report. Following the mosque killings, three Sunni Muslim groups filed an application against Ahmadis in Sialkot district for “campaigning” against Muslims. Police arrested 51 Ahmadis, five of whom still were in custody at the end of the period covered by this report. [78]

... In December 1999, a mob vandalized the home of an Ahmadi in Okara district, Punjab, in the presence of some members of the local administration; police officials reportedly charged the Ahmadi and his two sons under the blasphemy laws. ... [80]

Ahmadis suffer from societal harassment and discrimination. Even the rumor that someone may be an Ahmadi or have Ahmadi relatives can stifle opportunities for employment or promotion. Most Ahmadis are home-schooled or go to private Ahmadi-run schools. Those Ahmadi students in public schools often are subject to abuse by their non-Ahmadi classmates. The quality of teachers assigned to predominately Ahmadi schools by the Government reportedly is poor.... [82]

Some Sunni Muslim groups publish literature calling for violence against Ahmadis and Shi'a Muslims. Some newspapers frequently publish articles that contain derogatory references to religious minorities, especially Ahmadis and Hindus. [87]

[End of Document]


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