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U.S. Department of State
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March, 1996.
Religious zealots continued to discriminate against and persecute religious minorities, basing their activities in part on legislation which discriminates against non-muslims. The Government made procedural changes which made the registration of blasphemy charges more difficult. Nevertheless, new blasphemy charges were brought against 10 members of the Ahmadi religious group in 4 separate incidents. Religious and ethnic-based rivalries resulted in numerous murders, mosque bombings, and civil disturbances. [ 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 be consistent with Islam. The Government permits Muslims to convert to other faiths but prohibits proselytizing among Muslims. According to the Government's Human Rights Cell, 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 government and society may further restrict the freedom to practice their religion. 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 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 this provision to harass Ahmadis.
The 1993 Supreme Court ruling upholding Section 298(c) emboldened anti-Ahmadi groups and resulted in more court cases against Ahmadis. In 1995 cases under Section 298(c) were filed against at least 20 Ahmadis. These cases were still pending in the courts at year's end. In late February, an Ahmadi was arrested and charged under 298(c) for preaching his faith because he was listening to a religious cassette in his own shop. He was released from prison on bail in late March, but his case remains pending in the courts. Also in late March, six Ahmadis were charged under 298(c) for publishing invitation cards with Islamic epithets.
Ahmadis are not allowed to be buried in Muslim graveyards. In 1995, the bodies of 15 Ahmadis buried in Muslim graveyards were allegedly exhumed. A group of mullahs, supported by the local Assistant Commissioner of Liaqatpur, in October ordered that the body of an Ahmadi woman be removed from the common cemetery in the town. The body was exhumed and reburied in land owned by the Ahmadis. Eleven Ahmadi mosques remained sealed, and four Ahmadi mosques are occupied by other Muslim sects. The Government classifies Ahmadis as "non-Muslims" on their passports. This has led the authorities in Saudi Arabia to prevent Ahmadis from making the Muslim religious pilgrimage to Mecca. Christians are also subject to harassment by the authorities, notably including the blasphemy laws and difficulty in obtaining permission to build churches.
In 1986 the Government inserted Section 295(c) into the Penal Code which stipulates the death penalty for blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed. This provision has been used by litigants against Ahmadis, Christians, and even Muslims.
According to the HRCP, the Government made unofficial changes to the procedures for filing formal blasphemy charges. Magistrates are now required to investigate allegations of blasphemy to see whether they are credible before filing formal charges. Despite administrative changes in filing blasphemy charges, new charges were brought against 10 Ahmadis in 1995 in four separate incidents. Five Ahmadis in Khairpur district, Sindh, were charged under both blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws for displaying banners carrying verses of the Koran during a rally of Ahmadi youth. Another Ahmadi in Hafizbad, Punjab was charged with blasphemy in October for preaching his faith. In March two other Ahmadis were implicated under blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws in Sanghar, Sindh, for translating the Quran into Sindhi. At year's end, all of these individuals were free on bail and awaiting or undergoing trial. In November blasphemy charges were brought against two Ahmadis in Larkana, Sindh. The Larkana sessions court judge rejected their bail requests and the pair remained in jail.
In early February, a Lahore sessions court found two Christians, Salamat and Rehmat Masih, guilty of blasphemy and sentenced them to death. On February 23, however, the Lahore High Court acquitted them of blasphemy when the court found that insufficient evidence for conviction was presented at the original trial. Salamat and Rehmat Masih subsequently emigrated with the assistance of the Government.
Anwar Yaqub Masih, a Christian arrested in 1993 on the charge of uttering blasphemous phrases against the Prophet Mohammed, has served 2 years in the Faisalabad District Prison awaiting the conclusion of his trial. Following the February acquittal of Salamat and Rehmat Masih by the High Court, SSP activists announced that as the courts were not likely to punish blasphemers they would themselves kill Anwar Masih. In March following defense counsel Asma Jehangir's application for transfer of the case from Samundri to Faisalabad, the Lahore High Court ordered the staying of the proceedings at Samundri until further notice. Anwar Masih remains in prison.
In April a woman was accused of blasphemy for the first time. A Christian teacher in a girls school in Muzaffafgarh district, Punjab, 32-year-old Catherine Shaheen, was accused by her colleagues and some local residents of insulting the Prophet Mohammed and preaching Christianity. An inquiry conducted by the HRCP concluded that she had not committed blasphemy but was a victim of professional jealousy and personal animosity. A formal inquiry report was submitted to the local magistrate to determine whether formal charges of blasphemy should be filed. Human rights activists believe that the inquiry report favors Shaheen's case. Students belonging to a local religious political party and local mullahs are leading a campaign against Ms. Shaheen. Six of them are reported to have taken an oath to kill her. Since the case started, Shaheen has been transferred to another area. According to the HRCP, the Education Department has decided on its own initiative not to pay her salary.
In January 2 Shi'as in Peshawar were convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death for asking a local printer to produce 10,000 copies of a handbill containing a claimed pictorial representation of the Prophet Mohammad. Their appeal is pending before the Peshawar High Court.
Mohammad Arshad Javaid of Bahawalpur, a 37-year-old Muslim who is reportedly mentally unsound and was convicted of blasphemy in 1994 remains in prison pending appeal to the High Court.
Badshah Khan, a Muslim from Narowal District, Punjab, was accused by relatives in March of writing blasphemous words on a wall. Khan immediately petitioned the Lahore High Court, stating that he was being implicated in a false blasphemy case because of a property dispute with the complainants. The High Court has directed the police to submit a complete investigation report to the Court, and no formal blasphemy charges have yet been filed.
Following an August 11 rally in protest of the country's system of separate electorates for minorities, well-known Christian leaders Bishop John Joseph, Chaudhry Cecil, and Clement Shabaz Bhatti were charged with promotion of discord between religious groups. They were granted pre-arrest bail.
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.
The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution requires that the President and Prime Minister be Muslims. Members of minority religious groups may not vote in Muslim constituencies; they cast their ballots for candidates running for special at-large seats reserved for them in the national and provincial assemblies. Most Ahmadis, disputing their designation as non-Muslims, have refused to vote for such representatives. Christians and Hindus note that this system marginalizes religious minorities by allowing the Muslim candidates to ignore them as a voting block. As a result, areas where minorities predominate receive significantly less government development and assistance funds. Local government officials are also directly elected. However, local government bodies were dissolved in 1993 and new elections have not been held. In the meantime, provincial and federal officials are responsible for local government. [ Para 2 ]
Among religious minorities, there is a well-founded belief that the authorities afford them less legal protection than they afford Muslim citizens. Members of religious minorities are subject to violence and harassment. In April one Ahmadi was killed and another was injured by an angry crowd in a village north of Peshawar (see Section 2.c.). Ahmadis are often targets of violence, often instigated by local religious leaders. Two Ahmadis charged under 298(c) were scheduled to receive confirmation of their bail applications in late January. The court session was postponed because a large group of armed mullahs stormed the court premises. The mullahs reportedly abducted and beat one of the Ahmadis. The police refused to register a complaint against the mullahs over the beating. Asma Jehangir, defense lawyer for the Masihs and others accused of blasphemy, was harassed by militant Muslim group members during the course of the Masih trial. Her car was damaged outside the Lahore High Court and she received death threats. In October her Lahore home was broken into by armed men who attempted to take members of her family hostage. The assailants were driven off in a gun battle with security guards.
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.).
Christians in particular have difficulty finding jobs above 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 activist, only 8 percent of Christian males and 6 percent of Christian females are literate.
Ahmadis suffer from harassment 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 overseas for higher education.