There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including religious prisoners and detainees. The government generally enforced existing legal and policy restrictions on religious freedom, particularly on Ahmadis. Government policies did not afford equal protection to members of majority and minority religious groups, and due to discriminatory legislation, minorities often were afraid to freely profess their religious beliefs.
Abuses under the blasphemy and other discriminatory laws, such as “the anti-Ahmadi laws,” continued. The government did not take adequate measures to prevent these incidents or undertake reform measures to prevent the abuse of the laws. The killing of those accused of blasphemy or those publicly criticizing the blasphemy laws and calling for their reform continued throughout the year.
Leading human rights organizations, both domestic and international, stated that blasphemy laws and the government’s failure or delay in addressing religious hostility by societal actors fostered intolerance, acts of violence and intimidation, and a sense of impunity. According to a Human Rights First report, “blasphemy laws have sparked outbreaks of violence against innocent individuals in violation of their rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, as well as lawyers, judges, and others defending the rights of those accused under the laws.” The most recent Human Rights Watch annual report stated that “Pakistan’s elected government notably failed to provide protection to those threatened by extremists, or to hold extremists accountable.” The Jinnah Institute noted that “there have been several cases of individuals or mobs taking the law into their own hands and murdering not just those accused of blaspheming, but even those who defended the accused, including public officers and legislators.” The report also alleged police complicity and a failure to maintain law and order.
Human rights organizations alleged that the January 4 killing of then Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and the March 2 killing of then Federal M inister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, both of whom spoke against blasphemy laws, stemmed from a climate of impunity and a failure of the government to provide adequate protection for officials known to be targets of extremists. After the assassination of Minister Bhatti, an aide to President Asif Ali Zardari stated in a local newspaper: “This is a concerted campaign to slaughter every liberal, progressive and humanist voice in Pakistan. The time has come for the federal government and provincial governments to speak out and to take a strong stand against these murderers to save the very essence of Pakistan.”
The killing of Ahmadis for their religious beliefs continued during the year. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have alleged that the anti-Ahmadi sections of the penal code and other government policies fostered intolerance against this community and, together with the lack of police action, created a culture of impunity. According to a spokesman for the Ahmadiyya community, since the promulgation of anti-Ahmadi laws in 1984, 207 Ahmadis have been killed on religious grounds. During the year, according to Ahmadiyya leaders, five Ahmadis were murdered in targeted killings because of their faith. Authorities did not arrest anyone for the murders by year’s end.
On May 28, 2010, unknown terrorists attacked two separate Ahmadi congregations in Lahore during Friday prayers. The attackers used explosive devices, grenades, and automatic weapons. More than 86 persons were killed and 124 persons were injured. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, President Zardari, and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani criticized the attack and ordered an immediate inquiry. The Punjab government established an inquiry commission, but the Ahmadiyya community had not been contacted by any commission representatives by year’s end. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) issued a statement on May 28 condemning the attack and criticizing the government for failing to increase security at Ahmadi places of worship in light of terrorist threats against the Ahmadiyya community. The HRCP called on the government to provide security for the Ahmadiyya community. Punjab authorities did not provide updates regarding the status of the investigation by year’s end.
Religious minorities generally faced serious difficulties in getting police assistance, especially in rural areas. There were also reports of abuses against minorities committed by the police and security forces. For example, according to Compass Direct News, on January 9, police officers raped, killed, and threw into a sewer the body of Waqas Gill, a Christian, in Akhter Colony, Karachi. Local Christians protested an alleged police cover-up by placing the corpse in the middle of a street and chanting slogans against officers of Mehmoodabad police station.
Police reportedly tortured and mistreated persons in custody on religious charges and were accused of at least one extrajudicial killing in a blasphemy case during the year. On March 15, Qamar David, a Christian serving a life sentence in two blasphemy cases, died in police custody in Karachi. His family accused police officials of torturing him to death, but jailers said it was a heart attack. During his time in custody David complained of threats by other inmates and prison guards. According to the National Commission on Justice and Peace, an investigation of the case was not completed by year’s end.
The government did not subject individuals to forced labor or enslavement based on religious beliefs; however, minority community leaders charged that the government failed to take adequate action to prevent minorities from bonded labor in the brick-making and agricultural sectors, and that Christians and Hindus were disproportionately victims of this illegal practice.
Laws prohibiting blasphemy continued to be used against Christians, Ahmadis, and members of other religious groups, including Muslims. Some individuals brought charges under these laws to settle personal scores or to intimidate vulnerable individuals, including Muslims, members of religious minorities, and sectarian opponents. Lower courts often did not require adequate evidence in blasphemy cases, which led to some accused and convicted persons spending years in jail before higher courts eventually overturned their convictions and ordered them freed. Original trial courts usually denied bail in blasphemy cases, claiming that because defendants could face the death penalty, they were likely to flee; however, the state has never executed anyone under the blasphemy laws. Judges and magistrates, seeking to avoid confrontation with or violence from extremists, often continued trials indefinitely. Lower courts conducted proceedings in an atmosphere of intimidation by extremists and refused bail due to fear of reprisal from extremist elements. A 2005 law required that a senior police official investigate any blasphemy charge before a complaint was filed. This law was not uniformly enforced.
According to data provided by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), during the year a total of 49 cases were registered under the blasphemy laws. Of these, eight were against Christians, two were against Ahmadis, and 39 were against Muslims. A total of 1,117 persons were charged under the blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2011.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a Muslim group attacked a Hindu community in Mir Wah Gorchani, Mirpurkhas, Sindh on August 23, after a Muslim cleric announced through the loudspeakers that Hindus had put up a blasphemous wall chalking. A Muslim man was killed in the attack. At the demand of the village’s Muslim leaders, seven Hindus were arrested on charges of blasphemy, while other Hindus abandoned the area.
On January 8, The Daily Times reported that police registered a blasphemy case against a mentally handicapped Muslim man, Muhammad Amjad, in Kot Addu, Punjab, at the request of a local mosque’s cleric, allegedly due to a family rivalry. The complainant also accused Amjad’s father, Muhammad Nazir, and a relative, Muhammad Iqbal, of conspiring to desecrate the Qur’an. According to the National Commission on Justice and Peace, the three men were arrested. At year’s end, the case was pending at a local court in Muzaffargarh.
On November 8, 2010, a district court in Nankana Sahib, Punjab, sentenced a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, to death for blasphemy, the first such sentence for blasphemy handed down against a woman. Bibi was accused of committing blasphemy in June 2009 when she reportedly was fetching water while working in the fields. The verdict in the case touched off a massive debate within the country about the blasphemy laws, with extremists calling for her execution and more moderate voices calling for her pardon or an appeal of the guilty verdict. At year’s end Bibi was waiting for her appeal to be heard at the Lahore High Court; she remained in custody.
In March 2010, according to Assist News Service, Munir Masih and Ruqqiya Bibi, a Christian couple, were sentenced to 25 years each in prison for defiling the Qur’an after touching it with unwashed hands. On November 27, the Lahore High Court released Masih on bail. Bibi’s bail application was pending at year’s end.
Non-Muslim prisoners generally were accorded poorer facilities than Muslim inmates. According to an October study by the NGO Life for All, prisoners accused of violating the blasphemy laws often were treated differently than those accused of other crimes. Many of them were kept in solitary confinement due to threats from other inmates and, in some instances, prison guards.
In March 2010, according to Compass Direct News, police filed false charges of alcohol possession under the Hudood Ordinance against 47 Christians, including two children and eight women, in an attempt to intimidate and extort money from them. The district and session court granted bail to all the accused, but the case was still pending at year’s end.
Ahmadiyya leaders stated that for religious reasons, the government used sections of the penal code against their members. They alleged that the government used anti-Ahmadi laws to target and harass Ahmadis, frequently accusing converts to the Ahmadiyya community of blasphemy, violations of anti-Ahmadi laws, or other crimes. The vague wording of the provision that forbids Ahmadis from directly or indirectly identifying themselves as Muslims enabled officials to bring charges against Ahmadis for using the standard Muslim greeting and for naming their children Muhammad. According to Ahmadiyya leaders, during the year 36 Ahmadis were implicated in eight different cases. By year’s end, two Ahmadis were in prison, one for allegedly defiling the Qur’an, and the other for alleged murder. The Ahmadiyya community claimed that most of the arrests were groundless and based on the detainees’ religious beliefs.
Religious minorities claimed that government actions addressing forced and coerced conversions of religious minorities to Islam by societal actors were inadequate. According to the HRCP and the Pakistan Hindu Council, as many as 20 to 25 women and girls from the Hindu community were abducted every month and forced to convert to Islam.
According to Assist News Service, Farah Hatim, a Christian, was abducted on May 8 by Zeehan Ilyas and his two brothers and forced to convert to Islam and marry her kidnapper in Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab. Her family registered a case against Ilyas and his brothers for kidnapping and forced conversion. On July 20, the Lahore High Court’s Bahawalpur bench ruled that Hatim had to stay with her husband.
The constitution provides for the right to establish places of worship and train clergy, but in practice religious minorities, especially Ahmadis, suffered from restrictions of this right. District-level authorities consistently refused to grant permission to construct non-Muslim places of worship, especially for the Ahmadiyya and Baha’i communities, citing the need to maintain public order. There were instances when informally organized groups seized minority places of worship using threats, intimidation, and other unlawful means to force the religious authorities in charge to abandon their properties or force a sale by government authorities. Minority religious groups accused the government of inaction in cases where extremist groups attacked places of worship belonging to them. Ahmadis reported that their mosques and community lands were routinely confiscated by local governments and given to the majority Muslim community. Ahmadis also reported incidents in which authorities tried to block construction or renovation of their places of worship. As Ahmadis were not allowed to recite or relate to the kalima (Islamic testimony of faith), authorities forcibly removed the kalima from Ahmadi places of worship in some instances. District governments often refused to grant Ahmadis permission to hold events publicly; they instead held meetings in members’ homes.
Minority communities stated that the government did not spend adequate funds on the protection and upkeep of minority religious properties that were abandoned during the 1947 partition of British India prior to independence. They also claimed that the government was complicit in seizures of their property by Muslims, and that the policy of dismantling illegal slum settlements disproportionately targeted minority communities.
Representatives of the Sikh communities in Punjab and Sindh reported the illegal sale of gurdwara (Sikh temple) lands by the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB). In April 2010, it was disclosed that the ETPB transferred approximately 72 acres of gurdwara land in Lahore to the Defence Housing Authority. Despite protests by the Sikh community, the ETPB continued its plan to sell gurdwara land, which is not allowed under the 1925 Sikh Act. Similarly, Christian leaders in Sindh opposed a proposed sale of Saint Andrews Church in Karachi, which recently marked its 150th anniversary.
Officials sometimes used bureaucratic demands and requested or took bribes to delay minority religious groups attempting to build houses of worship or obtain land. On the other hand, Sunni Muslim groups sometimes built mosques and shrines without government permission, at times in violation of zoning ordinances and on government-owned lands, without repercussions.
Although criminal law allowed offenders to offer monetary restitution to victims, religious minorities stated that the amounts of monetary restitution allowed under the qisaas and diyat law were far higher for religious minority offenders and far lower for religious minority victims.
Religious belief or specific adherence to a religious group was not required for membership in the ruling party or the moderate opposition parties. All political parties, including religious parties, had a separate minority wing, and some of the religious parties provided seats to religious minorities in provincial assemblies after the 2008 general elections. The government did not restrict the formation of political parties based on a particular religious group, religious belief, or interpretation of religious doctrine. The government monitored the activities of various Islamist parties and affiliated clergy due to alleged links to terrorist and extremist organizations.
Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, Ahmadis have been prohibited from holding conferences or gatherings since 1983. They are also banned from preaching. The government has banned Ahmadiyya publications from public sale, but the umbrella Ahmadiyya organization published religious literature that circulated only within Ahmadi communities.
There were no reports of district governments restricting the distribution and display of certain religious images, such as the Christian cross and Jesus. Such images were displayed openly and sold in Christian communities. Foreign books must pass government censors before being reprinted. Books and magazines were imported freely but were subject to censorship for sexual or religious content considered objectionable. Generally, sacred books for religious minorities, except Ahmadis, were imported freely. Hindus also faced some difficulty in importing books from India. Other groups did not face hardship in obtaining religious materials, although availability sometimes was limited to some specific bookstores or religious centers.
The government funded and facilitated Hajj travel, but had no similar program for pilgrimages by religious minorities. Due to the passport requirements to list religious affiliation and denounce the Ahmadi prophet, Ahmadis were restricted from going on the Hajj because they were prohibited from declaring themselves Muslims. Because the government does not recognize Israel, religious believers regardless of religious affiliation were unable to travel to Israel for pilgrimages. This especially affected Baha’is, since the Baha’i World Center, the spiritual and administrative heart of the community, is located in northern Israel.
Discrimination against Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadis in admission to higher education institutions persisted. Sikh leaders reported they faced restrictions in securing admissions into colleges and universities, as they were required to obtain a certificate of permission from the ETPB, which they said was a lengthy process that discouraged Sikhs from pursuing higher education. There were no reports of discrimination against Christians when they applied for entry to universities and medical schools.
Most religious minority groups generally complained of discrimination in hiring. While there is a 5 percent quota for hiring religious minorities at the federal and provincial levels, it had not been fully implemented by year’s end. Shia leaders did not report that they were subjected to discrimination in hiring for the civil service or admission to government institutions of higher learning.
Promotions for all minority groups appeared limited within the civil service. These problems were particularly acute for Ahmadis, who contended that a “glass ceiling” prevented their promotion to senior positions, and certain government departments refused to hire or retain qualified Ahmadis. The government discriminated against some groups, such as Ahl-e-Hadith, a Sunni Muslim reformist movement consisting of 4 percent of the country’s Muslims, in hiring clergy for government mosques and the military and faculty members for Islamic studies positions in government colleges.
Members of minority religious groups volunteered for military service in small numbers, and there were no official obstacles to their advancement; however, in practice non-Muslims rarely rose above the rank of colonel and were not assigned to politically sensitive positions. A chaplaincy corps provided services for Muslim soldiers, but no similar services were available for religious minorities.
The public school curriculum included derogatory remarks in textbooks about minority religious groups, particularly Ahmadis, Hindus, and Jews, and the teaching of religious intolerance was widespread. The government continued to revise the curriculum to eliminate such teachings and remove Islamic content from secular subjects. One local NGO reported that the education minister in KP Province, with federal input, was developing new textbooks that remove inflammatory material.
The registration of Hindu and Sikh marriages by the government has been a long-standing demand of these communities. The Scheduled Caste Rights Movement and other minority rights organizations demanded legislation for minority marriage registration. The minorities’ representatives asserted that in the absence of Hindu and Sikh marriage registration, women faced difficulties in getting a share of their parents’ and husbands’ property, accessing health services, voting, obtaining a passport, and buying or selling property. The parliament was considering legislation that would legalize Hindu marriages.