The state carried out the death sentence for an individual, Mumtaz Qadri, convicted of assassinating an official over his comments criticizing the blasphemy law. Lower courts acquitted at least five persons charged with blasphemy, while other blasphemy cases continued without resolution. A court hearing for the appeal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, was postponed and the appeal put on hold indefinitely. According to civil society reports, there were at least 45 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges in the country, with at least 17 having received death sentences. Police registered more cases under blasphemy laws than the previous year, and arrested several individuals on charges of blasphemy. The government continued to prosecute counterterrorism actions under the NAP, which included an explicit goal of countering sectarian hate speech and extremism. Civil society groups expressed concern that authorities often failed to intervene in instances of societal violence against religious minorities, and police failed to arrest perpetrators of such abuses. NGOs and media outlets, however, reported that police intervention helped to prevent religiously based violence on some occasions. Several sources reported the continued practice of initiating blasphemy complaints against neighbors, peers, or business associates to intimidate them or to settle personal grievances. According to Ahmadiyya community leaders, the targeting and harassment of Ahmadi Muslims for blasphemy and other purported violations of law persisted. Legal observers said the authorities took steps to protect some individuals from unfounded accusations of blasphemy, although lower courts continued to fail to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases. Members of religious minority communities stated the government was inconsistent in safeguarding minority rights, and official discrimination against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadis persisted.
On February 29, authorities executed Mumtaz Qadri, who was convicted of killing the then-governor of Punjab Province Salman Taseer, after Taseer publicly criticized the country’s blasphemy laws. In its 2015 verdict confirming Qadri’s death sentence, the court stated that criticism of the blasphemy laws was not blasphemy itself and did not justify vigilante violence. The court also stated malicious persons had misused the blasphemy law. After the execution, across the country there were protests that voiced support for Qadri and demanded continued enforcement of blasphemy laws, including large demonstrations in Rawalpindi and Islamabad that continued until March 30.
Government authorities took some steps to quell further violence following a blasphemy-related killing. According to media reports, in July a Hindu man, Amar Lal, was accused of burning pages of the Quran in Sindh’s Ghotki District. Riots broke out in the district because of the accusations, during which unidentified gunmen shot two other Hindu men, killing one. Sindh’s then-Minister for Religious Affairs Dr. Abdul Qayoom Soomro and other local officials negotiated with local religious leaders to end the riots. Media outlets reported that the Sindh home minister and inspector general directed the Ghotki District government to hold rallies on July 28 where police, district government members, and Hindu religious leaders tried to ease religious tensions.
On December 28, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa confirmed death sentences for eight men convicted under the military court system on a variety of terrorism-related charges. Four of the men were convicted of committing the May 2015 attacks on members of the Ismaili community traveling in a bus in Karachi, which resulted in the deaths of 45 passengers and injury to six others.
On November 23, the Lahore Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) sentenced to death five men for their role in the November 2014 lynching of a Christian man and his pregnant wife in Kot Radha Kishan. The couple had been accused of blasphemy for desecrating the Quran. The five men were charged with inciting violence over mosque loudspeakers, leading to a large mob that lynched the couple. The court sentenced eight other men to two years in prison for their participation in the lynching.
On October 13, one of the three Supreme Court justices assigned to hear the final appeal of the Asia Bibi case unexpectedly recused himself, resulting in an indefinite postponement of the hearing. Bibi, a Christian, was arrested in June 2009 after a group of Muslim women with whom she was arguing accused her of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. She was convicted and sentenced to death in November 2010.
On December 5, Punjab Counter-Terrorism Division police raided the publications department of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community headquarters in Rabwah. Police arrested four individuals, and charged a total of nine Ahmadis with offenses related to publishing an Ahmadi magazine that the Punjab government banned in 2014. The Ahmadi representatives said a court order allowed them to keep publishing. Ahmadi representatives stated those arrested were tortured while in police custody. The charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years’ jail time; the four arrested individuals remained in jail with their trial pending.
According to data provided by CSOs, police registered new cases against 18 individuals under blasphemy laws during the year, compared with three new cases in 2015. There were continued reports of individuals initiating blasphemy complaints against neighbors, peers, or business associates to resolve personal disputes or to intimidate vulnerable people. While the law requires a senior police official to investigate any blasphemy charge before a complaint can be filed, human rights activists said the police did not uniformly follow this procedure.
On December 30, at the urging of the Sunni Tehreek organization, Punjab police registered a blasphemy case against an “unnamed man” for issuing a video wishing all Pakistanis a Merry Christmas and asking for prayers for those victimized by the country’s blasphemy laws. The man identified himself in the video as Shaan Taseer, an activist and son of the late Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, who was assassinated in January 2011 by Mumtaz Qadri after speaking out against the country’s blasphemy laws. Sunni Tehreek issued a fatwa calling Taseer “liable to death” for the video message.
According to media reports, in October a nine-year-old Christian boy and his mother were detained and interrogated by police in Quetta after being accused of burning pages of the Quran. Local civil society activists engaged with police to review the case; police confirmed no evidence of Quran desecration was found and released the boy and his mother.
On September 18, Kasur District police arrested Nabeel (Masih) Amanat, a 16-year-old Christian, on charges of blasphemy for sharing a picture of the Kaaba in Mecca on Facebook. He faced up to ten years’ imprisonment if convicted, and remained in custody at year’s end.
In July a Muslim man filed a complaint against Nadeem James, a Christian, for sending him “a derogatory poem about Islamic holy figures” on WhatsApp. James was charged with blasphemy and the police took his relatives into “protective custody” until he surrendered himself. James remained in prison and his case remained pending before a trial court in Gujrat.
On June 28, the Gujranwala ATC sentenced three individuals, two Christians (Anjum Naz and Javed Naz) and one Muslim (Jaffar Ali), to death over blasphemy and extortion charges. Anjum Naz had reported to police that Javed and Jaffar were trying to extort money from him over what his family alleged was a fraudulent mobile phone recording of blasphemous speech. All three defendants appealed their sentences, and their cases remain pending.
On June 20, the Gujranwala ATC sentenced two Christians to six years imprisonment under blasphemy and terrorism charges, and acquitted five Christians who were also accused. They were part of a group of 16 individuals against whom local police near Gujranwala had filed charges for publishing offensive material and who had been detained since August 2015. The remaining nine defendants were subsequently released on bail and their cases remained pending at year’s end.
On June 19, police in Tando Adam, Sindh, arrested Muslim shopkeeper Jahanzaib Khaskheli on blasphemy charges after accusations he was selling shoes with a Hindu symbol on the sole. Hindu community leaders had called for Khashkeli’s arrest and his case remained pending before a trial court at year’s end.
On May 24, police in Sheikhupura, Punjab, arrested a local Christian man, Usman Liaqat, on blasphemy charges. Local activists reported that a group of Muslim and Christian men alleged Liaqat had posted blasphemous text on social media, after a quarrel between Liaqat and the group. He faces the death penalty if convicted. His case remained pending before a trial court at year’s end.
According to media reports, individuals convicted in well-publicized blasphemy cases from previous years, including Sawan Masih, Shafqat Emmanuel, Shagufta Kausar, Sajjad Masih Gill, and Liaquat Ali, remained in jail and continued to await appeal.
On September 30, the Lahore ATC indicted on murder and terrorism charges 42 Christians who had been arrested in the lynching case of two Muslim men in the Youhanabad district. A large mob had burned the two men alive following bombings of two Christian churches in the area in March 2015.
According to Ahmadiyya Community leaders, authorities charged 14 Ahmadis in religion-related cases during the year. As of the end of the year, 14 Ahmadis remained in prison on religion-related charges, including 80-year-old Abdul Skahoor, who was arrested in December 2015 for selling Ahmadi religious books. On January 2, he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for propagating the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith and to an additional three years under the Anti-Terrorism Act for stirring up “religious hatred” and “sectarianism,” with sentences to run concurrently.
According to CSOs and media reports, in April a mob attempted to burn houses in the Christian community of Chak 44 in northern Punjab in response to reports a Christian man had blasphemous videos on his phone. Ten Christian families fled out of fear of attack; however, rapid deployment of an additional 70 police officers and the coordinated messaging of a local “peace committee” of Christians and Muslims helped to disperse the mob and diffuse tensions, according to media and NGO reports.
In May Christians near Gujrat used an emergency police hotline when a mob formed after local cleric tried to file blasphemy charges against a young Christian woman. The police and community members worked to diffuse the situation and ultimately the cleric withdrew the complaint.
In November several groups in Karachi protested after the police arrested Allama Mirza Yousuf Hussain, a prominent Shia cleric, and Faisal Raza Abidi, a Shia and former senator. Hussain was arrested under a law meant to curb the misuse of loudspeakers for hate speech for allegedly instigating violence during a speech in May at the funeral of rights activist Khurram Zaki. Hussain was released on bail a few days later. Media reported police arrested Abidi in connection with the killing of two men who belonged to the Tableeghi Jamaat (a pro-Sunni group) and for possession of an illicit weapon, but the Sindh chief minister later told reporters Abidi was arrested solely on charges of possession of an illicit weapon. Shia representatives reported the government was targeting Shia activists under the pretense of law enforcement actions. The chief minister denied these allegations.
On November 24, the Sindh Assembly passed legislation criminalizing forced conversions. The bill mandates a 21-day waiting period and a minimum age of 18 for any person wishing to convert, and establishes a minimum sentence of five years for those convicted of forcing others to convert. In December the Sindh Assembly decided to review the bill after some Muslim scholars objected to some of the bill’s clauses; the bill remained pending at year’s end.
On September 26, the Islamabad Capital Territory Administration (ICTA) banned 11 clerics from delivering sermons and addressing the public in Islamabad out of fears of inciting sectarian violence. The ICTA also forbade 16 clerics branded as “sectarian agitators” from entering the capital for a period of two months, covering the Islamic month of Muharram. Provincial governments also announced the deployment of hundreds of thousands of police and security personnel to protect Shia religious ceremonies across the country during the commemoration of Ashura.
In October a Rawalpindi ATC acquitted 12 men charged with attacking a Shia mosque in Rawalpindi during a 2013 riot following Ashura, ruling the police had failed to provide sufficient evidence.
According to Ahmadiyya Muslim Community leaders, authorities continued to target and harass Ahmadi Muslims for blasphemy, violations of “anti-Ahmadi laws,” and other crimes. Ahmiadiyya leaders stated the ambiguous wording of the legal provision forbidding Ahmadis from directly or indirectly identifying themselves as Muslims enabled officials to bring charges against members of the community for using the standard Islamic greeting or for naming their children Muhammad. Representatives also stated that provincial authorities prevented Ahmadis from purchasing land near the community’s headquarters in Rabwah.
According to religious organizations and human rights NGOs, religious minorities continued to be disproportionately accused of blasphemy relative to their small percentage of the population. They also stated the police continued not to file charges against many individuals who made false blasphemy accusations and if charges were filed, courts most often acquitted those accused.
In December the Senate Human Rights Committee began debate on possible procedural reforms to discourage misuse of the country’s blasphemy laws. Media reported the committee would review other countries’ legal frameworks for blasphemy as potential models, and reforms could require greater federal supervision of blasphemy investigations and include provisions for defendants to repent alleged blasphemy.
Legal observers continued to raise concerns regarding the failure of lower courts to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases, which led to some convicted persons spending years in jail before higher courts overturned their convictions and freed them for lack of evidence. Lower courts reportedly continued to conduct proceedings in an intimidating atmosphere with members of groups labelled extremist by the government, such as the Khatm-e-Nubuwatt group, often filling courtrooms with large numbers of supporters and threatening the defendant’s attorneys, family members, and supporters. According to observers, lower courts’ general refusal to free defendants on bail or acquit them remained ongoing out of fear of reprisal and vigilantism. Legal observers reported judges and magistrates often delayed and continued trials indefinitely in an effort to avoid confrontation with, or violence from, groups labeled by the government as extremist.
Ahmadi representatives stated the government failed to restrict advertisements or speeches inciting anti-Ahmadi violence in television and print media despite a promise to do so in the 2014 NAP against terrorism. In September Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, chairman of the country’s Ruet-e-Hilal Committee (a government entity responsible for announcing the sighting of the new moon), urged the government to execute Ahmadis.
The government continued efforts to enforce its previous bans on the activities of, and membership in, some religiously oriented groups it judged to be extremist or terrorist. The Ministry of Interior declared militant groups Jamaat ul-Ahrar and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Alami to be banned in November. In December, however, a cleric unofficially affiliated with banned extremist group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat (AWSJ) won a seat in the Punjab Assembly.
The government continued to fund and facilitate Hajj travel for most Muslims, but Ahmadis were unable to participate in the Hajj, community leaders said, because of passport application requirements to list religious affiliation and denounce the Ahmadiyya prophet.
According to representatives of minority religious groups, the government continued to allow organized religious groups to establish places of worship and train members of the clergy. Although there continued to be no official restriction on the construction of Ahmadiyya places of worship, however, local authorities regularly denied requisite construction permits and Ahmadis remained forbidden to call them mosques.
According to civil society activists and monitoring organizations, some public school textbooks continued to include derogatory statements about minority religious groups, including Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and Christians. Civil society leaders said the teaching of religious intolerance remained widespread and although multiple groups had presented recommendations for the removal of discriminatory content, the federal government had not taken the initiative to support the recommended changes. Monitoring groups said textbooks used in all four provinces for grades one to 10 continued to contain religiously intolerant and biased material against Hindus, Christians, and other religious minorities. These groups reported some provincial authorities moved to remove some discriminatory material and promote tolerance through the textbooks, such as the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board incorporating short stories promoting peace and harmony into Urdu textbooks. Authorities in KP reportedly abandoned plans to review the content of Islamic, Urdu, and social studies textbooks as a result of pressure from religious political parties. While private schools remained free to choose whether or not to offer religious instruction, they were reportedly under government pressure to teach Islamic studies. In a parliamentary hearing in November, a government secretary for education said in response to parliamentarians’ questions that no Ahmadis would be allowed to teach Islamic studies.
There were reports some madrassas taught violent extremist doctrine. Increasing government supervision of madrassas remained a component of the NAP, and there was evidence of government efforts to increase regulation of the sector. According to press reports, provincial authorities continued campaigns to geotag madrassas, with Punjab authorities tagging approximately 14,000 madrassas and Sindh authorities tagging more than 7,700. Press reports also indicated provincial authorities also began shutting down madrassas with connections to terrorism, closing two in Punjab, 13 in KP, and 167 in Sindh. Media reports also stated that under the NAP, law enforcement agencies had filed almost 15,000 cases against clerics, religious teachers, and prayer leaders for hate speech and spreading sectarian material. The authorities subsequently prosecuted cases involving sectarian hate speech and restricted the movement and public sermons of some clerics accused of spreading sectarian hatred.
Members of religious minority communities said there continued to be inconsistent application of laws safeguarding minority rights and enforcement of protections of religious minorities at both the federal and provincial levels by the federal Ministry of Law, Justice, and Human Rights and its provincial counterparts. Religious minorities said they remained concerned that government action to address coerced conversions of religious minorities to Islam was inadequate. Religious minority activists, however, stated they believed the Sindh Assembly’s new law criminalizing forced conversions, which passed in November but was under review by the Sindh Assembly at year’s end, would be a step to restrict the practice and better protect minors belonging to religious minorities.
The National Commission for Minorities, a government committee created in 2014 with Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh representatives, met sporadically to develop a national policy for minorities. Minority activists stated the Commission’s lack of a regular budget allocation and lack of an independent chairperson has inhibited its development.
In February the Ministry of Human Rights released its Action Plan for Human Rights that included nine provisions for the protection of the rights of minorities, among them enforcement of laws criminalizing incitement to religious hatred and protection for places of worship for minority religious groups.
Human rights activists reported neither the federal nor the provincial governments had made substantial progress in implementing the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision directing the government to take measures to protect members of minority religious groups.
Religious minority community leaders continued to state that the government failed to take adequate action to protect minorities from bonded labor in the brick-making and agricultural sectors, an illegal practice in which victims were disproportionately Christians and Hindus. Such families, particularly on agricultural lands in Sindh Province, often lived without basic facilities and were prevented from leaving without the permission of farm landlords. On August 29, the Punjab Provincial Assembly passed a law prohibiting the use of child labor in the brick industry. Under the law, the owner of a brick kiln who employs or permits a child to work at a brick kiln faces imprisonment for up to six months and a criminal fine.
According to Hindu and Sikh leaders, the legal uncertainty surrounding the process of registering marriages for their communities continued to create difficulties for Hindu and Sikh women in obtaining their inheritances, accessing health services, voting, obtaining a passport, and buying or selling property. Most Hindu civil society activists, however, stated they welcomed passage of marriage bills in both Sindh and the National Assembly, with the prospect that they will help regularize marriage registration and reduce forced conversions of minors in the community. The media reported some expressed concern that a provision of the national bill permitting annulment of Hindu marriages could be used to legitimize forced conversions of Hindu women. Some local administrative bodies continued to deny Christian and Ahmadi marriage registrations; advocates called for a new law governing Christian marriages, as the existing regulation dates to 1872.
The Ministry for Human Rights, reconstituted in November 2015, is responsible for “protection and promotion of human rights” as enshrined in the constitution and various international treaty obligations. In practice the Ministry took over primary responsibility for the protection of the rights of religious minorities. The Ministry of Law and Justice, from which the Ministry of Human Rights was separated, was responsible for administration of law and justice, including ensuring the legal rights of all citizens. Because the country’s 18th amendment to the constitution devolved certain authorities and responsibilities for the protection of human rights and rights of religious minorities to provincial governments, legal experts and NGO representatives said reporting structures and the full legal framework for minority rights remained unclear.
Minority religious leaders stated discrimination against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadis in admission to higher education institutions persisted. They reported their communities continued to face restrictions in securing admissions into colleges and universities.
Ahmadi representatives said the wording of the declaration students needed to sign on their applications for admission to university continued to prevent Ahmadis from declaring themselves as Muslims. Their refusal to sign the statement meant they were automatically disqualified from fulfilling the admissions requirements. The government maintained Ahmadis could qualify for admission as long as they did not claim to be Muslims. Ahmadi community leaders reported multiple Ahmadi students had been expelled from public universities after not disclosing their religious affiliation at initial admission.
Religious minority community members stated that Muslim students in public schools were afforded bonus grade points for memorizing the Quran, but no analogous opportunities for academic credit were available for religious minority students.
Most religious minority groups continued to complain of discrimination in government hiring and admission to public colleges and universities. While there remained a 5 percent quota for hiring religious minorities at the federal level, minority organizations said government employers did not enforce it. According to religious minority members and media reports, provincial governments in Punjab, Sindh, and KP also failed to meet such quotas for hiring of religious minorities into the civil service.
Representatives of religious minorities said a “glass ceiling” continued to prevent their promotion to senior government positions. Although there were no official obstacles to advancement of minority religious group members in the military service, they said in practice non-Muslims rarely rose above the rank of colonel and were not assigned to senior positions.
Ahmadi leaders continued to report the government inhibited Ahmadis from obtaining legal documents, and pressured community members to deny their beliefs by requiring individuals wishing to be listed as Muslim on identity cards and passports to swear the Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet of Islam and the Ahmadiyya movement’s founder was a false prophet. Ahmadi community representatives reported the word “Ahmadi” was written on their passports if they identified themselves as such. Ahmadi community representatives reported voters who registered as Ahmadi were kept on a separate voter list and were physically intimidated while trying to vote.
In September a TV host labeled Ahmadiyya community members as “blasphemers” and “traitors,” prompting the community to file a complaint with the Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA). According to media reports, however, the commentator and a large mob entered the PEMRA building on the day of the complaint hearing, shouting threatening slogans; PEMRA subsequently dismissed the community’s complaint.
Religious minority leaders stated the current system of selecting minority parliamentarians through the internal deliberations of mainstream parties resulted in the appointment of party stalwarts or those who could afford to “buy the seats” rather than legislators who genuinely represented minority communities. They also stated the current system effectively precluded the election of minority women, who were rarely in a position of sufficient influence with the major political parties to contend for a seat.
According to Ahmadiyya community members, authorities continued to seal or demolish Ahmadi mosques, barred construction of new mosques, and took no action to prevent or punish assailants who demolished, damaged, forcibly occupied, or set Ahmadi mosques on fire. Ahmadi leaders reported authorities have sealed 33 of the community’s mosques to date, and that in March police in Punjab allowed anti-Ahmadi activists to occupy an Ahmadi mosque authorities had previously sealed. Ahmadi leaders reported the police ignored their request for police protection for their mosque in Chakwal on December 12, the date of a planned procession to honor the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. On December 12, a mob of more than 1,000 attacked the mosque, resulting in the death of one Ahmadi from a heart attack and in the death of one of the attackers. The police arrested several participants in the mob, as well as four members of the Ahmadi community for allegedly killing the attacker.
The government continued not to allow citizens, regardless of religious affiliation, to travel to Israel. Representatives of the Bahai community said this policy particularly affected them because of the location of the Bahai World Center – the spiritual and administrative center of the community – in Israel.
The government continued to permit non-Muslim missionary activity and to allow missionaries to proselytize as long as they did not preach against Islam and they acknowledged they were not Muslim. The government stated on its immigration website that it continued to grant visas to foreign missionaries valid from two to five years and allowed two entries into the country per year, although only “replacement” visas for those taking the place of departing missionaries were available for missionaries seeking to enter the country for the first time. Non-Muslim missionaries, some of whom had been working in the country for many years, however, were either denied visas, only given four-month extensions, or received no response from immigration authorities before their visas expired. Others were allowed to remain in country while appeals of their denials were pending.