Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.3 billion (July 2016 estimate). According to India’s 2011 census, the most recent year for which disaggregated figures are available, Hindus constitute 79.8 percent of the population, Muslims 14.2 percent, Christians 2.3 percent, and Sikhs 1.7 percent. Groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians (Parsis), Jews, and Bahais. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs officially classifies the more than 104 million members of Scheduled Tribes – indigenous groups historically outside the caste system who often practice animism and indigenous religious beliefs – as Hindus in government statistics.

According to the same government estimates, there are large, minority Muslim populations in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Telangana, Karnataka, and Kerala; Muslims constitute 68.3 percent of the population in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the only state in which they constitute a majority of the population. Slightly more than 85 percent of Muslims are Sunni; most of the rest are Shia. Christian populations are found across the country but in greater concentrations in the northeast, as well as in the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Goa. Three small northeastern states have large Christian majorities: Nagaland (90 percent), Mizoram (87 percent), and Meghalaya (70 percent). Sikhs constitute 54 percent of Punjab’s population, with an estimated 16 million members according to the 2011 census. The Dalai Lama’s office estimates there are significant resettled Tibetan Buddhist communities in Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, and Delhi. In a 2009 parliamentary report, the MHA estimated the total number of Tibetan Buddhists in India to be 110,000.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Subject to considerations of public order, morality, and health, the constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to profess, practice, and propagate religion freely, and mandates a secular state. It prohibits government discrimination on the basis of religion, including with regard to employment, as well as any religion-based restrictions on individuals’ access to public or private facilities or establishments open to the general public. The constitution states religious groups have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, manage their own affairs in religious matters, and own, acquire, and administer property. It prohibits compelling anyone to pay taxes to promote or maintain any specific religion. National and state laws make freedom of religion “subject to public order, morality, and health.” The constitution stipulates that the state shall endeavor to create a uniform civil code applicable to members of all religions across India.

There are laws restricting religious conversion in seven of the 29 states: Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Six of these states enforce the laws; there is no implementing legislation for the anticonversion law in Arunachal Pradesh. Gujarat mandates prior permission from the district magistrate for any form of conversion and punishes forced conversions with up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine up to 50,000 rupees ($751). Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh prohibit religious conversion by the use of “force,” “allurement,” or “fraudulent means” and require district authorities be informed of any conversions one month in advance. Violators are subject to fines and other penalties, including prison sentences of up to three years in Chhattisgarh and up to four years in Madhya Pradesh if the converts are minors, women, or members of government-designated, historically disadvantaged groups (known as Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes). According to the Supreme Court, converting from Hinduism to another religion ordinarily “operates as an expulsion from the caste” since caste is a function of Hindu society, and members of that society determine caste affiliation. Societal definitions of caste affiliation are determinative of a person’s eligibility for government benefits based on caste.

Himachal Pradesh and Odisha maintain similar prohibitions against conversion through force, inducement, or fraud and bar individuals from abetting such conversions. In Himachal Pradesh, penalties are up to two years’ imprisonment and/or fines of 25,000 rupees ($375). Punishments for conversions involving minors, Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe members, or, in the case of Odisha, women, may consist of jail sentences rather than fines. Separately, the law in Odisha requires individuals who wish to convert to another religion, and clergy intending to officiate in a conversion ceremony, to make a formal notification to the government. In Rajasthan, the law requires any citizen intending to convert to give the government 30 days’ notice or face a fine of 1,000 rupees ($25). The Rajasthan law includes restrictions on the use of money by religious societies or trusts and additional penalties, including imprisonment or increased fines, for forced or induced conversions of underage persons, women, or members of the low-caste Dalit community.

Under Andhra Pradesh and Telangana law, authorities may prohibit proselytizing near a place of worship of another religion. Punishment for violations can include imprisonment for up to three years and fines of up to 5,000 rupees ($75).

Federal law empowers the government to ban religious organizations that provoke intercommunal tensions, are involved in terrorism or sedition, or violate laws governing foreign contributions.

The federal penal code criminalizes “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion,” as well as “acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony,” including acts that cause injury or harm to religious groups and members. The penal code also prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Violations of any of these provisions are punishable by imprisonment for up to three years, a fine, or both. If the offense is committed at a place of worship, imprisonment may be for up to five years.

There are no requirements for registration of religious groups, although federal law requires religiously affiliated organizations to maintain audit reports on their accounts and a schedule of their activities and to provide these to state government officials upon request.

The constitution states any reference to Hindus is construed as containing a reference to followers of Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism, who are subject to Hindu laws, such as the Hindu Marriage Act. Subsequent legislation passed throughout the 1950s continues to use the word Hindu to include Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and others, but clarifies that these are separate religions whose followers are included under this legislation.

Federal law provides minority community status to six religious groups: Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains, and Buddhists. State governments have the power to grant minority status to religious groups that are minorities in a particular region and designate them as minorities under the law in that state. In May and June respectively, the Gujarat government legally recognized the Jain community and the Maharashtra government legally recognized the Jewish community as minority religious groups. The status makes these groups eligible for several government assistance programs. The constitution states the government will protect the existence of religious minorities and encourage conditions for the promotion of their individual identities.

Personal status laws are applicable only to certain religious communities in matters of marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance. The government grants significant autonomy to personal status law boards in drafting these laws. Law boards are selected by community leaders; there is no formal process and selection varies across communities. Hindu, Christian, Parsi, and Islamic personal status laws are legally recognized and judicially enforceable. These laws, however, do not supersede national- and state-level legislative powers or constitutional provisions. If the law boards cannot offer satisfactory solutions, the case is referred to the civil courts.

Federal law permits interreligious couples to marry without religious conversion. Interreligious couples, as all couples marrying in a civil ceremony, are required to provide public notice 30 days in advance, including addresses, photographs, and religious affiliation, for public comment. Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, or Jains who marry outside their religions, however, face the possibility of losing their property inheritance rights under those communities’ laws.

The law recognizes the registration of Sikh marriages. There are no divorce provisions for Sikhs under the personal status laws, however, and other Sikh personal status matters fall under Hindu codes. Any person, irrespective of religion, may seek a divorce in civil court under the law.

The constitution prohibits religious instruction in government schools. The law permits private religious schools.

Twenty-four of the 29 states have imposed full to partial restrictions and penalties on the slaughter of bovines. Penalties vary among states, and may also vary based on whether the animal is a cow, calf, bull, or ox. In the majority of the 24 states where bovine slaughter is banned, punishments range from six months’ to two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 rupees ($15 to $151). Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir penalize cow slaughter with imprisonment of two to 10 years.

On May 6, the Bombay High Court decriminalized possession of beef imported from outside Maharashtra. The court ruled that a portion of the state’s beef ban enacted in 2015 was unconstitutional, and the state could not disallow possession of beef from cows slaughtered outside the state, as it violated a citizen’s right to possess and consume food of his or her choice.

A federal law, known as the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), regulates foreign contributions to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including faith-based organizations. Organizations with “definite cultural, economic, educational, religious or social programs” must receive a certificate of registration from the government in order to receive foreign funds. The federal government may also require that certified organizations obtain prior permission before accepting or transferring foreign funds. The federal government may reject an application for a certificate of registration or a request for prior permission to transfer funds if it judges the recipient to be prejudicially affecting “harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes, or communities.”

The National Commission for Minorities, which includes representatives from the five designated religious minorities and the National Human Rights Commission, is tasked with investigating allegations of religious discrimination. The Ministry of Minority Affairs may also conduct investigations. These bodies have no enforcement powers but launch investigations on the basis of written complaints by plaintiffs charging criminal or civil violations and submit their findings to law enforcement agencies for action. Sixteen of India’s 29 states and the National Capital Territory of Delhi have state minorities commissions, which also investigate allegations of religious discrimination.

The constitution allows for a form of affirmative action for Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities, and the law subsequently added the “Other Backward Class” category for groups deemed to be socially and educationally disadvantaged. Since the constitution specifies only persons who are Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist shall be deemed a member of a Scheduled Caste, the only means through which Christian and Muslim individuals may qualify for affirmative action benefits as members of religious communities is if they are considered members of the “backward” classes due to their social and economic status.

The government requires foreign missionaries of any religious group to obtain a missionary visa.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Authorities investigated 12 police officers in Madhya Pradesh on charges of attempted murder of a Hindu nationalist arrested for writing defamatory comments about Islam. Authorities often failed to prosecute violence by cow protection groups against persons, mostly Muslims, suspected of slaughtering or illegally transporting cows or trading in or consuming beef. Courts issued final verdicts in several long-standing legal cases related to religiously motivated violence and riots. Other such cases continued to go forward slowly. The government challenged the minority status of Muslim educational institutions in the Supreme Court. The Bombay High Court rejected an application to suspend a local government order making yoga and “sun salutation” mandatory in public schools in Mumbai. The Supreme Court was hearing an appeal of a case challenging the constitutionality of the Islamic practice of instantaneous “triple talaq” divorce, based on the argument that it violates gender equality protections under India’s constitution. The federal government supported the challenge.

In September prosecutors in Madhya Pradesh filed charges against 12 police officials for attempted murder after Suresh Yadav, a member of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization, reported that he was tortured and severely beaten while in police custody. On September 25, Balaghat police had detained Yadav after a group of Muslims complained that he had posted a defamatory comment about Islam on social media. The court case against the 12 police officers had not yet begun at year’s end. On September 28, the Madhya Pradesh government suspended a senior police official and his subordinates posted in Balaghat after charging them with attempted murder. In October the family members of police officials charged in the case sought protection, citing fear of backlash from RSS, Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal, and other Hindu groups.

On September 6, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charged Dr. Virendra Tawade and two other members of Hindu nationalist group Sanatan Sanstha with the 2013 killing of “antisuperstition” activist Dr. Narendra Dabholkar in Pune. The CBI had arrested Tawade on June 10. According to Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, an NGO, “antisuperstition” activists oppose harmful superstitions, promote humanism and critical thinking, and encourage critical analysis of religion and are often referred to as “rationalists.”

On July 31, police used batons and fired 24 tear gas shells to subdue Muslim demonstrators in Surat, Gujarat. The demonstrators sought immediate police action against those responsible for a viral internet video accusing Muslims of “love jihad,” a term describing an alleged strategy by Muslim men of marrying women of other faiths for the purpose of converting them to Islam.

In February police started an investigation into Mumbai resident Sadik Shaikh’s accusation that the police in Malad, a suburb of Mumbai, assaulted and threatened to frame him in a terror-related case after his stepmother filed a police complaint objecting to his conversion to Islam. The investigation remained ongoing at year’s end.

On January 13, Madhya Pradesh police arrested two members of the Gau Raksha Samiti (Cow Protection Committee) following their assault of a Muslim couple at the Khirkiya railway station. The members of the Gau Raksha Samiti stated they seized a bag of beef, although laboratory tests later confirmed it was buffalo meat.

On August 6, the former Press Council of India Chairman and retired Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju led a commission investigating police shootings of Sikh protesters during widespread protests, in which two people were killed and 80 injured in Punjab in October 2015. The Sikhs protested in five districts after reports a Sikh holy book had been desecrated by unknown assailants. The commission carried out its investigation of the incident, known as the Behbal Kalan Firing, at the behest of NGOs such as the Sikhs for Human Rights, the Punjab Human Rights Organization, and Lawyers for Human Rights International, after the groups stated that the Punjabi police force used excessive and unprovoked force against a peaceful gathering. The commission recommended charges against the police officers involved for “unwarranted firing” and compensation within six months of 2.5 million rupees ($36,700) and regular employment to family members of Gujreet Singh and Krishan Bhagwan Singh, who were killed in the shootings. The government also established its own parallel investigation, which remained ongoing at year’s end. By year’s end, authorities had not paid compensation to the victims. According to family members, authorities had provided one of the next of kin of one of the dead men with a job at a government school.

On August 4, the Gujarat High Court sentenced to life imprisonment 11 of the 27 people accused of burning a father and his daughter to death in Mehsana District during 2002 Gujarat communal riots. The High Court acquitted the remaining 16. Four of the 11 convicted were fugitives who remained at large at year’s end.

In a July 27 ruling on an appeals case, the Gujarat High Court sentenced seven people to life imprisonment and upheld life imprisonment for two others for killing three Muslims near Valana railway crossing in Viramgam during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The High Court acquitted the 10th person accused in the case. A lower court had previously acquitted or given reduced sentences to the seven people the High Court subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.

On June 17, a Gujarat special court convicted 24 people (11 of whom received sentences of life imprisonment), and acquitted 36 others for their role in the Gulberg Society neighborhood attack involving a mob killing of 69 people during the 2002 Gujarat riots. This was one of 10 mass killings in 2002 in Gujarat in retaliation for the burning to death of 59 Hindu pilgrims on a train on February 27, 2002. At year’s end, the Gujarat High Court was still reviewing an appeal brought by Zakia Jafri, one of the Gulberg Society survivors, of a Gujarat lower court’s 2013 verdict.

In November the central government announced it would reopen 58 cases under the purview of a special investigation team within the home ministry related to anti-Sikh riots that occurred in Delhi and Punjab in 1984. In August the Haryana State government was the first in the country to disburse compensation to victims of the 1984 riots. Based on recommendations from a commission of inquiry headed by former Punjab and Haryana High Court Justice T.P. Garg, the state government allotted 120 million rupees ($1.8 million) in July for the victims residing within the Gurgaon and Pataudi area. The Chairman of the National Minorities Commission, Naseem Ahmed, distributed checks to the first 42 victims.

On August 2, the Supreme Court asked the Odisha government to reinvestigate 315 cases pertaining to anti-Christian violence in 2008 in Kandhamal District. The 315 cases, part of a total of 827 registered cases involving the 2008 violence, had been closed on grounds there was insufficient evidence against the accused or the offenders could not be traced. According to an affidavit filed by the Odisha government, charges were filed in the other 512 cases. Of these 512, trials were completed in 362 cases, resulting in only 78 convictions. The other cases in which the government filed charges remained pending. The Supreme Court also directed the state government to pay additional compensation of 200,000 rupees ($2,928) to each of the families of the dead, 70,000 rupees ($1,025) to those whose houses were fully damaged, 30,000 ($439) rupees to those whose houses were partially damaged, and 10,000-30,000 rupees ($146-$439) to the injured based on the seriousness of the injury. Although reportedly pleased with the Supreme Court’s intervention, Christian groups expressed dissatisfaction with the manner of prosecuting these cases and with the compensation given to victims.

The high-profile killing of Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi by a mob who believed he had slaughtered a cow in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh in September 2015 continued to generate publicity and controversy. A local court ordered a criminal complaint to be filed against the family of Akhlaq under existing legislation protecting cows. In September investigating officials concluded there was no evidence to prove Akhlaq or the family ever slaughtered a cow. The men charged with killing Akhlaq remained in prison, and their case was pending with the Allahabad High Court at year’s end.

In April the Madhya Pradesh High Court granted bail to six Muslims arrested on sedition charges after their counsel argued that police had added sedition charges following pressure from the nationalist Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

On January 14, Madhya Pradesh police arrested 12 people, including a visually impaired couple, from the village of Pipirpura, after Hindu activists alleged they had attempted to convert Hindus to Christianity. The local court released them on bail the next day.

On March 14, police in Rajasthan arrested four students from Jammu and Kashmir after local students had confronted the Kashmiris and accused them of cooking beef in a hostel in Mewar University in Chittorgarh. The Kashmiri students were released on bail, and charges were later dropped after a lab report determined the meat was not beef.

On April 27, the Madhya Pradesh police stopped a wedding ceremony in a church in Satna and arrested 10 people after Bajrang Dal and a Madhya Pradesh Backward Caste Commission member, Laxmi Yadav, alleged conversion of a minor Hindu girl to Christianity through the marriage. The court released those arrested, including the pastor and the groom’s parents, a day later.

At year’s end, the Supreme Court was still considering an appeal filed in February by a Muslim woman, Shayara Banu, arguing that the practice of Muslim personal law allowing men to execute a divorce by saying “talaq” (Arabic for divorce) three times and engage in polygamy, as well as the practice of halala (by which a woman cannot remarry a husband from whom she is divorced without first consummating and ending a marriage with another man) was unconstitutional. On October 7, the federal government filed an affidavit in support of Banu’s case, pleading that triple talaq and polygamy violated the constitution’s guarantee of gender equality. During his speech at Mahoba, Uttar Pradesh on October 24, Prime Minister Modi stated there should be no discrimination against women on the basis of religion and the government had the responsibility to protect Muslim women’s constitutional rights. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, an NGO established to protect the applicability of sharia law to Muslims, and some Muslim clergy criticized the government for interfering in personal religious laws protected by the constitution. Muslim community leaders characterized government actions as interfering in religious life and maintained that religious decisions should remain the exclusive domain of religious communities. Muslim women’s rights groups, such as the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan and All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board, however, opposed triple talaq in the Supreme Court, stating the practice was not supported in the Quran.

On August 16, the central government submitted a petition to the Supreme Court challenging the codification of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), the oldest Islamic university in the country, as a “minority status” institution. The petition argued AMU received funds from the central government without reserving the required seats for members of disadvantaged castes and tribes, and the institution had not originally been founded as a minority university by the British. AMU was given time to argue its case before the Supreme Court. AMU stated that it was open to students from all religious groups and courses on Islam were optional. University administrators and other critics charged the central government with trying to undermine the autonomy of one of the world’s leading Islamic institutions of higher learning. AMU advocates said without minority status the university would lose its ability to make its own hiring decisions and choose its curriculum.

On September 16, the Bombay High Court refused to grant an interim stay filed by Massod Ansari, a social worker, on the resolution by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai’s (the municipal council) to make yoga and surya namaskar (sun salutation) mandatory in public schools. The court ruled the sun salutation was a form of exercise and rejected Ansari’s argument that it would force non-Hindu children to follow a Hindu faith practice. At year’s end, yoga and sun salutation remained mandatory in public schools in Mumbai.

On May 6, the Bombay High Court decriminalized possession of beef imported from outside Maharashtra. The court ruled that a section of Maharashtra’s 2015 beef ban was unconstitutional and the state could not disallow possession of beef from cows slaughtered outside the state, as doing so would violate a citizen’s right to possess and consume food of their choice. Consumers, butchers, and sellers among others in Maharahstra State said they remained vulnerable to prosecution in court because the burden of proof that the cow was not slaughtered in Maharashtra rested on the accused.

In early December 2015, Haryana Chief Minister M.L. Khattar established a government entity called Gau Seva Ayog (Cow Service Organization) to prevent cow slaughter in the state. On August 28, shortly before Eid al-Adha, the Gau Seva Ayog directed Haryana police to collect seven samples of biryani from roadside sellers to ensure they did not contain beef. According to media reports, Muslim communities stated they felt specifically targeted. On September 6, social activist Shehnaz Poonawalla submitted a petition to the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) against the Gau Seva Ayog, asking the NCM to direct the central government and Ministry for Home Affairs to demand the group cease its activities, stating that the entity was harassing Muslim communities.

In June then-Member of Parliament (MP) and later Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stated Mother Teresa had been on a mission to “Christianize India.” Catholic Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil called Adityanath’s comments “rash” and denied Mother Teresa had engaged in proselytizing. EFI reported tensions surrounding the canonization of Mother Teresa, which occurred on September 4. Some social media users stated Mother Teresa had engaged in forcible conversions.

On July 24, the President of the regional Maharashtrian Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena Party, Uddhav Thackeray, in an interview with his party’s publication Samana, called for declaring the country a Hindu state in order to prevent attacks on Hindus.

Members of civil society expressed concerns that, under the BJP government, religious minority communities felt vulnerable due to Hindu nationalist groups engaging in violence against non-Hindu individuals and places of worship. Religious minority communities stated that, while the national government sometimes spoke out against incidents of violence, local political leaders often did not, which left victims and minority religious communities feeling vulnerable. Minority religious groups expressed concern national education reforms would incorporate Hindu practices and teachings into secular public schools and private schools operated by minority faith communities. Christian groups cited the government’s introduction of Good Governance Day on December 25, as an effort to diminish the significance of Christmas, which is an official national holiday. Groups expressed fears of further reforms to education policies and civil laws that would minimize religious minority communities’ control over their own affairs.

In November MHA denied FCRA registration renewals for NGO Compassion International’s two main implementing partners. While MHA stated more than 1,300 other NGOs of various types also had their registration renewals denied because of FCRA regulation compliance issues, Compassion International and some media and civil society representatives stated Compassion International’s partner organizations were targeted because MHA alleged they were involved in conversions or other religious activities. Some other foreign-funded religious NGOs did not report any FCRA-related issues with operations in India.

On May 15, local government officials demolished a cross and an altar of a makeshift church erected on a piece of land allotted by the government to the Agape Gospel Ministries, a registered Christian NGO, in Nizampet village near Hyderabad, Telangana State. A police investigation initiated at the direction of the State Commission for Minorities concluded the government officials demolished the cross and the altar “by misconception.” On August 11, the commission directed the Telangana State government to either reconstruct the demolished portions of the church or pay suitable compensation. By year’s end, information as to whether the state government had complied with the directive was unavailable.

The central government stated the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community would be included, for the first time, as a subset of the Muslim community in the next census in 2021.

On October 14, Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh addressed the National Christian Leaders Conference and said, “Tolerance is essential for peaceful existence. People from all religions live peacefully in India and practice their religion without any fear of discrimination … I would like to say that religious persecution will never be allowed in India.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of hundreds of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, restrictions on the right to practice religion and proselytize, discrimination, and attacks against property. Groups most frequently targeted were Muslims and Christians. Cow protection groups, many of whose members believed cow slaughter and eating beef were an attack on the Hindu deities representing motherhood, carried out an increasing number of violent attacks, including killings, beatings, harassment, and intimidations, against consumers of beef or those involved in the beef industry.

According to the MHA 2015-16 Annual Report, 751 communal incidents (defined by authorities as violent conflicts involving religious communities on the issues of organizing religious congregations, desecration of religious symbols, and the ownership of community properties and facilities) took place in 2015, resulting in 97 deaths and 2,264 injuries. Although MHA stated there were no major outbreaks of communal violence in the country in 2015, statistics showed an increase in overall instances of communal violence reported compared to the previous year when the MHA recorded 644 communal incidents, resulting in 95 deaths and 1,921 injuries.

EFI reported more than 300 attacks against Christians or their churches during the year, compared to 177 in 2015. Incidents included assaults on religious workers and attacks on Christian churches, private property, and missionary schools and institutions. According to EFI, local police seldom provided protection, did not accept complaints, and rarely investigated incidents.

On March 18, villagers of Jhabar in Jharkhand’s Latehar District found the dead bodies of Muslim cattle traders Mohammad Majloom and Inayatullah Khan hanging from a tree. Police arrested five men, including one linked to a cow protection group.

On April 17, there was a violent altercation between Hindus and Muslims in Hazaribagh, a town in Jharkhand State. Media outlets reported a Hindu Ram Navami festival procession played recorded slogans while passing through a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, which the neighborhood’s residents found objectionable. According to media reports, in the ensuing violence, three people were killed and six injured, while 30 shops – most of them belonging to Muslims – were burned. Police arrested approximately 25 individuals.

On April 2, the body of a man missing for a month was found in Kurukshetra in Haryana. The victim’s father accused four members of a cow protection group, and the Haryana High Court ordered a CBI probe.

On August 18, Mangalore Catholic Diocese members said supporters of Hindu nationalist group Jagrana Vedike attacked and killed a Hindu, Praveen Poojary, in Karnataka State’s Udupi district, while he was transporting calves, which the attackers believed he was going to slaughter. Police arrested 18 individuals for the killing and were investigating the incident at year’s end.

On August 25, according to press reports, a group of armed members of a cow protection group in Haryana State beat a Muslim man and his wife to death and raped the man’s adult niece and her 14-year-old cousin. The adult victim said her attackers told her they were being raped because they ate meat. A two-member delegation of the NCM visited the area where the attack took place and supported the reports that cow protection groups played a role in the attack. Authorities charged four suspects with rape and murder. The case was pending at year’s end.

On September 16, a Muslim man died from injuries sustained from a beating by a mob who suspected he was carrying two calves for slaughter for Eid al-Adha. The Ahmedabad police registered complaints against the victim for “illegally ferrying animals” and against the attackers. The police filed charges against the victim before he died and against three of the alleged attackers for murder. The case against the accused killers remained pending at year’s end.

On September 20, police in Thane, Maharashtra State arrested a Muslim man, Shafiq Shamsuddin, for killing his cousin, Sufiya Mansuri, and her Hindu husband, Vijay Yadavat their residence. Shamsuddin was opposed to their interfaith marriage.

On March 23, a Pune court in Maharashtra State rejected the bail plea of Sameer Gaikwad, a member of Hindu nationalist group Sanatan Sanstha, who was arrested on charges of killing antisuperstition activist Govind Pansare on February 20, 2015. The trial had yet to begin at year’s end.

On April 17, a Hindu attacked a Protestant Christian pastor and his pregnant wife, and tried to set them on fire in Bastar, Chhattisgarh.

On December 14, online magazine Horizon Asia reported 30 youths armed with sticks and batons beat a group of 20 Catholics (mostly women and children), including a parish priest, while the Catholics were returning from a carol service in Tikariya village in Rajasthan. The attackers reportedly chanted slogans of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (Victory to Mother India). No arrests were reported.

On January 17, EFI reported a group of Hindus beat a Christian missionary for giving a Bible to a Hindu in Tamil Nadu State’s Erode District. The Hindu had reportedly asked for the Bible. In a separate incident on the same day in Tamil Nadu’s Theni District, assailants attacked a Pentecostal pastor with knives and sickles while he was conducting a prayer service, according to NGO Barnabas Aid. Police opened an investigation but had made no arrests by year’s end.

On January 28, Human Rights Forum of Coimbatore, an NGO that investigates and assists victims of human rights violations, reported a group of young men attacked a Catholic priest working for Assissi Snehalaya, a home for people with AIDS near Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu State. In a separate incident on the same day, unidentified individuals attacked three employees of Assissi Snehalaya. Police arrested two persons in connection with the first attack, who were subsequently released on bail. In the second incident, police charged five individuals, who fled and remained at large at year’s end. Investigations remained ongoing at year’s end.

On March 6, Chhattisgarh police arrested nine people after they attacked a Protestant congregation in the village of Kachna, disrupted the congregation’s prayer service, and vandalized their church. There were reports of minor injuries.

On July 26, two women were injured after members of a cow protection group beat them outside a railway station in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh State, after police arrested them for beef possession. Video by a spectator showed police taking no action during the beatings, which reportedly lasted close to half an hour. The women possessed 30 kilos of buffalo meat, which is not illegal. After tests determined the meat was buffalo and not beef, authorities charged the women with possessing the meat without a permit. Police arrested four men accused of assaulting the Muslim women. Authorities took no action against the police who stood by while the women were beaten.

In August the Chhattisgarh State Catholic Council held a press conference and made a public statement expressing concern over what the council said were increasing attacks on the community and its institutions, and the leveling of false charges of forced conversions and beef possession against Christians.

On February 20, 65 members of a Hindu nationalist group, Shivaji Jayanti Mandal, assaulted a Muslim police official, forced him to hoist a saffron flag – frequently a symbol of nationalist groups – and paraded him through Pangaon, Maharashtra State. The assault took place the day after police prevented the raising of the saffron flag to mark Shivaji Jayanti, a Hindu holiday, in a neighborhood with historically tense interfaith relationships. The police officer called his station for reinforcements, but they did not arrive in time to stop the attack. Police arrested 46 people in connection with the incident; their trial remained pending at year’s end.

On March 18, according to a media report that quoted police officials, unknown persons burned down a makeshift Christian prayer hall in Nizamabad District of Telangana State. The report stated that, prior to the arson, a mob attacked a local pastor and members of his congregation for allegedly trying to convert Hindus to Christianity. The attack on the pastor and congregation resulted in the hospitalization of six persons, including a four-year-old girl. A Telangana Rashtra Samithi MP representing the area, K. Kavita, dismissed any communal dimension to the incident and described it as an “accident.”

On March 28, a member of a cow protection group stopped a truck carrying buffalo tallow on the Rupnagar-Kurali road in Punjab State and beat the driver, Balkar Singh. Singh was charged under a Punjabi law that restricts the slaughter of buffalo without a permit. His attacker was not charged.

On May 6, three cow protection group members beat a man in Sohna, Haryana State on suspicion that he was carrying beef. A fourth man recorded the beating while the others threatened the victim with a gun. According to press reports, authorities were investigating a complaint against the victim, but not his attackers.

On June 10, cow protection group members force-fed a cow-dung mixture to two men after intercepting them while transporting beef in Faridabad, Haryana State. A court sentenced the two men to jail for smuggling beef; the length of their sentence was pending at year’s end. Authorities filed no charges against the attackers.

On July 31, cow protection group members beat a man for allegedly slaughtering cows in Muktsar District, Punjab. Authorities charged the man under the state’s cow slaughter law. There were no charges against the attackers.

On May 31, a cow protection group seized seven men in Pratapgarh, Rajasthan for transporting 96 water buffalo in two trucks. A crowd of 100-150, which reportedly included members of Bajrang Dal, beat the three truck occupants, set the trucks on fire, and attacked police when they tried to intervene. Police arrested the two truck drivers and one attacker. Buffalo transport and slaughter in Rajashtan is legal.

On September 23, Muslim leaders in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu State said members of VHP damaged shops of Muslim traders after accusing four men of killing their leader, C. Sasi Kumar. VHP members attacked the shops when Kumar’s body was taken to a crematorium. Media reported the VHP members entered the majority-Muslim area of Kottaimedu and threw stones. A photojournalist who witnessed the incidents said VHP workers threw stones at every shop on Cross Cut Road in Coimbatore during the funeral procession. Police made no arrests. Media reported that, on the same day, individuals, who many believed were VHP members, threw a Molotov cocktail at a mosque in Rathina Sabapathi Puram in Coimbatore.

According to EFI’s Hate and Targeted Violence report, on June 21, Hindu extremist groups threatened Pastor Shiv Dutt from the Brethren Assembly Billawar Church and told him to stop worship and prayer meetings in the Ramkote village of Kathua District in Jammu and Kashmir State.

On June 4, in New Delhi, EFI reported that a crowd of nearly 40 Hindus surrounded a vacation Bible school program for youth led by Pastor Rajpal Yadav. With nearly 200 students inside, the group shouted anti-Christian slogans and vandalized the venue. Police detained the pastor and an aide for what the pastor said was their protection.

A July report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) cited harassment and threats of violence as the reasons for a mass migration of Hindu families from the Muslim majority city of Kairana, Uttar Pradesh State. There was an inflow of Muslim residents to Kairana after they were displaced by anti-Muslim violence in Uttar Pradesh in 2013. The NHRC report followed statements by BJP MP Hukam Singh, citing the exodus of Hindus from Kairana because of criminal activity by Muslim migrants. According to the NHRC report, 346 Hindu families were displaced. Citing 24 witnesses, the NHRC attributed the migration of Hindu families to the actions of Muslims, including taunting and shouting lewd remarks. After an inquiry, however, the Shamli District Administration, where Kairana is located, reported that of the 346 Hindu families the NHRC said had been displaced, 66 families had left Kairana more than 10 years earlier and 188 families had left more than five years earlier. Human rights activists acting on behalf of the Muslim community in Kairana, such as Harsh Mander, disputed the NHRC’s findings that Hindus had been driven out by Muslim crime and called on the NHRC to withdraw and apologize for the report, which the human rights activists stated had been used to spread prejudice against the Muslim community.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Hyderabad complained of intimidation by other Muslim groups that considered the Ahmadis apostates. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community representatives stated that other Muslim groups often prevented them from organizing public meetings, even after they obtained police permits.

On January 29, Catholic Archbishop Leo Comelio of Bhopal stated anticonversion legislation was misused in Madhya Pradesh to falsely accuse Christians of forced conversions.

According to a May 15 media report, police averted a clash between two groups in Keonjhar District in Odisha following Hindu protests against conversion of the local residents to Christianity by “force” or “allurement.” The protestors alleged that pastors from the neighboring state of Jharkhand were encouraging conversions with financial inducements and the conversions had led to rifts within families.

On July 18, three Muslim students at St. John Baptist High in Thane, Maharashtra State, complained to police that their principal, Father Michael Pinto, ridiculed them for being Muslims. They said Pinto accused the students’ community of being behind terrorist attacks earlier in the year in France and Bangladesh. According to media sources, the principal also directed a Muslim teacher trainee not to wear a burqa while attending the school. The police took Pinto into custody but released him a short time later after his accusers declined to formally register a case against him.

On February 15, a 19-year-old Hindu woman, Neeraja, told News Minute website that the Muslim Educational Society Fathima Gafoor Memorial Women’s College, a minority institution located in Kozhikode, Kerala State, had barred her from entering its premises because she had married a Muslim. Neeraja alleged that the vice principal told her marrying outside her religion was an “unpardonable offense” per the college’s policy on interreligious marriage.

On June 6, St John’s Attamangalam Church near Kottayam, Kerala State denied permission for the burial of Madhu Jyotsana Akhauri on the grounds she had married a Hindu. Authorities told the media the church had disowned Akhauri because she had lived as a Hindu. Akhauri was later buried at St. Thomas Jacobite Church in Ponkunnam in the same district.

According to the Commission for Minorities for Telangana and Andhra Pradesh States, the commission received complaints about the demolition of a cross and altar in an Agape Gospel Church in Nazempet Village, an area where there had been conversions to Christianity. The commission stated it had also received several other complaints of illegal occupation of Christian and Muslim community properties, including graveyards. The commission, which collected data on incidents but lacked enforcement powers, said most local government officials failed to address complaints by religious minorities.

In June Hindu residents of Vadodara, Gujarat State petitioned the civic authorities to stop the relocation to the city of 218 displaced families (primarily Muslims) under a government housing initiative for the urban poor.

According to media reports, in June Manu Dabhi, a Dalit land owner in Ahmedabad, Gujarat State, refused to sign a note promising never to sell his land to a Muslim, as residents, with the support of VHP, had pressured him to do. Dabhi’s employer, a Muslim, denied residents’ charges he was using Dabhi as a front to own the land. The neighborhood where the property was located required legal permission of authorities to transfer real estate between owners of different faiths.

On September 19, Mumbai police arrested nine members of a housing association in Vasai, a Mumbai suburb, after a Muslim buyer, Vikar Ahmad Khan, objected to the association’s unofficial policy prohibiting house sales to Muslims. On September 20, the housing association reversed its previous policy and allowed Khan to buy an apartment. The association also issued an apology to Khan. The arrested members were later released.

On October 4, Mumbai police arrested Barun Kashyap, alleging he falsely reported cow vigilante harassment in social media postings. Mumbai police investigating the incident charged Kashyap with fabricating the complaint and promoting enmity between Hindus and Muslims. At year’s end Kashyap was free on bail pending trial.

On August 29, Muslim leaders of Dakshina Kannada District in Karnataka State said male students of Dr. K. Shivaram Karanth Government First Grade College in Bellare Village began wearing saffron shawls around their necks at the college in protest against female Muslim students wearing headscarves. Of the college’s 492 students, 19 were Muslim, including 15 females. According to a local Hindu leader, after a meeting of parents and teachers, the boys agreed not to wear saffron shawls and the Muslim girls not to wear headscarves inside the college.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 201.2 million (July 2016 estimate). According to the most recent census conducted in 1998, 95 percent of the population is Muslim (75 percent of the Muslim population is listed officially as Sunni and 25 percent as Shia). Per government figures, the remaining 5 percent includes Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Parsis/Zoroastrians, Bahais, Sikhs, Buddhists, Kalasha, Kihals, and Jains.

Unofficial estimates vary widely with regard to the size of minority religious groups. According to 2014 media accounts, although there are 2.9 million non-Muslims registered with the National Database and Registration Authority, estimates of the actual number exceed 3.5 million. Religious community representatives estimate minorities constitute 3 to 5 percent of the population, approximately six to 10 million citizens.

According to the 2014 government registration documents cited by the press, there are approximately 1.4 million Hindus, 1.3 million Christians, 126,000 Ahmadis, 34,000 Bahais, 6,000 Sikhs, and 4,000 Parsis. Taking account of the Ahmadi boycott of the official census, however, community sources put the number of Ahmadi Muslims at approximately 500,000-600,000. There are also estimates of a Zikri Muslim community, which is mainly located in Balochistan, ranging between 500,000 and 800,000 individuals. Most of the historic Jewish community has emigrated.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but states “subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.”

According to the constitution, every citizen also shall have the right to freedom of speech, subject to “reasonable restrictions in the interest of the glory of Islam,” as stipulated in the penal code. According to the penal code, the punishments for persons convicted of blasphemy include the death sentence for “defiling Prophet Muhammad,” life imprisonment for “defiling, damaging, or desecrating the Quran,” and 10 years’ imprisonment for “insulting another’s religious feelings.” Speech or action intended to incite religious hatred is punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment.

The constitution defines “Muslim” as a person who “believes in the unity and oneness of Almighty Allah, in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad…the last of the prophets, and does not believe in, or recognize as a prophet or religious reformer, any person who claimed or claims to be a prophet after Muhammad….” It also states “a person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, or Parsi community, a person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis), or a Bahai, and a person belonging to any of the scheduled castes” is a “non-Muslim.”

According to the constitution and the penal code, Ahmadis are not Muslims and may not call themselves Muslims or assert they are adherents of Islam. The penal code bans them from preaching or propagating their religious beliefs, proselytizing, or “insulting the religious feelings of Muslims.” The punishment for violation of these provisions is imprisonment for up to three years and a fine.

The penal code criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” and provides for a sentence of up to ten years in prison.

From January 2015 until the end of the year, a constitutional amendment allowed military courts to try civilians for terrorism, sectarian violence, and other charges. The government may also use special civilian terrorism courts to try cases involving violent crimes, terrorist activities, and acts or speech deemed by the government to foment religious hatred, including blasphemy.

The constitution states no person shall be required to take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship relating to a religion other than the person’s own.

The constitution provides for “freedom to manage religious institutions.” It states every religious denomination shall have the right to establish and maintain its own institutions. The constitution states no person shall be compelled to pay any special tax on the propagation or maintenance of a religion other than the person’s own. The government collects a 2.5 percent zakat (tax) from Sunni Muslims and distributes the funds to Sunni mosques, madrassas, and charities.

The constitution mandates the government take steps to enable Muslims, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam and to promote the observance of Islamic moral standards. It directs the state to endeavor to secure the proper organization of Muslim tithes, religious foundations, and places of worship.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony is responsible for organizing participation in the Hajj and other Islamic religious pilgrimages. Authorities also consult the ministry on matters such as blasphemy and Islamic education. The ministry’s budget covers assistance to indigent minorities, repair of minority places of worship, establishment of minority-run small development projects, celebration of minority religious festivals, and provision of scholarships for religious minority students.

On November 17, the Sindh Provincial Assembly passed a law to establish a Minorities Commission for Sindh province. The law states the 11-member commission will examine government policy and laws and make recommendations to protect better the rights of minorities in Sindh; the commission will also have inquiry powers of a civil court, including summoning witnesses and receiving evidence on affidavits.

The law prohibits publishing any criticism of Islam, or its prophets, or insults to others’ religious beliefs. The law bans the sale of Ahmadiyya religious literature.

The provincial and federal governments have legal responsibility for certain minority religious properties abandoned during the 1947 partition of British India.

The constitution states no person attending any educational institution shall be required to attend classes in religious instruction or take part in any religious ceremony relating to a religion other than the person’s own. It also states no religious denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of its denomination in an educational institution maintained by the denomination.

The constitution states the government shall make Islamic studies compulsory for all Muslim students in state-run schools. Although students of other religious groups are not legally required to study Islam, their schools may not offer parallel studies in their own religious beliefs and the students may have no other option. In some schools, however, non-Muslim students may study ethics. Parents may send children to private schools, including religious schools, at the family’s expense. Private schools are free to teach or not teach religious studies.

By law, madrassas are prohibited from teaching or encouraging sectarian or religious hatred or violence. The law requires all madrassas to register with one of five wafaqs (independent boards) or directly with the government, to account for their sources of financing, and to accept foreign students only with valid student visas, a background check, and the consent of their governments. Security analysts and madrassa reform proponents have observed, however, that many madrassas fail to enforce such documentation requirements.

The constitution states “all existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.” It further states no law shall be enacted which is “repugnant” to Islam. The constitution states this requirement shall not affect the “personal laws of non-Muslim citizens” or their status as citizens. Personal laws regulating marriage, divorce, and inheritance for minority communities date from prepartition British legislation.

The constitution establishes a Federal Shariat Court (FSC) composed of Muslim judges to examine and decide whether any law or provision is “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.” The constitution gives the court the power to examine a law of its own accord or at the request of the government or a private citizen. The constitution requires the government to amend the law as directed by the court. The constitution empowers the court to review criminal cases relating to certain crimes, including rape, and those linked to Islamic morality, such as extramarital sex, alcohol use, and gambling. The court may suspend or increase the sentence given by a criminal court in these cases. The court exercises “revisional jurisdiction” (the power to review of its own accord) in such cases in lower courts, a power which applies whether the cases involve Muslims or non-Muslims. Non-Muslims may consult the FSC in other matters which affect them or violate their rights if they so choose. Decisions of the court may be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The constitution establishes a Council of Islamic Ideology to make recommendations, at the request of the parliament and provincial assemblies, as to “the ways and means of enabling and encouraging Muslims to order their lives in accordance with the principles of Islam.” The constitution further empowers the council to advise the legislative and executive branches when they choose to refer a question to the council, as to whether a proposed law is or is not “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.”

In the absence of specific language in the law authorizing civil or common law marriage, marriage certificates are signed by religious authorities and registered with the local marriage registrar. In February the Sindh Provincial Assembly passed a law providing a formal process for registration of marriages for Hindus in Sindh as long as both parties are 18 or older, give consent to the marriage, and are not within a degree of familial relationship prohibited by Hindu custom.

The marriages of non-Muslim men remain legal upon conversion to Islam. If a non-Muslim woman converts to Islam and her marriage was performed according to her previous religious beliefs, the government considers the marriage dissolved. Children born to non-Muslim women who convert to Islam after marriage to a non-Muslim man are considered illegitimate, and ineligible for inheritance. The only way to legitimize the marriage, and the children, is for the husband also to convert to Islam. The children of a Muslim man and a Muslim woman who both convert to another religious group are considered illegitimate, and by law the government may take custody of the children.

The constitution directs the state to “safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities,” to secure the well-being of the people irrespective of creed, and to discourage sectarian prejudices. It forbids discrimination against any religious community in the taxation of religious institutions.

According to the constitution, there shall be no discrimination on the basis of religion in appointing individuals to government service, provided they are otherwise qualified.

The constitution prohibits discriminatory admission to any governmental educational institution based on religious affiliation. According to regulations, the only factors affecting admission to government schools are students’ grades and home provinces; however, students must declare their religious affiliation on application forms. This declaration is also required for private educational institutions, including universities. Students who identify themselves as Muslims must declare in writing they believe the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet. Non-Muslims are required to have the head of their local religious communities verify their religious affiliation.

The government designates religious affiliation on passports and requests religious information in national identity card applications. Those wishing to be listed as Muslims must swear they believe the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, and must denounce the Ahmadiyya movement’s founder as a false prophet and his followers as non-Muslim.

The constitution requires the president and prime minister to be Muslims. All senior officials, including members of parliament, must swear an oath to protect the country’s Islamic identity.

There are reserved seats for religious minority members in both the national and provincial assemblies. The 342-seat National Assembly has 10 seats for religious minorities. The 104-seat Senate has four reserved seats for religious minorities, one from each province. In the provincial assemblies, there are three such reserved seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP); eight in Punjab; nine in Sindh; and three in Balochistan. Political parties elected by the general electorate choose the minority individuals who hold these seats; they are not elected by the minority constituencies they represent.

The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and maintains two reservations: that ICCPR Article 3 regarding equal rights of men and women would be “applied as to be in conformity with Personal Law of the citizens and Qanoon-e-Shahadat (Law of Evidence),” and that ICCPR Article 25, of the equal right for citizens to take part in public service, would be subject to articles of the constitution mandating that the president and prime minister be Muslims.

Government Practices

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.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

There continued to be violence and abuses committed by armed sectarian groups connected to organizations banned by the government, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (previously referred to as Sipah-e-Sahaba), as well as abuses by individuals and groups designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. and other governments, such as ISIL-K.

Terrorist groups continued to target Christian places of worship. On March 27, Easter Sunday, a suicide bomber in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal park killed 78 people, including 29 children, and injured more than 350; the victims included members of Christian families who had gathered in the park for the religious holiday. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the bombing. The majority of the victims were Muslim. Authorities subsequently arrested more than 200 suspected militants in a crackdown throughout Punjab Province.

On November 12, ISIL-K claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on the Sufi shrine of Saint Shah Bilal Noorani in Balochistan that killed 52 people and injured more than 100. Media reported a suicide bomber carried out the attack during a religious activity.

Sectarian violent extremist groups targeted Shia houses of worship, religious gatherings, religious leaders, and other individuals in attacks resulting in 25 people killed and 19 others injured in 16 separate attacks throughout the country, according to a public database of attacks.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a Sunni splinter faction of the TTP, claimed responsibility for two attacks in Shikarpur that injured 13 people at a Shia mosque and congregation hall on September 13. Media reported that two men on a motorbike threw a homemade explosive device at a Shia congregation hall in Karachi on October 17, killing one child and injuring 20 others. Lashkar-e-Jhanvgi al-Alami, a cell of the Sunni LeJ, claimed responsibility for the attack. On October 29, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a Shia gathering in Karachi’s Nazimabad area, killing five and injuring six. Lashkar-e-Jhanvgi al-Alami claimed responsibility for the attack.

Terrorist groups also continued to target the predominantly Shia Hazara community. Suspected militants shot and killed a Hazara man in Quetta on December 8. Gunmen in Quetta killed two Hazara Shia men on August 1, with JuA claiming responsibility for the attack.

On September 2, militants attacked a Christian neighborhood in Peshawar, killing one security guard. JuA claimed responsibility for the attack.

In June Amjad Sabri, a singer of Sufi devotional music, was killed by an unknown assailant. The Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for the killing and declared Sabri a blasphemer. In November the police arrested two individuals in connection with the killing, who according to local media said they killed Sabri because he had committed blasphemy.

On October 5, unknown assailants shot and killed Zikri community spiritual leader Syed Akhtar Mullai in Turbat, Balochistan. The Baloch Liberation Front later claimed responsibility.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Throughout the year, unidentified attackers targeted and killed Shias, Hazaras, and Ahmadis in attacks believed to be religiously motivated, including multiple attacks during the Islamic month of Muharram. On November 11, three Shia students were shot by unknown gunmen on a motorbike; one of the students died from his wounds. On October 7, gunmen shot four Shia men in two separate incidents in Karachi, killing one. Prominent Shia civil society activist Syed Khurram Zaki was shot and killed in Karachi on May 7 in an apparent targeted killing. Four Shia were killed in two separate incidents on May 5 in Dera Ismail Khan in KP, prompting protests in the area. On April 8, unidentified gunmen in Karachi killed three men outside a Shia mosque in Karachi.

Unidentified assailants regularly targeted the predominantly Shia Hazara community. On November 30, unidentified assailants killed a Hazara woman in Quetta. On October 4, gunmen boarded a bus in Quetta and shot five Hazara Shia women, killing four.

There were multiple instances of what appeared to be targeted killings of Ahmadi community members. On November 27, gunmen on a motorbike killed an Ahmadi man in Karachi. On June 4, unidentified gunmen killed an Ahmadi pharmacy owner in the city of Attock in Punjab. On March 1, unidentified assailants stabbed an Ahmadi man to death near Punjab’s Sheikhupura District. Assailants on motorbikes shot and killed an Ahmadi man on May 25, and an Ahmadi doctor was shot in his clinic on June 20, with no witnesses; both killings occurred in Ahmadi community neighborhoods in Karachi.

Ahmadi representatives reported extremists, including a representative from religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and a Punjab assembly member from the Pakistani Muslim League (PML-N), held a rally in Rabwah, Punjab, the Ahmadiyya community’s center in Pakistan, calling for killing of Ahmadis and claiming the group was anti-Islamic and anti-Pakistan. The rally was held on September 7, which commemorated the passage of the 2nd Amendment to the constitution declaring Ahmadis were not Muslims. Various groups have held similar rallies and conferences yearly on September 7. According to media reports, members of the Ahmadiyya community who fled after the December 12 attack faced threats and a “social boycott” imposed by locals after returning to their homes in Chakwal’s Dulmial area.

Reports continued of attempts to coerce religious minorities to convert to Islam. Rights activists reported victims of forced marriage and conversion were pressured and threatened into saying publicly they had entered into the marriage of their own free will. In April, according to Christian activist organizations, two armed men abducted a 23-year-old Christian woman from her family’s home in Punjab’s Kasur district. When her father attempted to press charges, the police responded the woman had willingly converted to Islam and married one of the abductors. In July a Hindu woman held a press conference in Thatta, Sindh, detailing a years-long ordeal prior to her escape during which she was kidnapped, raped, coerced into marrying a Muslim man in Nawabshah, and then forced into prostitution by her husband.

Christian and Hindu organizations stated that girls from their communities were particularly vulnerable to forced conversions. According to press reports, Wadia Bai Meghwar, a Hindu woman who was already married, was kidnapped and forcibly remarried in May to a Muslim man in the Thar district of Sindh. Days later, media reported that the police officer investigating Meghwar’s case said she was not previously married and had married her new husband freely.

Christian activists continued to report widespread discrimination against Christians in private employment. They said Christians had difficulty finding jobs other than those involving menial labor.

Observers reported that some coverage in the English-language media of issues facing religious minorities had improved, including a major daily newspaper hiring a full-time reporter on minority faith issues. Observers reported, however, that Urdu-language media continued to show bias in reporting on minority faith issues, including multiple instances where media used inflammatory language or made inappropriate references to minorities. In separate occasions in June and September, television commentators stated Ahmadis were “deserving of death.” Throughout the year editorials in certain Urdu language newspapers referred to Ahmadis as “enemies of Pakistan” and “blasphemers.”

Human rights and religious freedom activists and members of minority religious groups reported they continued to be hesitant to speak in favor of religious tolerance because of the societal climate of intolerance and fear. Some activists reported receiving death threats because of their work. Police reported no further developments in the investigation into the 2014 assassination of attorney Rashid Rehman, who was defending an individual charged with blasphemy.

There continued to be reports of attacks on religious minorities’ holy places, cemeteries, and religious symbols, which police failed to prevent. Human rights activists and religious leaders reported an Apostolic church in Multan was set on fire on January 7 but no arrests were made. On June 4, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a Catholic church in Lahore. No casualties were reported in either attack.

In October the Islamic Solidarity Council, a group comprising various Muslim groups, issued a statement condemning sectarianism, fundamentalism, and religiously inspired violence, and emphasizing the importance of permitting the courts independently to decide on the case of Asia Bibi without pressure or threats.

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