Pakistan is a federal republic. In May 2013 the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party won a majority of seats in parliamentary elections, and Nawaz Sharif became prime minister for the third time. While judged to be mostly free and fair, some independent observers and political parties raised concerns about election irregularities. Asif Ali Zardari completed his five-year term as president in September 2013 with Mamnoon Hussain (PML-N) succeeding him. Orderly transitions in the military (chief of army staff) and the judiciary (Supreme Court chief justice) solidified the democratic transition.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most serious human rights problems were extrajudicial and targeted killings; disappearances; torture; lack of rule of law (including lack of due process, poor implementation and enforcement of laws, and frequent mob violence and vigilante justice); gender inequality; violence against gender and sexual minorities; and sectarian violence.
Other human rights problems included poor prison conditions, arbitrary detention, lengthy pretrial detention, a weak criminal justice system, lack of judicial independence in the lower courts, and governmental infringement on citizens’ privacy rights. Harassment of journalists continued, with high-profile attacks against journalists and media organizations. There were government restrictions on freedom of assembly and limits on freedom of movement. Government practices and certain laws limited freedom of religion, particularly for religious minorities. Discrimination against religious minorities, and sectarian violence continued. Corruption within the government and police, as well as rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, honor crimes, other harmful traditional practices, and discrimination against women and girls remained serious societal problems. Gender inequality continued. Child abuse and commercial sexual exploitation of children persisted. Child labor remained pervasive. Widespread human trafficking, including forced and bonded labor, continued. Societal discrimination against national, ethnic, and racial minorities persisted, as did discrimination based on caste, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status. Respect for worker rights was minimal.
Lack of government accountability remained a problem, and abuses often went unpunished, fostering a culture of impunity among the perpetrators whether official or unofficial. Authorities seldom punished government officials for human rights violations.
Continuing terrorist violence and human rights abuses by nonstate actors contributed significantly to human rights challenges in the country. The military continued significant campaigns against militant and terrorist groups. Nevertheless, violence, abuse, and social and religious intolerance by militant organizations and other nonstate actors located in the country and from neighboring countries contributed to a culture of lawlessness in some parts of the country, particularly in the provinces of Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), during the year there were 1,720 fatalities from terrorism, compared with 3,682 fatalities in 2015. Terror-related fatalities have been declining in the country since 2009, when fatalities totaled 11,704.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that authorities committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Security forces reportedly committed extrajudicial killings in connection with conflicts in Punjab, Balochistan, FATA, Sindh, and KP (see section 1.g.).
Physical abuse while in official custody allegedly caused the death of some criminal suspects. Lengthy trial delays and failure to discipline and prosecute those responsible for killings contributed to a culture of impunity.
On May 1-2, Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) officials alleged that the Sindh Rangers illegally detained and tortured an MQM worker who died in custody in Karachi. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif ordered an inquiry into the incident. The director general of the Sindh Rangers suspended five officers for their alleged involvement in the MQM worker’s death.
There were continued allegations of politically motivated killings of Baloch nationalists in Balochistan and Sindh. In his testimony before the Senate of Pakistan Standing Committee on Human Rights, Balochistan’s Frontier Corps Deputy Inspector General for Investigations and Crime declared that 1,040 persons had been killed in Balochistan in 2015-16. He claimed there was “no evidence of security agency involvement” in the killings.
The SATP reported that journalists, teachers, students, and human rights defenders also were targeted by state and nonstate actors in Balochistan. According to the SATP, as of November 20, at least 244 civilians were killed in Balochistan, compared with 247 during 2015.
On August 8, a coordinated attack in Quetta killed at least 73 individuals, 55 of them lawyers. Both Da’esh and the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack.
There were reports of politically motivated killings by political factions or unknown assailants in Sindh. On May 8, gunmen killed a well-known activist and journalist, Khurram Zaki, in Karachi. The Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) Hakeemullah Mehsud Group claimed credit for the attack and said it was retribution for the media campaign he ran against the Islamabad-based Red Mosque cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz. On June 22, gunmen killed Amjad Sabri, a well-known Sufi qawali (Sufi devotional music) singer in a targeted attack in Karachi. According to media reports, the TTP Hakeemullah Mehsud Group claimed responsibility for the killing, calling the Sufi music “blasphemous.” Police and security agencies arrested several MQM members, who reportedly confessed to involvement in the Sabri murder.
The provincial government and political parties in Sindh, Balochistan, KP, and Punjab remained targets of attack by militant and other nonstate actors.
On July 24 unidentified militants killed a senior cleric from the Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazlur (JUI-F), a coalition partner of the ruling PML-N, and his son in Balochistan’s Kech District. In March the bodies of five government employees who had been abducted in Kech district were found. All the victims were employees of the Urban Planning and Development Department. On January 22, Balochistan Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti (PML-N) narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when his convoy hit a roadside bomb in Dera Bugti, Balochistan. Bugti survived another attempt on his life near Sui, Balochistan, on February 29.
In October hundreds of sleeping police recruits were attacked at a police academy in Quetta, Balochistan. Suicide bombers killed 61 cadets and injured 117. Da’esh claimed responsibility, but security officials told media that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was behind the attack.
District-level and provincial politicians from Awami National Party, Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), and JUI-F were shot and killed in targeted attacks throughout KP and FATA. On April 25, PTI provincial assembly member Sardar Soran Singh (from the minority Sikh community) was killed by gunmen in KP’s Buner District. Police alleged the killing was politically motivated, ordered by a rival Sikh politician who stood to inherit Singh’s reserved seat in the Provincial Assembly.
Militants and terrorist groups killed hundreds and injured thousands with bombs, suicide attacks, and other violence (see section 1.g.).
The government ended its moratorium on capital punishment in 2014, following the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. Human rights organizations reported concerns with observance of due process and the execution of individuals under age 18 when they allegedly committed the crime.
There were kidnappings and forced disappearances of persons from various backgrounds in nearly all areas of the country. Some police and security forces reportedly held prisoners incommunicado and refused to disclose their location. Human rights organizations reported many Sindhi and Baloch nationalists as among the missing; for example, the International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (a separate organization from the VBMP) in August claimed that forced disappearance victims were being killed by security forces in contrived police encounters.
Karachi-based political party MQM alleged that the paramilitary Sindh Rangers kidnapped, tortured, and killed some of its members in security operations in Karachi. They claimed authorities killed 61 MQM members extrajudicially in the operations. In May the MQM submitted to the Supreme Court a list of 171 political workers who it said had been missing since January. The party said Sindh Rangers were responsible for abducting party workers. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) called for a probe into extrajudicial killings and disappearances of MQM workers. Nationalist parties in Sindh also alleged that law enforcement agencies kidnapped and killed Sindhi political activists. Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM), a banned Sindhi nationalist party, claimed that during 2016, 11 of their party members had been abducted by security agencies across Sindh. In April, a senior nationalist leader and founder of Jiye Sindh Tehreek, Shafi Karnani, was shot and killed in Thatta, Sindh by unknown assailants.
The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances headed by Supreme Court Justice Javed Iqbal and retired law enforcement official Muhammad Sharif Virt received 3,522 missing persons cases between 2011 and July 31. The commission claimed to have closed out 2,105 of those cases and to have traced 1,614 of the missing persons, while 1,417 of the cases remained open.
According to press reporting and human rights groups, a Karachi-based Baloch activist was abducted by alleged security officials when he stopped at a highway toll plaza on July 26; he was released in December. The National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) opened an investigation, but there were no additional details regarding his abduction as of the end of the year.
In January the Peshawar High Court dismissed the case of Indian citizen Hamid Nehal Ansari, pending since 2012, when the Ministry of Defense confirmed to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances that Ansari was in the army’s custody pending trial before a military court. According to media reports, he was convicted of espionage and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in February. According to Ansari’s mother, the Mumbai native was job seeking in Afghanistan when he crossed into Kohat, KP, to meet a woman he had met online before being arrested at his hotel.
The VBMP claimed the total number of persons who had disappeared since 2000 in Balochistan could be greater than 20,000. The International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons maintained an online database of missing persons in Balochistan, and it listed a total of 739 individuals missing since 1969, including 100 individuals who allegedly were abducted during the year.
There were reports of disappearances in connection with continuing conflicts between militant groups and government forces in Punjab and FATA.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, the criminal code has no specific section against torture. It prohibits causing “hurt” but does not mention punishing perpetrators of torture. There are no legislative provisions specifically prohibiting torture. There were reports that security forces, including the intelligence services, tortured and abused individuals in custody.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the absence of proper complaint centers and the absence of a particular section in the criminal code that defines and prohibits torture contributed to such practices. The commission maintained that the government undertook no serious effort to make torture a crime and that perpetrators, mostly police or members of the armed forces, operated with impunity.
There were reports some police personnel employed cruel and degrading treatment and punishment. The HRCP reported that police committed acts they described as “police excesses” in more than 124 cases as of November, compared with more than 178 cases in 2015. Multiple sources reported that torture occasionally resulted in death or serious injury and was often underreported. Acts described by Society for Human Rights and Prisoners’ Aid (SHARP) and other human rights organizations included beating with batons and whips, burning with cigarettes, whipping the soles of feet, prolonged isolation, electric shock, denying food or sleep, hanging upside down, and forced spreading the legs with bar fetters.
In March the newspaper Dawn reported that Manzoor Shah died three days after he was transferred to Karachi Central Prison after allegedly being tortured by police while in custody. An MQM senator said Shah was arrested by paramilitary forces and then handed over to prison authorities after the end of his remand period. According to the postmortem, Shah died from a head injury caused by a hard and blunt object.
The practice of collective punishment continued in FATA and the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA), as provided for in the 114-year-old “Frontier Crimes Regulation” (FCR), which governs FATA. In 2011 the government amended the FCR to exempt women, all individuals over age 65, and children below age 16 from collective punishment. Authorities apply collective punishment incrementally, starting with the first immediate male family members, followed by the subtribe, and continuing outward. Although this graduated approach reduces its scope, the FCR assigns collective punishment without regard to individual rights. Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern about the concept of collective responsibility, as authorities used collective responsibility to detain members of fugitives’ tribes, demolish their homes, confiscate or destroy their property, or lay siege to fugitive villages pending surrender or punishment by fugitives’ own tribes in accordance with local tradition. In November media and local government officials reported security forces demolished a market in Wana, South Waziristan, near the Afghan border in an attribution of “collective responsibility” following the death of a military officer by an improvised explosive device during a raid on the market conducted against militants.
Military Operations in the FATA continued throughout the year, targeting militant groups, primarily in Waziristan. Restrictions on access to these conflict zones imposed by the government limited the information available to international observers, including the United Nations, civil society, and nongovernmental actors about possible abuses in these areas.
Pakistan has a total of 7,156 police, military experts, and soldiers performing peacekeeping duties around the world. The United Nations reported that during the year (as of December 20) it received two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against Pakistani peacekeepers for one alleged incident occurring during the year and for one of which the date was unknown. One allegation involved military personnel deployed to the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire, was being investigated by the government and allegedly involved minors. There was no result by the end of the year. The other allegation, involving military personnel deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, was investigated by the government and found to be unsubstantiated.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in some prisons and detention centers were harsh and life threatening. Problems such as overcrowding and inadequate medical care were widespread.
Physical Conditions: Prison conditions often were extremely poor. Overcrowding was common. SHARP estimated the nationwide prison population at 100,000 while claiming that the normal capacity of prisons was approximately 36,000.
Provincial governments were the primary managers of prisons and detention centers, after those run by the national government and the military.
Inadequate food and medical care in prisons led to chronic health problems and malnutrition among inmates unable to supplement their diets with help from family or friends. In many facilities sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and access to potable water were inadequate. Most prison facilities were antiquated and had no means to control indoor temperatures. A system existed for basic and emergency medical care, but bureaucratic procedures slowed access. Foreign prisoners often remained in prison long after completion of their sentences because they were unable to pay for deportation to their home countries.
Prison security remained a concern. Media reported that a prison break in Mardan, KP, occurred in June; however, prison officials denied there were any escapees, and no further information was available.
Prisoners who were members of religious minorities generally received poorer facilities than Muslims and often suffered violence at the hands of fellow inmates. Representatives of Christian and Ahmadiyya Muslim communities claimed their members were often subjected to abuse in prison. Civil society organizations reported prisoners accused of blasphemy violations were frequently subjected to poor prison conditions. NGOs reported that many individuals accused of blasphemy remained in solitary confinement for extended periods, sometimes for more than a year. The government asserted this treatment was for the individual’s safety.
Authorities held women separately from men in some, but not all, prisons. Balochistan had no women’s prison; officials claimed they housed women in separate barracks in Quetta and Lasbela district prisons.
Police often did not segregate detainees from convicted criminals. Prisoners with mental disabilities usually lacked adequate care.
Prison officials usually kept juvenile offenders in barracks separate from adults. Nevertheless, officials often mixed children with the general prison population at some point during their imprisonment. According to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), prisoners and prison staff often subjected children to abuse, rape, and other forms of violence.
According to SPARC, authorities sometimes held juvenile prisoners mixed with the general population in prisons in all four provinces and FATA.
SPARC described conditions for juvenile prisoners as among the worst in the country. Many juveniles spent long periods behind bars because they could not afford bail. According to SPARC, rather than being rehabilitated, child prisoners often became hardened criminals after having spent long periods in the company of adult prisoners.
The Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, which outlines the treatment of juveniles in the justice system, does not apply to juveniles accused of terrorism or narcotics offenses. SPARC reported that in the past, officials arrested children as young as age 12 on charges of terrorism under the Antiterrorism Act. Children convicted under the act could be sentenced to death. There were numerous cases of individuals on death row having been convicted of crimes allegedly committed, and/or tried for, while under the age of 18. Lack of documentation continued to be a challenge for verifying questions of legal age. Civil society sources reported that while they had no official reports of current juvenile inmates on death row, they could not rule out the possibility. Different courts made different decisions as to what was “adequate” proof of age.
Administration: According to SHARP, there was adequate manual recordkeeping on prisoners, but there was a need for computerized records. In July the reported that a digitized Prison Management Information System was operational in 20 prisons in Punjab.
There was an ombudsman for detainees, with a central office in Islamabad and offices in each province. Inspectors general of prisons irregularly visited prisons and detention facilities to monitor conditions and handle complaints.
By law prison authorities must permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. According to SHARP, however, prisoners often refrained from submitting complaints to avoid retaliation from jail authorities.
The constitution mandates that religious minority prisoners must be accorded places to worship inside jails. It was unclear to what extent authorities implemented this provision.
Independent Monitoring: International organizations responsible for monitoring prisons reported difficulty accessing detention sites, in particular those holding security-related detainees. Authorities did not allow international organizations access to detention centers most affected by violence in KP, FATA, and Balochistan. Provincial governments in Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) permitted some international organizations to monitor civil prisons, but leaders of monitoring organizations noted that their operations were becoming more restricted each year.
Authorities at the local, provincial, and national levels permitted some human rights groups and journalists to monitor prison conditions of juveniles and female inmates.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but authorities did not always comply. Corruption and impunity compounded this problem.
On April 23, law enforcement officials arrested Sindh nationalist party Jeay Sindh Qaumi Muhaz (JSQM) activist Kehar Ansari, which JSQM claimed was arbitrary and designed to sabotage their organization. On May 2, JSQM members organized a protest calling for Ansari’s release. Law enforcement agencies broke up the protest, injuring six and killing one protester, according to press reports. Ansari was released on May 4.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Police have primary domestic security responsibility for most of the country. Local police are under the jurisdiction of provincial governments. The Rangers are a paramilitary organization under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, with branches in Sindh and Punjab. The Frontier Corps is the Rangers’ counterpart in Balochistan and the tribal areas; it reports to the Ministry of Interior in peacetime and military in times of conflict. The military is responsible for external security but continues to play a role in domestic security.
The FCR provides the framework for law and order in FATA, implemented through appointed political agents who report to the governor of KP. The court system and judiciary do not have jurisdiction in FATA. Under the FCR the trial by jirga (gathering of tribal leaders) does not allow residents legal representation. If the accused is an adult male, he normally appears before the jirga in person to defend his case. Parents normally represent their minor children, and men normally represent their female relatives. Observers often criticized the FCR for harsh provisions. In 2011 authorities amended some of these provisions, including modifying the collective responsibility of a tribe, restricting the arbitrary nature of the powers of political agents or district coordination officers, and granting citizens limited rights to challenge the decisions of political agents in a codified tribunal system.
In lieu of police, multiple law enforcement entities operated in FATA. They included the paramilitary Frontier Corps; the Frontier Constabulary, which patrols the area between FATA and KP and also operates in FATA; Khasadars (hereditary tribal police); and FATA levies, which report to the political agent to help maintain order. Tribal leaders convene lashkars (tribal militias) to deal with temporary law and order disturbances, but they operate as private tribal militias and not as formal law enforcement entities.
Police effectiveness varied by district, ranging from good to ineffective.
Failure to punish abuses contributed to a climate of impunity throughout the country. According to civil society sources, police and prison officials frequently used the threat of abuse to extort money from prisoners and their families. The inspectors general, district police, district nazims (chief elected officials of local governments), provincial interior or chief ministers, federal interior minister, prime minister, or courts can order internal investigations into abuses and order administrative sanctions. Executive branch and police officials have authority to recommend, and the courts may order, criminal prosecution. The court system remained the only means available to investigate abuses by security forces. The NCHR, established in 2015, may not inquire into any complaints against intelligence agencies and must refer such complaints to the competent authority concerned. The NCHR may seek a report from the national government on any complaint made against the armed forces, and after receipt of a report, it can either end the process or forward recommendations for further action to the national government.
During the year the government continued to use the military to support domestic security. Paramilitary forces, including Rangers and the Frontier Constabulary (FC), provided security to some areas of Islamabad and continued active operations in Karachi. Following the March 27 Easter suicide bombing attack on Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, which killed 75 individuals, the military launched a limited counterterrorism offensive in southern Punjab, which resulted in the arrest of more than 200 suspected militants, although much of the military’s effort focused on criminal gangs in the area. In May the International Crisis Group assessed in a special report on Jihadist groups operating in southern Punjab that the military campaign did not target certain militant groups, and instead carried out a 21-day operation against the Chotu criminal gang located in the Rajanpur district of Punjab. Paramilitary FC forces continued active security operations in Balochistan.
In January 2015, in response to a terrorist attack on the Peshawar Army Public School, Parliament approved a constitutional amendment to allow military courts to try civilians on terrorism, militancy, sectarian violence, and other charges. The amendment included a provision under which the courts would expire in January 2017. In August 2015 the Supreme Court upheld this use of military courts while retaining its own right to review cases. NGOs, opposition leaders, and activists expressed concerns about the use of military courts for civilian suspects, citing lack of transparency and its redundancy with the civilian judicial system. On August 29, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences for 16 civilians convicted of terrorism by the military courts.
Police often failed to protect members of religious minorities–including Christians, Ahmadiyya Muslims, Shi’a Muslims, and Hindus–from attacks. There were improvements, however, in police professionalism and instances of local authorities protecting minorities from discrimination and communal violence. During the year at least 20 members from these communities were killed; in April allegations that a Christian man had blasphemous videos on his cell phone led to a mob forming and attempting to burn houses in the Christian community of Chak 44 in northern Punjab. Ten Christian families fled. A 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. In May, Christians near Gujrat used an emergency police hotline when a mob formed after a local cleric tried to file blasphemy charges against a young Christian woman. Police and community members worked to diffuse the situation, and ultimately the cleric withdrew the complaint. As in previous years, the Punjab provincial government conducted regular training in technical skills and protection of human rights for police at all levels.
On December 12, a mob of approximately 1,000 persons attacked an Ahmadi mosque in Chakwal, Punjab, throwing stones and firing rounds at the building. Police eventually dispersed the crowds. There were reports that one Ahmadi died of a heart attack, and one member was killed during the attack; police arrested multiple Ahmadies on murder charges as a result. The Ahmadis’ local leadership had written to the district and provincial government one week earlier requesting security for the mosque due to local religious clerics’ incitements of violence against the site.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
A First Information Report (FIR) is the legal basis for any arrest, initiated when police receive information about the commission of a “cognizable” offense. A third party usually initiates an FIR, but police can file FIRs on their own initiative. A FIR allows police to detain a suspect for 24 hours, after which a magistrate may order detention for an additional 14 days if police show detention is necessary to obtain evidence material to the investigation. Some authorities did not observe these limits on detention. Authorities reportedly filed FIRs without supporting evidence in order to harass or intimidate detainees, or did not file them when adequate evidence was provided unless the complainant paid a bribe. There were reports of persons arrested without judicial authorization.
NGOs reported that individuals frequently paid bribes to visit prisoners. The Ministry of Interior frequently did not provide notification of the arrest of foreigners to their respective embassies or consulates. In 2015 the ministry introduced a new requirement that foreign missions request access to their arrested citizens 20 days in advance.
There was a functioning bail system. Human rights groups, noted, however, that some judges set bail based on the particular circumstances of a case instead of following established procedures. Judges sometimes denied bail at the request of police or the community and victims, or upon payment of bribes. NGOs reported that authorities sometimes denied bail in blasphemy cases on the grounds that defendants, who faced the death penalty, were likely to flee or were at risk from public vigilantism. Bail is not available in antiterrorism courts or in the military courts established under the January 2015 amendment to the constitution.
The government provided state-funded legal counsel to prisoners facing the death penalty, but it did not regularly provide legal representation in other cases. NGOs provided legal aid in some cases. The constitution recognizes the right of habeas corpus and allows the high courts to demand a person accused of a crime be present in court. The law allows citizens to submit habeas corpus petitions to the courts. In many cases involving forced disappearances, authorities failed to present detainees according to judges’ orders.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports police arbitrarily detained individuals to extort bribes for their release or detained relatives of wanted individuals to compel suspects to surrender.
Pretrial Detention: Police sometimes held persons in investigative detention without seeking a magistrate’s approval and often held detainees without charge until a court challenged the detention. Magistrates generally approved investigative detention at the request of police without requiring justification. When police did not develop sufficient evidence to try a suspect within the 14-day period, police generally requested that magistrates issue new FIRs, thereby further extending the suspect’s detention.
By law detainees must be brought to trial within 30 days of arrest. There were exceptions; a district coordination officer has authority to recommend preventive detention on the grounds of “maintenance of public order” for up to 90 days and may–with approval of the Home Department–extend it for an additional 90 days.
In some cases trials did not start until six months after the FIR, and at times individuals remained in pretrial detention for periods longer than the maximum sentence for the crime with which they were charged. SHARP estimated that more than 70 percent of the prison population was awaiting trial. Authorities seldom informed detainees promptly of charges against them.
Special rules apply to cases brought to court by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which investigates and prosecutes corruption cases. The NAB may detain suspects for 15 days without charge (renewable with judicial concurrence) and deny access to counsel prior to charging. Offenses under the NAB are not bailable, and only the NAB chairman has the power to decide whether to release detainees.
Under the FCR in FATA, the political agent has legal authority to detain preventively individuals on a variety of grounds and may require bonds to prevent undesired activities. Indefinite detention is not allowed, and detained persons may appeal to the FCR tribunal. Prisoners have the right to compensation for wrongful punishment. Cases must be decided within a specified period, and authorities may release arrested persons on bail. Regulations require prisoners to be brought before FCR authorities within 24 hours of detention, which curtails the ability of political agents to arbitrarily arrest and hold persons for up to three years. The accused have the right of appeal via a two-tiered system, which starts with an appellate authority comprising an FCR commissioner and an additional judicial commissioner.
In FATA, PATA, and KP, security forces may restrict the activities of terrorism suspects, seize their assets for up to 48 hours, and detain them for as long as one year without charges. Human rights and international organizations reported that authorities held an unknown number of individuals allegedly affiliated with terrorist organizations indefinitely in preventive detention, where they were often tortured and abused. In many cases authorities held prisoners incommunicado, denying them prompt access to a lawyer of their choice. Family members often were not allowed prompt access to detainees.
A 2011 Regulation provides the military a legal framework to operate in conflict areas. It regulates the armed forces and provides them with legal authority to handle detainees under civilian supervision when called upon by the government. Retroactive to 2008, the regulation empowers the KP governor to direct armed forces to intern suspected terrorists in FATA and PATA. Critics stated the regulation violates the constitution because of its broad provisions expanding military authority and circumventing legal due process. Detainee transfers to internment centers continued on a regular basis.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were reports of persons arrested or detained who were not allowed to challenge in court the legal basis or nature of their detention, obtain relief, or receive compensation.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary often was subjected to external influences, such as fear of reprisal from extremist elements in terrorism or blasphemy cases and public politicization of high-profile cases. The media and the public generally considered the high courts and the Supreme Court credible.
Extensive case backlogs in the lower and superior courts, together with other problems, undermined the right to effective remedy and to a fair and public hearing. Delays in justice in civil and criminal cases were due to antiquated procedural rules, unfilled judgeships, poor case management, and weak legal education.
The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the high courts does not extend to several areas that operated under separate judicial systems. For example, AJK has its own elected president, prime minister, legislature, and court system. Gilgit-Baltistan also has a separate judicial system.
Many lower courts remained corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from wealthy persons and influential religious and/or political figures.
There were instances in which unknown persons threatened and/or killed witnesses, prosecutors, or investigating police officers in high-level cases. On June 21, the Sindh High Court chief justice’s son, Owais Ali Shah, was abducted outside a grocery store in Karachi. Security forces rescued Shah on July 19 near the Tank district of KP.
Informal justice systems lacking institutionalized legal protections continued, especially in rural areas, and often resulted in human rights abuses. Landlords and other community leaders in Sindh and Punjab, and tribal leaders in Pashtun and Baloch areas, at times held local council meetings (“panchayats” or “jirgas”), external to the established legal system. Such councils settled feuds and imposed tribal penalties, including fines, imprisonment, and sometimes the death penalty. These councils often sentenced women to violent punishment or death for so-called honor-related crimes. In Pashtun areas, primarily in FATA, such councils were held under FCR guidelines. Assistant political agents, supported by tribal elders of their choosing, are legally responsible for justice in FATA and conduct hearings according to their interpretation of Islamic law and tribal custom.
The civil, criminal, and family court systems provide for a fair trial and due process, presumption of innocence, cross-examination, and appeal. There are no trials by jury. Although defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, courts must appoint attorneys for indigents only in capital cases. Defendants generally bear the cost of legal representation in lower courts, but a lawyer may be provided at public expense in appellate courts. Defendants may confront or question prosecution witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants and attorneys have legal access to government-held evidence. Due to the limited number of judges, a heavy backlog of cases, lengthy court procedures, frequent adjournment, and political pressure, cases routinely lasted for years, and defendants made frequent court appearances.
SPARC reported that adjudication of cases involving juveniles was slow due to a lack of special juvenile courts or judges. It concluded that a fair and just juvenile justice system did not exist.
There were instances of lack of transparency in court cases, particularly if the case dealt with high-profile or sensitive issues. NGOs reported that the government often located trials in jails because of security concerns, which extended to the accused, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and witnesses. NGOs expressed concerns about the security of the jail trials and lack of privacy for the accused to consult with a lawyer.
The Antiterrorism Act allows the government to use special, streamlined Antiterrorism Act Courts (ATCs) to try persons charged with violent crimes, terrorist activities, acts, or speech designed to foment religious hatred, and crimes against the state. In other courts suspects must be brought to court within seven working days of their arrest, but the ATCs are free to extend the period. Human rights activists criticized the expedited parallel system, charging that it was more vulnerable to political manipulation. In 2014, after a judge’s ruling that the Antiterrorism Act had been incorrectly applied, authorities returned 15 percent of cases initially brought to ATCs to regular courts, according to Punjab’s prosecutor general. NGOs reported that if a case needed to be expedited due to the egregious nature of the crime or political pressure, it was often sent to an ATC rather than through the regular court system. Others commented that, despite being comparatively faster than the regular court system, the ATCs often failed to meet speedy trial standards and had significant case backlogs.
The government continued to utilize military courts to try civilians on terrorism and related charges. Trials in military courts are not public (see section 1.d.).
The Federal Shariat Court typically reviewed cases prosecuted under the Hudood Ordinance–a law enacted in 1979 by military leader Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq to implement a strict interpretation of Islamic law by punishing extramarital sex, false accusations of extramarital sex, theft, and drinking alcohol. Should a provincial high court decide to hear an appeal in a Hudood case, the Shariat courts lack authority to review the provincial high court’s decision. The Supreme Court may bypass the Shariat Appellate Bench and assume jurisdiction in such appellate cases. The Federal Shariat Court may overturn legislation judged inconsistent with Islamic tenets, but such decisions may be appealed to the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court and ultimately may be heard by the full bench of the Supreme Court.
Courts routinely failed to protect the rights of religious minorities. Courts discriminatorily used laws prohibiting blasphemy against Shi’a, Christians, Ahmadis, and members of other religious minority groups. Lower courts often did not require adequate evidence in blasphemy cases, and some accused and convicted persons spent years in jail before higher courts eventually overturned their convictions or ordered them freed.
In 2015 the Supreme Court suspended the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy in 2010, pending its decision on her appeal. Bibi had been on death row since 2010 after a district court found her guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammed during an argument. Her lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court in November 2014. The appeal was due to be heard on October 13 but was delayed after one member of the three-judge bench recused himself. The court did not set a date for the next hearing.
On June 20, the Lahore ATC acquitted five Christians who had been accused of blasphemy and detained since August 2015. Local police near Gujranwala had filed charges against a group of 16 individuals for allegedly publishing offensive material, and in September a Gujranwala ATC released one Muslim but denied bail to Christian defendants. Other members of the group were subsequently released on bail.
On February 29, authorities executed Mumtaz Qadri, who was convicted of killing then governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer after Taseer had publicly called for a presidential pardon for Asia Bibi. Protests erupted after the execution, including large demonstrations in Rawalpindi that continued until March 30. Protesters, including police and lawyers, expressed support for Qadri and demanded continued enforcement of blasphemy laws.
Also see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Some Sindhi and Baloch nationalist groups claimed that authorities marked their members for arrest and detained them based on their political affiliation or beliefs. Under the 2009 Aghaz-e-Huqooq (“beginning of the rights”) Balochistan “package,” intended to address the province’s political, social, and economic problems, the government announced a general amnesty for all Baloch political prisoners, leaders, and activists in exile, as well as those allegedly involved in “antistate” activities. In August 2015 the federal and Balochistan provincial governments jointly announced a new peace package called “Pur Aman Balochistan” (“peaceful Balochistan”), intended to offer cash and other incentives for “militants” who wished to rejoin mainstream society. Despite the amnesty offers, some Baloch groups claimed that illegal detention of nationalist leaders by state agencies continued. Several of the missing persons documented by the VBMP were well-known leaders of nationalist political parties and student organizations.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals may petition the courts to seek redress for various human rights violations, and courts often took such actions. Individuals may seek redress in civil courts against government officials, including on grounds of denial of human rights. Observers reported that civil courts seldom, if ever, issued official judgments in such cases, and most cases were settled out of court. Although there were no official procedures for administrative redress, informal reparations were common. Individuals and organizations could not appeal adverse decisions to regional human rights bodies, although some NGOs submitted human rights “shadow reports” to the EU and other international actors.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law requires court-issued warrants for property searches. Police sometimes ignored this requirement and on occasion reportedly stole items during searches. Authorities seldom punished police for illegal entry. Police at times detained family members to induce a suspect to surrender. In cases pursued under the Antiterrorism Act, the government allowed security forces to search and seize property related to a case without a warrant.
Several domestic intelligence services monitored politicians, political activists, suspected terrorists, NGOs, employees of foreign entities, and the media. These services included the Inter-Services Intelligence, police Special Branch, and Military Intelligence. There were credible reports authorities routinely used wiretaps, monitored cell phone calls, intercepted electronic correspondence, and opened mail without court approval.
Militant and terrorist activity continued, and there were numerous suicide and bomb attacks in all four provinces and FATA. Militants and terrorist groups, including the TTP, targeted civilians, journalists, community leaders, security forces, law enforcement agents, and schools, killing hundreds and injuring thousands with bombs, suicide attacks, and other forms of violence. Militant and terrorist groups often attacked religious minorities. A low-intensity separatist insurgency continued in Balochistan. Security forces reportedly committed extrajudicial killings in the fight against militant groups.
The military conducted multiple counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations in FATA to eradicate militant safe havens. In 2014 the military launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb, an operation against foreign and domestic terrorists in FATA, which continued throughout the year. In the first nine months of the year, according to the SATP, the military killed more than 2,313 suspected terrorists. The government also acted throughout the country to weaken terrorist groups and prevent recruitment by militant organizations. For example, law enforcement agencies reported seizures of large caches of weapons in urban areas such as Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. Police arrested Karachi gang members and TTP commanders who allegedly provided logistical support to militants in the tribal areas. Police arrested would-be suicide bombers in major cities, confiscating weapons, suicide vests, and planning materials.
Poor security, intimidation by both security forces and militants, and control by government and security forces over access by nonresidents to FATA impeded the efforts of human rights organizations to provide relief to victims of military abuses and efforts of journalists to report on any such abuses.
Political, sectarian, criminal, and ethnic violence in Karachi continued, although violence declined and gang wars were less prevalent than before security operations in the city. Since 2005 natural disasters elsewhere in the country resulted in a large influx of citizens from different ethnic groups to Karachi, including ethnic Sindhi, Baloch, and Pashtun migrants, shifting the balance among political parties and the ethnic and sectarian groups they represented. Political parties and their affiliated gangs continued to vie for political and economic control, engaging in a turf war over “bhatta” (extortion) collection privileges and “ownership” over “katchi abadis” (illegal/makeshift settlements).
Killings: There were reports that government security forces caused civilian casualties and engaged in extrajudicial killings during operations against militants. Security forces killed numerous militants in Punjab and elsewhere in the country. There were numerous media reports of police and security forces killing terrorist suspects in “police encounters” nearly every week. Some observers believed security forces orchestrated at least some of these killings.
Militant and terrorist bombings in all four provinces and in FATA and PATA also killed hundreds of persons and wounded thousands. According to the SATP, until November 20, estimated terrorist and violent extremist attacks and operations to combat insurgency resulted in 1,730 deaths, of which 596 were civilians, 281 were security forces, and 853 were terrorists or insurgents.
Militants continued to target government security personnel for attack. According to the SATP, as of November 20, militants had killed 6,651 security force personnel since 2003. Military officials often quoted a much higher number, with casualties from militant attacks in the tens of thousands over the past decade.
On April 20, militants killed seven policemen guarding polio workers in two separate attacks in Orangi Town of Karachi. On January 13, a terrorist killed 15 persons, including 13 police officers and an FC soldier, in a suicide attack near a government health center in Quetta, Balochistan. The TTP claimed responsibility for the attack.
There were reports that groups prohibited by the government conducted attacks against civilians in Sindh and Balochistan. On May 30, a Sindhi separatist group, the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army, killed a Chinese worker and his driver in a roadside bomb attack. The group opposes the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. A Baloch separatist group, the Balochistan Liberation Army, claimed responsibility for killing two persons for allegedly spying for security agencies in May and for killing another two alleged spies in June.
Sectarian violence also continued throughout the country. According to the SATP, 31 sectarian attacks from January to mid-November resulted in the deaths of 132 individuals, compared with 276 deaths in 53 incidents in 2015.
On April 6, unidentified gunmen in Dera Ismail Khan, KP, killed two lawyers and two schoolteachers, all Shia. The April 22 killing of provincial assembly member and advisor to the KP chief minister on minority affairs Sardar Soran Singh (a member of the Sikh minority) was initially claimed by the Pakistani Taliban; a subsequent police investigation indicated that a rival Sikh politician may have ordered the attack, which was political rather than sectarian in nature (see section 1.a.).
On May 5, four Shias were killed in two separate incidents in Dera Ismail Khan, prompting protests in the area. On May 7, prominent Shia civil society activist Syed Khurram Zaki was shot in Karachi in an apparent targeted killing. On October 4, unknown gunmen boarded a bus in Quetta and shot five Hazara Shia women, killing four. On October 7, gunmen shot four Shia men in two separate incidents in Karachi, killing one.
On March 27, a suicide bomber in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal park killed 75 persons and injured more than 350, including 29 children and many victims were from Christian families who had gathered in the park for Easter Sunday. TTP splinter faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the bombing. Authorities subsequently arrested more than 200 suspected militants in a crackdown throughout Punjab Province.
Multiple Ahmadi community members died in what appeared to be targeted killings. Unidentified assailants stabbed an Ahmadi man to death on March 1 near Punjab’s Shiekhpura district. On May 25, assailants on a motorbike shot and killed an Ahmadi man; on June 20, assailants shot an Ahmadi doctor in his clinic, with no witnesses; both killings occurred in Ahmadi community neighborhoods in Karachi. On June 4, unidentified gunmen killed an Ahmadi pharmacy owner in the city of Attock in Punjab.
Abductions: There were reports that militant groups kidnapped or took civilians hostage in FATA, KP, Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan. In June the son of the Sindh High Court chief justice was kidnapped and subsequently rescued by a military operation in July. A military spokesman stated a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban was responsible for the kidnapping.
In May, Ali Haider Gilani, son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and kidnapped in 2013, was rescued during a military operation in Afghanistan. In March, Shahbaz Taseer, son of the late Punjab governor Salman Taseer, reappeared outside Quetta and claimed that he had escaped from Pakistani Taliban custody.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Nonstate militant groups targeted noncombatants and killed civilians in various incidents across the country.
Child Soldiers: Nonstate militant groups kidnapped boys and girls and used fraudulent promises to coerce parents into giving away children as young as age 12 to spy, fight, or die as suicide bombers. The militants sometimes offered parents money, often sexually and physically abused the children, and used psychological coercion to convince the children the acts they committed were justified. The government operated a center in Swat to rehabilitate and educate former child soldiers.
Other Conflict-related Abuses: Terrorist groups TTP, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and related factions bombed government buildings and attacked and killed female teachers and polio vaccination workers. The TTP particularly targeted girls’ schools to demonstrate its opposition to girls’ education; however, it also destroyed boys’ schools. Military operations created hardships for the local civilian population when militants closed key access roads and tunnels and attacked communications and energy networks, disrupting commerce and the distribution of food and water.
In January terrorists killed 15 individuals in a bombing of a polio vaccination center in Quetta, Balochistan. In April terrorists killed seven police officers guarding polio health workers in an attack in Karachi. Terrorists attacked other health workers and support staff during the year, and others remained missing at year’s end. The government provided armed escorts for vaccination staff to carry out polio campaigns.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but there were constitutional restrictions. In addition, threats, harassment, violence, and killings led journalists and editors to practice self-censorship.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution provide for the right to free speech and the press, subject to “any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam” or the “integrity, security, or defense of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality.” The law permits citizens to criticize the government publicly or privately, but criticism of the military could result in political or commercial reprisal. Blasphemy laws restrict individual rights to free speech concerning matters of religion and religious doctrine. The government restricted some language and symbolic speech based on “hate speech” and “terrorism” provisions.
Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, and journalists often criticized the civilian portions of the government. The press addressed the persecution of minorities. By law the government may restrict information that might be prejudicial to the national interest. Threats, harassment, and violence against journalists who reported on sensitive issues such as civil-military tensions or abuses by security forces occurred during the year.
There were 434 independent English, Urdu, and regional-language daily and weekly newspapers and magazines. To publish within AJK, media owners had to obtain permission from the Kashmir Council and the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting controlled and managed the country’s primary wire service, the Associated Press of Pakistan, the official carrier of government and international news to the local media. The military had its own media and public relations office, Inter-Services Public Relations. The government-owned Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and Pakistan Television Corporation broadcast television programs nationwide and operated radio stations throughout the country. The law does not extend to FATA or PATA, and authorities allowed independent radio stations to broadcast there with the permission of the FATA secretariat.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) licensed 89 private domestic and 22 foreign television channels; many of the channels were critical of the government. In July, GEO TV alleged it had been severely restricted in its broadcasting signal in Karachi for political purposes, dramatically cutting its reach in the city. GEO was restored to its previous position following the protests. There were 141 commercial FM radio stations, but their licenses prohibited news programming. Some channels evaded this restriction by discussing news in talk-show formats. International radio broadcasts, including the BBC, were normally available. There was a blockage of transmissions of Indian television news channels through late December.
PEMRA continued to prohibit media from covering the activities of any militant organization banned by the government, reportedly to bring the country into compliance with UN terrorism-related sanctions regimes. The National Action Plan also bans “the glorification of terrorism and terrorist organizations through print and electronic media.” PEMRA enforced this ban throughout the year using fines. PEMRA issued editorial directives to television stations during the year and authorized its chairman to shut down any channel found in violation of the PEMRA code of conduct, primarily with regard to prohibiting telecasts of protests that might instigate sectarian violence. This included protests against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri (convicted for the murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer over his opposition to the blasphemy law), and the Saudi government’s execution of a prominent Shia cleric. PEMRA also banned television and radio outlets from broadcasting any Indian media content.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces, political parties, militants, and other groups subjected media outlets, journalists, and their families to violence and harassment. Female journalists in particular faced threats of sexual violence and harassment, including via social media. Security forces abducted journalists. Media outlets that did not practice self-censorship were often the targets of retribution. Additionally, journalists working in remote and conflict-ridden areas lacked basic digital security as well as traditional security skills, which placed additional pressure on them to self-censor or not cover a story at all.
According to the International Federation of Journalists, state and nonstate actors killed, physically attacked, harassed, intimidated and kidnapped journalists and subjected them to other forms of pressure. The Committee to Protect Journalists included the country in its annual “impunity index” because the government allowed deadly violence against members of the press to go unpunished.
In January media reported that an unidentified individual threw a grenade at offices of the private news television station ARY in Islamabad. The attack injured one person, and Da’esh claimed credit for the attack.
In March a district court in KP sentenced the killer of a journalist from the newspaper Karak Times murdered in 2013 to life imprisonment and a fine of $47,600. There had been only three other convictions for the murder of journalists, according to the Pakistan Press Foundation.
Censorship or Content Restriction: Small, privately owned wire services and media organizations generally reported that they engaged in self-censorship, especially in reporting news about the military forces. Journalists reported regular denial of official permission to visit conflict areas or having to be escorted either by members of the military or by militants in order to report on conditions in conflict areas. The result was pressure to produce final articles that were slanted toward the military or militant viewpoint, depending upon the escort. Other reporting tended to be relatively objective and only focused on events, rather than deeper analysis, which journalists generally regarded as risky. Observers perceived foreign journalists to have more autonomy to write about issues and to be under less scrutiny by the government. Private cable and satellite channels also reported that they censored themselves at times. Blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws restricted publication on certain topics. Foreign books needed to pass government censors before they could be reprinted, but there were no reports of books being banned during the year. Books and magazines could be imported freely but were subject to censorship for objectionable sexual or religious content. Obscene literature, a category the government defined broadly, was subject to seizure.
The government fined private television channels for alleged violations of the “code of ethics” and for showing banned content on-screen. Final fines depended on legal proceedings and decisions, but initial fines were between $1,000 and $10,000 per violation. The NGO Intermedia reported that state-run Pakistan Television did not operate under the purview of the law and benefitted from a monopoly on broadcast license fees. According to Freedom House, authorities used PEMRA rules to silence the broadcast media by either suspending licenses or threatening to do so. Some civil society leaders reported that military authorities frequently pressured journalists to modify the content of articles and opinion pieces critical of military actions.
Libel/Slander Laws: Ministers and members of the National Assembly used libel and slander laws in the past to counter public discussion of their actions.
National Security: Some journalists said authorities cited laws protecting national security to censor and restrict media distribution of material that criticized government policies or public officials. The 2015 Electronic Media (Programs and Advertisements) code of conduct included a clause that restricted reporting in any area that was part of a military operation in progress.
Nongovernmental Impact: Throughout the country militants and criminal elements killed, kidnapped, beat, and intimidated journalists and their families, leading many to censor their reporting. Militant and local tribal groups killed, detained, threatened, expelled, or otherwise obstructed a number of reporters who covered the conflict in FATA, KP, and Balochistan.
Since 2012 the government implemented a systematic, nationwide content-monitoring and filtering system to restrict or block “unacceptable” content, including material that is deemed un-Islamic, pornographic, or critical of the state or military forces. According to Freedom House, the government justified such restrictions as necessary for security purposes. There also were reports the government attempted to control or block some websites, including sites the government deemed extremist and proindependence Baloch sites. There was decreasing transparency and accountability surrounding content monitoring, and the government often used vague criteria without due process. In its Freedom in the World Report for 2016, Freedom House claimed the government blocked more than 400,000 websites due to content. The provincial government in Balochistan blocked access to a Baloch human rights blog run by journalists. The government blocked several Baloch websites, including the English-language website The Baloch Hal and the website of Daily Tawar, a Balochistan-based newspaper.
In September the government signed into law the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, which many critics said contained overly broad and vague definitions of what constituted online speech deemed suitable for removal and/or criminal charges. Digital rights activists expressed serious concerns about the law’s potential to curb freedom of expression, particularly on social media. The law states that the government will establish special tribunals for cybercrimes, but it remained unclear how the courts would enforce and interpret the bill.
Additionally, the Electronic Transaction Act and other laws cite a number of offenses involving the misuse of electronic media and systems and the use of such data in other crimes. The act also stipulates that cyberterrorism resulting in a death is punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) is responsible for the establishment, operation, and maintenance of telecommunications and has complete control of all content broadcast over telecommunication channels. Despite a 2011 PTA ban on using virtual private networks (VPNs) and voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP), at year’s end VPNs and VOIP were both accessible. Many smartphones had built in VPNs. According to Freedom House, two of the best-known services, Spotflux and HotSpot VPN, became inaccessible in January 2014. Spotflux said the government actively blocked its services. The government later restored both.
The government reached an agreement with Google in January to lift its YouTube ban, which had been in place since 2012 after Google declined to remove a controversial video the government considered blasphemous. As part of the agreement, Google set up a localized version of the site, YouTube.pk, which does not include the video.
NGO and internet-freedom observers continued to report that government surveillance online was a concern and that there were indications of the use of surveillance software.
Although internet access and usage was limited, mobile broadband access continued to grow rapidly, reaching 34.3 million subscribers in September. Fixed broadband connections remained very low, at approximately three million subscribers in a population of approximately 199 million.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government generally did not restrict academic freedom but screened and censored cultural events. At some universities, however, members of student organizations, often with ties to political parties, fostered an atmosphere of intolerance or undue influence that limited the academic freedom of fellow students.
In addition to public schools, there was a large network of madrassahs (private schools run by Muslim clerics) under the supervision of five major governing bodies. These schools varied in their curriculum, with a focus on Islamic texts.
There was government interference with art exhibitions or other musical or cultural activities. The Ministry of Culture operated the Central Board of Film Censors, which previewed and censored sexual content and any content that glorified Indian heroes, leaders, or military figures in foreign and domestic films. In October it banned all Indian content from broadcast in retaliation for a ban on Pakistani artists working on films in India. This ban was lifted on December 17.
The constitution and laws provide for the freedoms of assembly and freedom of association, but these freedoms were subject to restrictions.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
By law district authorities may prevent gatherings of more than four persons without police authorization. The law permits the government to ban all rallies and processions, except funeral processions, for security reasons.
Authorities generally prohibited Ahmadis, a religious minority, from holding conferences or gatherings. In December, Punjab provincial police raided the publications department at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community headquarters in Rabwah and arrested four workers for publishing religious material deemed offensive. According to Ahmadi representatives, the “unprecedented” raid was indicative of worsening conditions for the community in Pakistan.
Several protests, strikes, and demonstrations, both peaceful and violent, took place throughout the country. The government generally prevented political and civil society groups of any affiliation from holding demonstrations in Islamabad, citing security restrictions that limit all public rallies and gatherings in the red-zone section of the city, a secured area where the diplomatic enclave and government buildings are located.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for freedom of association subject to certain restrictions imposed by law. The government adopted a series of policies that steadily eroded the freedom of international NGOs (INGOs) to access the communities that they serve. For many project activities, INGOs must request government permission in the form of so-called no-objection certificates (NOCs). INGOs, UN organizations, and international missions have long been required to obtain NOCs before they can conduct most in-country travel or initiate new projects.
In October 2015 the government required that INGOs reregister, a process entailing extensive document requirements, multiple levels of review, and repeated investigations by security and other government offices. As of December more than 60 percent of INGOs that applied for registration under the new system were awaiting a registration decision; none had been rejected. In the meantime the unregistered INGOs ostensibly could not accept new foreign funding or initiate new projects. The government continued to restrict the operating space for the INGOs registered under the new process, delaying or denying visas for some foreign staff or NOCs for official travel.
The government, at both the federal and/or provincial level, similarly restricted the access of local NGOs through NOCs and other requirements. Authorities required NGOs to obtain NOCs before accepting foreign funding, booking hotel or university spaces for events, or working on sensitive human rights issues. Even domestic NGOs with all required NOCs faced government harassment.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement and for uninhibited foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Pakistan is host to more than 1.3 million Afghan refugees. The government provided temporary legal status to Afghans formally registered and holding Proof of Registration (PoR) cards. In July, the government extended the validity of PoR cards until December 31, and in September, extended the cards an additional three months until March 31, 2017. There were reports, however, of harassment and extortion of Afghan refugees by provincial authorities, police, and host communities. According to UNHCR reports, from January to August, there were 4,150 arrests and detentions, compared with 3,595 for all of 2015. Of those arrested, 99 percent were released, 70 percent without any charges, often following the intervention of UNHCR or its implementing partners. Arrests spiked in August, largely due to security operations and arbitrary actions by the Frontier Corps apprehending Afghans at various checkpoints in Balochistan. There were firsthand accounts of members of the intelligence services harassing refugees. Refugees faced discrimination from local communities. Provincial officials in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and nationwide cited the presence of Afghan “refugees”–without differentiating between proof of registration (PoR) cardholders, migrants, and temporary visitors–as the cause for deteriorating law and order in major cities. In June the government released press statements that labeled refugee camps safe havens for terrorists and urged the early return of Afghan refugees to their homeland.
In-country Movement: Government restrictions on access to certain areas of FATA, KP, and Balochistan, often due to security concerns, hindered freedom of movement of persons. The government required an approved NOC for travel to areas of the country it designated as “sensitive.”
Foreign Travel: The law prohibits travel to Israel, and the country’s passports include a statement that they are “valid for all countries except Israel.” Passport applicants must list their religious affiliation and, if Muslims, affirm a declaration that the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement was a false prophet. Ahmadi representatives reported the word “Ahmadi” was written on their passports if they refused to sign the declaration. Government employees and students must obtain NOCs from the government before traveling abroad. Authorities rarely enforced this requirement for students.
The government prohibited persons on the Exit Control List from departing the country. The stated purpose of the list was to prevent departure from the country of “persons involved in antistate activities, terrorism, or related to proscribed organizations and those placed on the orders of superior courts.” Those on the list had the right to appeal to the courts to have their names removed.
Emigration and Repatriation: During the year the government refused the return of immigrants deported from Europe. One European mission reported several deportees were refused entry as unidentifiable Pakistani citizens despite having passports issued by Pakistani embassies abroad. Some NGOs commented the government increased restrictions on the issuance of identity and proof of nationality documents, such as passports, from its missions abroad.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
Large population displacements continued as a result of militant activity and military operations in FATA. . The government and UN agencies such as UNHCR and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) collaborated to assist and protect those affected by conflict. Once evacuated, internally displaced persons (IDPs) received immunizations, with many of the children receiving them for the first time in five years. The state and relief organizations placed special emphasis on polio, as many IDP children had been vulnerable to the disease due to the Taliban-imposed ban on immunizations in their home regions. In some areas an estimated 50 percent of the IDP population had been displaced five years or longer, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Those displaced by conflict generally resided with host families, in rented accommodations, or to a lesser extent, in camps. Several IDP populations settled in informal settlements outside of major cities such as Lahore and Karachi.
The return of IDPs displaced by Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency, Operations Khyber I, II, and III in Khyber Agency, and other military activities continued, with 114,511 families returning to FATA and 76,507 families still displaced, according to the UN Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Since 2015, 75 percent of the total IDP population had returned to FATA. OCHA reported that 89 percent of IDPs had returned to Khyber Agency with 9,524 families still displaced; 72 percent had returned to North Waziristan Agency with 29,360 families still displaced; 64 percent had returned to South Waziristan Agency with 23,879 families still displaced; 77 percent had returned to Khurram Agency with 5,457 families still displaced; and 66 percent had returned to Orakzai Agency with 7,965 families still displaced. The average family size in FATA was six. Approximately 16 percent of all returns were female-headed households.
The government required humanitarian organizations assisting civilians displaced by military operations to request NOCs to access all agencies in FATA. According to humanitarian agencies and NGOs, the NOC application process was cumbersome. The government maintained IDP camps inside and near the FATA agencies where military operations took place, despite access and security concerns raised by humanitarian agencies. Humanitarian agency workers providing assistance in the camps were exposed to danger when travelling to and within FATA. UN agencies maintained access to the camps and the affected areas mainly through local NGOs.
There were no reports of involuntary returns. Many IDPs reportedly wanted to return home, despite the lack of local infrastructure, housing, and available service delivery, and the strict control that security forces maintained over returnees’ movements via extensive checkpoints. Other IDP families delayed their return or chose some family members to remain in the settled areas of KP where regular access to health care, education, and other social services were available. For IDPs who were unwilling or unable to return, the government coordinated support with UNHCR and other international organizations. The World Food Program distributed food rations to IDPs displaced by conflict and continued to provide rations for extendable periods of six to nine months to IDPs who returned to their areas of origin.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. The country lacks a legal and regulatory framework for the management of refugees and migration. The law does not exclude asylum seekers and refugees from provisions regarding illegal entry and stay. In the absence of a national refugee legal framework, UNHCR conducted refugee status determination under its mandate, and the country generally accepted UNHCR decisions to grant refugee status and allowed asylum seekers (who were still undergoing the procedure) as well as recognized refugees to remain in the country pending identification of a durable solution.
Refoulement: In general the government did not forcibly return PoR cardholders, refugees, or asylum seekers to countries where their lives or freedom may be threatened. In August, five PoR cardholders were deported to Afghanistan but were able to return to Pakistan the following day.
Beginning in July there was a sharp increase in UNHCR-assisted returns of PoR cardholders to Afghanistan. In 2015, 58,460 PoR cardholders returned to Afghanistan; between January and June 2016, approximately 8,000 had returned. The returns increased in July, and by early September more than 229,000 Afghan PoR cardholders had returned to Afghanistan. In its emergency funding request, OCHA stated, “The spike in returns is motivated by different factors, including an apparent drastic deterioration of the protection/political space in Pakistan with increasing incidents of detention, forced evictions, police raids, and harassment.” Additional factors reported by UNHCR included stricter border management, calls by the Afghan government for refugees to return, harassment and extortion by local authorities and host communities, and the increase of UNHCR’s repatriation grant from $200 to $400 per person.
For most of the year, two voluntary repatriation centers operated in Quetta and Peshawar; a third center was opened in Peshawar in September to process the increase in repatriations.
Employment: There is no formal document allowing refugees to work legally, but there is no law prohibiting refugees from working in the country. Many refugees worked as day laborers or in informal markets, and local employers often exploited refugees in the informal labor market with low or unpaid wages. Women and children were particularly vulnerable, accepting underpaid and undesirable work.
Access to Basic Services: One-third of registered Afghans lived in one of 54 refugee villages, while the remaining two-thirds lived in host communities in rural and urban areas and sought to access basic services in those communities. Afghan refugees could avail themselves of the services of police and courts, but some, particularly the poor, were afraid to do so. There were no reports of refugees denied access to a health facility because of their nationality.
The constitution stipulates free and compulsory education for all children between ages five and 16 years regardless of their nationality. Any refugee registered with both UNHCR and the government-run “Commissionerate” of Afghan Refugees was, in theory, admitted to public education facilities after filing the proper paperwork. In practice access to schools was on a space-available basis as determined by the principal, and most registered Afghans attended private Afghan schools or schools sponsored by the international community. For older students, particularly females in refugee villages, access to education remained difficult. Afghans who grew up in Pakistan needed student visas to attend universities, but they qualified for student visas based on their PoR cards. Afghan students were eligible to seek admission to Pakistani public and private colleges and universities. In public statements, including at the Leadership Summit on Refugees on September 20, the government reaffirmed the right of all children, regardless of status, to public primary education.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries and did not facilitate local integration. The government does not accord Afghan refugees Pakistani citizenship.
Statelessness continued to be a problem. There is no national legislation on statelessness, and the government does not recognize the existence of stateless persons. International and national agencies estimated there were possibly thousands of stateless persons as a result of the 1947 and 1971 partitions of India and Pakistan, and of Pakistan and Bangladesh, respectively.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Some groups that implicated the government, or the military or intelligence services, in misdeeds or worked on issues related to IDPs and areas of conflict reported their operations were at times restricted. Very few NGOs had access to KP, FATA, and certain areas in Balochistan. International staff members of organizations faced delays in the issuance of visas and NOCs for in-country travel.
The government also released new guidance for INGOs (see section 2.b.). Some civil society actors expressed concern the language could be misused to restrict legitimate work such as governance support or human rights advocacy. There were no reports that the government found an INGO in violation of this regulation.
The government increasingly restricted the operating space of domestic and international human rights groups, particularly those that work on issues related to government abuses, IDPs, conflict areas, and advocacy. These groups faced numerous regulations regarding travel, visas, and registration that hampered their ability to program and fundraise. International staff members of organizations, including those from the few successfully registered INGOs, continued to face delays in the issuance of visas and NOCs for in-country travel.
The new INGO registration regulations announced in October 2015 prohibits INGOs from participating in “political activities” and “antistate activities,” but the regulations neither define these terms nor indicate what body would be responsible for adjudicating claims against INGOs.
Security threats were a problem for NGO workers, and organizations that promoted women’s rights faced particular challenges.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Senate and National Assembly Standing Committees on Law, Justice, Minorities, and Human Rights held hearings on a range of human rights problems, including honor crimes, police abuses in connection with the blasphemy law, and the Hudood Ordinance. The committees served as useful forums in which to raise public awareness of such problems, but their conclusions generally adhered to existing government policy. The committees did little beyond broad oversight. The 2012 National Commission for Human Rights Bill authorized the establishment of an independent committee, the National Commission on Human Rights, and the government constituted the commission in 2015. An independent Ministry of Human Rights was reconstituted in November 2015.