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Pakistan

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

b. Disappearance

There were kidnappings and forced disappearances of persons in nearly all areas of the country. The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances received an increased number of complaints compared with 2017. The commission had received 899 cases as of October 31, while there were a total 868 complaints in 2017. Some officials from intelligence agencies, police, and other security forces reportedly held prisoners incommunicado and refused to disclose their location.

On February 15, in Badin, Sindh, plainclothes security reportedly abducted Rafaqat Ali Jarwar, a senior journalist with Daily Koshish. According to media reports, Jarwar was formerly associated with a Sindhi nationalist group.

On June 6, prominent journalist and opinion writer Gul Bukhari was abducted in Lahore by unidentified assailants. Bukhari was released hours later, after news reports highlighted her disappearance and the case received significant attention on social media. She is known as a prominent critic of the military and security services, and was listed by the military as a social media threat to the state two days before her brief abduction. Bukhari did not identify her captors.

Media reported that in December 2017 civil society activist Raza Khan disappeared after cohosting a small public event in Lahore to discuss the government’s capitulation to the demands of a hardline religious group, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), in the wake of TLP’s weeks-long, highly disruptive protest in Islamabad. Khan reportedly returned home in July.

Human rights organizations reported many Pashtun rights activists, and Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, disappeared or were arrested without cause or warrant. For example, in April the Progressive Youth Alliance alleged that 11 of its members were abducted following a series of Pashtun rights rallies in Karachi. Nationalist parties in Sindh also alleged that law enforcement agencies and security agencies kidnapped and killed Sindhi political activists.

Throughout the first half of the year, Pashtun rights activists used social media to highlight the arrests, enforced disappearances, and other forms of harassment by security agencies against members of the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement, or PTM. Most of those detained were rank-and-file supporters of the group. Unofficial estimates, however, suggest that the military released up to 300 individuals who had been detained without charge–in some cases for several years–in response to PTM’s protest campaign against enforced disappearances. Observers believed authorities released detainees in response to activist demands, but it gave rise to further allegations that authorities had mistreated those in custody, and fueled calls for an end to enforced disappearances and for a more transparent legal process to formally charge or release those still in detention.

The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, headed by Supreme Court justice Javed Iqbal and retired law enforcement official Muhammad Sharif Virk, received 5,507 missing persons cases between 2011 and October 31. The commission had closed 3,633 of those inquiries, while 1,874 remained open.

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. There were reports that security forces, including the intelligence services, tortured and abused individuals in custody.

According to the Committee against Torture of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in 2017 there were reports that state officials and forces practiced torture on a widespread scale. Human rights organizations noted the government’s lack of serious efforts to curb the use of torture and claimed that perpetrators–mostly police, military, and intelligence agency members–operated with impunity. In August, however, authorities did dismiss two constables after a video surfaced showing the officers torturing girls accused of partaking in obscene activity.

There were reports police personnel employed cruel and degrading treatment and punishment. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that police committed “excesses” in at least 52 cases as of May 6, compared with 127 total cases in 2017. Multiple sources reported that police excesses sometimes resulted in death or serious injury and was often underreported. On October 16, police reportedly arrested a man in Sargodha (Punjab) on robbery charges. He died later that day, and his grandmother stated in a police report that his death was the result of police brutality while in custody.

Some police agencies took steps to curb abuses. For example, in 2017 the Inspector General of the Islamabad Capital Territory Police appointed human rights officers in all 22 Islamabad police stations in an effort to prevent violations. Multiple police agencies include human rights in training curricula. More than 50,000 police countrywide have received human rights related training since 2011.

While the passage of the 25th Amendment to the country’s constitution formally merged the Federally and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (FATA and PATA) and ended the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901, the FATA Interim Governance Regulation (FIGR) that replaced it preserves the most draconian criminal justice elements of the FCR. For example, authorities may still apply collective punishment without regard to individual rights. Collective punishment is imposed incrementally, starting with the first immediate male family members, followed by the subtribe, and continuing outward. Human rights NGOs expressed concern about the concept of collective responsibility, as authorities used it to detain members of fugitives’ tribes, demolish their homes, confiscate or destroy their property, or lay siege to their villages pending surrender or punishment of the fugitives by their own tribes in accordance with local tradition.

As of November 30, the country had 5,339 troops and police performing peacekeeping duties around the world. During the year, the United Nations reported one possible new case of sexual exploitation and abuse implicating a Pakistani peacekeeper. The case involved allegations of transactional sex that occurred in 2017. An investigation into an alleged exploitative sexual relationship that began in June 2011 and continued until an unspecified date in 2012 was pending additional information as of December 28. Investigations into three reports were closed due to lack of evidence: one involved a 2016 report that a Pakistani deployed in Cote d’Ivoire raped a minor in 2014; one was related to a 2017 report of attempted sexual assault that allegedly occurred in September 2016; and the third involved allegations that Pakistani peacekeepers engaged in transactional sex from August 2015 to March 2016.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in some civilian prisons and military detention centers were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate food and medical care, and unsanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Prison conditions often were extremely poor. Overcrowding remained a serious problem, largely due to structural issues in the criminal justice system that led to a high rate of pretrial detention. According to a May, Cursor of Development and Education Pakistan study, conducted in cooperation with Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Agency and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the total nationwide prison population stood at 84,287 in 112 prisons across the country as of October 1, 2017. The official capacity of these prisons is approximately 54,000, putting the occupancy rate of the civilian prison system at approximately 150 percent.

Provincial governments were the primary managers of civilian prisons and detention centers.

Although quality and quantity of prison food improved, inadequate food and medical care in prisons continued to cause chronic health problems. Malnutrition remained a problem, especially 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. Prisoners with disabilities usually lacked adequate care. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported 20 deaths due to violence in prisons as of May 20. According to an April report on Dunya News TV, in 2017 at least 145 prisoners died in Punjab province prisons of natural causes, including diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis. One former prisoner who spent 15 years in a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province jail petitioned the Peshawar High Court to direct medical testing of the province’s inmate population, claiming 12 inmates at the jail in which he was incarcerated were HIV positive, and approximately 50 had hepatitis. The former prisoner also petitioned for disclosure of the province’s prison capacity and actual population, claiming the institution in which he was incarcerated had a capacity of 125 and a population of 640.

Representatives of Christian and Ahmadiyya Muslim communities claimed their members were often subjected to abuse in prison and violence at the hands of fellow inmates. 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, given the likelihood that prisoners accused of blasphemy would face threats from the general prison population.

Authorities held female prisoners separately from men. Nevertheless, NGOs reported transgender women were held with men and faced harassment. Balochistan had no women’s prison, but authorities housed detained women in separate barracks.

Due to lack of infrastructure, police often did not segregate detainees from convicted criminals, although Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces were in the process of constructing new prisons focused on modern segregation mechanisms to address this issue, as well as overcrowding.

Prison officials kept juvenile offenders in barracks separate from adults. Juveniles and adults were in close proximity when waiting for transport but were kept under careful supervision at this time. According to the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, prisoners and prison staff subjected children to abuse, rape, and other forms of violence.

Administration: 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 inhumane conditions. There were reports, however, that prisoners refrained from submitting complaints to avoid retaliation from jail authorities. The law also provides for visitation privileges, but overcrowding and lack of adequate visitor facilities in some prisons restricted detainees’ ability to receive visits. In most cases, authorities allowed prisoners to observe their religious traditions.

Independent Monitoring: International organizations responsible for monitoring prisons reported difficulty accessing some 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. Authorities at the local, provincial, and national levels permitted some human rights groups and journalists to monitor prison conditions of juveniles and female inmates.

Improvements: Infrastructure improvements and new policies in existing prisons, along with the construction of new facilities, increased the frequency with which pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were separated. In July the government broke ground on a project to construct a new training facility for the Sindh Prisons Department, to enable a larger training program in prison management. Digitized prison management information systems were installed in 48 Punjab and Sindh province prisons, up from 20 Punjab prisons in 2017. The government, in collaboration with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, worked to expand its use of computerized databases to more securely and accurately track prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but authorities did not always observe these requirements. Corruption and impunity compounded this problem.

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. Police resources and effectiveness varied by district, ranging from well-funded and effective to poorly resourced and ineffective. Paramilitary organizations–including the Frontier Corps, which operates in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the former FATA; and the Rangers, which operates in Sindh and Punjab–provide security services under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. The Frontier Corps reports to the Ministry of Interior in peacetime and the army in times of conflict. The military is responsible for external security but continues to play a role in domestic security.

The mid-year passage of the 25th Amendment to the country’s constitution formally merged the Federally and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (FATA and PATA) into KP province, bringing the tribal areas into the country’s political and constitutional mainstream. The FATA Interim Governance Regulation (FIGR) replaced the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) in mid-year as the framework for law and order in the former FATA. Similar to the FCR, the FIGR is implemented through appointed deputy commissioners (formerly known as “political agents”) who report to the KP governor. The 25th Amendment gives the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court jurisdiction in the former FATA, but this new system had not been fully implemented by year’s end. Under the FIGR, trial by a Council of Elders (known as a “jirga,” or assembly of community leaders that makes decisions by consensus) does not allow tribal residents legal representation. If the accused is an adult man, he appears before the Council of Elders in person to defend his case. Parents normally represent their minor children, and men normally represent their female relatives. Observers criticized both the FCR and the FIGR for their harsh provisions.

Following its merger in KP province, police began to operate alongside paramilitary forces in the former FATA. Paramilitary forces present in the former FATA included the Frontier Corps, the Frontier Constabulary, “Khasadars” (hereditary tribal police), and the FATA Levies Force, which reported to deputy commissioners (the appointed administrative heads of each tribal agency). Tribal leaders convened “lashkars” (tribal militias) to deal with temporary law and order disturbances, but these operated as private militias and not as formal law enforcement entities. The KP provincial police force was in the process of recruiting and training additional personnel in order to extend its remit fully into the former FATA.

Civilian authorities’ 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 National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), established in 2015, may not inquire into any complaints against intelligence agencies and must refer such complaints to the concerned competent authority. The NCHR may seek a report from the national government on any complaint made against the armed forces, and after receipt of a report, can either end the process or forward recommendations for further action to the national government.

During the year the federal government continued to use military and paramilitary organizations to augment domestic security. Paramilitary forces, including Rangers and the Frontier Constabulary, provided security to some areas of Islamabad and continued active operations in Karachi. The military-led Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad employed civilian and paramilitary cooperation against militants throughout the country.

In January 2015, in response to the December 2014 attack on the Peshawar Army Public School, Parliament approved a constitutional amendment allowing military courts to try civilians on terrorism, militancy, sectarian violence, and other charges. The military courts’ mandate to try civilians was set to expire in January 2017, but Parliament extended it until January 2019. Civil society members expressed concerns about the use of military courts for trying civilian suspects, citing lack of transparency and redundancy with the civilian judicial system.

Police often failed to protect members of religious minorities–including Ahmadiyya Muslims, Christians, Shia Muslims, and Hindus–from attacks. Activists from Christian, Sikh, Parsi, and Hindu communities reported widespread distrust of law enforcement within their communities. They explained that community members frequently refrained from reporting crimes, because they believed the police would not act. They also accused law enforcement of treating minorities particularly harshly when they are accused of crimes, and described how police meted out collective punishment on the Christian residents of a Karachi neighborhood in May, after a Christian committed a crime against an intelligence officer. Police carried out unauthorized searches of people and property, arrested Christians at random, and threatened physical and legal retributions against the community at large unless community members brought forward the perpetrator.

Police agencies continued to professionalize and modernize through training, including on human rights. Some local authorities demonstrated the ability and willingness to protect minorities from discrimination and mob lynching, at great risk to their personal safety.

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 a 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 and of individuals paying bribes to visit prisoners.

The Ministry of Interior did not routinely provide notification of the arrest of foreigners to embassies or consulates. In 2015 the government began requiring that foreign missions request access to their arrested citizens 20 days in advance. Many foreign missions reported that requests for access to arrested citizens were unanswered for weeks or months. Foreign prisoners often remained in prison long after completion of their sentences because they were unable to pay for deportation to their home countries.

There was a functioning bail system. Human rights groups noted, however, that judges sometimes denied bail until payment of bribes. NGOs reported 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. Defendants facing lower-order blasphemy charges were often simultaneously charged with terrorism offenses, which are nonbailable. NGOs also reported that lawyers representing individuals accused of blasphemy often asked that their clients remain in custody to protect them from vigilante violence. Bail is not available in antiterrorism courts or in the military courts established under the 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. The constitution recognizes the right of habeas corpus and allows the high courts to demand that 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. Ethnic Rohingya in Karachi who lacked official identification documents reported arbitrary arrests and harassment by police authorities. They reported police, including officers from the Federal Investigation Agency, made the arrests to extract bribes.

Pretrial Detention: According to Cursor for Development and Education (CODE) Pakistan reports published in May, 66 percent of prisoners were either awaiting or undergoing trial as of October 1, 2017. CODE notes that Pakistani prison authorities did not differentiate between pretrial detainees and under-trial prisoners when collecting prison data. 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, they 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 a FIR, and at times individuals remained in pretrial detention for periods longer than the maximum sentence for the crime with which they were charged. 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 chairperson has the power to decide whether to release detainees.

Under the FIGR in the former FATA, the deputy commissioner has legal authority to preventively detain 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 a 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 FIGR authorities within 24 hours of detention, which curtails the ability of deputy commissioners to arbitrarily arrest and hold persons for up to three years. The accused have the right of appeal under a two-tiered system: the first appeal is to a commissioner or additional commissioner, and the second is referred to the Peshawar High Court, which is the highest appellate forum under the FIGR.

In KP (including the former FATA), 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 security forces 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.

The 2011 Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulation (retroactive to 2008) provides the military legal authority to detain suspected terrorists in the former FATA and PATA when called upon by the civilian government. Critics stated the regulation violates the constitution because of its broad provisions expanding military authority and circumventing legal due process. Under the regulation, 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.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but according to NGOs and legal experts, the judiciary often was subject to external influences, such as fear of reprisal from extremist elements in terrorism or blasphemy cases and public politicization of high-profile cases. Civil society organizations reported judges were reluctant to exonerate individuals accused of blasphemy, fearing vigilante violence. The media and the public generally considered the high courts and the Supreme Court credible.

Extensive case backlogs in the lower and superior courts undermined the right to effective remedy and to a fair and public hearing. Antiquated procedural rules, unfilled judgeships, poor case management, and weak legal education caused delays in civil and criminal cases. The Lahore High Court took steps to improve judicial efficiency. In 2017 the court’s chief justice introduced legal reforms intended to reduce strikes and formalized an alternate dispute resolution (ADR) system. ADR centers received 16,010 cases as of October 12, and had resolved 4,885.

The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the high courts does not extend to several areas that operated under separate judicial systems. For example, Azad Kashmir area (AK) 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 or political figures.

There were incidents of unknown persons threatening or killing witnesses, prosecutors, or investigating police officers in high-level cases. On April 14, three Balochistan police officials were arrested for pressuring a rape victim to withdraw her allegations, after a medical examination corroborated the victim’s allegations.

The use of informal justice systems that lacked institutionalized legal protections continued, especially in rural areas, and often resulted in human rights abuses. Large landholders and other community leaders in Sindh and Punjab and tribal leaders in Pashtun and Baloch areas sometimes held local council meetings (panchayats or jirgas) outside 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 the former FATA, such councils were held under FIGR or FCR guidelines. Assistant commissioners (previously known as assistant political agents), supported by tribal elders of their choosing, are legally responsible for justice in the former FATA and conducted hearings according to their interpretation of Islamic law and tribal custom.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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. 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.

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child noted that police lacked training to properly handle child delinquency, and cited reports of police brutality against juveniles. Many juveniles spent long periods behind bars because they could not afford bail.

In May, Parliament passed the Juvenile Justice System Act, replacing the 2000 Juvenile Justice System Ordinance. The new law mandates the creation of juvenile courts and “juvenile justice committees,” intended to expedite the administration of justice for minors by resolving cases that involve minor offenses without resorting to formal judicial proceedings. Despite a directive that these courts and committees be established within three months of the law’s passage, as of November 28, the government had not done so.

Both the new law and the previous 2000 Juvenile Justice System Ordinance ban the use of the death penalty for minors, yet children were sentenced to death under the Antiterrorism Act. Furthermore, lack of documentation made determining the ages of possible minors problematic.

There were instances of lack of transparency in court cases, particularly if the case involved high-profile or sensitive issues such as blasphemy. NGOs reported the government often located such trials in jails due to concerns for the safety of defendants, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and witnesses. Although these safety concerns were well-founded, NGOs expressed concerns about both transparency issues and the lack of privacy for defendants to consult with their lawyers during jail trials.

The Antiterrorism Act allows the government to use special, streamlined antiterrorism courts (ATCs) to try persons charged with terrorist activities and sectarian violence. In other courts, suspects must appear within seven working days of their arrest, but ATCs are free to extend that period. Human rights activists criticized this parallel system, charging it was more vulnerable to political manipulation. According to a February report by the Research Society of International Law, when authorities were under political and media pressure to expedite cases they often referred them ATCs, even if they had no terrorism nexus. The frequent use of ATCs for nonterrorism cases led to significant backlogs, and despite being comparatively faster than the regular court system, ATCs often failed to meet speedy trial standards.

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 alcohol consumption. Should a provincial high court decide to hear an appeal in a Hudood case, the Shariat Court lacks 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 Shia, Christians, Ahmadis, and members of other religious minority groups. Lower courts often did not require adequate evidence in blasphemy cases, and some convicted persons spent years in jail before higher courts eventually overturned their convictions or ordered their release.

In a landmark case, On October 31, the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010. In the wake of widespread protests by antiblasphemy groups following the decision, the government agreed not to oppose a petition seeking additional review of her case, further postponing final resolution of the case. Bibi was released from prison, but as of December 3 was widely believed to remain in government custody for her own protection, and the judicial review was pending.

In some cases, police arrested individuals after acts of vigilantism related to blasphemy or religious discrimination. In February an ATC convicted 31 individuals for their role in the 2017 mob lynching of university student Mashal Khan for allegedly committing blasphemy. The ATC sentenced the primary shooter to death, sentenced five others to life in prison, and 25 individuals to four years’ imprisonment, although the Peshawar High Court later suspended the sentences and released on bail the 25 individuals.

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 detained their members based on political affiliation or beliefs. Under the 2009 Aghaz-e-Haqooq (“beginning of the rights”) Balochistan legislative package of reforms (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 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, illegal detention of Baloch leaders and the disappearance of private Baloch citizens continued. During an August 15 National Assembly session Akhtar Mengal, leader of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal, raised the issue of disappearances in Balochistan, claiming there were five thousand missing citizens in his province.

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 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 international human rights bodies, although some NGOs submitted human rights “shadow reports” to the United Nations and other international actors.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but there were constitutional restrictions. In addition, threats, harassment, violence and killings led journalists and editors to practice self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution provides 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 court decisions have interpreted the constitution as prohibiting criticism of the military and judiciary. Such criticism can result in legal, political, or commercial reprisal. Blasphemy laws restrict individual rights to free speech concerning matters of religion and religious doctrine. According to the penal code, the punishment for blasphemy ranges from life in prison to the death sentence for a range of charges, including “defiling the Prophet Muhammad.” The courts enforced the blasphemy laws, although no one has been executed for committing blasphemy to date, allegations of blasphemy have often prompted mob lynchings and vigilantism. The government restricted some language and symbolic speech based on hate speech and terrorism provisions.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Journalists often criticized the government, but 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. By law the government may restrict information that might be prejudicial to the national interest. Authorities sometimes used these laws to prevent or punish media criticism of the judiciary and armed forces. Press outlets began reporting increased censorship and pressure to self-censor prior to national elections in July; such pressure continued after the elections.

There were more than 400 independent English, Urdu, and regional-language daily and weekly newspapers and magazines. To publish within AK, 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. In the former FATA and PATA, authorities allowed independent radio stations to broadcast with the FATA Secretariat’s permission. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) licensed 89 private domestic and 22 foreign television channels. There were 143 commercial FM radio stations, but their licenses prohibited news programming. Some channels evaded this restriction by discussing news in talk-show formats.

International media broadcasts were normally available. There were limitations on transmission of Indian media content, however. In 2016 PEMRA imposed a blanket ban on transmission of Indian media content. The Lahore High Court officially ended the ban in February 2017, but blockage of Indian television dramas continued until the Lahore High Court again ruled against the policy in July 2017. PEMRA again imposed a temporary ban on the screening of Indian films during the Eid holidays to encourage viewing of local films, and in October the Supreme Court overturned the Lahore High Court’s earlier decisions, reinstating a blanket ban. The Supreme Court chief justice implied the media blockage was a justifiable response to India damming rivers that flow into Pakistan.

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 violence. On August 29, following a Supreme Court order, PEMRA issued a notice banning the broadcast of commentary surrounding any court case prior to a court decision.

In January the Interior Ministry shut down the Islamabad office of Radio Mashaal, the Pashto language service of Radio Free Europe. The Ministry based its decision on an intelligence report claiming Radio Mashaal radio programs were “against the interests of Pakistan and in line with a hostile intelligence agency’s agenda.”

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 allegedly abducted journalists. Media outlets that reported on topics the authorities view as sensitive were often the targets of retribution. Additionally, journalists working in remote and conflict-ridden areas lacked basic digital and traditional security skills, which increased pressure to self-censor or not cover a story.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), state and nonstate actors physically attacked, harassed, intimidated, and kidnapped journalists and subjected them to other forms of pressure. CPJ did not confirm any targeted killings of journalists during the year, but was investigating the motives of suspected targeted killings. CPJ included the country in its annual “impunity index” because of the poor record of prosecuting the killers of journalists.

Journalists were killed during the year, but it was unclear whether their journalism was the motive for the killings.

On August 22, two men attacked journalist Muhammed Abid Hussain in Punjab’s Vehari district, reportedly in response to exposing his attackers’ criminal activity. Abid died of his injuries on August 23.

On October 16, Sohail Khan, a reporter for the Urdu daily K2 Times, was shot while driving in Haripur (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). Police apprehended two suspects and indicated the killing may have been related to Khan’s reporting on the suspects’ drug trafficking activities.

In other instances, journalists were beaten, arrested, or disrupted while carrying out their work. On July 13, Punjab province police arrested and beat Kadafi Zaman, a reporter for a Norwegian television station, while he was covering a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) political rally in Gujrat city. Authorities arrested him along with 38 other individuals, charged him with attempted murder and disruption of public order, and released him on bail after several days in jail.

On November 8, armed plainclothes security officers forcibly entered the Karachi Press Club, disrupting an event and taking photos of the interior of the building. The next day, security forces arrested journalist and Press Club member Nasrullah Chaudhry and charged him with assisting a terrorist operative, claiming the earlier Press Club raid was part of the search for Chaudhry. Journalists widely decried the raid as intimidation, noting that even during military dictatorships, press clubs were considered off-limits for security forces.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media organizations generally reported that they engaged in self-censorship, especially in reporting news about the military. Journalists reported regular denial of official permission to visit conflict areas, or being required to travel with a military escort while reporting on conditions in conflict areas. They reported pressure to produce articles that were slanted toward the military viewpoint. Other reporting tended to be relatively objective with a focus on facts rather than deeper analysis, which journalists generally regarded as risky. Both local and foreign journalists complained of harassment and intimidation by government officials, particularly before the national elections in July. Blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws restricted publication on certain topics. Government censors reviewed foreign books before they could be reprinted, but there were no reports of books being banned during the year. Imported movies, books, magazines, and newspapers 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. Authorities reportedly used PEMRA rules to silence broadcast media by either suspending licenses or threatening to do so, and many outlets resorted to self-censorship, particularly when reporting on religious or security issues. The Central Board of Film Censors previewed and censored sexual content and any content that glorified Indian heroes, leaders, or military figures in foreign and domestic films.

Before the July national elections, media outlets seen as supportive of the PML-N faced distribution disruptions. The country’s oldest newspaper, English-language daily Dawn, published a controversial interview with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on May 12. Beginning on May 15, Dawn reported bans on its distribution in much of Balochistan province, many cities in Sindh province, and in all military-administered areas. The Jang/Geo media group also reportedly faced harassment and newspaper distribution blockages. Unidentified individuals reportedly pressured newspaper vendors not to distribute the Urdu language Jang newspaper and its sister English language paper The News, and discouraged advertisers from advertising with the Jang/Geo group’s outlets. In many parts of the country, cable operators dropped the Geo news channel from their cable systems, or repeatedly changed its assigned channel.

National Security: Some journalists asserted authorities cited laws protecting national security to censor and restrict media distribution of material that criticized government policies, or military or public officials. The 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: Nonstate actor violence against media workers decreased since 2013, but there is a history of militant and criminal elements killing, abducting, assaulting, and intimidating journalists and their families.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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. According to the PTA, as of August there were approximately 58 million broadband subscribers, representing approximately 27.8 percent internet penetration.

Since 2012 the government has 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. The restrictive 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act gives the government sweeping powers to censor content on the internet, which authorities used as a tool for the continued clampdown on civil society. The government blocked websites because of allegedly anti-Islamic, pornographic, blasphemous, or extremist content. The Ministry for Religious Affairs coordinates with the PTA in identifying purportedly blasphemous websites to be blocked. There were also reports the government attempted to control or block sites that advocated for Baloch independence. There were reports that the government used surveillance software. There was poor transparency and accountability surrounding content monitoring, and the government often used vague criteria without due process.

On June 4, the Director General of the military’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) revealed security services had been actively monitoring “antistate” social media accounts both domestically and internationally. During the presentation, ISPR presented a chart showing the profiles and twitter handles of journalists and bloggers considered threats to the state. In November, two prominent journalists and social media activists, Gul Bukhari and Taha Siddiqui, simultaneously received notices from Twitter warning them against publishing “objectionable content.” Both publicly blamed the government for instigating these official warnings in an attempt to censor their critical tweets. There were abduction attempts against both during the year. On August 18, the PTA publicly threatened to ban Twitter for failing to block “objectionable content” in response to requests from the government.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government generally did not restrict academic freedom but screened and censored cultural events. There was government interference with art exhibitions, musical, and cultural activities. Holding any such event requires a government-issued permit (a “no objection certificate”).

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and laws provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but these freedoms were subject to restrictions.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL 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. Ahmadis cited the closure by Sialkot authorities of an Ahmadiyya mosque on May 14 and mob attacks on two other mosques in Sialkot and Faisalabad as evidence of the ongoing severe conditions for the community.

During the year the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement, or PTM, mobilized its predominantly ethnic Pashtun supporters to participate in sit-ins and demonstrations to demand justice and to protest abuses by government security forces. Thousands of individuals participated in peaceful protests across the country’s main population centers, including Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and Islamabad. Observers noted that authorities attempted to discourage protestors through arrests, intimidation, and harassment, but did not engage in any systematic acts of violence against PTM supporters.

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’s red zone–a restricted area that includes a diplomatic enclave and federal government buildings–citing security restrictions that limit all public rallies and gatherings in the area.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association subject to certain restrictions imposed by law. The government maintained a series of policies that steadily eroded the freedom of international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) to carry out their work and access the communities they serve. INGOs, UN organizations, and international missions must request government permission in the form of no-objection certificates before they can conduct most in-country travel, carry out certain project activities, or initiate new projects.

The government adopted a new online registration regime for INGOs in 2015, and in September introduced a more restrictive operating agreement that INGOs must follow. The registration process entails extensive document requirements, multiple levels of review, and constant investigations by security and other government offices. The government denied registration applications of dozens of INGOs in 2017 and 2018. After a lengthy appeals process, in October the Ministry of Interior issued final rejection notices to 18 INGOs, denying their registrations and ordering them to close operations within 60 days. The rejection notices did not specify the reasons for rejection.

The years of uncertainty about registration status negatively impacted even those INGOs that have not received final rejection notices. They faced additional barriers to fundraising, opening bank accounts, and obtaining tax-exempt status from the Federal Board of Revenue. No-objection certificates were hard to obtain in certain provinces without an approved registration, thus hindering implementation and monitoring of activities, even for INGOs that had initiated the new registration process. INGOs also faced an uptick in visa denials for international staff. The government asked country directors and international staff, during visa applications and separate surveys, whether they were Indian or Israeli nationals. The lack of transparency and unpredictability of the registration process caused some INGOs to withdraw their registration applications and terminate operations in the country.

The government at both the federal and provincial levels similarly restricted the access of foreign-funded local NGOs through a separate registration regime, no-objection certificates, and other requirements. Authorities required NGOs to obtain no-objection certificates before accepting foreign funding, booking facilities or using university spaces for events, or working on sensitive human rights issues. Even when local NGOs receiving foreign funding were appropriately registered, the government often denied their requests for no-objection certificates. Furthermore, domestic NGOs with all required certificates faced government monitoring and harassment.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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: The government provided temporary legal status to approximately 1.4 million Afghans formally registered and holding proof of registration cards. The PML-N and interim governments gave repeated, short-term proof of registration card extensions through September 30, which created an environment of uncertainty for proof of registration cardholders. In October the PTI-led government broke the trend of short-term extensions, approving a longer-term extension through June 30, 2019. Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged on September 16 to offer citizenship to Afghan refugees and Bengalis born in the country. The government formed a parliamentary committee to address this issue, which remained controversial.

There were reports that provincial authorities, police, and host communities harassed Afghan refugees. UNHCR reported that, from January to October, there were 828 arrests and detentions of refugees. All those arrested were released, 74 percent without charges, often following the intervention of UNHCR or its implementing partners. Arrests spiked in July, largely due to stringent security measures initiated by the government in preparation for the July 25 general elections.

In-country Movement: Government restrictions on access to certain areas of the former FATA and Balochistan, often due to security concerns, hindered freedom of movement. The government required an approved no-objection certificate 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 Muslim, affirm a declaration that the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement was a false prophet. Ahmadi representatives reported authorities wrote the word “Ahmadi” in their passports if they refused to sign the declaration.

According to policy, government employees and students must obtain no-objection certificates from the government before traveling abroad. Authorities rarely enforced this requirement for students, however.

The government prohibited persons on an 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.

Exile: The government refused the return of some Pakistanis deported from other countries. The government refused these deportees entry as unidentifiable Pakistani citizens, despite having passports issued by Pakistani embassies abroad.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Large population displacements have occurred since 2008 as a result of militant activity and military operations in KP and the former FATA. Returns continued amid improved security conditions. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 29,000 of the total 5.3 million affected residents remained displaced as of May. The government and UN agencies such as UNHCR, UNICEF, and the UN World Food Program collaborated to assist and protect those affected by conflict, who 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 government required humanitarian organizations assisting civilians displaced by military operations to request no-objection certificates to access all districts in the former FATA. According to humanitarian agencies and NGOs, the certificate application process was cumbersome and projects faced significant delays. The government maintained IDP camps inside and near former FATA districts 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 the former 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 through 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 the United Nations and other international organizations. The World Food Program distributed a monthly food ration to IDPs in KP displaced by conflict and continued to provide a six-month food ration to IDPs who returned to their areas of origin in the former FATA.

Despite large-scale recurring displacements of individuals due to natural disasters and disruptions caused by terrorist activities and counterterrorist operations, the government had not adopted specific legislation to tackle internal displacement problems. In addition, the National Disaster Management Act of 2010 does not provide any definition of IDPs or their rights.

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.

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 the courts, but some, particularly the poor, were afraid to do so. There were no reports of refugees denied access to health facilities because of their nationality.

The constitution stipulates free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of five and 16, 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. Access to schools, however, 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 girls 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 proof of registration cards. Afghan students were eligible to seek admission to Pakistani public and private colleges and universities.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries and did not facilitate local integration. The government does not currently accord the children of Afghan refugees Pakistani citizenship, but it did establish a parliamentary committee to evaluate the possibility of extending citizenship to Pakistani-born children of Afghan and Bengali refugees, as reported earlier.

The Ministry of States and Frontier Regions and Ministry of the Interior’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) signed a memorandum of understanding in May 2017 to document unregistered Afghans in the country. The memorandum established 21 documentation centers in areas with high concentrations of unregistered Afghans. Under it, NADRA agreed to issue new identity cards, called Afghan citizen cards, over a period of six months. The Afghan citizen cards provided undocumented Afghans legal protection from arbitrary arrests, detention, or deportation under the Foreigners Act and allowed cardholders to stay in Pakistan for the duration of the cards’ validity. If cardholders leave the country, they relinquish their status. The period for Afghans to apply for Afghan citizen cards concluded at the end of January, after which only new births to existing holders of Afghan citizen cards were recorded. Any undocumented Afghans encountered in the country after the registration period were vulnerable to detention and deportation under the Foreigners Act.

STATELESS PERSONS

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 partition of India and Pakistan, and the 1971 partition of Pakistan and Bangladesh. In addition, UNHCR estimated there were 300,000 Rohingya living in the country, a large percentage of whom were believed to be stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides the majority of citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Gilgit-Baltistan, AK, and the former FATA have political systems that differ from the rest of the country. Gilgit-Baltistan and AK did not have representation in the national Parliament.

Residents of the former FATA do not have a voice in federal decisions regarding the tribal areas; that authority resides with the KP governor, who is appointed by the president. Tribal residents did not have the right to choose their local government because unelected civilian bureaucrats managed the tribal districts under the FIGR and the FCR that preceded it. By year’s end, no local government elections have been held in the former FATA, although the government allowed political parties to operate freely in FATA under the 2011 Extension of the Political Parties Order 2002. Political observers credited this order with laying the foundation for a more mature political system in the tribal agencies, culminating in the former FATA’s legal merger with KP province under the 25th Amendment.

AK has an interim constitution, an elected unicameral assembly, a prime minister, and a president elected by the assembly. In 2016 the AK held legislative assembly elections that resulted in a PML-N-majority government. Media reported that local observers concluded the elections were largely peaceful and free of allegations of vote rigging; the AK election commission deployed an additional 32,000 law enforcement officers to maintain law and order. Some AK political leaders reported an increased military presence on election day. The federal government, including the military, controlled and influenced the structures of the AK government and its electoral politics. Authorities barred those who did not support the AK’s accession to Pakistan from the political process, government employment, and educational institutions.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On July 25, the country held direct elections that resulted in a PTI-majority national government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan. According to Article 41 of the constitution, at the end of the sitting president’s five-year term the Electoral College (made up of the members of both houses of Parliament, and of the provincial assemblies) selects the next president by secret ballot. The Electoral College held presidential elections on September 4 and selected Arif Alvi (PTI) to succeed Mamnoon Hussain (PML-N), who completed his five-year term as president on September 9.

The Election Commission of Pakistan reportedly accredited approximately 50,000 domestic observers for the general elections. The Free and Fair Election Network, a coalition of more than 50 civil society organizations, fielded 19,000 observers and evaluated the voting process in 85 percent of polling stations nationwide. The EU also fielded an observation mission. The Free and Fair Election Network noted overall improvements in the Electoral Commission of Pakistan’s management of the polling process, but the failure of a new electronic system for transmitting results delayed the announcement of provisional results and raised speculation among the public and the media about the integrity of the vote count. EU observers assessed voting itself was “well-conducted and transparent,” but noted that “counting was sometimes problematic.” Civil society organizations and political parties raised concerns about pre-election interference, including restrictions on freedom of expression, creating an uneven electoral playing field. Some political parties also alleged polling day irregularities occurred.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no reports of restrictions on political parties participating in elections, with the exception of those prohibited due to terrorist affiliations. According to media reports, however, security agencies used pressure tactics–including threats of prosecution for corruption–to convince politicians associated with the former ruling party, PML-N, to switch affiliations prior to general elections. Media and analysts questioned whether the military and judiciary used selective prosecutions of political leaders on corruption charges as a tool to skew the electoral playing field against PML-N. Judges ordered media regulatory agencies to enforce constitutional bans on content critical of the military or judiciary, compelling media to censor politicians’ speeches and elections-related coverage deemed “antijudiciary” or “antimilitary.” Organizations that monitor press freedom reported direct pressure on media outlets to avoid content regarding possible military influence over judicial proceedings against politicians, and to refrain from reporting on PML-N leaders in a positive way. In most areas, there was no interference with the right of political parties and candidates to organize campaigns, run for election, or seek votes. In Balochistan, however, there were reports security agencies and separatist groups harassed local political organizations, such as the Balochistan National Party and the Baloch Students Organization. Attacks on political party campaign offices, politicians, and supporters spiked due to the July general elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: While no laws prevent women from voting, cultural and traditional barriers in tribal and rural areas impeded some women from voting. Authorities used quotas to assure a minimum female presence in elected bodies. There are 60 seats in the National Assembly and 17 seats in the Senate reserved for women. Authorities apportioned these seats on the basis of total votes secured by the candidates of each political party that contested the elections. Authorities reserved 129 of the 758 seats for women in provincial assemblies and one-third of the seats on local councils. Women participated actively as political party members, but they were not always successful in securing leadership positions within parties, with the exception of women’s wings. Women served in the federal cabinet.

The comprehensive Elections Act 2017, which was passed in 2017 and replaced eight older laws, stipulates special measures to enhance electoral participation of women, religious minorities, transgender persons, and persons with disabilities. Under the new law, women must constitute 5 percent of party tickets, and if less than 10 percent of women vote in any constituency, it is presumed that the women’s vote was suppressed and the results for that constituency or polling station may be nullified. The law was enforced for the first time in Shangla, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, when the Election Commission canceled the district’s July 25 general elections results after women made up less than 10 percent of the vote. The law provides for mail-in voting for persons with disabilities. It requires expedited issuance of identification cards (which also serve as voter identification cards) for non-Muslims, transgender persons, and persons with disabilities.

The government requires voters to indicate their religion when registering to vote and requires Ahmadis to declare themselves as non-Muslims. Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, and many were unable to vote because they did not comply.

The constitution reserves four seats in the Senate, one for each of the four provinces, for religious minorities, defined by the government as “non-Muslim.” These seats are filled through indirect elections held in the provincial assemblies. Ten National Assembly seats are reserved for members of religious minority communities. The authorities apportioned these seats to parties based on the percentage of seats each won in the assembly. Minorities held 22 reserved seats in the provincial assemblies: eight in Punjab, nine in Sindh, two in KP, and three in Balochistan. Some members of religious minority communities criticized the system of minority representation, whereby minority representatives at the provincial and federal levels are appointed by their political parties to reserved seats; they stated this system resulted in minority representatives serving the interests of their political parties rather than of minority communities.

Women and minorities may contest directly elected, nonreserved seats.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future