The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but provides, “Subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.” According to the constitution, every citizen has the right to freedom of speech, subject to “reasonable restrictions in the interest of the glory of Islam,” as stipulated in the penal code.
According to the penal code, the punishment for persons convicted of blasphemy includes the death penalty for “defiling the Prophet Muhammad,” life imprisonment for “defiling, damaging, or desecrating the Quran,” and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for “insulting another’s religious feelings.” Speech or action intended to incite religious hatred is punishable by up to seven years of imprisonment. Under the law, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony is responsible for reviewing internet traffic and reporting blasphemous or offensive content to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority for possible removal or to FIA for possible criminal prosecution.
The constitution defines “Muslim” as a person who “believes in the unity and oneness of Almighty Allah, in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad… the last of the prophets, and does not believe in, or recognize as a prophet or religious reformer, any person who claimed or claims to be a prophet after Muhammad.” It also states that “a person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, or Parsi community, a person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis), or a Baha’i, and a person belonging to any of the scheduled castes” is a “non-Muslim.”
According to the constitution and the penal code, Ahmadis may not call themselves Muslims or assert they are adherents of Islam. The penal code bans them from “posing as Muslims,” using Islamic terms, carrying out Islamic customs, preaching or propagating their religious beliefs, proselytizing, or “insulting the religious feelings of Muslims.” The punishment for violating these provisions is imprisonment for up to three years and a fine, the amount of which is at the discretion of the sentencing judge.
The penal code does not explicitly criminalize apostasy, but renouncing Islam is widely considered by clerics to be a form of blasphemy, which may carry the death penalty.
The government may use the antiterrorism courts, established as a parallel legal structure under antiterrorism legislation, to try cases involving violent crimes, terrorist activities, and acts or speech deemed by the government to foment religious hatred, including blasphemy.
The constitution states that no person shall be required to take part in any religious ceremony or attend religious worship relating to a religion other than the person’s own.
The constitution provides for “freedom to manage religious institutions.” It states every religious denomination shall have the right to establish and maintain its own institutions. The constitution states that no person shall be compelled to pay any special tax for the propagation or maintenance of a religion other than the person’s own. The government collects a mandatory, automatic 2.5 percent zakat (tax) from Sunni Muslims who hold savings accounts in banks. It distributes the funds through a government-run charity as stipends for poor families and students, payment for medical treatment, and support to Sunni mosques and madrassahs registered with the government. Sunni Muslims who want to distribute zakat themselves may request an exemption, and Shia Muslims are exempted by filling out a declaration of faith form. Shia and Ahmadi Muslim communities run their own charity programs.
The constitution mandates that the government take steps to enable Muslims, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam and to promote the observance of Islamic moral standards. It directs the state to endeavor to secure the proper organization of Islamic tithes, religious foundations, and places of worship.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony is responsible for organizing participation in the Hajj and other Islamic religious pilgrimages. Authorities also consult the ministry on matters such as blasphemy and Islamic education. The ministry’s budget covers assistance to indigent minorities, repair of minority places of worship, establishment of minority-run small development projects, celebration of minority religious festivals, and provision of scholarships for religious minority students.
The law prohibits publishing any criticism of Islam or its prophets or insults to others’ religious beliefs. The law bans the sale of Ahmadi religious literature.
The provincial and federal governments have legal responsibility for certain minority religious properties abandoned during the 1947 partition of British India. The federal government supervises and controls both religious and secular properties abandoned during partition via the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB). ETPB holds in trust some 200 Sikh gurdwaras and 150 Hindu temples across the country. The Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC) is responsible for maintaining gurdwaras.
The constitution states that no person attending any educational institution shall be required to attend religious instruction or take part in any religious ceremony relating to a religion other than the person’s own. It also states that no religious denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of its denomination in an educational institution maintained by the denomination.
The constitution states the government shall make Islamic studies compulsory for all Muslim students in schools, but students of other religious groups are not legally required to study Islam. Most schools do not offer parallel studies in religious beliefs other than Islam or their own respective religious tradition. In some state-run schools, however, non-Muslim students may study ethics. Parents may send children to private schools, including religious schools, at the family’s expense. In Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, private schools are also required to teach Islamic studies and the Quran to Muslim students.
By law, madrassahs are prohibited from teaching or encouraging sectarian or religious hatred or violence. Wafaqs (independent academic boards) register seminaries, regulate curricula, and issue degrees. The five wafaqs each represent major streams of Islamic thought in the country: Barelvi, Deobandi, Shia, Ahle Hadith, and the Jamaat-i-Islami. The wafaqs operate through an umbrella group, Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-e-Madaris Pakistan, to represent their interests to the government. The government requires all madrassahs to register with the Ministry of Education and to register with one of the five wafaqs.
The constitution states, “All existing laws shall be brought into conformity with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah [Islam’s body of traditional social and legal custom and practice].” It further states that no law shall be enacted that is “repugnant” to Islam. The constitution states this requirement shall not affect the “personal laws of non-Muslim citizens” or their status as citizens.
The constitution establishes a Federal Shariat Court (FSC) composed of Muslim judges to examine and decide whether any law or provision is “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.” The constitution gives the FSC the power to examine a law of its own accord or at the request of the government or a private citizen. The constitution requires the government to amend the law as directed by the FSC. The constitution also grants the FSC “revisional jurisdiction” (the power to review of its own accord) over criminal cases in the lower courts relating to certain crimes under the Hudood Ordinance, including rape and those linked to Islamic morality, such as extramarital sex, alcohol use, and gambling. The court may suspend or increase the sentence given by a criminal court in these cases. The FSC’s review power applies whether the cases involve Muslims or non-Muslims. Non-Muslims may not appear before the FSC. If represented by a Muslim lawyer, however, non-Muslims may consult the FSC in other matters, such as questions of sharia or Islamic practice that affect them or violate their rights. By law, decisions of the FSC may be appealed to the Supreme Court’s Shariat Appellate Bench. A full bench of the Supreme Court may grant a further appeal.
The constitution establishes a Council of Islamic Ideology to make recommendations, at the request of Parliament and provincial assemblies, as to “the ways and means of enabling and encouraging Muslims to order their lives in accordance with the principles of Islam.” The constitution further empowers the council to advise the legislative and executive branches when they choose to refer a question to the council as to whether a proposed law is or is not “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.”
There is no specific language in the law authorizing civil or common law marriage; religious authorities sign marriage certificates, which are registered with the local marriage registrar. The provincial-level Sindh Hindu Marriage Act and the national-level Hindu Marriage Act (applying to federal territory and all other provinces) codify legal mechanisms to formally register and prove the legitimacy of Hindu marriages. In addition to addressing a legal gap by providing documentation needed for identity registration, divorce, and inheritance, the Hindu Marriage Acts allow marriages to be voided when consent “was obtained by force, coercion, or by fraud.” The acts allow for the termination of the marriage upon the conversion of one party to a religion other than Hinduism. The Sindh provincial government has legislation allowing couples to seek divorce and granting Hindu women the right to remarry six months after a divorce or a spouse’s death. The Sindh Hindu Marriage Act also applies to Sikh marriages. The Punjab Sikh Anand Karaj Marriage Act allows local government officials in that province to register marriages between a Sikh man and Sikh woman solemnized by a Sikh Anand Karaj marriage registrar.
Some court judgments have considered the marriage of a non-Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man dissolved if she converts to Islam, although the marriage of a non-Muslim man who converts remains recognized.
The constitution directs the state to “safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities,” to secure the well-being of the people irrespective of creed, and to discourage sectarian prejudices. It forbids discrimination against any religious community in the taxation of religious institutions. The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), an independent government-funded agency that reports to Parliament, is required to receive petitions, conduct investigations, and request remediation of human rights abuses. The NCHR is also mandated to monitor the government’s implementation of human rights laws and review and propose legislation. It has quasi-judicial powers and may refer cases for prosecution but does not have arrest authority. A constitutional amendment devolves responsibility for minorities’ affairs, including religious minorities, to the provinces.
The constitution provides there shall be no discrimination on the basis of religion in appointing individuals to government service, provided they are otherwise qualified. There is a 5 percent minimum quota for hiring religious minorities (primarily Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Kalash and Parsis but excluding Shia and Ahmadi Muslims) at the federal and provincial levels of government. The constitution prohibits discriminatory admission based on religious affiliation to any public educational institution. According to regulations, the only factors affecting admission to public schools are students’ grades and home provinces, although students must declare their religious affiliation on application forms. This declaration is also required for private educational institutions, including universities. Students who identify themselves as Muslims must declare in writing they believe Muhammad is the final prophet, which is contrary to Ahmadi beliefs. Non-Muslims are required to have the head of their local religious communities verify their religious affiliation. There is no provision in the law for atheists. There is a 2 percent minimum admissions quota for religious minority students in public technical, professional, and higher education institutions in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.
The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) designates religious affiliation on passports and requires religious information on national identity card and passport applications. Those wishing to be listed as Muslims must swear they believe Muhammad is the final prophet and must denounce the Ahmadi movement’s founder as a false prophet and his followers as non-Muslim. There is no option to state “no religion.” National identity cards are required for all citizens upon reaching the age of 18. Identification cards are used for voting, pension disbursement, social and financial inclusion programs, and other services.
The constitution requires the President and Prime Minister to be Muslim. All senior officials, including members of Parliament, must swear an oath to protect the country’s Islamic identity. The law requires elected Muslim officials to swear an oath affirming their belief that the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet of Islam. This requirement prohibits Ahmadi Muslims from holding elected office, as they recognize a prophet subsequent to the Prophet Muhammad.
The constitution reserves seats for non-Muslim members in Parliament and provincial assemblies. The 342-member National Assembly (the lower house of Parliament) has 10 reserved seats for non-Muslims. The 100-member Senate has four reserved seats for non-Muslims, one from each province. In the provincial assemblies, there are three such reserved seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; eight in Punjab; nine in Sindh; and three in Balochistan. Reserved seats are distributed to political parties in proportion to the number of seats the parties win in the general electorate. Party leaders choose the minority individuals who hold these seats; they are not elected directly by the minority constituencies they represent. There is no obligation to appoint members to the reserved seats in proportion to their community’s share of the population.
The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and maintains two reservations: first, that ICCPR Article 3 regarding equal rights of men and women would be “applied as to be in conformity with Personal Law of the citizens and Qanoon-e-Shahadat Order, 1984 (Law of Evidence),” under which the in-court testimony of men in certain civil matters pertaining to contracts and financial obligations is given greater weight than that of women; and second, that ICCPR Article 25, on the equal right for citizens to take part in public service, would be subject to articles of the constitution mandating that the President and Prime Minister be Muslims.
According to media reports, police at times killed, physically abused, or failed to protect members of religious minorities. In one case, on September 17, Bashir Masih, a Christian bus driver, was arrested by police in Zafarwali village and taken to the police station in Sambrial, Punjab, on charges of theft. Media reported that his former employer accused Masih of stealing a vehicle. Several hours later, his body was left in the nearby Sambrial hospital, listed as having no next-of-kin, despite multiple visits by his wife, Rozeena Bibi, to the police station earlier that day to inquire after his whereabouts and well-being. On September 18, after local residents protested and district police officer Faisal Kamran intervened, Rozeena Bibi was allowed to file a police complaint. Assistant Sub-Inspector Ghulam Murtaza and Constable Azmat Ali were later arrested for killing Masih. There was no further information available on this case at year’s end. Following Masih’s death, Catholic leaders called for reforms to end deaths in police custody. On September 27, Kashif Aslam, Deputy Director of the Catholic Bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace, said, “Law enforcement agencies must shift away from inhumane methods of investigation and extraction of confessions through torture, arbitrary arrests, and detention.”
In another case, on September 8, a Muslim police officer named Qadir beat Alam Kohli, a Hindu man from Hyderabad, Sindh, stripped him naked, and chased him until he fell into a septic well and died. Qadir and Kohli reportedly had a verbal confrontation outside the hospital where Qadir was on-duty before closed-circuit television camera captured the police officer beating Kohli and pursuing him until he fell to his death. The victim’s family filed a complaint against Qadir, saying Kohli was thrown into the well or forced into it as he fled his attacker. Media outlets reported that police did not investigate the case, calling it a suicide.
On March 16, officers from the FIA’s Cyber Crimes Wing in Gujranwala, Punjab, arrested Pakistan Railways employee Fansan Shahid, a Christian, on charges of blasphemy and beat him to elicit a confession, according to his wife. Media said the investigation report filed against Shahid was based on a complaint by a Muslim cleric that Shahid had insulted the Prophet Muhammad in a 2019 comment on Facebook. Police charged Shahid under penal codes Section 295-A, which carries a sentence up to 10 years in prison, and 295-C, which carries a mandatory death sentence. He was also charged under Section 11 of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA) and Section 153-A of the penal code, which relate to hate speech and are punishable by imprisonment up to seven years and fine. Shahid’s wife said he was beaten by the police during his arrest and that when she visited her husband in custody on March 17, he told her officers tortured him into confessing. His attorney said the confession was invalid because it was not obtained in the presence of a magistrate or a judge. Shahid remained in custody pending trial at year’s end. Bishop Azad Marshall of the Church of Pakistan condemned Shahid’s arrest and the government’s failure to combat false allegations of blasphemy, stating, “The government’s failure to curb the misuse of the blasphemy laws is emboldening false accusers.”
Also in March, media reported that a local jirga (council) and police in Rohri, Sindh, pressured a Hindu family to accept a financial settlement and withdraw murder charges against a Muslim man from an influential local family who killed one of their daughters in an attempt to force her to marry him. The family later fled their village for fear of their other daughter’s safety.
On August 2, a court in Mithi acquitted all the accused in the 2021 murder of Hindu laborer Dodo Bheel after a compromise was reached with the victim’s family under the diyat law, an Islamic legal concept whereby the family can pardon the accused after receiving restitution, usually in the form of “blood money.” Under the compromise, which human rights groups said was forced upon Bheel’s family, the accused paid 5 million rupees ($23,000) in exchange for the family asking the court to drop the charges.
President Arif Alvi signed the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Law, 2022 into effect on November 2. The law criminalized the torture, rape, and killing of persons in the custody of police and other public officials. Under the law, any public official who committed, abetted, or conspired to commit torture that resulted in death could face penalties up to and including death. This was the first federal legislation that specifically sought to prevent and punish torture by government officials. It empowered the FIA to investigate allegations of custodial torture, including allegations against provincial police departments and the military, and required agencies to suspend or transfer accused officials pending the outcome of an investigation. The National Assembly passed the bill on August 1 and the Senate approved it on October 20. Civil society representatives suggested that the law might benefit minorities in detention, but it was too early to assess the law’s impact at the end of the year. They doubted the law’s effectiveness without accompanying police reforms.
Civil society representatives reported authorities charged at least 52 individuals in 2022 with blasphemy or related religion-based criminal charges, compared with the 84 reported in 2021. Exact figures were not available, but at least two Christians, one Hindu, and 49 Ahmadis, along with an unknown number of Sunni and Shia Muslims, were charged. At least four persons who had been charged previously, two Christian and two Muslim, received death sentences for blasphemy during the year, but none were carried out. According to a report by the NGO CSJ published in February, Human Rights Observer 2022, at least 1,949 individuals were accused of offenses related to religion between 1987 and 2021, mostly under the portion of the penal code dealing with blasphemy and the anti-Ahmadi laws, Sections 295-B, 295-C, 298, 298-A, 298-B, and 298-C. The highest number of accused (47.6 percent) were Sunni and Shia Muslims, followed by Ahmadi Muslims (32.9 percent), Christians (14.4 percent), Hindus (2.1 percent), and others of unknown religion (2.8 percent). NGOs agreed the actual number of blasphemy cases was likely higher, but uneven reporting and lack of media coverage in many areas made it difficult to identify an exact number. The government has not executed anyone for blasphemy, as the higher courts have generally overturned on appeal the convictions or reduced the sentences of those sentenced to death for blasphemy. Often, however, the accused spent many years of incarceration awaiting execution before their death sentences were overturned.
Of those who received death sentences in 2022, on January 3, Judge Sahibzada Naqeeb converted the sentence of Zafar Bhatti, a Christian in jail since 2012 and convicted of blasphemy in 2017, from life in prison to death. The judge argued that the “new” text of Section 295-C of the penal code, which covers blasphemy (and which was updated by a ruling of the FSC in 1990), included only the death penalty as punishment, without the option for a life sentence. Bhatti appealed the decision to the Lahore High Court and remained in custody at year’s end.
On January 19, a Rawalpindi court sentenced a Muslim woman, Aneeqa Ateeq, to death over caricatures, remarks, and posts she made on WhatsApp and Facebook that were deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad. Ateeq denied the blasphemy charges and told the court that the complainant deliberately dragged her into religious discussions to collect “blasphemy” evidence against her after she refused “to be friendly with him.” At year’s end, she remained in custody while awaiting an appeal against her conviction.
On February 23, a court in Faisalabad, Punjab sentenced Shia Muslim Wasim Abbas to death on charges of insulting the Prophet. The court also imposed a fine of 500,000 rupees ($2,200). Abbas was arrested in June 2020 by police in Faisalabad’s Factory Area based on a complaint alleging he had insulted the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. Abbas is the brother of Taimoor Raza, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2017 after engaging in a sectarian debate with a police officer on Facebook. Abbas and Raza remained in custody at year’s end.
On July 4, a Lahore court sentenced a Christian bicycle mechanic, Ashfaq Masih, to death for allegedly stating that Jesus Christ was the “only true prophet,” which the court interpreted as a blasphemous insult against the Prophet Muhammad. Masih, jailed on the charges since 2017, denied committing blasphemy and claimed that his landlord and a rival business owner encouraged his accuser to instigate a blasphemy case against him for personal and financial reasons. Masih remained in custody at year’s end.
In cases not involving the death penalty, on February 7, a court in Sukkur, Sindh, sentenced Notan Lal, a Hindu teacher from Ghotki, Sindh, to life imprisonment, hard labor, and a 50,000 rupee ($220) fine for blasphemy. Lal, a teacher at a public college and owner of a private school, was imprisoned in 2019 when a 15-year-old Muslim student accused him of insulting Prophet Muhammad during an Islamic studies class. Media outlets reported that the student later recanted the accusation and admitted to fabricating the incident after the teacher had publicly scolded him for not memorizing his lessons. Lal appealed the verdict to the Sindh High Court, but the court had not acted on the case by year’s end.
On May 1, authorities opened an investigation into more than 150 leaders and members of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party for alleged blasphemy. The allegations stemmed from an incident in which PTI supporters on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia heckled Prime Minister Sharif as he led a delegation to the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), which is an NGO separate from the government-funded NCHR, called for the cases to be dropped and criticized the government for allowing blasphemy allegations to be “weaponized against its rivals.” On May 12, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) directed police not to file formal blasphemy charges, effectively putting an end to the investigation. IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah stated the facts of the case did not meet the elements of blasphemy and, citing the lynchings of Mashal Khan in 2017 and Priyantha Kumara in 2021, stated innocent lives had been lost due to the misuse of religion in the recent past.
As reported by civil society, on November 8, police in Chiniot, Punjab, in coordination with the FIA Cyber Crime Wing, entered the headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Pakistan in Rabwah and attempted to arrest Saleem ud Din, the national spokesperson for the community, based on a 2020 case filed by the FIA for violating laws against sharing prohibited or blasphemous material online, inciting religious hatred, and insulting religious feelings. The case remained pending before the Lahore High Court and Saleem ud Din remained free at the end of the year.
Other blasphemy cases continued without resolution. Several individuals were accused of spreading blasphemous content through social media under PECA. In November, a group of Ahmadi Muslims charged under PECA in 2019 for publishing copies of the Quran appeared before the Lahore High Court. The petition against them was filed by Muhammad Hassan Muawiyah, brother of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Religious Affairs and the Middle East Tahir Ashrafi. Muawiyah said that the Ahmadi community and non-Muslims were not authorized to publish copies of the Quran. The criminal case against the accused Ahmadis remained ongoing at year’s end, with the accused free on bail.
During the November hearing, the judge ordered police authorities to submit a report stating why they had not enforced the 2019 verdict to ensure that only “authorized entities” published the Quran and why they had not acted against the accused and those publishing “unauthentic” copies of the Quran. The Lahore High Court summoned the principal secretaries to the Prime Minister and Chief Minister of Punjab to appear on December 7 to explain why the court’s 2019 verdict had not been enforced. Both officials told the court their respective governments would take action to prevent the publication of unauthorized Qurans.
The trial of the killers of Tahir Naseem, a U.S. citizen killed in a courtroom in 2020 while on trial for blasphemy because he was perceived to be an Ahmadi Muslim, was ongoing before the Antiterrorism Court in Peshawar at year’s end.
According to NGOs and media reports, individuals convicted and sentenced to death in well-publicized blasphemy cases dating as far back as 2014, including Nadeem James, Taimoor Raza, and Junaid Hafeez, remained in prison awaiting action on their appeals. In all the cases, judges continued to delay hearings, adjourn hearings without hearing arguments, or sent appeals to other judicial benches. Civil society and legal sources said lower court judges, who had little or no security protection, were generally hesitant to decide blasphemy cases due to fear of violence from Islamist extremists if they did not levy harsh sentences. Legal observers said the lower court judges who did rule on blasphemy cases continued to quickly convict and sentence the accused, often with the understanding that those convicted likely would be freed on appeal by higher court judges, who had better security protection.
Ahmadi Muslim Ramzan Bibi remained free on bail while awaiting trial for blasphemy. In April 2020, Bibi donated money for a ceremony being held in a Sunni mosque in her village in Punjab, but the mosque returned the money because Ahmadis are barred by law from engaging in Muslim practices such as giving to mosques. She asked a non-Ahmadi relative why the money was returned, but the conversation turned into a dispute resulting in a verbal and physical altercation. Clerics of the village informed the district police officer that Bibi had committed blasphemy. Police arrested and charged her under Section 295-C of the penal code, which carries the death penalty. She was arrested and spent 10 months in jail before the Lahore High Court granted her bail in 2021. Her trial remained pending at year’s end.
During the year, courts overturned some blasphemy convictions upon appeal and acquitted or granted bail to some individuals who had spent years in prison on blasphemy charges. For example, on January 5, the Supreme Court granted post-arrest bail to Qamar Aqash after he had spent more than four years in jail for allegedly using blasphemous language on social media. On January 6, the Supreme Court granted Nadeem Samson bail in his blasphemy case on the grounds that his trial had been delayed for more than two years after his arrest. On May 31, the Lahore High Court granted Stephen Masih bail in a blasphemy case after he had spent more than three years in jail. On August 23, the Supreme Court granted Salamat Mansha Masih bail on the grounds that the state had produced insufficient evidence that he had committed blasphemy. According to legal experts, bail was exceedingly rare in blasphemy cases that carried the death penalty. All four cases were ongoing at year’s end.
Mubasher Ahmad, Ghulam Ahmad, and Ehsan Ahmad, Ahmadis arrested in 2014 on charges of blasphemy and “acts intended to outrage religious feelings,” were freed from prison on January 14. A court in Ferozwala, Punjab, sentenced all three to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad in 2017, but that conviction was overturned on appeal by the Lahore High Court in December 2021. Their other convictions for “acts intended to outrage religious feelings” were upheld and they were released after serving eight years of a 10-year sentence.
On January 24, a sessions court in Lahore acquitted Asim Aslam of blasphemy, based on a complaint filed by his brother Faisal Aslam in 2011. Although Faisal acknowledged that his brother had a history of mental illness, Asim was initially convicted based on a confession and sentenced to life in prison. The Lahore High Court suspended the sentence and ordered a retrial in 2021 “in light of [Aslam’s] mental health” that led to his acquittal.
On February 7, according to media reports, a local court acquitted the principal of a Karachi public school and a school employee in a blasphemy case from 2018. A passerby had accused Javed Akhter, the principal, and Muhammad Shahid Khan of burning Islamic studies textbooks. After a trial lasting three years, the judge noted “material contradictions” in witnesses’ testimony against the two men and ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges against them.
In at least one instance, police prevented an individual accused of blasphemy from being lynched. On August 21, Hyderabad police stopped a crowd from lynching a Hindu sanitation worker the crowd claimed had thrown burnt pages of the Quran from a residential building. A large contingent of police responded to the incident and arrested the man for blasphemy. Later, police arrested a Muslim man who confessed to burning pages of the Quran and another man who had circulated a video on social media calling on Muslims to “attack Hindu businessmen wherever you find them.” Markets and businesses in Hyderabad remained shut for two days after authorities imposed a city-wide ban on gatherings of four or more persons. Observers in Hyderabad reported that many Hindu families left the area after the incident, and some closed their shops due to security concerns.
Media reported in February that Christian nurse Tabitha Gill, accused of blasphemy in 2021 for saying she would pray for someone at the hospital where she worked, went into hiding along with her family. The blasphemy case filed against her remained active.
As reported by Catholic media in May, then UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed said the country’s blasphemy law was a particularly grave violation of human rights and religious freedom. “That blasphemy law is creating havoc in Pakistan,” he said. “It’s costing lives” and it works “to undermine religious freedom.” He also stated, “The mere existence of the law has emboldened extremists…and resulted in a breakdown of law and order” in the country.
In August, the Ministry of the Interior ordered the Punjab provincial government to take action against CSJ for a report on minority religious rights in the country that CSJ and other NGOs submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in July. Media said the report described incidents of forced conversion of Christians and misuse of the country’s blasphemy laws in violation of international human rights obligations and the country’s own laws. According to UCA News and the Urdu newspaper Jang, the CSJ report was considered “anti-state propaganda” by the government. UCA News said that 30 human rights organizations endorsed the report, including the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights (JAC), an umbrella group that included 37 human rights groups. In a statement, the Muslim chair of the JAC urged the government to “constructively consider” the “concrete and workable recommendations” in the report. On December 16, CSJ filed a restraining order with the Lahore High Court against the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and the Punjab Provincial Department of Industries, Commerce, and Investment for harassment and threatening to cancel CSJ’s NGO registration on “spurious, unfounded and vague grounds without any lawful justification.” At the end of the year, the court had restrained the Punjab authorities from taking any action against CSJ while the litigation was ongoing.
On October 6, the FIA announced the creation of a dedicated unit to investigate and handle like other cybercrimes blasphemy allegations online and on social media. The creation of the new unit followed remarks by Justice Chaudhry Abdul Aziz of the Lahore High Court, who said the pace of investigations and court processing of cyber cases related to blasphemy was slow, the FIA did not always present accurate information to the courts about blasphemy, and the FIA had transferred officials out of the FIA who had handled blasphemy cybercrimes in the past. Media said that a legal petition by Tehreek-i-Tahaffuz-i-Namoos-i-Risalat Pakistan, a conservative group of clerics and lawyers pursuing blasphemy cases, also influenced the FIA. The group filed a petition with the Lahore High Court urging speedy trials and the creation of a consolidated database on blasphemy cases pending with the FIA. One lawyer told the media, “If there can be child pornography and harassment units in the FIA Cybercrime Wing, why not create a dedicated cell to deal with blasphemy complaints?” He also said special courts and special benches in high courts dedicated to blasphemy cases would help speed up those cases. According to media reports, the FIA informed the Lahore High Court that 655 complaints of blasphemy had been filed with the agency in the “past couple of years.” Other legal observers said the number of blasphemy complaints to the FIA was much higher.
NGOs, legal observers, and religious minority representatives continued to raise concerns regarding the failure of lower courts to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases. They also raised concerns about the slow pace of adjudicating these cases, including cyber cases, which led to some suspects remaining in detention for years as they waited for their initial trial or appeals, and some convicted persons spending years in prison before higher courts overturned their convictions and freed them for lack of evidence. According to legal advocacy groups, some lower courts continued to conduct proceedings with spectators from groups supportive of harsh punishment for blasphemy, such as the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party, who often threatened the defendants’ attorneys, family members, and supporters. At other times, advocacy groups reported that for security reasons, blasphemy trials were held inside jails, resulting in a loss of transparency. Legal observers also reported judges and magistrates often delayed or continued trials indefinitely to avoid confrontation with, or threats or violence from, the groups provoking protests. In some cases, judges and court staff delayed trials in the hopes of having the case transferred to another judge. Police, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were similarly reluctant to appear in blasphemy cases, which further delayed investigations and trials, according to legal observers.
NGOs and legal observers continued to say that the law requiring a senior police official to investigate any blasphemy charge before a complaint may be filed contributed to objective investigations and the dismissal of many blasphemy cases. Some NGOs noted, however, that police did not uniformly follow this procedure. In some cases, the court remanded the accused to police custody for 14 days before he or she had been formally charged so that a senior officer might carry out an investigation. In other cases, lower-ranking police filed blasphemy charges without waiting for the required investigation by a senior police official. NGOs and legal observers again stated police rarely filed charges against individuals who made false blasphemy accusations.
There were reported cases of government intervention and action by courts, law enforcement, and local authorities in situations of attempted kidnapping and forced conversion. Enforcement action against alleged perpetrators was rare, however. An NGO reported 124 cases of forced marriage and the conversion of Christian, Hindu, and Sikh women and girls during the year, a 59 percent increase over the previous year’s count of 78 cases. Most victims were minors, and at least 23 percent were less than 14 years old. Other estimates of forced or coerced conversions vary widely – from as few as five per year to as many as 500. Human rights activists stated that to avoid prosecution, abductors commonly coerced their victims into overstating their age and claiming that they converted to Islam and married willingly. In many cases, courts accepted this testimony and granted custody to the abductor.
According to media reports, an 18-year-old Hindu woman, Pooja Kumari, was shot and killed in her home in Rohri, Sindh, on March 21 by a Muslim man, Wahid Bux Lashari, after she resisted his attempts to kidnap her. Kumari’s family told police and media that Lashari, who was from an influential landowning tribe, had been harassing Kumari and asking her to convert to Islam and marry him, but she refused. The death led to province-wide protests by the Hindu community against forced conversions and violence against girls and women from minority communities. Kumari belonged to the marginalized Ohd scheduled caste community. Sindh police arrested Lashari on March 21, and he reportedly confessed to the crime. On July 24, a local jirga pardoned Lashari in exchange for his paying approximately 1,800,000 rupees ($8,000) in compensation to Kumari’s family. In return, the family withdrew the murder charge. The family was reportedly pressured by police and local politicians to accept the settlement.
On April 30, a Muslim couple abducted a 12-year-old Christian girl from her family home in Rawalpindi and brought her to Faisalabad, where she was forced to renounce her faith and marry the Muslim man as his second wife. The minimum marriageable age in Punjab is 16. The girl was later rescued by police and her abductors arrested. On May 14, her abductors were released after police recommended against filing charges in the case, and a court ordered the girl returned to the Muslim couple’s custody. On August 18, a judge of the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court ruled that the girl had married and converted to Islam “of her own free will” and dismissed her parents’ request to return her to them.
According to human rights activists, on August 12, Shaman Ali Magsi, a Muslim man, abducted a Hindu girl when she was returning to her home in Hyderabad, Sindh, after work. Members of Hyderabad’s Hindu community protesting outside the local press club said that police initially refused to accept her mother’s criminal complaint against the abductor. Police rescued the girl from a house in Karachi on October 20. Rather than return the girl to her parents, a local magistrate in Hyderabad granted a shelter custody for her and ordered a medical examination to determine the girl’s age after her abductor claimed she was 19 and had willingly converted to Islam to marry him. The medical report concluded that she was 16 years of age, and at year’s end she remained at the shelter.
In March, an HRCP fact-finding mission to southern Punjab reported that religious minorities in the Saraiki Belt area of that province, including Hindus and Christians, were at risk of forced conversion, forcible occupation of their lands, intimidation by extremist groups, and discrimination in employment. In the HRCP report, a human rights activist in Bahawalpur described discrimination against these communities in the area as “religious apartheid” imposed either with the collusion of state actors or because of state neglect and failure to protect. In the report, the HRCP also reiterated its call to establish a national commission on minorities’ rights, with statutory authority to enforce those rights.
Religious minorities and several organizations continued to protest the government’s weak response to alleged cases of forced marriage and forced conversion, noting such incidents continue to happen regularly in all provinces.
The Ministry of Interior maintained multitier schedules of religiously oriented groups it judged to be extremist or terrorist that were either banned or had their activities monitored and curtailed (Schedule 1) and individuals whose activities in the public sphere could also be curtailed, including during Shia religious holidays such as Ashura (Schedule 4). The Rawalpindi District administration banned 112 Sunni and Shia Islamic clerics it considered to be “firebrands” from entering the district during the Shia holy month of Muharram, stating this was in order to maintain peace and interfaith harmony during the commemorations and related processions during the period. The district administration in Khanewal, Punjab, banned 38 Sunni and Shia clerics from different sects from the district during Muharram due to their history of delivering provocative speeches.
According to media reports and law enforcement sources, in the weeks leading up to and during Muharram, authorities at the federal level also restricted the movement and activities of certain clerics to keep the peace. Shia community representatives, however, accused authorities of bias by restricting their religious ceremonies and arresting community members.
According to Ahmadiyya community leaders, authorities continued to target and harass Ahmadi Muslims for blasphemy, violations of “anti-Ahmadi laws,” and other crimes. Ahmadi leaders stated the ambiguous wording of the legal provision forbidding Ahmadis from directly or indirectly identifying themselves as Muslims enabled officials to bring charges against members of the community for using the standard Islamic greeting or for naming their children Muhammad. Ahmadiyya community representatives continued to say that NADRA required Ahmadis to declare in an affidavit that they were non-Muslims to obtain a national identification card.
Ahmadiyya Muslim community representatives continued to state that Ahmadi families were unable to register their marriages with local administrative bodies, known as union councils, since the councils considered Ahmadis to be outside the authority of the Muslim Family Law of 1961.
In March, the Punjab provincial cabinet approved an amendment to existing law to require Muslims intending to marry to declare that Muhammad was the final prophet of Islam, which runs counter to Ahmadi beliefs. On July 31, the provincial government ordered local administrative councils to amend all marriage licenses to include the legally binding declaration on the finality of prophethood or face disciplinary action.
Community representatives reported Christians continued to face difficulties in registering marriages with Islamabad union councils because the councils claimed they had no authority to deal with unions recorded by Christian marriage registrars (usually church authorities). Members of Parliament, church leaders, and advocates continued to debate the text of a 2019 draft law designed to govern Christian marriages nationwide, but no progress was reported during the year. Members of Parliament and officials of the Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of Law and Justice continued to consult with church leaders from prominent Christian denominations and with NGO representatives, but the denominations, church leaders, and NGO representatives had not agreed on elements of the draft law pertaining to divorce and interfaith marriage by year’s end.
Although the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act covered registration of Sikh marriages in that province, members of the Sikh community reportedly continued to seek a separate Sikh law so as not to be considered as Hindus for the purposes of the law. Some Hindu activists reported implementation of the law remained uneven, with more consistent application in urban areas.
On July 10, police arrested three members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Punjab’s Faisalabad for sacrificing animals on Eid-al-Adha. In all, five individuals were accused under the penal code section that bans Ahmadis from “posing” as Muslims or committing any act that “in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims.” The charge carries a sentence of up to three years in prison. The five were free on bail at the end of the year.
Some religious minority leaders continued to criticize the process by which political party leaders selected parliamentarians for reserved minority seats through internal deliberations rather than elections. According to these minority leaders, only “rich businessmen” were selected through this process, and many were not well regarded by the minority communities they are meant to represent. Others said parliamentarians occupying reserved seats had little influence in either their parties or the legislatures because they did not have a voting constituency. Women from religious minority communities criticized political parties for nominating only men to seats reserved for religious minorities in all legislative bodies, and they demanded amendments to the law to make mandatory the appointment of religious minority women to these seats.
On September 27, Jamil Bismil, a Hindu resident of Bajaur, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and general secretary of the Bajaur Minority Association, said the persistence of discrimination against minorities was because of their lack of political representation – specifically, that their representatives were selected by political parties at both the national and provincial levels rather than directly elected. According to other activists, these minority parliamentarians’ lack of direct accountability to voters hindered their communities from enjoying equal rights.
NGOs active on religious freedom issues reported harassment by police and intelligence services, including threats to shut them down if they continued their efforts.
The government continued to permit limited, non-Muslim foreign missionary activity and to allow those missionaries to preach, as long as they did not preach against Islam and they acknowledged they were not Muslim. According to the government’s immigration website, the Ministry of Interior processed visa applications for “Christian missionaries” invited by organizations registered in the country. The sponsoring organization had to certify that the applicant was a bona fide member of their organization and must assume responsibility for the missionary’s financial support. In their visa applications, missionaries had to declare to “respect and abide by the laws of Pakistan” and to “refrain from indulging in internal politics.” Missionary visas were valid for one year and permitted one reentry per year and a single one-year extension. According to missionary sources, only “replacement” visas for those taking the place of departing missionaries were available for long-term missionaries seeking to enter the country for the first time. According to the Ministry website, “Entry visas are not granted to foreign missionaries desirous of opening new missions or strengthening existing ones engaged in proselytizing activities.” One missionary from a registered church stated that the government did not impede or restrict missionary activity. Civil society contacts stated that missionary activity was permitted by the government but was limited in practice by general social intolerance of proselytizing to Muslims. Civil society contacts reported that visas for foreign missionaries were sometimes refused or delayed for so long that the mission had to be cancelled.
On January 16, the Lahore High Court denied bail to Ahmadis Mahmood Iqbal Hashmi, Shiraz Ahmad, and Zaheer Ahmad, who were accused of sharing an unauthorized translation of the Quran in a WhatsApp group and were arrested in 2019 on blasphemy charges. The original charging document stated that the accused were “preaching Ahmadiyya beliefs” and “propagating Ahmadiyya materials.” In his decision denying the three bail, Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh stated the men created a WhatsApp group for the “propagation of the Qadiani/Ahmadi faith” and that allowing people to share objectional material in such a group would be “a recipe for disaster.” Hashmi was subsequently granted bail by the Supreme Court on April 27. Shiraz Ahmad and Zaheer Ahmad remained in jail awaiting trial at year’s end.
In their August 23 ruling in the case Salamat Mansha Masih v. The State, etc., Supreme Court Justices Qazi Faez Isa and Syed Mansoor Ali Shah wrote, “Preaching of Christianity is not a crime nor can it be made into one because of the Fundamental Right [in the constitution] ‘to profess, practice and propagate his religion.’”
During the year, in a new video, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) urged parents to monitor the online activity of their children to ensure they did not post potentially blasphemous content. The PTA stated the video was only a public service announcement, and that it would leave action against violators to law enforcement.
The PTA reported it had blocked 1,135,814 URLs for illegal or anti-state content through September 14 after receiving complaints about those URLs. The PTA stated it acted on more than 94 percent of more than 1.2 million complaints about objectionable content, including 905,009 complaints related to decency and morality, 78,119 related to “the glory of Islam,” and 40,536 related to sectarianism/hate speech.
According to representatives of some minority religious groups, the government continued to allow most organized religious groups to establish places of worship and train members of the clergy. The government also continued a nationwide survey of former religious properties managed by the ETPB so that the relevant religious groups could reclaim and restore their old properties, most of which were former Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras abandoned during partition. As of June, the government’s Survey of Pakistan mapping agency had surveyed, geotagged, and digitized 95 percent of the target properties, which will be renovated in a collaboration between the ETPB, provincial governments, and Sikh and Hindu community members.
In January, for example, the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) started preservation work on a temple and six churches in parts of Punjab after initial documentation and mapping were completed for the sites. The temple and the churches’ restoration projects were scheduled to be completed by June 2023. By the end of 2022, the WCLA estimated it had completed 75 percent of the conservation and restoration work on another project, the 1,000-year-old Shivala Hindu Temple in Sialkot, Punjab. An ETPB official attributed the slow pace of restoration work to a lack of sufficient funding from the Punjab government.
In June, the ETPB completed the restoration of the historic Jain Mandir temple in Lahore and re-opened it to visitors. The site was heavily damaged in 1992 during religious riots in the region that followed the destruction of the Babri Mosque in India. The Lahore High Court ordered the restoration in 2021.
Although there continued to be no official restriction on the construction of Ahmadi places of worship, Ahmadiyya Muslim community leaders stated local authorities regularly denied requisite construction permits and forbade Ahmadis from calling their places of worship mosques. Media outlets reported that on October 12, Mufti Qasim Fakhri, a sitting member of the Sindh Provincial Assembly from the TLP and chairman of the assembly’s committee on religious affairs, led a group of protesters outside an Ahmadi mosque in Karachi, accompanied by police. The lawmaker harassed worshippers and demanded their arrest and the demolition of the mosque, saying the use of minarets and domes by the community was a violation of the country’s anti-Ahmadi laws. No arrests were reported.
Authorities provided enhanced security for Shia Muslim, Christian, and Hindu places of worship at various times throughout the year, including around religious holidays or in response to specific threats. In February, the Sindh Police announced the creation of a new unit, the Special Protection Force for Minorities, with a mandate to protect churches, temples, and gurdwaras across the province. The unit had an authorized strength of 5,000 officers and began hiring 2,800 officers from Karachi. In June, Shoaib Suddle, the single member of the One-Man Commission on Minority Rights (constituted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan), reported that Sindh had recruited 1,200 officers for the unit. He also reported that Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were working to raise similar units, but that Balochistan had not yet complied with Suddle’s mandate to create such a unit. In April, the Inspector General of Punjab Police announced increased security for Easter celebrations. Provincial police deployed more than 12,000 personnel and security forces to protect churches and processions. Christian and Hindu representatives in Sindh and Balochistan stated the police generally provided adequate security for minority places of worship, especially at major holidays.
Ahmadiyya community representatives noted their religious sites and cemeteries continued to lack police protection nationwide.
On September 4, four Ahmadi children were expelled from The Educators School’s Mithial campus in Attock, Punjab. In a letter to the children’s parents, the school principal wrote, “The following students who were studying in this institute are being withdrawal [sic] on the basis of Qadianiat [Ahmadi] Religion.” No further explanation was provided. Ahmadi leaders protested that the expulsions were a violation of the country’s constitution, which makes education a fundamental right. School officials later apologized and offered to re-admit the students after pressure from the media and human rights groups brought attention to the incident. The children’s parents opted to enroll them in a different school.
The government continued to implement the Single National Curriculum, which it renamed the National Curriculum of Pakistan in July. The initiative aimed to standardize primary school instruction across the country’s three types of educational institutions – private, public, and religious. Religious minority groups criticized the curriculum’s emphasis on an Islamic perspective in non-religious subjects, including Urdu, English, and geography, and argued the curriculum violated constitutional restrictions on “compulsory religious instruction” and the constitution’s delegation of most authority for education to provincial governments. Since October, when the Sindh provincial government agreed to use the new curriculum, all four provinces now use it. The Punjab provincial government granted the Islamic Ulema Board a role in reviewing and approving the curriculum, but not leaders from religious minority groups.
The Supreme Court continued to review a petition from Shoaib Suddle of the court’s commission for the protection of religious minorities, that objected to Islamic religious content in compulsory education; the petition remained pending before the court at year’s end. In his petition, Suddle stated that the compulsory curriculum, including Urdu- and English-language courses and other non-Islamic general courses, contained extensive Islamic content (as well as negative stereotypes of non-Muslims) and therefore forced religious minority students to receive Islamic religious instruction. Suddle recommended removing Islamic content from these subjects and concentrating it solely in Islamic studies textbooks, because that subject was compulsory only for Muslim students. The chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology opposed the petition. The Advocates General of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provinces told the court that their textbooks were in conformity with the law.
While the law only requires schools to teach Islamic studies and the Quran to Muslim students, sources continued to report many non-Muslim students had to participate in these courses because their schools did not offer parallel courses in their own religious beliefs or ethics. The government did not permit Ahmadi Muslims to teach Islamic studies in public schools.
Civil society groups continued to report that some madrassahs around the country, particularly those that were unregistered, taught doctrine they considered to promote violent extremism and intolerance toward religious minorities. These groups also noted the government sought to curb this practice through madrassah registration and curriculum reform.
Legal experts and NGOs reported that the full legal framework for minority rights remained unclear. While the Ministry of Law and Justice was officially responsible for protecting the legal rights of all citizens, in practice, the Ministry for Human Rights continued to assume primary responsibility for protecting the rights of religious minorities. The NCHR was also mandated to conduct investigations of allegations of human rights abuses, but legal sources said the commission had little power to enforce its recommendations and requests for information.
Members of religious minority communities continued to say that the Ministries of Law and Justice, Interior, and Human Rights inconsistently applied laws safeguarding minority rights and enforcing the protections of religious minorities. Religious minority community members also stated the government was inconsistent in safeguarding against societal discrimination and neglect, and that official discrimination against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadi Muslims persisted to varying degrees, with Ahmadi Muslims experiencing the worst treatment. In one example, in August, a group of individuals protested outside the Lahore Laser Eye Hospital Pattoki and Madina Hospital Pattoki in Kasur District, Punjab, claiming that Ahmadi employees were preaching Qadianiat (Ahmadi beliefs) to patients. In response, police summoned the hospital administrators and Ahmadi staff to the police station and forced them to submit an affidavit stating they were not involved in proselytization.
Religious freedom activists and civil society groups continued to raise concerns regarding the limited powers of the National Commission for Minorities and the decision to exclude Ahmadi Muslims from being represented on the commission when it was formed. Ahmadi Muslim leaders said they would not join the body because it required them to identify as non-Muslims. The commission continued to function without legislative authority and without power to resolve problems. Minority religious leaders expressed their preference that the commission operate under the Ministry for Human Rights rather than under the Ministry for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony. Minority religious leaders said the Ministry of Religious Affairs was dominated by conservative clerics who had manifested biases against minorities in past public statements and actions, and that it was primarily concerned with regulating and facilitating the annual Hajj to Mecca. In contrast, they said the Ministry of Human Rights already oversaw and supported other national commissions with a similar role and mandate, including the NCHR, the National Commission on the Status of Women, and National Commission on the Rights of the Child.
Minority religious leaders said members of their communities continued to experience discrimination in admission to colleges and universities. Ahmadi representatives said the wording of the government-required declaration students had to sign on their applications for admission to universities continued to prevent Ahmadis from declaring themselves as Muslims. Students’ refusal to sign the statement automatically disqualified them from fulfilling admissions requirements. The government said Ahmadis could qualify for admission if they did not claim to be Muslims.
Members of religious minorities, particularly lower-caste Hindus and Christians, reported cases of forceful evictions from their homes and villages by government officials assisting individuals desiring their land. In February, local Christians from the Korangi District in Karachi protested in front of the Karachi Press Club against the local “land mafias” who they said came to their homes with false property deeds and police escorts to forcibly expel them. The Korangi Christian residents reported being beaten and threatened with violence, including rape, if they did not leave their homes.
Some minority rights activists said that Islamist groups leveraged flood-related assistance to persuade non-Muslims to convert to Islam in Sindh, particularly in southern districts with a substantial population of scheduled caste Hindus. There were also reports of discrimination and violence against minority community members in flood relief and rescue efforts. On September 6, Awami Awaz journalist Nasrullah Gadani reported that authorities forcibly evicted members of the scheduled caste Bagri community from a relief camp in Mirpur Mathelo, Sindh, because of their faith. In a video that went viral, Bagri community members told Gadani that they had lost their homes due to flooding and wanted to take shelter at a local relief camp but were asked to leave because they were non-Muslim “untouchables.” Later, police registered a case against Gadani for interfering in their work at the camp.
Most minority religious groups said they continued to face discrimination in government hiring. According to activists, provincial governments also often failed to meet the 5 percent civil service hiring quota for religious minorities.
According to a report released by the NCHR in May, nearly half the government posts reserved for religious minorities were vacant and 80 percent of the non-Muslims who were appointed to positions in the 5 percent of government jobs reserved for them were working in low-paid sanitation jobs. The NCHR report, Unequal Citizens: Ending Systemic Discrimination against Minorities, highlighted issues facing minorities, including hazardous working conditions, inadequate safety gear and equipment, lack of job security, and low compensation to those injured or to the families of those who died in the course of their work, including in jobs considered degrading or dangerous, for which only non-Muslims were encouraged or allowed to apply. The NCHR recommended using machinery where there was a danger of death or injury to manual-labor sanitation workers, and providing social security and health-care benefits to workers.
Minority rights activists said most government employment advertisements for sanitation workers continued to list being non-Muslim as a requirement. Minority rights activists criticized these advertisements as discriminatory and insulting. On May 25, the Punjab government banned all departments from advertising a “non-Muslims only” condition when recruiting sanitation workers. The Services and General Administration Department issued an amended notice after the Punjab chapter of the NCHR raised concerns over the practice. The provincial governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan followed suit and banned discriminatory job advertisements for sanitation workers in September and November, respectively. Civil society representatives welcomed the change, which they viewed as a step toward de-linking minorities and “dirty jobs” in the public consciousness.
Representatives of religious minorities continued to say a “glass ceiling” prevented their promotion to senior government positions, but one NGO stated that due to insufficient higher education opportunities compared to the majority religious community, few religious minorities met the qualifications to apply for senior positions, anyway. While there were no official obstacles to the advancement of minority religious group members in the military, and an NGO said a few Christian officers had become generals, Ahmadi officers rarely rose above the rank of colonel and were not assigned to senior positions.
Community leaders continued to state the government did not take adequate action to protect its poorest citizens, including religious minorities, such as Christian and Hindu Dalits, from bonded labor practices such as landowners forcing people to work, sometimes for multiple generations, to pay off alleged debts owed to the landowner. Hindu Dalits remained vulnerable to human rights violations and pressure by perpetrators to withdraw police cases. The Bonded Labor Liberation Front, an NGO, reported that nearly 8 million people worked in debt bondage around the country in 2022, 98 percent at brick kilns. Most bonded laborers working in brick kilns were Christians or Hindu Dalits. In one example, the NGO reported that a Hindu Dalit bonded laborer, Shewal Ram, was rescued from a brick kiln in Kasur, Punjab, in February through the intervention of the Lahore High Court. He was reportedly falsely accused of theft at a police station in Saddar, Kasur, to prevent him from leaving the kiln where he worked. His brother and five other families were reportedly still held in debt bondage at kilns at the end of the year.
On December 6, the Amnesty International chapter at the Lahore University of Management Sciences planned a panel discussion on tolerance in the country with members of marginalized minority communities, but university administrators later told the organizers not to include the proposed Ahmadi Muslim representative. The organizers left an open chair onstage to protest the exclusion and later explained the absence in a series of social media posts. The decision to exclude the Ahmadi representative was criticized by several participants at the event and commentators on social media.
The government continued to prohibit citizens, regardless of religious affiliation, from traveling to Israel by marking Pakistani passports as “valid in all countries, except for Israel.” Representatives of the Baha’i community continued to say this policy particularly affected them because the Baha’i World Center – the spiritual and administrative center of the community – is in Haifa, Israel. Christian advocates also called on the government to allow Christians to travel to Israel.
Government officials and politicians continued to attend and speak at Khatm-e-Nabuwat (Finality of Prophethood) conferences held in major cities and at religious sites around the country. The groups that organized the conferences stated they were defending the teaching that Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet. Both secular and Ahmadi critics said the conferences were venues for hate speech against Ahmadi Muslims.
On September 6, Punjab Chief Minister Pervez Elahi and member of the Punjab Assembly Hafiz Ammar Yasir participated in a Khatm-e-Nabuwat conference at Ashrafia Islamic University Lahore. Elahi praised former Prime Minister Khan for his efforts to protect the dignity of the Prophet Muhammad around the world.
During the year, several political leaders used inflammatory religious language to attack their political rivals. On September 13, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz party leader Javed Latif, in a press conference, accused former Prime Minister Imran Khan of “attacking the basic principles of Islam” by “supporting” the Ahmadiyya community while he was in office. Latif accused Khan of giving interviews to foreign media in which he promised that “Qadianis [Ahmadis] will be given religious freedom.” Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan Party leader Fazl ur-Rehman tweeted messages on September 7 calling Khan a “pro-Qadiani” and a “Jewish agent.” Leaders of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party responded by accusing the government of “spreading religious bigotry and hatred.”
On July 30, Malik Ilyas Awan, deputy president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid for Punjab Province called for the withdrawal of security provided to Ahmadis in Jauharabad. Awan said, “They cannot worship openly in the Islamic state of Pakistan. They were granted a place in Chenab Nagar during the government of [Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali] Bhutto. They cannot hold any kind of worship outside.” He further stated that the Ahmadis should be expelled from the district, as they did not believe Muhammad was the final prophet.
On December 22, according to media reports, at a ceremony to celebrate Christmas traditions, Prime Minister Sharif said that the government would protect the rights of people from all religious minorities, including Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and Parsis and would ensure a secure environment for them.
The Ahmadiyya community reported 13 incidents of damage to Ahmadi mosques and 137 incidents of Ahmadi gravestones and tombs being vandalized or destroyed during the year. Human rights advocates and Ahmadiyya Muslim community leaders reported police and local authorities rarely took action to prevent attacks on Ahmadi mosques or to punish assailants who vandalized or destroyed Ahmadi mosques, minarets, and gravestones. In several instances, they said police participated in or even led the attacks. Local authorities generally prevented the repair or rebuilding of minarets, gravestones with Islamic verses, or other structures with identifiably Islamic features.
On February 7, Punjab police defaced approximately 45 Ahmadi graves in the Hafizabad District of Punjab, removing plaques and destroying gravestones in one cemetery, under the auspices of the law against Ahmadis “pretending to be Muslims.” In July, Punjab police defaced 53 Ahmadi graves in two local graveyards in Gujranwala district by removing Islamic verses from gravestones.
On May 10, the district police officer in Ghughyat, Sargodha District, Punjab, ordered members of the Ahmadi community to remove Arabic inscriptions from the graves of their relatives in the local cemetery. When they refused, police returned the next day and defaced 30 gravestones by removing the Islamic inscriptions. On June 3, local government officials and police officers in the same village forcibly removed plates bearing Islamic inscriptions from the private homes of Ahmadi residents.
In June, police officers in Pind Dadan Khan, Jhelum District, Punjab, ordered Ahmadi residents to dismantle the minarets of their mosque and remove tombstones with Islamic inscriptions from their relatives’ graves.
On September 13, police in Gojra, Toba Tek Singh District, Punjab, destroyed the minaret of an Ahmadi mosque. Police, acting on a complaint, at first demanded that the Ahmadi community remove the minaret themselves; when they refused, the District Superintendent of Police and 14 officers demolished the minaret.
In May, an Antiterrorism Court in Bahwalpur convicted 22 individuals of vandalism and sentenced them to five years’ imprisonment and a 400,000-rupee ($1,800) fine each for the August 4, 2021, attack on the Siddhivinayak Hindu temple in the small village of Bhong in Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab. The court acquitted 62 others accused of taking part in the violence.