Welcome to USCIRF

Countries of Particular Concern: Pakistan

Successive governments have severely violated religious freedom
in Pakistan. Discriminatory legislation has helped to create an
atmosphere of religious intolerance and eroded the social and legal
status of religious minorities. Government officials provide fewer
protections from societal violence to non-Muslims than to members
of the majority Sunni Muslim community. Perpetrators of attacks
on minorities are seldom brought to justice. Belated efforts to
curb extremism by reforming Pakistan's thousands of Islamic religious
schools appear to have had little effect thus far. Many of these
schools continue to provide ideological training and motivation
to those who take part in violence targeting religious minorities
in Pakistan and abroad.

Sectarian and religiously-motivated violence, much of it committed
against Shi'a Muslims by Sunni militants, is chronic in Pakistan.
Religious minorities such as Ahmadis and Christians have also been
targeted by Sunni extremist groups. Attacks on Shi'a worship services
in February and July 2003 produced multiple fatalities, the July
attack alone leaving over 50 dead. In October 2003, gunmen on a
motorcycle opened fire on a bus carrying Shi'a Muslims, killing
at least five. In the last two years, there has been an upsurge
in anti-Christian violence, including fatal attacks on churches
and other Christian institutions. In September 2002, armed men killed
seven people on the premises of a Christian charitable organization;
in December, three children were killed and 14 injured in a grenade
attack on a Christian church in Chianwala village in Sialkot; and
in January 2004, a church compound that includes a Christian school
for girls was bombed. Police protection appears ineffectual, and
no one has yet been successfully prosecuted for these crimes. Perpetrators
of attacks on minorities are seldom brought to justice. The case
of the brutal murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, whose
Jewish background was highlighted in a video of his decapitation
by his Islamic extremist killers, is not yet fully resolved.

Ahmadis are prevented by law from engaging in the full practice
of their faith. The Constitution of Pakistan declares members of
the Ahmadi religious community to be "non-Muslims," despite
their insistence to the contrary. Barred by law from "posing"
as Muslims, Ahmadis may not call their places of worship "mosques,"
worship in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer rooms (otherwise
open to all Muslims), perform the Muslim call to prayer, use the
traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quote from the
Quran, or display the basic affirmation of the Muslim faith. These
acts are punishable by imprisonment of up to three years. It is
illegal for Ahmadis to preach in public, to seek converts, or to
produce, publish, and disseminate their religious materials. These
acts are also punishable by imprisonment of up to three years. Ahmadis
have been arrested and imprisoned for all of the above acts, and
they are reportedly subject to ill treatment from prison authorities
and fellow prisoners. Ahmadis who refuse to disavow their claim
to being Muslims are effectively disenfranchised. There is no indication
that the current government intends, or has even seriously considered,
changes to the anti-Ahmadi laws.

Prescribed penalties for blasphemy include death for whoever "defiles
the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad" and life imprisonment
for whoever "willfully defiles, damages, or desecrates a copy
of the holy Quran." Blasphemy allegations, which are often
false, result in lengthy detention of and sometimes violence against
Christians, Ahmadis, and other religious minority members, as well
as Muslims on account of their religious beliefs. The negative impact
of the blasphemy laws is further compounded by the lack of due process
involved in these proceedings. In addition, during blasphemy trials,
Islamic militants often pack the courtroom and make public threats
about the consequences of an acquittal. Such threats are credible,
as they have sometimes been followed by actual violence. Although
no one has yet been executed by the state under the blasphemy laws,
some persons have been sentenced to death. Several accused under
the blasphemy laws have been attacked, even killed, by vigilantes,
including while in police custody; those who escape official punishment
or vigilante attack are forced to flee the country. Others have
died in police custody under allegedly suspicious circumstances.
Following an abortive attempt in 2000 at introducing procedural
reforms, the Musharraf government has made no further effort to
reform, much less repeal, the blasphemy laws.

Pakistan's Hudood Ordinances provide for harsh punishments such
as amputation and death by stoning for violations of Islamic law.
Although these extreme corporal punishments have not been carried
out in practice due to high evidentiary standards, lesser punishments
such as jail terms or fines have been imposed. Rape victims run
a high risk of being charged with adultery, for which death by stoning
remains a possible sentence. The Hudood laws apply to Muslims and
non-Muslims alike.

The Commission's May 2001 report on Pakistan recommended that the
United States, in its bilateral relations with Pakistan, take the
position that Pakistan's system of separate electorates for religious
minorities was inconsistent with democratic principles and the protection
of political rights without discrimination on the basis of religion.
In January 2002, the Commission welcomed the decision of the government
of Pakistan to abolish the system of separate electorates. The continuing
requirement for voters to identify themselves as Muslims or non-Muslims
serves, however, to disenfranchise many Ahmadis, who object, on
religious grounds, to being designated as non-Muslims.

With regard to Pakistan, the Commission has recommended that the
U.S. government should:

  • take the position that the existence and enforcement of laws
    targeting Ahmadis that effectively criminalize the public practice
    of their faith violate the right to freedom of religion guaranteed
    in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International
    Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

  • urge the government of Pakistan to implement procedural changes
    to the blasphemy laws that will reduce and ultimately eliminate
    their abuse;

  • urge the government of Pakistan to take effective steps to
    prevent sectarian violence and punish its perpetrators, including
    disarming militant groups and any religious schools that provide
    weapons training; and

  • support, in conjunction with other donors: (a) improvements
    in the public education system; (b) judicial reform and law
    enforcement training; (c) legal advocacy to protect the right
    to freedom of religion; and (d) educational programs in religious