The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and states that adequate provisions shall be made for minorities to profess and practice their religions freely; however, the Government imposes limits on freedom of religion. Pakistan is an Islamic republic; Islam is the state religion. Islam is also a core element of Pakistan’s national ideology; the country was created to be a homeland for Muslims. Religious freedom is “subject to law, public order, and morality;” accordingly, actions or speech deemed derogatory to Islam or to its Prophet, for example, are not protected. Further, the Constitution requires that laws be consistent with Islam and imposes some elements of Koranic law on both Muslims and religious minorities.
The Government does not formally ban the public practice of the Ahmadi religion; but the practice of the Ahmadi faith is severely restricted by law. The Government designates religion on citizen’s passports. In order to get a passport, citizens must declare whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim; Muslims must also affirm that they accept the unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Mohammed, declare that Ahmadis are non-Muslims, and specifically denounce the founder of the Ahmadi movement.
According to the 1981 census (latest available figures), an estimated 95 percent of the population are Muslim; 1.56 percent are Christian; 1.51 percent are Hindu; and 0.26 percent are “other”. Most Muslims are Sunni. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of the Muslim population are Shi’a, and it is estimated that there are 550,000 to 600,000 Ismailis. Most or all Ismailis in the country are followers of the Aga Khan.
Religious minority groups believe that they are underrepresented in government census counts. Official and private estimates of their numbers can differ significantly. Current population estimates place the number of Christians at 3 million and the number of Ahmadis at 3 to 4 million. Current estimates for the remaining communities are less contested and place the total of Hindus at 2.8 million; Parsis (Zoroastrians), Buddhists, and Sikhs at as high as 20,000 each; and the Baha’is at 12,000. The “other” category also includes a few tribes whose members practice traditional indigenous religions and who normally do not declare themselves, and those who do not wish to practice any religion remain silent about the fact. Social pressure is such that few persons would admit to being unaffiliated with any religion.
Punjab is the largest province in the country in terms of population. The largest religious group in Punjab, as is true for the country as a whole, is Muslim. Though Christians can be found throughout the country, approximately 98 percent of Christians reside in Punjab, making them the largest religious minority in the province. Approximately 60 percent of Punjab’s Christians live in villages. The largest group of Christians belongs to the Church of Pakistan (a united church of Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans); the second largest group belongs to the Roman Catholic Church. The rest are from different evangelical and church organizations. Sindh and Baluchistan provinces are also overwhelmingly Muslim, with a population that is approximately 97 percent Muslim. Slightly over 1 percent of the population in these provinces is estimated to be Christian, and slightly over 1 percent is estimated to be Hindu. The two provinces also have a few tribes that practice traditional indigenous religions and a small population of Parsis (approximately 7,000 persons). The Ismailis are concentrated in Karachi and the northern areas. The tiny but influential Parsi community is concentrated in Karachi, although some live in Islamabad and Peshawar. According to local Christian sources, between 70,000 and 100,000 Christians live in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), and there are also a few thousand Hindus in the NWFP. Christians constitute about 2 percent of Karachi’s population. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Karachi estimates that there are 120,000 Catholics in Karachi, 40,000 in the rest of Sindh, and 5,000 in Quetta, Baluchistan. Evangelical Christians have converted a few tribal Hindus of the lower castes from interior Sindh. Hindus are concentrated in Sindh and constitute 1 to 2 percent of the province’s population. An estimated 100,000 Hindus live in Karachi. Ahmadis are concentrated in Punjab and in Sindh.
No data are available on active participation in formal religious services or rituals (as opposed to mere membership). However, because religion is closely tied to a person’s ethnic, social, and economic identity, there is less room for nominal, secular passivity with regard to religion. Most Muslim men offer prayers at least once a week at Friday prayers, and the vast majority of Muslim men and women pray at home or at the workplace during one or more of the five daily times of prayer. During the month of Ramadan, even many of the otherwise less observant Muslims fast and attend mosque services more faithfully. About 70 percent of English-speaking Roman Catholics worship regularly; a much lower percentage of Urdu speakers do so.
Many Muslims consult Pirs (hereditary saints) or saints’ shrines, where pre-Islamic practices are common. As many as 25 percent of Muslims regularly consult such Pirs, and up to 50 percent may seek their help in times of crisis.
The Shikaris (a hunting caste now mostly employed as trash collectors in urban Sindh) are converts to Islam, but eat foods forbidden by Islam. Other Muslims generally ostracize the Shikaris, primarily because of their eating habits.
Many varieties of Hinduism are practiced; the type practiced usually depends upon location and caste. Hindus have retained or absorbed many ancient traditional practices of Sindh. Hindu shrines are scattered throughout the country. Approximately 1,500 Hindu temples and shrines exist in Sindh and about 500 in Baluchistan. Most of the shrines and temples are tiny, no more than wayside shrines. During Hindu festivals, such as Divali and Holi, congregational attendance is much greater.
Parsis, who practice the Zoroastrian religion, have no regularly scheduled congregational services, except for a 10-day festival in August during which they celebrate the New Year and pray for the dead. All Parsis are expected to attend these services; most reportedly do. During the rest of the year, individuals offer prayers at Parsi temples. Parsis maintain a conscious creedal and ceremonial separation from other religions, preserving ancient rites and forbidding marriage to members of other religions.
During 1998 the National Assembly passed the proposed 15th Amendment, known as the “Shari’a Bill.” While the Senate has not passed the measure, the proposed constitutional amendment would make the Koran and the Sunna the supreme law of the land. However, in January 1999, NWFP Governor Mohammad Arif Khan Bangash signed two ordinances that established the Shari’a as the law in the Malakand Division and the neighboring Kohistan District of the NWFP. These provincial ordinances were promulgated for a period of 4 months and provided that “all cases, suits, inquiries, matters and proceedings in courts, shall be decided “in accordance with Shari’a;” the ordinances have since been extended. The ordinances define the Shari’a as the injunctions found in the Koran and the Sunna; court cases are tried by Islamic law judges with the assistance of ulema (Islamic scholars). The system is subject to the general supervision of the Peshawar High Court. Minority religious groups fear that the explicit constitutional imposition of Shari’a (Islamic law) favored by the Prime Minister in the proposed 15th Amendment and the Prime Minister’s stated goal of Islamizing government and society may further restrict the freedom to practice non-Islamic religions. The Government counters that the proposed amendment contains specific language protecting the rights of minorities.
A 1974 constitutional amendment declared Ahmadis to be a non-Muslim minority because, according to the Government, they do not accept Mohammed as the last Prophet of Islam. However, Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims and observe Islamic practices. In 1984 the Government inserted section 298(c) into the penal code, prohibiting Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslim or posing as Muslims; from referring to their faith as Islam; from preaching or propagating their faith; from inviting others to accept the Ahmadi faith; and from in any manner insulting the religious feelings of Muslims. This section of the penal code has caused problems for Ahmadis, particularly the provision that forbids them from “directly or indirectly” posing as Muslims. Armed with this vague wording, mainstream Muslim religious leaders have brought charges against Ahmadis for using the standard Muslim greeting form and for naming their children Mohammed. The constitutionality of this section was upheld in a split-decision Supreme Court case in 1996. The punishment for violation of this section is imprisonment for up to 3 years and a fine. This provision has been used extensively by the Government and anti-Ahmadi religious groups to harass and to persecute Ahmadis.
There are a variety of other legal restrictions on the right to freedom of religion, and religious minorities are afforded fewer legal protections than Muslim citizens. The judicial system encompasses several different court systems with overlapping and sometimes competing jurisdiction, which reflect differences in civil, criminal, and Islamic jurisprudence. The federal Shariat Court and the Shari’a Bench of the Supreme Court serve as appellate courts for certain convictions in criminal court under the Hudood ordinances, and judges and attorneys in these courts must be Muslims. The federal Shariat Court also may overturn any legislation judged to be inconsistent with the tenets of Islam. The martial law era Hudood ordinances criminalize nonmarital rape, extramarital sex, and various gambling, alcohol, and property offenses. The Hudood ordinances are based on Islamic principles and are applied to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Some Hudood ordinance cases are subject to Hadd, or Koranic, punishment; others are subject to Tazir, or secular punishment. Although both types of cases are tried in ordinary criminal courts, special rules of evidence apply in Hadd cases. For example, a non-Muslim may testify only if the victim is also non-Muslim. Likewise, the testimony of women, Muslim or non-Muslim, is not admissible in cases involving Hadd punishments. Thus, if a Muslim man rapes a Muslim woman in the presence of several women, he cannot be convicted under the Hudood ordinances because women cannot testify. Similarly, if a Muslim man rapes a woman in the presence of non-Muslim men and women, he cannot be convicted because women and non-Muslim men cannot testify. All consensual extramarital sexual relations are considered a violation of the Hudood ordinances; thus, if a woman cannot prove the absence of consent in a rape case, there is a risk that she may be charged with a violation of the Hudood ordinances for fornication or adultery. The maximum punishment for this offense is public flogging or stoning. According to a police official, in a majority of rape cases, the victims are pressured to drop rape charges because of the threat of Hudood adultery charges being brought against them. The Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry for Women has criticized the Hudood ordinances and recommended their repeal. It also has charged that the laws on adultery and rape have been subject to widespread misuse, with 95 percent of the women accused of adultery being found innocent in the court of first instance or on appeal. The Commission found that the main victims of the Hudood ordinances are poor women who are unable to defend themselves against slanderous charges. The laws also have been used by husbands and other male family members to punish their wives and female family members for reasons that have nothing to do with sexual propriety, according to the Commission. Approximately one-third or more of the women in jails in Lahore, Peshawar, and Mardan in 1998 were awaiting trial for adultery under the Hudood ordinances. However, no Hadd punishment has been imposed in the 19 years since the Hudood ordinances went into effect. Human rights monitors and women’s groups believe that a narrow interpretation of Shari’a has had a harmful effect on the rights of women and minorities, as it reinforces popular attitudes and perceptions and contributes to an atmosphere in which discriminatory treatment of women and non-Muslims is more readily accepted.
Under the Anti-Terrorist Act, any act, including speech, intended to stir up religious hatred, is punishable by up to 7 years’ rigorous imprisonment. In the antiterrorist courts, which were virtually shut down by the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court in 1998, cases were to be decided within 7 working days, and trials in absentia were permitted. Appeals to an appellate court also were required to occur within 7 days, but appellate authority since has been restored to the High Courts and the Supreme Court. Under the act, bail is not to be granted if the judge has reasonable grounds to believe that the accused is guilty. Because of the law’s bail provisions, Islamic scholar Muhammad Yusuf Ali, who was accused of having claimed Prophethood (a charge that he denies), was unable to obtain bail. After the suspension of this provision, judges avoided hearing his bail application; however, he was granted bail in June 1999. He has was held in a class “C” cell from March 1997 until his release in June 1999. Class “C” cells generally hold common criminals and those in pretrial detention.
The Penal Code incorporates the doctrines of Diyat (blood money) and Qisas (roughly, an eye for an eye). Qisas is not known to have been invoked, but Diyat is occasionally used, especially in the NWFP, with the result that compensation is sometimes paid to the family of a murder victim in place of punishment of the murderer. Under these ordinances only the family of the victim, not the State, may pardon the defendant. Like the Hudood ordinances, Qisas and Diyat apply to both ordinary criminal courts and Shariat courts.
Section 295(a), the colonial-era blasphemy provision of the Penal Code, originally stipulated a maximum 2-year sentence for insulting the religion of any class of citizens. In 1991 this sentence was increased to 10 years. In 1982 section 295(b) was added, which stipulated a sentence of life imprisonment for “whoever willfully defiles, damages, or desecrates a copy of the holy Koran.” In 1986 during the martial law period, another amendment, section 295(c), established the death penalty or life imprisonment for directly or indirectly defiling “the sacred name of the holy Prophet Mohammed.” In 1991 a court struck down the option of life imprisonment for this offense. Personal rivals and the authorities have used these laws, especially section 295(c), to threaten, punish, or intimidate Ahmadis, Christians, and even orthodox Muslims. For example, in January 1998, when a local Muslim group in North Nazimabad, Karachi, had its request denied that St. Jude’s Catholic school employ several of its members, the group retaliated by declaring that a St. Jude’s staff member had desecrated the Koran. No one has been executed by the State under any of these provisions, although some persons have been sentenced to death, and religious extremists have killed persons accused under the provisions. The blasphemy laws also have been used to “settle scores” unrelated to religious activity, such as intrafamily or property disputes. Since 1998 the Government has required that magistrates investigate allegations of blasphemy to determine whether they are credible before formal charges are filed.
When blasphemy and other religious cases are brought to court, extremists often pack the courtroom and make public threats about the consequences of an acquittal. As a result, low level judges and magistrates, seeking to avoid a confrontation with, or violence from, the extremists, often continue trials indefinitely, and those accused of blasphemy often are burdened with further legal costs and repeated court appearances.
In 1997 cases filed under penal code section 295(a), one of the blasphemy laws, were transferred to antiterrorist courts. Human rights advocates feared that if blasphemy cases were tried in the antiterrorist courts, alleged blasphemers, who in the past normally were granted bail or released for lack of evidence, were likely to be convicted, given the less stringent rules of evidence required under the Anti-Terrorist Act.
No estimate of the number of religious detainees exists. However, there are both Muslims and non-Muslims in prison for their religious beliefs and practices. Most have run afoul of the blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws. According to the Bishops’ Conference of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), which published a report on religious minorities in 1998, religious minorities constitute a greater than expected proportion of the prison population. Prison conditions, except for the “class A” facilities provided to wealthy and politically high profile prisoners, are extremely poor and constitute a threat to the life and health. According to the NCJP, non-Muslim prisoners do not enjoy the same facilities as Muslim inmates.
Muslim religious scholar Muhammad Yusuf Ali was charged under sections 295(a) and (c) and was jailed in a class “C” cell from March 1997 until June 1999. His wife had to resign from her job as a professor and go into hiding with their children, due to threats by religious extremists. On September 8, 1998, a Shi’a Muslim, Ghulam Akbar, was convicted of blasphemy in Rahimyar Khan, Punjab, for allegedly making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed in 1995. He was sentenced to death, the first time that a Muslim had been sentenced to death for a violation of the blasphemy law. The case remained under appeal as of June 30, 1999. Ghulam Hussain, a Shi’a Muslim, received a 30-year jail sentence and a $1,500 (PRs 75,000) fine for blasphemy against the companions of the Prophet.
Three Ahmadis were convicted of blasphemy in December 1997. Abdul Qadeer, Muhammad Shahbaz, and Ishfaq Ahmad were found guilty of violating section 295(c) and sentenced to life imprisonment and $1,250 (PRs 50,000) each in fines. Lawyers for the men have appealed the decision to the Lahore High Court, whose ruling had not been issued by June 30, 1999. The men were released on bail by the Lahore High Court while the appeal is under consideration. According to Ahmadi activists, 44 Ahmadis were charged with violating blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws during 1998. Ahmadi leaders state that 145 Ahmadis were awaiting trial on blasphemy charges under section 295(c), as of September 30, 1998.
The case of Anwar Masih, a Christian who has been jailed for blasphemy since December 1993, was settled with his conviction on a lesser blasphemy count under section 295(a). Conviction under this section does not require the death penalty, and he was released for time served on April 24, 1998. Ayub Masih (a Christian detained since October 1996), was convicted of blasphemy under section 295(c) for making favorable comments about Salman Rushdie, author of the controversial book The Satanic Verses, and was sentenced to death on April 27, 1998. Masih survived an attempt on his life in 1997, when he was shot at while on trial. Ayub’s family and 13 other landless Christian families were forced from their village in 1996 following the charges. Although the case was pending appeal before the Lahore High Court, Ayub’s principal defender, Faisalabad Roman Catholic Bishop and human rights activist John Joseph, committed suicide on May 6, 1998 with a handgun outside the Sahiwal court where Ayub had been convicted, to protest the conviction. The High Court appeal st