Religious freedom in Pakistan


Religious freedom in Pakistan

Religious freedom in Pakistan has come into conflict with sharia law. Pakistan came into existence in 1947, and has subsequently become an Islamic republic. It is estimated that 97% of Pakistanis are Muslims (77% Sunni and 20% Shia), while the remaining 3% of the population are mainly Christians and Hindus. [ [https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pk.html CIA World Factbook] .]

Constitutional position

The original Constitution of Pakistan did not discriminate between Muslims and non-Muslims. However, the amendments made during Zia-ul-Haq's Islamization led to the controversial Hudood Ordinance and Shariat Court. Later, Nawaz Sharif's government tried to enforce a Shariat Bill, passed in May 1991. After the incident of 9/11, Pervez Musharraf government took steps to curtail the religious intolerance among different factions of Islam and non-Muslims.

Blasphemy laws

The Pakistani government does not restrict religious publishing per se. However, it restricts the right to freedom of speech with regard to religion. Speaking in opposition to Islam and publishing an attack on Islam or its prophets are prohibited. Pakistan's penal code mandates the death penalty for anyone defiling the name of Muhammad, whom Muslims view as a prophet. This penal code mandates life imprisonment for desecrating the Koran, and up to 10 years' imprisonment for insulting another's religious beliefs with intent to outrage religious feelings.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws are considered to be relatively strict, and have been the source of controversy in recent years. It has been alleged in some cases that Muslims who have engaged in public debate about their religion have been prosecuted for blasphemy. [Akbar S. Ahmed, ' [http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A36108-2002May17&notFound=true Pakistan's blasphemy laws: words fail me] ', "Washington Post", 19 May 2002.]

Christian scriptures and books are available in Karachi and in travelling bookmobiles. Hindu and Parsi scriptures are freely available. Foreign books and magazines may be imported freely, but are subject to censorship for religious content.

The Ahmadi position

The Pakistan government does not ban formally the public practice of the Ahmadi religion, but its practice is restricted severely by law. A 1974 constitutional amendment declared Ahmadis to be a non-Muslim minority because, according to the Government, they do not accept Muhammad as the last prophet of Islam. However, Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims and observe Islamic practices. In 1984, under Ordinance XX the government added 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 insulting the religious feelings of Muslims [Trespasses of the State, Ministering to Theological Dilemmas through the Copyright/Trademark, Naveeda Khan, Sarai Reader, 2005; Bare Acts. Page 178] . This section of the Penal Code has caused problems for Ahmadis, particularly the provision that forbids them from "directly or indirectly" posing as Muslims. This vague wording has enabled mainstream Muslim religious leaders to bring charges against Ahmadis for using the standard Muslim greeting form and for naming their children Muhammad. The constitutionality of Section 286(c) 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. It has been alleged that this provision has been used extensively by the Government and anti-Ahmadi religious groups to target and harass Ahmadis. Ahmadis also are prohibited from holding any conferences or gatherings.

Electoral process for non-Muslims

In 1980s Zia ul-Haq introduced a system under which non-Muslims could vote for only candidates of their own religion. Seats were reserved for minorities in the national and provincial assemblies. Government officials stated that the separate electorates system is a form of affirmative action designed to ensure minority representation, and that efforts are underway to achieve a consensus among religious minorities on this issue. But critics argue that under this system Muslim candidates no longer had any incentive to pay attention to the minorities. Pakistan's separate electoral system for different religions has been described as 'political Apartheid'. Hindu community leader Sudham Chand protested against the system but was murdered. In 1999, Pakistan abolished this system. [cite news
url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6367773.stm
title=Hindus feel the heat in Pakistan
author=Riaz Sohail
date=March 2, 2007
accessdate=2007-08-22
]

On June 28, 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that non-Muslims may vote for any candidate at the Union Council level for seats reserved for mayor, deputy mayor, laborers, farmers, and women. However, non-Muslims still are barred from voting for Muslim candidates who run for general seats. Three of the five rounds of elections already had occurred prior to this ruling. Few non-Muslims are active in the country's mainstream political parties. Christian and Hindu leaders conducted a boycott to protest against the system of separate electorates during the local elections. In October 2000, a coalition of Christian non-governmental organizations sent a petition to Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, requesting a dialogue between the government and minority religious leaders on the controversy. The government did not acknowledge receipt of this petition.Fact|date=September 2007

Legal and personal freedom for non-Muslims

The judicial system encompasses several different court systems with overlapping and sometimes competing jurisdiction, reflecting differences in civil, criminal, and Islamic jurisprudence. The federal sharia court and the sharia 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 sharia court also may overturn any legislation judged to be inconsistent with the tenets of Islam.

The Hudood Ordinances criminalize non-marital rape, extramarital sex, and various gambling, alcohol, and property offences. The Hudood Ordinances 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, which discriminate against non-Muslims. For example, a non-Muslim may testify only if the victim also is non-Muslim. Likewise, the testimony of women, Muslim or non-Muslim, is not admissible in cases involving Hadd punishments. Therefore, if a Muslim man rapes a Muslim woman in the presence of women or non-Muslim men, he cannot be convicted under the Hudood Ordinances.

exual freedom

For both Muslims and non-Muslims, all consensual extramarital sexual relations are considered a violation of the Hudood Ordinances. 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 offence is public flogging or stoning. However, there are no recorded instances of either type of punishment since the 1980s.

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. A parliamentary commission of inquiry for women has criticized the Hudood Ordinances and recommended their repeal. It also has been charged that the laws on adultery and rape have been subject to widespread misuse, and that 95 percent of the women accused of adultery are found innocent in the court of first instance or on appeal. This commission found that the main victims of the Hudood Ordinances are poor women who are unable to defend themselves against slanderous charges. According to the commission, 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 perceived sexual impropriety. 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. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan stated that this ratio remained unchanged during the period covered by this report.

Ministry of Religious Affairs

The Ministry of Religious Affairs, which is entrusted with safeguarding religious freedom, has on its masthead a Koranic verse: "Islam is the only religion acceptable to God." The Ministry claims that it spends 30 percent of its annual budget to assist indigent minorities, to repair minority places of worship, to set up minority-run small development schemes, and to celebrate minority festivals. However, religious minorities question its expenditures, observing that localities and villages housing minority citizens go without basic civic amenities. The Bishops' Conference of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), using official budget figures for expenditures in 1998, calculated that the Government actually spent $17 (PRs 850) on each Muslim and only $3.20 (PRs 16) on each religious minority citizen per month.

References

Sources: International Religious Freedom Report. Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. U. S. Department of State website.

External links

* [http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA330082001?open&of=ENG-PAK Pakistan: Insufficient protection of religious minorities - Amnesty International report]


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