The Supreme Court suspended the death sentence in one court case involving blasphemy and reaffirmed the death sentence for an individual convicted of murdering an official over his comments criticizing the blasphemy law. Lower courts dismissed at least one charge of blasphemy, while other blasphemy cases continued without resolution. Police arrested several individuals on charges of blasphemy. The government announced the National Action Plan (NAP) to combat terrorism, which included an explicit goal of countering sectarian hate speech, and said it would prosecute individuals for labeling others as “infidels.” The authorities subsequently prosecuted cases involving sectarian hate speech and restricted the movement of clerics accused of spreading sectarian hatred. Police intervention stopped mobs from killing Christians on several occasions. Ahmadiyya community leaders continued to express concern over the government’s targeting of Ahmadi Muslims for blasphemy and other purported violations of law. Legal observers said the authorities took steps to protect some individuals from unfounded accusations of blasphemy, although lower courts continued to fail to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases. Members of religious minority communities stated the government was inconsistent in safeguarding minority rights, and discrimination against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadis persisted.
On October 7, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence given to Mumtaz Qadri, who assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in 2011. Qadri told the court he killed Taseer for publicly criticizing the application of the blasphemy laws in the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy in 2010. The court stated in its written verdict that criticism of the blasphemy laws was not blasphemy itself and did not justify vigilante violence. The court also stated malicious persons had misused the blasphemy law.
On July 22, the Supreme Court of Pakistan suspended the death sentence of Asia Bibi , pending appeal. Bibi had been on death row since November 2010 after a district court found her guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad during an argument.
According to data provided by civil society organizations, police registered three new cases under blasphemy laws during the year, compared with 12 new cases in 2014.
On September 2, Kasur District police arrested Pervaiz Masih, a Christian, after a Muslim business rival accused him of blasphemy reportedly in retaliation for a commercial dispute, according to human rights advocates. On October 10, a local court granted Masih bail. There was no further report on the case as of the end of the year.
On October 8, police in Sargodha arrested Naveed John on blasphemy charges after residents complained he was using a sword bearing an alleged Islamic inscription during Christian faith healing ceremonies. There was no further information available on the case as of the end of the year.
Numerous individuals involved in well-publicized blasphemy cases from previous years, including Sawan Masih, Shafqat Emmanuel, Shagufta Kausar, and Liaquat Ali, remained in jail awaiting appeal, according to media reports.
The supreme court granted bail on October 16 to a Muslim woman, Waliaha Ali, accused of blasphemy in 2012. No further information on her case was available as of the end of the year.
On October 5, an anti-terrorism court sentenced Mufti Tanveer Alam Farooqi to six months in jail for sectarian hate speech.
On September 9, the Counter-Terrorism Department arrested Mufti Kifayatullah for hate speech at a mosque in Punjab. There was no information available on the status of his case as of the end of the year.
According to Ahmadiyya leaders, authorities charged 11 Ahmadis in religion-related legal cases during the year, of whom six were taken into custody. One of the individuals reportedly was arrested for selling Ahmadi religious books. There were no reports on the disposition of their cases as of the end of the year.
On May 24, according to civil society organizations and media reports, Punjab police prevented a crowd of hundreds from trying to burn a Christian accused of blasphemy in Dhoop Sarri, Lahore.
Media reported Punjab police stopped a crowd from killing a Christian couple accused of blasphemy on July 2 and arrested a local Muslim cleric who had attempted to incite the crowd to violence.
Civil society organizations reported police intervened to stop the burning of a Christian pastor and three other people from Gujrat, Punjab, on August 19. Muslims in the area accused the pastor of using the word “prophet” to describe a local Christian religious leader.
During the year, individuals continued to accuse government officials and media figures of blasphemy, and courts continued to hear criminal cases based on these accusations. On May 7, several prominent religious leaders accused Federal Minister of Information Pervez Rashid of making blasphemous statements and called for his arrest. Authorities did not open a legal case against him.
A blasphemy case against Sherry Rehman, the country’s former ambassador to the United States and a sitting senator, continued. Rehman was accused of making blasphemous statements during a television interview in 2010.
Ahmadiyya community leaders continued to express concern over authorities’ targeting and harassment of Ahmadi Muslims for blasphemy, violations of “anti-Ahmadi laws,” and other crimes. The Ahmadiyya leaders said the vague 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.
The Punjab Provincial Assembly unanimously passed a resolution on August 28 criticizing Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, for questioning the anti-Ahmadi provisions of the law in public remarks.
Observers stated individuals continued to initiate blasphemy complaints against neighbors, peers, or business associates to settle personal grievances or to intimidate vulnerable people. While the law required a senior police official to investigate any blasphemy charge before a complaint was filed, observers said the police did not uniformly follow this procedure.
Religious organizations and human rights NGOs continued to express concern over the failure to punish persons who made false blasphemy allegations. They said religious minorities continued to be disproportionately accused of blasphemy relative to their small percentage of the population. They also said the police continued not to file charges against many persons who made false blasphemy accusations and if charges were filed, courts most often acquitted those accused.
According to media reports, government authorities took limited steps to protect individuals from unfounded accusations of blasphemy. A Punjab provincial government committee, formed after the May 2014 assassination of lawyer Rashid Rehman, announced in February a list of 50 Muslims accused of blasphemy whom the government believed had been targeted without sufficient evidence. The committee recommended the government provide legal defense for those accused of blasphemy and a faster trial process for those on the list. The government did not act on these recommendations.
Legal observers continued to report lower courts often failed to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases, which led to some convicted persons spending years in jail before higher courts overturned their convictions and ordered them freed for lack of evidence. Lower courts reportedly conducted proceedings in an atmosphere of intimidation and generally refused to free defendants on bail or acquit them, observers said, for fear of reprisal and vigilantism. Legal observers reported judges and magistrates often delayed and continued trials indefinitely in an effort to avoid confrontation with, or violence from, groups labeled by the government as extremist.
The government announced the 20-point NAP against terrorism in the wake of the 2014 Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attack on the Army Public School of Peshawar which killed 145 people, including 132 schoolchildren. As part of the NAP, the government committed itself to countering hate speech and extremist material, taking steps against religious persecution, and dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists. Members of minority communities welcomed what they perceived as a government crackdown on sectarian hate speech. One local human rights organization praised Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s September 7 announcement that the government would prosecute individuals who declared others to be infidels, making them targets for vigilante violence.
In early October the federal and provincial governments announced bans on the movement of hundreds of religious clerics accused of spreading sectarian hatred, in what the government said was an effort to prevent sectarian violence during the Islamic month of Muharram. Provincial governments also announced the deployment of hundreds of thousands of police and security personnel to protect Shia religious ceremonies during the commemoration of Ashura.
The government continued to enforce its previous bans on the activities of, and membership in, religiously oriented groups it judged to be “extremist” or “terrorist.”
The government continued to fund and facilitate Hajj travel for Muslims, but continued not to offer a similar program for pilgrimages by religious minorities. Ahmadis were unable to participate in the Hajj, community leaders said, because of passport application requirements to list religious affiliation and denounce the Ahmadiyya prophet.
In April members of the Hindu community stated police at the Sindh-Balochistan border demanded bribes from Hindus performing their annual pilgrimage to the Hinglaj Mata, a Hindu temple in Balochistan.
NGOs reported the government continued to allow the publication of religious texts and the importation of sacred books for religious minorities, except for Ahmadis.
According to representatives of minority religious groups, the government continued to allow organized religious groups to establish places of worship and train members of the clergy. Although there continued to be no official restriction on the construction of Ahmadiyya places of worship, Ahmadis remained forbidden to call them mosques.
According to reports from the Jinnah Institute and other monitoring organizations, some public school textbooks continued to include derogatory statements about minority religious groups, including Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and Christians. The monitoring groups said the teaching of religious intolerance remained widespread. According to a representative from the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), textbooks used in Sindh and Punjab for grades one to 10 continued to contain discriminatory and inflammatory material directed against Hindus, Christians, and other religious minorities. Textbooks for grades eight and 10 reportedly included chapters positively portraying the role minorities played in the formation of the country. While private schools remained free to choose whether or not to teach religious studies, they were reportedly under government pressure to teach Islamic studies. There were reports some madrassahs taught violent extremist doctrine. Increasing government supervision of madrassahs was also a component of the NAP, and there was some evidence of government efforts to increase regulation of the sector.
Members of religious minority communities said there continued to be inconsistent application of laws safeguarding minority rights and enforcement of protections of religious minorities at both the federal and provincial levels by the federal Ministry of Law, Justice, and Human Rights, and its provincial counterparts. Personal status laws remained uncodified and continued to be enforced by community tradition or religious authorities without recourse to civil courts.
The National Commission for Minorities, a government committee created in 2014 with Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh representatives, continued to meet throughout the year to develop a national policy for minorities.
Religious minority community leaders continued to state that the government failed to take adequate action to protect minorities from bonded labor in the brick-making and agricultural sectors, an illegal practice in which victims were disproportionately Christians and Hindus.
According to Hindu and Sikh leaders, the legal uncertainty surrounding the process of registering marriages for their communities created difficulties for Hindu and Sikh women in obtaining their inheritances, accessing health services, voting, obtaining a passport, and buying or selling property.
The government announced the creation of a new Ministry of Human Rights but did not specify its authority or responsibility for religious minorities. The Ministry of Law, Justice, and Human Rights continued to be responsible for protecting individuals against religiously based discrimination. Although the constitution devolved some authority and responsibility for the protection of religious minorities to provincial governments, legal experts said the full legal framework remained unclear.
Minority religious leaders stated discrimination against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadis in admission to higher education institutions persisted. They reported their communities continued to face restrictions in securing admissions into colleges and universities.
Ahmadi representatives said the wording of the declaration students needed to sign on their applications for admission to university prevented Ahmadis from declaring themselves as Muslims. Their refusal to sign the statement meant they were automatically disqualified from fulfilling the admissions requirements. The government maintained Ahmadis could qualify for admission as long as they did not claim to be Muslims. Ahmadi community leaders said they refused to be categorized as “second class citizens” through what they considered to be coercive means, and instead should be viewed as a part of the majority Muslim community.
Most religious minority groups continued to complain of discrimination in government hiring. While there remained a 5 percent quota for hiring religious minorities at the federal and provincial levels, they said government employers did not enforce this requirement.
Representatives of religious minorities said a “glass ceiling” continued to prevent their promotion to senior government positions. Although there were no official obstacles to advancement of minority religious group members in the military service, they said in practice non-Muslims continued rarely to rise above the rank of colonel and were not assigned to senior positions.
Ahmadi leaders continued to report the government inhibited Ahmadis from obtaining legal documents and pressured community members to deny their beliefs by requiring individuals wishing to be listed as Muslims on identity cards to swear the Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet of Islam, and the Ahmadiyya movement’s founder was a false prophet. Ahmadi community representatives reported the word “Ahmadi” was written on their passports if they identified themselves as such.
Religious minority leaders stated the current system of selecting minority parliamentarians through the internal deliberations of mainstream parties resulted in the appointment of party stalwarts or those who could afford to buy the seats, rather than legislators who genuinely represented minority communities. They also stated the current system effectively precluded the election of minority women, who were rarely in a position of sufficient influence with the major political parties to contend for a seat. In September the Sikh community boycotted the Sindh local government elections for this reason.
Minority religious group sources stated minority candidates could not run directly for seats explicitly reserved for religious minorities during the 2015 local government elections. Instead, the winners of the general seats selected individuals to fill the reserved seats. Representatives of the Ahmadi community reported voters who registered as Ahmadis were kept on a separate voter list and were physically intimidated while trying to vote.
According to Ahmadiyya community members, authorities continued to seal or demolish Ahmadiyya mosques, barred construction of new mosques, and took no action to prevent or punish assailants who demolished, damaged, forcibly occupied or set Ahmadiyya mosques on fire. Community members stated government authorities partially demolished two places of worship during the year at the request of local religious leaders.
The government continued not to allow citizens, regardless of religious affiliation, to travel to Israel. Representatives of the Bahai community said this policy particularly affected them because of the location of the Bahai World Center – the spiritual and administrative center of the community – in Israel.
The government continued to permit non-Muslim missionary activity and to allow missionaries to proselytize as long as they did not preach against Islam and they acknowledged they were not Muslim. The government continued to grant visas to foreign missionaries valid from two to five years and allowing them one entry into the country per year, although only “replacement” visas for those taking the place of departing missionaries were available for missionaries seeking to enter the country for the first time.