RIGHTS, LAWS & ISSUES
On this page you will find an overview of key legislation that impacts minorities, the rights that minorities hold in Pakistan, and issues that minority communities face in their daily lives.
On referring to the source of constitutional authority, the Constitution adopts the original Objectives Resolution Article 2A in its Preamble. In this section we see a direct reference to the protection of minorities, their religions and their cultures.
“Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the State of Pakistan, through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust;
This Constituent Assembly representing the people of Pakistan resolves to frame a constitution for the sovereign independent State of Pakistan;…
“Wherein adequate provision shall be made for the minorities freely to profess and practise their religions and develop their culture
Wherein shall be guaranteed fundamental rights, including equality of status, of opportunity and before law, social, economic and political justice, and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association, subject to law and public morality;
Wherein adequate provision shall be made to safeguard the legitimate interests of minorities and backward and depressed classes;”
Part I, Chapter 1
P. I, Ch. 1, Section 20
“Freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions:-
Subject to law, public order and morality,-
- every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion; and
every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.”
P. I, Ch. 1, Section 22
“Safeguards as to educational institutions in respect of religion, etc:-
Freedom of religion,-
- No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.
- In respect of any religious institution, there shall be no discrimination against any community in the granting of exemption or concession in relation to taxation.
- Subject to law,
- no religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community or denomination in any educational institution maintained wholly by that community or denomination; and
- no citizen shall be denied admission to any educational institution receiving aid from public revenues on the ground only of race, religion, caste or place of birth.
- Nothing in this Article shall prevent any public authority from making provision for the advancement of any socially or educationally backward class of citizens.”
“Safeguard against discrimination in services:-
Equality regardless of origin, –
- No citizen otherwise qualified for appointment in the service of Pakistan shall be discriminated against in respect of any such appointment on the ground only of race, religion, caste, sex, residence or place of birth:
Provided that, for a period not exceeding forty years from the commencing day, posts may be reserved for persons belonging to any class or area to secure their adequate representation in the service of Pakistan:
Provided further that, in the interest of the said service, specified posts or services may be reserved for members of either sex if such posts or services entail the performance of duties and functions which cannot be adequately performed by members of the other sex:
Provided also that under-representation of any class or area in the service of Pakistan may be redressed in such manner as may be determined by an Act of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament).
Nothing in clause (1) shall prevent any Provincial Government, or any local or other authority in a Province, from prescribing, in relation to any post or class of service under that Government or authority, conditions as to residence in the Province, for a period not exceeding three years, prior to appointment under that Government or authority.”
Part I, Chapter 1
This Chapter of the Constitution lays out the responsibilities and policies of the federal and provincial governments
P. I, Ch. 2, Section 36
“Protection of minorities:-
The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services.”
P. I, Ch. 1, Section 27
Part XII, Chapter 5.
This Chapter sets out definitions for key terms used in the Constitution. Notably, there is no definition for the term “minority,” however, there are controversial definitions for the terms “Muslim” and “non-Muslim”. These definitions were added in the Second Amendment to the constitution under Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto, and contributed to by Zia Ul Haq. They exclude Ahmadis from the definition of ‘Muslim’.
P. XII, Ch. 5, Section 260, Clause 3
“In the Constitution and all enactments and other legal instruments, unless there is anything repugnant in the subject or context,-
God or other deities
- “Muslim” means a person who believes in the unity and oneness of Almighty Allah, in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him), 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, in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever, after Muhammad (peace be upon him); and
- “non-Muslim” means a person who is not a Muslim and includes a person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Budhist or Parsi community, a person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves ‘Ahmadis’ or by any other name), or a Bahai, and a person belonging to any of the scheduled castes.”
Constitutional Rights – Summary
Pakistan has had a number of constitutions over the years. The table below is a helpful summation of the various rights that constitutions in Pakistan have secured for minorities in the past. The final column explains the rights held by all citizens in Pakistan under the current Constitution (which is the Constitution written in 1973).
|Nature of Rights||1956 Constitution||1962 Constitution||1973 Constitution (Current)|
|Rights to equality||a) Equality before law. b) Equal protection of the law. c) All duly qualified citizens were eligible for appointment to service of state, irrespective of religion, race, caste, sex, descent or place of birth||a) Equality before law. b) Equality regarding accessibility to public places. c) Equality of opportunity.||a)Equality before law and entitlement to equal protection of law. b)Equality regarding accessibility to public places. c)Safeguard against discrimination in services.|
|Rights to life and personal liberty||a)Right to life and liberty. b)No punishment for the act which was not punishable when committed. c)The right to apply for a writ of habeas corpus.||a) Right to life and liberty. b) Right to personal freedom: i) Protection against retrospective punishment. ii) Principle of detention and arrest. iii) Principle of preventive detention||a)Security of person. b)Safeguards as to arrest and detention. c)Right to fair trial. d)Protection against retrospective punishment. e)Protection against double punishment and self incrimination. f)Inviolability of dignity of man etc|
|Rights to freedom||a) Freedom of speech, expression, association, occupation, and peaceful assembly. b) The right to move freely throughout Pakistan and to reside in any part of the country. c)Freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practice, and propagate any religion, subject to public order and morality. d) Freedom to attend any educational institution and exemption from any kind of tax which could be used for propagation of the religion other than one’s own||a) Freedom of speech, assembly, association, movement, religion, trade, profession, etc||a)Freedom of movement, assembly, association, trade, business or profession, and speech. b)Freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions. Safeguard against taxation for purposes of any particular religion. c)Safeguard as to educational institutions in respect of religion, etc.|
|Rights to property||a) Freedom of acquisition and disposal of property. b)No person could be deprived of his property without adequate compensation.||a) Freedom to acquire property. b) Right not to be expropriated. c) Right to compensation.||a) Right to acquire, hold and dispose of property in any part of Pakistan. b)No person shall be compulsory deprived of his property save in accordance with law.|
|Rights to culture||Rights to culture||Right to preserve language, script and culture|
|Social rights||a)Freedom from slavery, servitude, forced labour, torture, or cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment. The practice of untouchability was also declared unlawful. b)No discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth||Freedom from slavery, forced labour, and untouchability.||a)Freedom from slavery, forced labour. b)Right to education. c)Right of individual to be dealt with in accordance with law.|
|Protection of fundamental Rights||Right to Constitutional Remedies to protect fundamental rights||Laws inconsistent with or in derogation of fundamental to be void.|
This table states international agreements that are relevant to minority rights in Pakistan, and Pakistan’s current status as a signatory on them.
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965||Ratified|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966||Ratified, reservations on Articles 3, 6, 7, 12, 13, 18, 19, 25 and 40|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966||Ratified|
|Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979||Ratified|
|ILO 111 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958||Ratified|
|ILO 169 Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, 1989||Ratified|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families||Not Ratified|
|International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948||Ratified|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989||Ratified|
|Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984|
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws can be traced back to 1860 when they were first codified into law as Sections 295-298 of the Indian Penal Code. They were further expanded upon in 1927 when section 295A was added to criminalize written attempts at offending religious sentimentalities and ensuring punishments for all deliberate and malicious attacks against any religious group. This is the set of laws on offences relating to religion that was inherited by Pakistan on independence.
The next major amendments to the laws all came about in President Zia ul Haq’s 11 year military dictatorship. The first addition came in the form of section 298A in 1980:
“Use of derogatory remarks, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, in respect of holy personages of Islam.”
Anyone found guilty is liable to 3 years imprisonment, or a fine, or both.
The second addition, seeking to protect the Quran, followed two years later in 1982 as section 295B:
“Defiling, damaging or desecrating the Holy Qu’ran or of an extract therefrom.”
Anyone found guilty of this clause is to be imprisoned for life.
The third addition, passed into law in April 1984, specifically targeted the Ahmadi sect in the form of Section 298 B & C:
“Misuse, by Ahmadis, through words, either spoken or written, or through visible representation, of epithets, descriptions and titles reserved for certain holy personages or places of Islam.”
“An Ahmadi, calling himself a Muslim, or preaching or propagating his faith, or outraging the religious feelings of Muslims, or posing himself as a Muslim.”
The punishment for breaking these laws is a three year imprisonment or a fine, or both.
The last and final change to this set of laws came in 1986, as section 295C:
“Use of derogatory remarks, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, in respect of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.”
The punishment initially set for breaking this law was life imprisonment or fine or both but in 1990 the Federal Shariat Court (a parallel system of Islamic courts also established by Zia Ul Haq in 1980) established that this was repugnant to the injunctions of Islam and the penalty contempt of the prophet is nothing less than death.
Despite many suggestions and attempts towards reform over the years, this is the form the laws exist in to date. The clauses added in Zia Ul Haq’s rule not only effectively Islamized the laws but also singled out the Ahmadi community that had already been declared non-Muslim under the 2nd Amendment to the constitution passed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1974.
Up until the Zia era, in the period from 1927-86, only 14 blasphemy cases were reported. However, according to the Center for Social Justice, a Lahore based religious minorities organization, this number has inflated to over 1500 between 1986 and 2017. Most of these cases target religious minorities: non-Muslims only make up 4% of the population yet about 50% of reported blasphemy cases. Data from the National Commission for Justice and Peace claims a total of 776 Muslims, 505 Ahmadis, 229 Christians and 30 Hindus have been accused under all the variations of the blasphemy law from 1987-2018.
Curiously enough, no judicial death sentence has been carried out since the penalty was mandated in 1990, but at least 75 people have been murdered extra judicially before their trials were over. Countless others have also been killed due to mob attacks and other forms of religious vigilantism that this set of laws has engendered. It is because of this reason that the accused are immediately taken into incarceration and are often put in solitary confinement for their own protection. The reality is such that even in instances of acquittal the accused have to go in hiding or leave the country for their own safety.
The only law in existence that may be useful in countering the impact of the blasphemy law is section 153A in the Pakistan Penal Code that dictates whoever:
“by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or incites, or attempts to promote or incite, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities…”
Shall be fined and punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to five years.
Different governments have had varying approaches to the blasphemy law in Pakistan. For example the first Benazir Government that succeeded Zia Ul Haq in the early nineties tried passing amendments that only resulted in extreme backlash. Sherry Rehman, a member of the then ruling PPP, also tried introducing a bill that would allow for blasphemy cases only to be reported to a high ranking police officer and for cases to be heard directly by the higher courts only for it to prove an exercise in futility. The current Prime Minister Imran Khan feels differently, and has vowed to defend the Blasphemy Laws as proven in the 2018 debacle with the appointment of Atif Mian.
Abbasi, Waseem. “No Execution under Blasphemy Law in Pakistan so Far.”
Summary of discriminatory laws against minorities and punishment
|Section of Legislation||Crime||Punishment|
|295||Injuring/harming place of worship with intention of hurting sentiments of any religion||Up to two years imprisonment, or fine, or both|
|295A||Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs||Up to ten years imprisonment, or fine, or both|
|295B||Defiling, damaging or desecrating the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom||Imprisonment for life|
|295C||Use of derogatory remarks, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, in respect of the Holy Prophet Muhammad||Death penalty, imprisonment for life, or/and fine|
|296||Disturbing religious worship or religious ceremonies||Up to one year imprisonment, or fine, or both|
|297||297 Trespassing on places of worship or burial places with intent to insult the religion of any person Up to one year imprisonment, or fine, or both||Up to one year imprisonment, or fine, or both|
|298||Uttering any word, making any sound, making any gesture, or placing any object in the sight of any person with the intent to wound the religious feelings of that person||Up to one year imprisonment, or fine, or both|
|298A||Use of derogatory remarks, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, in respect of holy personages of Islam||Three years imprisonment, or fine, or both|
|298B||Misuse, by Ahmadis, through words, either spoken or written, or through visible representation, of epithets, descriptions and titles reserved for certain holy personages or places of Islam||Three years imprisonment or/and fine|
|298C||An Ahmadi, calling himself a Muslim, or preaching or propagating his faith, or outraging the religious feelings of Muslims, or posing himself as a Muslim||Three years imprisonment or/and fine|