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Reports from Pakistan: Tracing the challenges facing religious minorities

Minority Rights Group has been working with activists in Pakistan on religious minority issues to monitor and document violations against religious minorities and to work together across religious lines in advocating for greater tolerance.

The chapters

This Minority Story highlights violations faced by religious minorities in Pakistan, drawing on incident reports from local sources.

  • 01

    Though predominantly Muslim, at around 95 per cent of the population, Pakistan nevertheless includes a wide variety of religious minorities, reflecting its long and complex history. Hindus (1.9 per cent) and Christians (1.6 per cent) make up…

    3 min read

  • 02
    Freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan

    On paper, religious minorities in Pakistan enjoy many protections in both national and international law. From freedom of worship to the right to equality and non-discrimination, many principles are enshrined in the Constitution and other…

    13 min read

  • 03
    The situation of Christians in Pakistan

    Pakistan’s Christians, accounting for 1.59 per cent of the population according to the last census conducted in 1998, are primarily located in Punjab province, including the neighbourhood of Youhanabad in Lahore, as well as Karachi and…

    4 min read

  • 04
    Lahore Easter attack: the aftermath for Christians

    ‘Whenever we just think about the incident we are shocked and start trembling.’  Gulshan-i-Iqbal park’s ferris wheel other rides, popular amongst children who visit the park. The blast on 28 March took place a few metres away from swings…

    6 min read

  • 05
    The situation of Hindus in Pakistan

    While Pakistan remains a diverse country, since the Partition of India in 1947, migration and a protracted process of social and religious homogenization has seen the Pakistani Hindu community dwindle. Partition saw large-scale movement of…

    4 min read

  • 06
    Pakistani Hindus living in India

    Everyday discrimination and the threat of violence have driven many Pakistani Hindus in recent years to leave their country for India, reproducing the legacy of Partition and undercutting the ideal of religious pluralism within Pakistan….

    10 min read

  • 07
    Film: Pakistan’s Hazara Shi’a

    Hazara are an ethnic group predominantly based in Afghanistan, but also with a large population in Pakistan, with estimates of this group ranging from 650,000 to 900,000. The majority of Hazara in Pakistan, approximately 500,000, live in the…

    2 min read

  • 08
    The situation of Ahmadis in Pakistan

    Pakistan currently has the largest Ahmadi population in the world: though their exact numbers are unknown, estimates suggest there are hundreds of thousands and even millions of community members in the country. Most were originally based in…

    2 min read

  • Though predominantly Muslim, at around 95 per cent of the population, Pakistan nevertheless includes a wide variety of religious minorities, reflecting its long and complex history. Hindus (1.9 per cent) and Christians (1.6 per cent) make up the largest minorities, but there are also many smaller religious groups such as Bahá’i, Buddhists, Kalasha, Parsis, Sikhs and Zikris.

    Furthermore, between 10 and 25 per cent of the Muslim population are Shi’a – a sect of Islam that, while fully recognized by law, does not in practice enjoy the same status and privileges as the Sunni majority. Even more marginalized, however, are the country’s Ahmadis: while their exact numbers are unknown, they include hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of Pakistanis who, while identifying as Muslims, have for decades been designated ‘non-Muslims’ in the Constitution.

    Since independence, this diversity has been threatened by the rise of a highly exclusionary nationalism, which has favoured a narrow understanding of Islam. This has had serious implications for Pakistan’s religious minorities who, despite constitutional guarantees and international commitments, have found themselves in a situation where their rights to freely practise their religion are highly circumscribed. Attacks on places of worship – particularly against Christians, Hindus and, increasingly, Shi’a Muslims – forced conversion, and state-led bans on any manifestation of different beliefs, as is the case for Ahmadis, are just some of the violations faced by minorities on a frequent basis.

    Meanwhile, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, often used to settle personal scores and achieve political gains, continue to affect Pakistan’s minority communities disproportionately. Sentences for blasphemy laws can include the death penalty and accusations have frequently been followed by mob attacks on the accused. While serious violent incidents against minorities are generally perpetrated by non-state actors – including extremist outfits such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and others – the state still needs to answer to the failure to control or bring such groups to justice. Such groups often act with near impunity and, at times, there have been allegations of state complicity.

    Pakistan’s religious minorities also face discrimination along economic, social and cultural lines, and confront barriers to their effective participation in political life. These challenges are exacerbated for those such as lower-caste Hindus working as bonded labourers in southern Punjab’s brick kiln industry, Hazara Shi’a living Quetta, and minority women across the country who face intersectional discrimination, with religious discrimination operating alongside and reinforcing other systems of oppression. Rather than challenging such attitudes, the education system often reinforces intolerance and biases against religious minorities, through their representation in textbooks as well as everyday forms of discrimination in the classroom.

    In response to the ongoing violence and discrimination targeted against Pakistan’s religious minorities, the government, at various levels, has taken some steps, including initiating an education reform process which began under General Pervez Musharraf, as well as the more recent National Action Plan, which includes curbing hate speech and protecting religious minorities among its stated aims. Since the passing of the 18th Amendment in 2010, which devolved minority related issues to the provinces, some pro-minority legislation has also been passed at this level, particularly in Sindh. While these are welcome developments, implementation of such policies and processes has often been slow. More sustained has been the work of civil society actors who, even amid high levels of violence, have made efforts to spread awareness and promote tolerance in Pakistan, often at their own risk, as highlighted by targeted attacks against activists.

    Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has been working with activists in Pakistan on religious minority issues for many years. Along with its local partners, it is currently engaged in supporting human rights defenders to monitor and document violations against religious minorities, and to work together across religious lines in advocating for greater tolerance. As part of a broader initiative with work in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, it also aims to support dialogue and cooperation at a regional level, and draw connections between the challenges facing religious minorities in different parts of South Asia.

    The aim of this publication is therefore to highlight ongoing violations of religious freedom and minority rights that have been documented by local rapporteurs, as well as case studies which help bring to the fore the lived realities of Pakistan’s religious minorities. The publication therefore aims to be a complement to more in-depth MRG publications surveying the situation facing religious minorities in Pakistan and the annual updates on the situation for its minorities in MRG’s State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples (SWM) report released each year.

  • On paper, religious minorities in Pakistan enjoy many protections in both national and international law. From freedom of worship to the right to equality and non-discrimination, many principles are enshrined in the Constitution and other legislation – yet in practice continue to be denied to these communities. Furthermore, certain laws in Pakistan, such as its blasphemy legislation and the ‘anti-Ahmadi’ amendments to the Constitution in 1974, have adversely affected minorities and their rights. This section provides an overview of the legal context in Pakistan and the particular issues facing the country’s religious minorities.

    To better understand the nature of violations of the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, this section outlines the international standards and best practices regarding freedom of religion or belief, and how they relate to the legal framework in place in Pakistan.

    Freedom of religion or belief: international standards

    At the international level, freedom of religion or belief is recognized in multiple declarations and treaties. Most prominently, Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes freedom of religion or belief, as does Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966). The latter states that:

    ‘Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.’

    It further stipulates that ‘[n]o one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice’, and that state parties to the ICCPR must have ‘respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions’. At the same time, the ICCPR imposes some limited conditions on the freedom to manifest one’s religious beliefs, namely those that are ‘prescribed by the law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others’ (Article 18, paragraph 3).

    The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) further elaborated the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion with the introduction of General Comment 22 to Article 18 of the ICCPR in 1992. Notably, it specifies that Article 18 applies to ‘theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief’, noting that ‘the terms of religion are to be broadly construed’. General Comment 22 also provides greater clarity regarding the distinction between the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief – which is to be protected unconditionally – from the freedom to manifest religion or belief – which is subject to certain limitations, further specifying when these are permissible. Relevant to the case of Pakistan, it also stipulates that ‘[t]he fact that a religion is recognized as a State religion … shall not result in any impairment of the enjoyment of any rights under the Covenant, including Articles 18 and 27, nor in any discrimination against adherents of other religions or non-believers’.

    Other key articles of the ICCPR related to freedom of religion or belief include Articles 27 and 20(2). Although the standards regarding religious freedom do not exclusively apply to religious minorities, they are often disproportionately the target of violations perpetrated by state and non-state actors. Article 27 of the ICCPR is the main legally binding provision on minorities in human rights law, stating that ‘[i]n those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language’. Article 20(2) of the ICCPR, on the other hand, deals with hate speech: ‘Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.’

    In addition to these treaties, the most comprehensive non-binding statement made on the right to religious freedom and belief is the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Introduced in 1981, this Declaration defines specific rights, including with regard to children, freedom of religion, and education (Article 5), as well as manifestations of religion or belief (Article 6).

    As outlined by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief – the mandate of which began in 1986 – common examples of violations against religious minorities which constitute violations of religious freedom on the part of state and non-state actors include ‘disproportionate bureaucratic restrictions, denial of appropriate legal status positions needed to build up or uphold a religious infrastructure, systematic discrimination and partial exclusion from important sectors of society, discriminatory rules within family laws, and indoctrination of children from minorities in public schools.’ Other violations include threats and acts of violence, desecration and vandalism of places of worship, confiscation of property from a community, banning or disruption of religious ceremonies, criminal sanctions, as well as public manifestations stoking intolerance against religious minorities.

    Finally, while the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has not implemented an internationally recognized minority rights framework and does not deal directly with minority rights or fundamental religious freedoms, other regional guidelines can provide helpful examples of best practice when it comes to religious freedom. These reflect the standards detailed in the ICCPR and corresponding General Comments put forth by the HRC. Minority rights and religious freedom activists in South Asia have been pushing for similar guidelines to be promulgated at the regional level by SAARC, which, while promoting international standards, would also reflect contextually specific factors pertaining to freedom of religion or belief in the region.

    Protection of minorities and freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan

    Pakistan has signed many of the international declarations and treaties which form the basis of the international framework for the freedom of religion or belief. As a party to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, as well as treaty bodies such as the ICCPR, which it ratified in 2010, Pakistan has certain obligations to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief and give effect to the rights enshrined by these treaties. Some other key treaties that Pakistan has ratified – with certain reservations – and which are relevant to freedom of religion or belief to varying degrees include the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, ratified in 2008), the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD, ratified in 1966), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, ratified 1966), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, ratified 1990), and the International Labour Organization Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention 1958 (ILO 111).

    A significant gap remains between ratification and implementation at the domestic level, however. Pakistan follows a dualist system with regard to international treaties, and therefore those that have been ratified still require incorporation into domestic law. Failure on the part of the government of Pakistan to comprehensively bring domestic legislation in line with international treaties has led to the frequent violation of the latter. Nevertheless, there are constitutional provisions in place to uphold the freedom of religion or belief, as well as rights of minorities.

    While in the Pakistani Constitution several references are made to ‘minorities’, no clear definition for this term is set out, resulting in ambiguity regarding what constitutes a ‘minority’. However, ‘minority’ in the Pakistani context is commonly understood to refer to religious minorities specifically, thereby limiting the constitutionally recognized minority groups to those such as Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. This has implications for ‘internal minorities’ such as Shi’a who, while Muslim, are a sectarian minority, as well as for ethnic, linguistic and national minorities who are not clearly constitutionally recognized as such. Particularly vulnerable are those groups, such as Hazara Shi’a, who face intersectional discrimination on account of their ethnicity and religious identity, but also those who face caste discrimination, all of which fall outside of the commonly accepted definition of ‘minority’ in Pakistan.

    This narrow understanding of ‘minorities’ has been reflected, for example, in Pakistan’s engagement with treaty bodies such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), as well as certain provisions within the Constitution which refer to ‘minorities’ in general, with a focus that is squarely on religious minorities (including Articles 20, 21 and 22). Detailed in Table 1 are constitutional provisions which work to uphold freedom of religion or belief and the rights of minorities in Pakistan, many of which are from Chapter 1 of the Constitution, centred on fundamental rights.

    Table 1: Constitutional provisions related to freedom of religion or belief and minority rights

    Article 36 The state shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the federal and provincial services.
    Article 20 Freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions

    Subject to law, public order and morality:

    (a) every citizen shall have the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion; and
    (b) every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.
    Article 21 Safeguard against taxation for purposes of any particular religion
    No person shall be compelled to pay any special tax the proceeds of which are to be spent on the propagation or maintenance of any religion other than his own.
    Article 22 Safeguards as to educational institutions in respect of religion, etc.

    (1)   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.

    (2)   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.

    (3)   Subject to law:

    (a)  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

    (b)  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.

    (4)   Nothing in this Article shall prevent any public authority from making provision for the advancement of any socially or educationally backward class of citizens.

    Article 25 Equality of citizens

    (1)  All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.

    (2)  There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.

    (3)  Nothing in this Article shall prevent the state from making any special provision for the protection of women and children.

    Article 26 Non-discrimination in respect of access to public places

    (1)  In respect of access to places of public entertainment or resort not intended for religious purposes only, there shall be no discrimination against any citizen on the ground only of race, religion, caste, sex, residence or place of birth.

    (2)  Nothing in clause (1) shall prevent the state from making any special provision for women and children.

    Article 27(1) Safeguard against discrimination in services

    (1)  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 …

    There are therefore certain constitutional provisions in place to uphold freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan. At the same time, there are aspects of the Constitution as well as legislation more broadly which contradict Pakistan’s international commitments to upholding religious freedom and the rights of minorities. For example, while the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the equality of all citizens before the law in Article 25, and safeguards against discrimination in the ‘service of Pakistan’ in Article 27, the participation of religious minorities in Pakistan’s political arena is restricted by Articles 41(2) and 91(3). The latter two articles of the Constitution bar non-Muslims from holding the two most influential positions in government – those of president and prime minister. As detailed in General Comment 22 of the ICCPR:

    ‘[t]he fact that a religion is recognized as a State religion or that it is established as official or traditional or that its followers comprise the majority population, shall not result in any impairment of the enjoyment of the rights under the Covenant, including articles 18 and 27, nor in any discrimination against adherents of other religions or non-believers.’

    This includes eligibility for government service. Such restrictions in Pakistan’s Constitution therefore constitute violations of freedom of religion and – while there are quotas in place to advance the political representation of minorities – reflect the lack of effective political participation of religious minorities in the country.

    Furthermore, aspects of the Constitution specifically discriminate against Ahmadis. In 1974, the Second Amendment to the Constitution was passed, declaring Ahmadis a non-Muslim minority, in contradiction to their self-identity. Contributing to further legal discrimination against Ahmadis was the introduction of Ordinance XX in 1984 as part of the programme of ‘Islamization’ under Zia-ul-Haq. This amended Pakistan’s Penal Code (PPC) through the introduction of sections 298-B and 298-C, detailed in Table 2. The impact of this legislation has been to effectively criminalize the practice of the Ahmadi faith, in turn affecting many other areas of their lives, such as political participation. In order to complete voter registration, for example, Ahmadis are required to declare themselves non-Muslims, which in practice curtails their voting rights.

    Discrimination on the basis of religion is also evident in the content and application of Pakistan’s well-known blasphemy laws. Owing to various factors, including a low threshold for evidence required for prosecution, as well as weak safeguards and lack of effective penalties to deter its abuse, this legislation has frequently been invoked. While the greatest number of those accused are Muslims, a disproportionate number of religious minorities, as well as social activists and critics, have been subject to dubious blasphemy allegations. Examination of specific cases reveals that accusations of blasphemy have often been linked to personal disputes, and are influenced by political and economic factors. While blasphemy laws are not uncommon in other countries, those in Pakistan have been widely criticized on account of their substance and implementation, as well as their role within a wider climate of impunity and intolerance that has at times erupted into vigilante violence, often targeted at religious minorities.

    Table 2: Pakistan’s blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws

    Section Offence Maximum punishment
    295-B ‘Defiling, etc., of copy of the Holy Qur’an’ Only one penalty – life term
    295-C Whoever ‘defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine’ Mandatory death penalty
    298-A ‘Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of holy personages’ Three-year prison term or fine, or both
    298-B ‘Misuse of epithets, descriptions and titles, etc., reserved for certain holy personages or places’ Three-year prison term and fine
    298-C An Ahmadi ‘calling himself a Muslim or … propagating his faith’ Three-year prison term and fine

    As described above, even where there are provisions to promote and protect the rights of religious minorities, implementation remains a key challenge. This is also the case for issues such as hate speech, which, while outlawed as a criminal offence in section 153-A of the PPC, continues to a significant degree against Pakistan’s religious minorities. In this regard, a recent development with the potential to promote a more inclusive political structure is the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, passed in 2010. The amendment has seen minority rights issues devolved to the provincial level, and has helped to facilitate some specific pro-minority legislation in certain provinces. This includes a 2013 law in Sindh centred on protecting communal properties belonging to religious minorities, as well as the Hindu Marriage Bill, passed in the same province in 2016. While this, along with other recent positive developments – including a landmark Supreme Court Decision in June 2014 directing the government to take various measures to protect the rights of religious minorities, as well as the establishment of a National Commission on Human Rights in 2015 – are important developments, serious violations persist.

  • Pakistan’s Christians, accounting for 1.59 per cent of the population according to the last census conducted in 1998, are primarily located in Punjab province, including the neighbourhood of Youhanabad in Lahore, as well as Karachi and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The community has long been the target of violence and discrimination. However, in recent years sectarian violence in the country has intensified, bringing with it new threats in the form of targeted terrorist attacks.

    One of the worst incidents for the community took place in Lahore on 27 March 2016 when Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), bombed Gulshan-i-Iqbal park and killed more than 70 people, mostly women and children. Although the majority of the victims were Muslims, the intended target were the many low-income Christian families who had gathered in the park that day to celebrate Easter. This was the third major terrorist incident specifically targeting Christians. The first, a twin suicide bombing in September 2013 at the All Saints Church in Peshawar, a city in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, left more than 100 dead and many others injured. In March 2015, the simultaneous targeting of two churches in Lahore by Taliban suicide bombers resulted in at least 15 casualties.

    However, while these attacks have drawn considerable attention to the plight of Pakistan’s Christians, they are only part of the picture of everyday violence and persecution the community experiences, including the constant threat of blasphemy allegations. Neighbourhoods have been attacked, homes set ablaze and individuals burnt alive as a result of false accusations. One of the worst cases involved the killing of a Christian couple, Shama and Shehzad, in November 2014 in the town of Kot Radha Krishna by a mob. The couple, who were parents to three young children with the eldest child aged six at the time, were beaten unconscious and thrown into an open furnace shaft after rumours circulated that they had desecrated a Qur’an.

    Alongside frequent extra-judicial killings, encouraged in part by the failure of authorities to adequately protect communities from attack, many Christians have also been prosecuted under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws – with penalties of life imprisonment and even death for those accused of certain offences. While Muslims have also faced blasphemy charges, the proportion of Christians and other religious minorities convicted is especially high. One of the most publicized blasphemy cases involves a Christian, Asia Bibi, who is the only woman ever to have been sentenced to death for blasphemy. Though her execution has been suspended, she has been in prison in solitary confinement since 2009 after being sentenced in a trial that was widely condemned by human rights organizations.

    In blasphemy cases such as Bibi’s, the element of fear is so substantial that neither the laws nor the cases can be publicly debated. Often the authorities, including the police and judiciary, are complicit in the persecution or support the verdict in the interests of self-preservation. Government officials who have publicly defended those accused of blasphemy, on the other hand, such as former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, have been assassinated.

    Besides the constant threat of violence, Christians also experience many forms of everyday discrimination in areas such as employment, where they are typically relegated to the most menial tasks, such as cleaning and garbage collection. At the institutional level, job quotas for religious minorities in the public sector remain largely unfilled. In statistics shared in Pakistan’s parliament last year, it was revealed that more than 70 per cent of government jobs earmarked for non-Muslims were vacant. Those government jobs filled by minorities are largely designated for sanitary workers, so they do not present a substantial challenge regarding the nature of work available to the Christian community and others.

    Christian women, in particular, face multiple forms of discrimination and so are vulnerable to a range of abuses, including forced conversion, forced marriage and sexual violence. Until recently, Christians in Pakistan were not by law afforded the right to divorce. Amended in 1981, the Christian Divorce Act only allowed a man to separate from his wife if there were charges of adultery, making divorce proceedings a humiliating process for many. This law led to many Christian women being forced to convert to Islam or be married according to Islamic tradition in order to obtain a right to divorce. The Christian divorce law was finally changed in May 2016, allowing couples to obtain a divorce without recrimination.

    The everyday reality for Christians in Pakistan, then, encompasses a broad range of rights violations, from social exclusion and discrimination to the destruction of property and physical violence. The following section outlines a variety of the incidents reported to Minority Rights Group International (MRG) with the support of our local partner Human Friends Organization (HFO) between August 2015 and May 2016 by local sources documenting rights violations, primarily in Punjab. In creating a list of these incidents – to be updated intermittently – the aim is to illustrate the many difficulties confronting the country’s Christian population. The list is far from exhaustive, however, as many incidents of violence and discrimination still go unreported – a reflection of the continued invisibility of their victims.

    Photo: Church in Lahore, Punjab documented by local rapporteurs after a reported arson attack on 6 January 2016. 

  • ‘Whenever we just think about the incident we are shocked and start trembling.’ 

    Gulshan-i-Iqbal park’s ferris wheel other rides, popular amongst children who visit the park. The blast on 28 March took place a few metres away from swings in the park – of those killed in the attack, 29 were children.

    Emmanuel* was one of many people spending Easter Sunday at the Gulshan-i-Iqbal park on 28 March 2016 when it was hit by a suicide blast, killing over 70 people and injuring more than 300. The park, located in south-western Lahore and one of the few public spaces in the area without an entry fee, was full of mostly working-class families when the attack took place. As the blast occurred adjacent to Gate 1, near the park’s playground, many of the casualties were women and children.

    A main gate to Gulshan-i-Iqbal park, where the blast took place on 28 March 2016.

    Although the majority of those killed were Muslims, a Taliban splinter group called Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it was specifically targeted at Pakistan’s Christian community, who were celebrating Easter in the park. This was not the first major attack suffered by the Christian population of Lahore in recent years. The attack took place shortly after the one-year anniversary of two church bombings in Youhanabad, an attack that highlighted the urgent need for greater protection of the Christian community from extremists.

    A family in Lahore who attended an NGO drive for victims of the Easter attack.

    In the wake of the attack on Gulshan-i-Iqbal park, operations across Pakistan led to the arrest of an estimated 5,000 suspected militants, although most were released soon after interrogation. Despite this initial response – which itself raised some concerns for its heavy-handedness – and its framing within the broader counter-terrorism efforts, which form part of the National Action Plan (NAP), recent reports have suggested that progress on the part of the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of the Punjab Police has been slow. It was later reported that, several months on, the CTD had yet to arrest any of the key perpetrators, with the main planners having apparently fled to Afghanistan.

    A family in Lahore who attended an NGO drive for victims of the Easter attack.

    Meanwhile, four months after Gulshan-i-Iqbal park was attacked, those directly affected are struggling to deal with its physical, psychological and economic implications, while a more general sense of insecurity is felt by Pakistan’s Christian community in Lahore and beyond. Following previous attacks, including the church bombings in Youhanabad in March 2015, some measures were taken by the government to increase security for religious minorities. These included tightened security measures at churches – such as higher boundary walls, barbed wire and additional security staff – as well as the deployment of police during religious ceremonies. While such efforts are welcome, the sense of vulnerability felt by the Christians in the area and beyond has been exacerbated by lapses in protection by the state, as well as the everyday discrimination they face. Steps have been taken to support victims following the attack, including by community-based civil society groups who have provided relief and financial support.

    The government has also provided support in the form of financial assistance, including compensation distributed to victims at the end of June 2016. However, the primary response has been counter-terrorist measures centred on raids and clampdowns by the police and military. What have not been adequately pursued, however, are the positive steps needed to promote the rights of minorities in Pakistan and address deep-seated discrimination by, for example, targeting hate speech and addressing curriculum reform – both also part of the 20-point NAP. As minority activists in Pakistan have long noted, security measures alone are not sufficient to address the discriminatory institutions and attitudes they confront.

    The urgency of this is highlighted by the fact that, on the same day of the attack in Lahore, the Pakistani capital Islamabad saw thousands marching in support of the country’s blasphemy laws following the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the former bodyguard who killed Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer following his support of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. The demonstrations only came to an end following government negotiations with protesters. While the authorities did not accept all their demands, which included the execution of Asia Bibi, reportedly they did involve certain assurances that the status quo would be maintained, for example in relation to blasphemy laws. Meanwhile, Pakistani Christians now feel increasingly insecure and face the threat of further attacks.

    The interviews with victims of the blast, photographed below, were conducted approximately four months after the Easter attack, at the end of July 2016. Their reflections highlight how they are coping with the attack and the ongoing challenges they face.

    ‘The name of my son was Yaqub,* his age was 13 years. He was the student of class 7. He was a brilliant student. This is his last picture, which we took 15 minutes before the incident while he was playing.’

    Audio recording of Anjum* and Parveen* speaking about their son (in Punjabi).

    Anjum* and Parveen* (above) went to Gulshan-i-Iqbal park on 28 March with their three children, members of their extended family, as well as friends. Their elder son, Yaqub, who was 13 years old, was killed in the attack. Both Anjum and Parveen were injured, as were their two younger children. Also killed were Parveen’s nephew and Anjum’s cousin, whose younger sister was also seriously injured and lost sight in one of her eyes.

    ‘In Pakistan, [the] environment for Christians is not favourable. We are not welcomed by others … everyone is worried here, not only about their financial situation but every aspect of life.’

    Samariya* and her husband Cecil,* (above) from Younhanabad in Lahore, went to Gulshan-i-Iqbal park with members of their family on the day of the attack. Both suffered injuries, along with other family members. While their visible injuries have now healed, they still experience considerable pain, which has restricted their mobility and left them psychologically traumatized.

    ‘We were there in Gulshan-e-Iqbal when this incident happened. I and my husband was seriously injured in the incident. Many other members of my family also injured. Financially we have suffered a lot because of this incident… Just like every other Pakistani who enjoys freedom, has all safety and privileges – we want the same facilities for Christians. Everything should be provided to Christians [including]… freedom of worship. They even don’t allow us to worship freely.’


    ‘My arm was seriously injured. My legs were also got wounds and bruises. My daughter was [also] seriously injured.’

    Samariya* is an 18-year-old student who was at Gulsahn-e-Iqbal park with her mother Asiya* (above) when the attack took place. She does not remember the blast, which caused her serious head injuries. Soon after the attack Samariya underwent surgery to address these injuries. She has recovered well and has been able to return to school.

    * To ensure the security of rapporteurs and victims, all names which are not already published in media reports have been anonymized.

    Selected rights violations against Christians

    August 2015

    Location: Gujrat
    Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

    Three Christian men were arrested under terrorism laws for using the word ‘prophet’ on a poster commemorating the 20th anniversary of a local priest, Fazal Masih. The word ‘prophet’ is only used in Pakistan for those considered prophets under Islam: any other usage is deemed a blasphemy offence. It was not clear, however, on what grounds the police charged them. Although terrorism laws are generally used to target minorities, the laws are often abused to speed up prosecution in sensitive cases.

    October 2015

    Location: Sargodha
    Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

    An evangelist and prayer leader, Shakil,* lived on donations from community members. Police reportedly pressured him to pay a bribe from the money he received and then, after he refused to do so, arrested him on 8 October 2015 and charged him under Article 295-A that deals with blasphemy. In their report, the police accused Shakil of desecrating a sword in his prayer room with kalma-e-tayyaba written on it – the primary declaration of belief in Islam – and claimed they arrested him to prevent the outbreak of communal riots. According to Shakil, however, the accusations are their revenge for him not paying a bribe. Shakil was detained at the police station of Sargodha’s satellite town, his family forced into hiding due to fear of reprisals. Shakil was later released on bail, and has joined his family in hiding away from his community due to concerns over safety.

    November 2015

    Location: Faisalabad
    Nature of incident: Discriminatory practices

    A Christian schoolgirl was beaten up and locked in a toilet for three hours, until the school closed for the day, for using the bathroom at the school premises. Her classmates complained to the headmistress that she had used the school toilet, which was reserved for Muslim students only.

    This incident reflects a pervasive popular belief among the majority population that non-Muslims are ‘unclean’, resulting in them being banned from sharing eating utensils or using communal toilet facilities in many schools, offices and other places.

    November 2015

    Location: Karachi
    Nature of incident: Destruction of property

    A web television channel of the Christian community, Gawahi TV, was damaged during a fire in late November 2015. An employee of the TV channel said the incident was an act of arson as the main door’s locks were found to be broken and traces of flammable chemicals were also detected. Office equipment including computers, hard drives, memory cards, along with religious material, were either damaged or missing.

    There are few outlets in Pakistan affiliated with non-Muslim community groups. Although the attack left their office in ashes, the web television channel has continued transmission.

    December 2015

    Location: Chunian, Kasur
    Nature of incident: Kidnapping

    Parveen,* aged 14, was kidnapped on 31 December 2015. The minor, who worked as a domestic helper, was reportedly asked by her employer to go somewhere with the employer’s husband. It is not known where Parveen was taken, but the girl has not returned since. Her parents approached the police to report their daughter as missing, but initially the police refused to accept their complaint and did not file a report. They later were able to file a First Information Report (FIR), but at the time of writing Parveen remains missing.

    December 2015

    Location: Lahore
    Nature of incident: Discrimination, persecution, proselytizing accusation

    A Christian physical education teacher was accused of proselytizing and an inquiry was initiated against her. The inquiry came after a complaint by the father of a student who claimed that the teacher had been preaching Christianity to the students. Her husband said an overwhelming majority of Christians are fearful of hurting the religious sentiments of others and remain on guard, so it was inconceivable that she would have attempted to proselytize. He said the inquiry had been initiated with the intention of victimizing a teacher on the basis of her religion.

    Such accusations against teachers are not unprecedented, highlighted by the case of Christian teacher and poet Naimat Ahmar, who in 1992 was accused of blasphemy and extra-judicially killed in Faisalbad, Punjab. Other high-profile blasphemy accusations against minority teachers include the case of Catherine Shaheen in 1995 and, more recently, Shahid Nadeem in 2011.

    January 2016

    Location: Baatth village, Lahore district
    Nature of incident: Destruction of property (place of worship)

    At around 1 a.m. on 6 January 2016, after returning home from a service, the local pastor of Baatth village, Yaqub,* was informed that the church building was burning. The pastor arrived to find the church on fire, with flames spreading quickly. With the help of others, he was eventually able to extinguish the flame, mitigating some of the damage. It is unclear how the fire started, but the people in the community believe it was a targeted attack at their place of worship.

    January 2016

    Location: Sargodha
    Nature of incident: Forced conversion, marriage and sexual abuse

    Mariam,* a young Christian woman, was married against her will and forced to convert to Islam. One night in January 2016, some men in their village abducted Mariam and her younger sister.

    ‘It was late in the night and everyone was sleeping. Everyone was home that night. Suddenly there was a knock on the door and my younger sister went to open the door. Six people barged into our house, while two other men stood outside. They came in the room, pulled me by the hair and took me with them. I didn’t want to go.’

    The sisters were then taken to Sargodha, where they were forced into marriage according to the Islamic tradition of nikkah (Muslim marriage contract). Mariam says she has no memory of what happened before or after but later found herself in Islamabad, nearly 300 km away from Sargodha. There she was locked in a room, beaten and raped on a daily basis. She managed to escape one day when her captors forgot to close the door behind them. However, her younger sister is still in Islamabad.

    February 2016

    Location: Daska, Sialkot
    Nature of incident: Kidnapping, forced conversion

    On 4 February 2016, Asif,* a Christian man, asked his 14-year-old daughter to meet him outside his workplace in Daska, Sialkot. When his daughter was on her way to meet him, however, she was reportedly abducted by an acquaintance of the family. When Asif realized that she had been taken, he went to the house of the acquaintance where the family stated they were not aware of her whereabouts. Asif was later informed by others that his daughter had been forcibly converted to Islam and married to her kidnapper. After the case was brought to court, the High Court ordered the police to recover the girl as soon as possible. At the time of writing, she remains missing.

    February 2016

    Location: Badamibagh, Lahore
    Nature of incident: Physical attack and forced conversion

    In February 2016, Yonus,* a Christian man in Badamibagh, Lahore, was threatened following a quarrel with his Muslim neighbours. After this incident, his neighbours began harassing his daughter on the streets. Some days later, on 28 February, the girl, an accomplished student, was reportedly abducted and forcibly converted to Islam before being married against her will. A police report was filed, but there has been no progress in the case. The father says the police are on the side of the perpetrators and have not allowed the parents to meet their daughter.

    This is the same area where, in 2013, a mob ransacked Joseph Colony, torching approximately 100 Christian homes, after a Christian, Sawan Masih, was accused of blasphemy. The court ruling a year later sentenced Sawan Masih to death for blasphemy, but the victims of the attacks have yet to receive justice for the destruction of their homes.

    April 2016

    Location: Shahdara, Lahore
    Nature of incident: Intimidation and threats

    Paul* used social media to highlight human rights violations against Pakistan’s Christian minority, despite warnings from his friends and family. A stranger subsequently wrote to Paul and threatened him with ‘serious consequences’ if he continued. The next day, he received a letter that said he would be killed unless he converted to Islam. Since then, Paul and his family have been in hiding, and have recently relocated to the United States.

    While social media is a powerful tool for activism, these platforms also allow for the proliferation of hate speech and threats. Contributing to this was the absence of cyber laws in Pakistan, as well as a failure to apply existing legislation on hate speech. However, in April 2016 a cybercrime bill, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 (PECB), was passed through the National Assembly, despite opposition from civil society groups as well as some MPs. As part of the National Action Plan, the aim of this law has been described as ‘preventing online harassment, cyber stalking and blackmailing’, with the intention of criminalizing such offences. However, the law has been critiqued for its breadth – which goes beyond its stated aims – as well as its vague definition of the crimes, which could leave it open to being abused, including against activists.

    May 2016

    Location: Mandi Bahauddin
    Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

    After a Christian worker at a rural health centre was accused of watching a ‘blasphemous video’, a mob threatened to burn down all the houses in his neighbourhood. The man, a sanitary worker by profession who was reportedly illiterate, was beaten up at his workplace and his mobile phone destroyed. A mob subsequently gathered outside the mosque after Friday prayers to plan the razing of the Christian community’s homes. The police, however, said it was a false accusation because nobody who had accused the Christian worker could give the police any details about the video itself. The attack was prevented by one of the worshippers at the mosque, who first tried to stop the group from plotting the attack and later informed the police after the crowd refused to listen to him. While police prevented the attack on Christian homes, the mere allegation of blasphemy was enough to cause at least half of the Christian families living in the area to flee their homes.
    * To ensure the security of rapporteurs and victims, all names not already published in media reports have been anonymized.

    May 2016

    Location: Kasur, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Discrimination, intimidation

    An ice cream vendor was abused and humiliated on the street when a woman called him chura (a derogatory term for people of a lower caste, typically used only to refer to Christians) and said he could not sell ice cream to Muslim children. Two days later, when he went to sell ice cream at the same place, two other men came to him and verbally abused him. They accused him of selling unclean items to Muslim women and children. Later, a crowd of nearly 20 people gathered around him and beat the vendor, and vandalized his belongings. The assailants threatened that they would only leave him on the condition that he converted to Islam, but bystanders were able to intervene to help rescue the ice vendor.

    May 2016

    Location: Faisalabad, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Discrimination

    Two Christian teenagers were returning home from class on a motorbike when the police stopped them; the police are often a feared institution in Pakistan, particularly amongst minorities, because of widespread abuse and harassment. Scared, the boys attempted to flee and were chased by police officials – who claimed to believe they were terrorists – to the Christian colony where they lived. Upon reaching the locality, police opened fire, which led to one officer wounding himself. Other officials then entered the church in the area, where there were prayers ongoing, where they were alleged to have assaulted and intimidated worshippers, taking some into custody. It is reported that the police later filed a case against the boys, claiming they had shot the police.

    May 2016

    Location: Sheikhupura, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

    A Christian man, Usman Masih, was falsely accused of blasphemy on charges of sending text messages that were derogatory to Islam. A police report was filed against him, accusing him of sending messages defaming Islam and also blackmailing Muslim women. No evidence was provided to substantiate these claims. This reflects the fact that in nearly all cases of blasphemy, the evidence is very poor and partial. While these cases do not always lead to imprisonment or punishment, the mere allegation of blasphemy is enough to put an individual’s life at risk. As a result, the law is frequently used to settle personal scores.

    June 2016

    Location: Sheikhupura, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Physical attack

    A 16-year-old Christian girl was gang-raped in Sheikhupura. She was alone at home when a neighbour asked her to come over to their house for something. When she went, her neighbours, two brothers, gang-raped the teenager, leaving her in a critical condition, and fled. Reports suggested that the girl’s religion was mentioned as a motive for the attack. The family filed a police report and a case is being heard in Sheikhupura sessions court.

    June 2016

    Location: Lahore, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Physical attack

    Residents of Joseph Colony, a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, were often harassed by groups of Muslim men, who would sit near a girls’ school in the colony to intimidate the students. On June 18, a Christian resident, Vicky Nasir, got into an argument with the group of men. This led to a fight and the crowd – between 25 and 30 men – beat up Nasir with rods, sticks and stones. He tried to escape and ran towards his house to seek refuge, but the attackers came after him and also beat his family members, reportedly tearing off his sister’s clothes and opening fire at his brother-in-law. Fearing for his family’s life, Nasir also fired some shots and wounded three of the assailants. When the police came to the site of the attack, it is reported they only arrested Nasir and his family.

    This reflects unequal application of justice when it comes to minorities, that is commonly reported in Pakistan. For example, in the same area in 2013, more than 3,000 Muslims torched some 100 Christian homes, following a blasphemy allegation against one individual in the neighbourhood, Sawant Masih. While Sawant was given the death sentence for blasphemy, the rioters went unpunished.

    September 2016

    Location: Kot Radha Krishan, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Physical attack, abuse

    A Christian teacher, Liaquat* Masih, attempted to address religious hatred incited against non-Muslims in his school and reportedly, as a result, was threatened and intimidated. His colleagues reportedly attempted to forcibly convert him, while one stormed into his class and beat him violently. The victim had to seek refuge in the principal’s office. With the harassment from colleagues intensifying and fearing for his life, he moved with his wife and children out of his neighbourhood.

    Kot Radha Krishan is the same town where, in November 2014, a Christian couple, Shama and Shehzad, were attacked by a mob of nearly 400 people and then shoved into a brick kiln after they were falsely accused of desecrating the Qur’an. The couple left behind three children.

    2 September 2016

    Location: Kasur, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

    A Christian teenager, Nabeel Masih, was accused of blasphemy for ‘liking’ a picture of the holiest place for Muslims, the Khana-e-Kaaba, on Facebook. The complainant had said he had seen a post on Nabeel’s Facebook timeline which was derogatory to the sacred place and had hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims. Article 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with blasphemy, includes hurting ‘religious feelings’ and carries a punishment of up to 10 years.

    The 16-year-old is now in prison, and other Christians in his village are afraid because previous blasphemy allegations against one person have led to entire neighbourhoods being destroyed. Nabeel’s family is in hiding, while some other Christian families have also fled from the area in fear of their lives. This incident illustrates the potential volatility of online forums such as Facebook for triggering or inciting religiously motivated violence.

    October 2016

    Location: Quetta, Balochistan
    Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

    Blasphemy allegations against an eight-year-old Christian boy in Quetta were dropped following efforts made by local politicians. The boy and his mother were accused of burning pages of the Holy Qur’an. Hours after the allegations emerged, police filed a case against them and put them in prison. While the Christian boy and his mother were behind bars, rights activists and Christian parliamentarians called for their release.

    This is not the first time that a minor has been charged with a blasphemy offence. In 1993, Salamat Masih, 12, was charged under the blasphemy law for a crime he never committed. More recently, in 2011, a 13-year-old Christian girl was accused of blasphemy by her Muslim teacher for a misspelling. Another well-known case is of Rimsha Masih, an eight-year-old girl, who too was charged for blasphemy in 2012: while the case was subsequently dropped and the Muslim cleric responsible for making the accusations was alleged to have falsified the evidence, Rimsha was forced to seek refuge in Canada with her family after months in hiding. Further examination has led to the conclusion that, in each of these cases, blasphemy accusations were fabricated and motivated by personal vendettas, or the desire to seize the property of the victimized family.

    October 2016

    Location: Quetta, Balochistan
    Nature of incident: Discrimination

    A law enforcement agency advertised a minority post in Balochistan. A young Christian woman passed the entry test and was also called in for an interview that she successfully passed. But months passed and she never heard back from the agency again. With her father, she approached the relevant authorities to inquire about her application but there was still no response.

    While bureaucratic delays are not uncommon, it is important to note this incident is part of a broader context whereby even the few posts reserved for non-Muslims are often given to Muslims, and it is believed that this was the case here too. According to a report published in September 2015 in Pakistan’s daily newspaper, The Express Tribune, 70 per cent of the posts reserved for religious minorities in the federal government are vacant.

    October 2016

    Location: Quetta, Balochistan
    Nature of incident: Discrimination

    David, a Christian, worked as a cleaner at a government school in Quetta for 10 years. He retired in 2015 but has been waiting ever since to receive his pension. In an interview with a local rapporteur, he claimed that he has most likely been deprived of his due funds due to his status as a religious minority, and because he does not know people in influential circles. This reflects the overall finding that challenges facing Pakistanis with regards to employment and welfare are exacerbated for Pakistan’s religious minorities.

    While minorities struggle to access many professional opportunities, jobs as cleaners or sweepers – typically regarded as low status and poorly paid – are almost always relegated to non-Muslims. There are various instances where government jobs for cleaners state in their advertisements that only non-Muslims can apply. Socio-economic challenges facing Christians and other minorities are therefore particularly pronounced, and are further exacerbated due to barriers to accessing services.

    December 2016

    Location: Jamshoro-Sindh
    Nature of incident: Threats and intimidation

    Unidentified masked men riding on motorbikes stopped Advocate Sooba Bhatti, Bishop Younus Gill and two other Christian leaders at gunpoint. The incident occurred when they were stepping out of a prayer and candlelight vigil held for the safety and release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman handed a blasphemy sentence due to allegations made after a dispute over her drinking water from the same cup as her Muslim workers.

    Gunmen threatened the organizers to desist or face consequences, warning that they would hurt their family members if the community heads did not cease their activities against ‘Islamic teachings’. Bhatti and Bishop Gill reported this incident to the police, but so far there has been no progress in the case.

    Asia Bibi’s case is a very contentious one in Pakistan and she remains the only woman to have been sentenced to death for blasphemy. In 2011, the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was shot by his own bodyguard after he went to visit Asia in jail and spoke in her defence. Four months later, minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatii, who held an inquiry into Asia’s case and found it ‘baseless’, was also shot dead in Islamabad. Asia Bibi’s case was once again brought to court, in this instance for an appeal, in October 2016, after her death sentence was suspended the previous year. However, the appeal process was once again delayed after the court was adjourned when one of the judges – who had been previously involved in the case of Salman Taseer – stepped down on the set date of appeal. A new date for appeal was not immediately confirmed.

  • While Pakistan remains a diverse country, since the Partition of India in 1947, migration and a protracted process of social and religious homogenization has seen the Pakistani Hindu community dwindle. Partition saw large-scale movement of communities across newly defined borders between India and Pakistan, with Muslims in what became India fleeing primarily to Sindh and West Punjab, and Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan relocating to areas primarily in north-central India. While in 1941 non-Muslims constituted approximately 20 per cent of the population of West Pakistan, a decade later their proportion had fallen to just 4 per cent of the same area. More recently, the latest census in Pakistan recorded a Hindu population of approximately 2.5 million, or 1.6 per cent of the total population; these figures are widely contested, however, with some claiming they are higher. While updated official figures detailing the size of Pakistan’s Hindu population are currently unavailable, and with the census slated for 2016 recently postponed, some reports have estimated that 1,200 Hindus have fled from Pakistan to India in the past four years. Again, some estimates are much higher: for example, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, also a patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council, recently claimed that approximately 5,000 Hindus leave Pakistan each year due to religious persecution, many travelling to India.

    The majority of those currently migrating from Pakistan are from the province of Sindh, where the bulk of the Hindu population in Pakistan resides. Sindh, in the south-east of Pakistan, is regarded as a hub of Sufi Islam and has long been known for its tradition of religious tolerance. The town of Mithi in Tharparkar District, for instance, is celebrated as an example of inter-communal harmony, where Hindus and Muslims respect and at times celebrate one another’s religious traditions. More recently, since the passing of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the provincial government of Sindh has also introduced some positive measures to promote pluralism, including designating the Hindu festival of Holi a holiday for the first time anywhere in Pakistan in March 2016.

    Yet in Sindh, and elsewhere, growing religious polarisation is evident, fuelling discrimination and violence towards Pakistan’s Hindu population. In March 2014, a temple in Larkana was set on fire following allegations that a young Hindu desecrated a copy of the Qur’an. Later, in November 2014 a temple in Hyderabad was attacked. More recently, a blasphemy allegation against a Hindu man in July 2016 in Ghotki, Sindh, led to further tensions and the shooting of two Hindu men the following day, with one of the victims, a 17-year-old, subsequently dying of his injuries.

    In addition to violent attacks, a key challenge is the kidnapping and forced conversion of Hindu women and girls to Islam. The women who are subject to these coercive practices are predominantly poor, as highlighted by the disproportionate number of Scheduled Caste Hindu women among the victims. While there are no reliable statistics available regarding the number of forced conversions that take place each year, human rights activists have estimated that approximately 300 cases of forced conversion of Hindu women and girls take place annually, although they expect the scale of the problem may be greater due to gaps in reporting and documentation. The problem of forced conversion is particularly pronounced in Sindh, as recently highlighted by Lal Chad Malhi, a member of the National Assembly from Umerkot district in Sindh. Malhi noted that forced conversions are routine, and that there was a need for a formal mechanism to report conversions in order to capture the scale of the issue.

    Measures taken to address key issues facing the Hindu community include the approval of the Hindu Marriage Act by the government of Sindh in early 2016, and the more recent passing of a Hindu Marriage Bill at the federal level by the National Assembly in September 2016. These developments are expected to help address issues of kidnapping and forced conversion of Hindu women, which are, in part, a consequence of legal gaps surrounding marriage and personal law that exacerbate their vulnerability, as well as making it difficult to bring these issues to court. Further legislation directly aimed at addressing forced conversion is also under discussion in the Sindh Assembly, but progress has been slow.

    In addition to rising prejudice, material concerns also contribute to the marginalization of Pakistan’s Hindu population. Because Pakistani Hindu settlements and their places of worship are often located in sought-after land such as inner-city land in Sindh, the minority Hindu population is sometimes seen as an impediment to lucrative property development. Recognizing these economic factors is therefore crucial if violence against the community is to be reduced, as such tactics may be deployed, at least in part, as a means to force Hindus from their land. Other key challenges include access to and discrimination in education, as well as the kidnapping of Hindu businesspeople for ransom.  Rapporteurs working with MRG’s local partner organizations have also detailed the well-documented problem of bonded labour of Hindus, which disproportionately affects the Dalit community.

    Photo credit: Mirza Arif Beg.

    Selected rights violations against Hindus

    June 2016

    Location: Ghotki, Sindh
    Nature of incident: Physical attack

    An 85-year-old man, Gokal Das, was beaten by police officials in his village in Ghotki district for eating and selling food during Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims around the world. In Pakistan, there is a prohibition on eating in public during this month, but this refers to closing down restaurants in the daytime and does not apply to non-Muslims. Das – a poor man who was eating food he had received charitably – was beaten by police to the point that his palms bled. This incident resulted in much outrage in both mainstream and social media, and the accused police officials were arrested.

    June 2016

    Location: Sukkur, Sindh
    Nature of incident: Intimidation

    A recently widowed Hindu agricultural worker, the sole breadwinner for her four children, was forced to leave her village following extensive harassment and intimidation. When it was time to cultivate the wheat harvest, the landlord reportedly did not pay her and instead told her she needed to pay him 80,000 rupees, an exorbitantly high sum for an agricultural worker. While she was struggling with the debt, her daughters began to be harassed by the landowner’s sons, who told them that the debt would be forgiven if the girls befriended them and converted to Islam. She tried to prevent her daughters from meeting the landlord’s sons, resulting in her being physically beaten in the village one day. Fearing for her life and that of her children, she fled the area. She said the landlord still continues to threaten them.

    July 2016

    Location: Ghotki district, Sindh
    Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

    A Hindu man, Amar Lal, was accused of blasphemy on claims that he desecrated the Qur’an outside a mosque. Police said Amar suffered from psychological problems, but the accused was still arrested and taken to an undisclosed location. An inquiry committee set up by the Sukkur police later said that it was an earthen lamp placed near the Qur’an that had led to the fire and Amar had been wrongly blamed. Despite this, agitated members of the community blocked the main highway in retaliation, causing major disruptions in traffic. Sensing the unrest, members of the Hindu community also shut down their businesses. Following this day of communal tension, two Hindu men were shot while drinking tea at a stall in Mirpur Mathelo. Seventeen year-old Sateesh Kumar died in this attack, while his friend Avinash was critically injured. Following these events, Hindus in the area have been fearful for their lives, reducing their involvement in public life.

    July 2016

    Location: Khanpur district, Sindh
    Nature of incident: Intimidation

    Gulabo Thori, an elderly man, had lived with his family in a village in Khanpur district, Sindh for nearly 40 years, when there was reportedly a growing presence of preachers in the village, who promoted exclusionary attitudes towards minorities living in the area. . Following these visits, the Gulabo family felt increasingly insecure, with village residents treating them with greater hostility, culminating in the desecration of deities kept in their house. The family was eventually forced to move from their home and have since been looking for another place to settle.

    July 2017

    Location: Kandkhot, Sindh
    Nature of incident: Intimidation

    A Hindu family in Kandkhot, Sindh was victimized by a Muslim landlord who routinely threatened the family and, according to family members, treated them like ‘slaves’. He told them that Pakistan is a Muslim country where Hindus have no right to practice their religion and damaged the family’s place of worship. The family was forced to leave the village.

    August 2016

    Location: Sukkur
    Nature of incident: Bonded labour

    A Hindu couple and their two children worked as bonded labourers for a Muslim landlord, forced to perform both agricultural and domestic labour. The landlord – allegedly angered on account of one of the children refusing to complete a task – accused him of stealing, declared this would make permanent the family’s indentured servitude.

    Bonded labour is a form of modern-day slavery and is among the most pressing human rights issues in Pakistan. Nearly 2.3 million people work in bondage, the third highest number after India and China, and according to some estimates over 80 per cent of these labourers are Hindus.

    August 2016

    Location: Gambat, Sindh
    Nature of incident: Physical attack, discrimination

    Everyday discrimination of non-Muslims in Pakistan is such that, in some cases, Muslims and non-Muslims do not share food or water, based on the notions that the latter are ‘unclean’. In the village of Daraza Sharif Gambat, a Hindu man, Ajay* drank from a public water tap near a bus stop, which upset others living in the area. The result was that Ajay was attacked by other locals, which resulted in permanent injuries.

    September 2016

    Location: Khairpur, Sindh
    Nature of incident: Intimidation, discrimination

    Pathan and Makhan went to visit their Muslim friends and collect meat on Eid-ul-Azha. Muslims celebrate Eid by sacrificing animals and sharing the meat with neighbours, relatives and poorer sections of society. However, upon arriving at their friend’s house, some others also present stated that ‘Hindu unbelievers’ should not even be given a bite of meat. After this, a crowd of people gathered and reportedly threatened that if they did not leave the area they would be killed.

    October 2016

    Location: Ghotki, Sindh
    Nature of incident: Physical attack

    A 16-year-old boy was severely beaten during Diwali while he was bathing from a tap near a lake in his village. A Muslim man saw him and beat the child for making the water ‘impure’ by touching the tap. The perpetrator allegedly told him that, as a Hindu, he has no right to bathe in an area used by Muslims, after which he was severely beaten.

    October 2016

    Location: Nawabshah, Sindh
    Nature of incident: Physical attack, bonded labour

    Dandoo Ji, a Hindu, was beaten by a Muslim landlord after informing him that his wife, who worked for the landlord, was unwell and therefore would not be able to work on the crops that day. He was later also forced to bring his wife to work, despite her illness.

  • Everyday discrimination and the threat of violence have driven many Pakistani Hindus in recent years to leave their country for India, reproducing the legacy of Partition and undercutting the ideal of religious pluralism within Pakistan. Commonly travelling on 30-day pilgrim visas, many arrive in India by train, taking the Thar Express to the state of Rajasthan. The majority of Hindus from Pakistan live in an estimated 400 refugee camps spread across Rajasthan, including more recent arrivals as well as those who have been in India for over a decade. Others travel to Madhya Pradesh, where the All India Sindhi-Hindu Society has recorded approximately 35,000 Hindus from Sindh are living, with a significant proportion in Bhopal and Indore. More recently, some have also settled in Delhi, in areas in the north and north-west of the city including Majnu ka Tila, Adarsh Nagar and Rohini Sector 11, as well as elsewhere, such as Faridabad.

    Photo credit: Mirza Arif Beg.

    Majnu ka Tila: a temporary ‘home’ for Pakistani Hindus in Delhi

    Majnu ka Tila in north Delhi, long home to Tibetan refugees since the 1960s, has attracted a growing number Pakistani Hindus in recent years, with approximately 120 families now living there in makeshift accommodation. Sanjesh, a leader of the community, originally from Hyderabad, who has been living in Majnu ka Tila since 2011, explains that many of those living in the area are unwell or exhausted, emphasizing the sub-standard living conditions. Sitting on one of the wooden and metal beds outside the small room his family has constructed from mud and dung, he points to the fans overhead, explaining there is only access to electricity for part of the day, with it usually shutting off at 11.00 p.m. The heat – which often reaches above 40 degrees Celsius in certain months – makes it difficult to sleep. The area is located on the left bank of the Yamuna River so this hardship is exacerbated by the unrelenting presence of mosquitoes from which residents struggle to seek reprieve.

    Further into the camp and closer to the river, Ashok* and Amar,* sitting outside their home with the rest of their family, explain that they avoid going inside during the day due to the swarms of mosquitoes, which are easier to bear outdoors. In addition to the lack of reliable electricity, the area also lacks other basic necessities. Ashok and Amar added that members of the Pakistani Hindu community in Majnu ka Tila had met Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, to draw attention to conditions in the area, as well as the precarious position of Pakistani refugees who remain ‘irregular’, a status which brings with it significant implications in terms of employment and educational opportunities. While facilities such as a water pump for drinking water and latrines have been provided, Ashok and Amar expressed dissatisfaction with the response from Indian authorities. In particular, they emphasized the presence of barriers to education for their children, claiming a lack of sufficient paperwork precludes the children’s enrolment beyond the 5th grade.

    Photo credit: Mirza Arif Beg.

    While the specific drivers of migration are complex, multi-faceted and differ on a case-by-case basis, some of the issues commonly regarded as important in influencing Pakistani Hindus to migrate to India have included: education for children, access to employment opportunities, freedom to openly practise their religion, a sense of belonging and personal security. As has been widely documented, minorities in Pakistan face discrimination in the education system including by their teachers and classmates, but also in the official curriculum, including textbooks that carry discriminatory content. Moreover, there have been reports that minority children are compelled or forced to take Islamiyat or Islamic Studies, despite provisions within Pakistan’s Constitution under Article 22 that ‘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.’ While the provincial government of Sindh has begun to take steps to address this, including through the introduction of a book called Ikhlaqiat (‘Ethics’), allowing minority students to study teachings of other religions instead of Islamic studies, inequalities persist.

    Manju, a teenage girl from Hyderabad in Sindh who migrated to India with her family in 2011, describes how discrimination in the education system has also already considerably shaped the lives of many young Hindus who have grown up in the province:

    ‘When kids go to school there in Pakistan, they would say, you should learn Islam and the kids would say “We will not learn Islam.” Because of that we did not learn there. So we said, we will go to India, to our country and learn to read and write.’

    However, Manju added that accessing education in India has been impeded by obstacles:

    ‘There are a lot of kids here who have not gotten admission into schools. The younger kids have gotten admitted into schools but the older kids have not gotten admission yet. They say, “They are over the admissible age and so we cannot admit them.” We came here for education and to save our religion. We left everything behind. We want to educate the kids but the school is saying they will not admit the kids, so then tell us what we can do.’

    Ashok,* a teenage boy, also from Hyderabad, explained that in the interim, ‘there is a sister … and a sir who comes to teach us here’, likely on a voluntary basis.

    ‘Now that we are here in India, we should be able to become something good’, he added, ‘a doctor, something good’.


    Indeed, Pakistani Hindus living in Majnu ka Tila expressed their hope that migrating to India would yield greater employment opportunities, in particular highlighting discrimination against Hindu farmers in Sindh.

    ‘All the poor, the hopeless farmers are rotting … [in Sindh]. You can be farming, yield a harvest, and they come and loot and plunder and take it all away. They put all our money and income into their own pockets. The landlords there exploit the poor farmers and in the end say “You ate this, you ate wheat, rice, etc., so now this is your debt amount and we will recalculate your debt and earnings next year again.’

    ­­­­­Sagar,* a boy from Sindh, claimed that because they are Hindus, access to the employment market in Pakistan was also restricted: for example, they were prevented from selling their goods in certain areas, and their carts overturned or their goods stolen.

    While Pakistani Hindus are able to practise their religion more freely in India, economic, social and political impediments persist, albeit it in different forms. While those who have overstayed their visas are not actively removed from India, they claim that their lack of paperwork and discriminatory attitudes towards Pakistanis significantly limit their access to employment. Even those who have completed formal education in Pakistan struggle, their schooling certificates often unrecognized, relegating them to informal jobs such as selling items on the street.

    Photo credit: Mirza Arif Beg.

    While grateful for a place to stay in India, the current situation continues to undermine their basic rights and undercuts their ambitions for a better life in India. Two residents of the camp who asked not to be named or recorded, due to concerns for their families still residing in Pakistan, expressed frustration with the governments of the two neighbouring countries, accusing both of exploiting Pakistani Hindus for their respective political gains. Indeed, Hindus in Pakistan – similar to Muslims in India – are often impacted by the vicissitudes of inter-state relations between India and Pakistan. In the early 1990s, for example, following the attack on the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh by Hindu nationalists, Pakistan’s small Hindu minority – often represented as ‘agents of India’ – suffered retaliatory violence and discrimination. Parliamentarians in Pakistan have been known to conflate criticism of India with that of Hindus and, as with other minorities in Pakistan, Hindus have not been afforded adequate protection by the state.

    The camp residents expressed that while this situation drove them to leave Pakistan, the promises made by Indian officials were also influential in attracting them there. In particular, in the run-up to the 2014 national elections, now Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party

    (BJP) party emphasized that they would help realize the vision of India as the ‘natural home for persecuted Hindus’. This political messaging on the part of the BJP, much criticized for its exclusionary nationalism and communal politics, creating favourable expectations of life in India for Pakistani Hindus. Nevertheless, those living in Majnu ka Tila and elsewhere have expressed disappointment that two years after the election, little had been done to address their situation, for example by taking steps to ‘regularize’ their presence in India or providing economic and social support.

    Photo credit: Mirza Arif Beg.

    Regional dynamics and legal status of Pakistani Hindus in India

    India does not have a comprehensive refugee policy and is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. As the ARA Trust – an organization recently invited to help draft the domestic asylum bill for India in August 2015 – has argued, this does not mean the Indian government is without a general policy on refugees. Rather, this policy is not cohesive or structured, it being the outcome of a number of different ad hoc judicial pronouncements and executive policies.

    Pakistani Hindus currently fall under the Foreigners Act of 1946 and, as per the Citizenship Act, have been eligible to apply for citizenship by naturalization after a given period of time. The regime governing citizenship of Pakistani Hindus and others applying for asylum is therefore characterized by uncertainty and often long delays, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. For example, some residents of Majnu ka Tila indicated that they had applied for Indian citizenship in 2011, but no substantial developments had yet taken place.

    Nevertheless, in July the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in the Lok Sabha (the Lower House of India’s Parliament), which aims to relax citizenship requirements for religious minorities, namely Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains and Parsis, who are from ‘Muslim-dominated countries’, specified as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Currently under consideration, this bill would make special provisions for citizenship on the grounds of religious persecution: for example, by precluding religious minorities from the countries listed above from being labelled ‘illegal immigrants’, and streamlining the process by which to obtain citizenship.

    While welcome in that it may bring some reprieve to the Hindu refugees from Pakistan residing in Majnu ka Tila and elsewhere in the country, it has also opened debates regarding the relationship between citizenship and religion in India, with some commentators noting that the bill, as it stands, has the potential to undermine India’s strong secular traditions. This is because the bill introduces a more direct link between religion and citizenship by identifying those of all major religions, excluding Islam, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan as exceptions to the general law. Therefore, under the auspices of inclusion, the bill could contribute to more exclusionary understandings of Indian citizenship by advancing an identity-based response to religious persecution in those other countries, rather than a general avenue available to all those affected. Narrow conceptions of national identity are linked to rising majoritarian nationalisms in the region – this being a key factor contributing to the exodus of persecuted Pakistani Hindus in the first place – and therefore the bill has the potential to further weaken pluralism in the region.

    This highlights the fact that in order to effectively understand and address the situation of Pakistani Hindus living in Majnu ka Tila, but also the challenges facing religious minorities more broadly in South Asia, it is crucial to consider regional dynamics. However, as tensions between Pakistan and India currently show no sign of abating, it is religious minorities on both sides of the border who will continue to suffer disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination by state and non-state actors.

    * To ensure the security of rapporteurs and victims, all names which are not already published in media reports have been anonymized.

  • Hazara are an ethnic group predominantly based in Afghanistan, but also with a large population in Pakistan, with estimates of this group ranging from 650,000 to 900,000. The majority of Hazara in Pakistan, approximately 500,000, live in the city of Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan. While some Hazara are Sunni, the majority identify as Shi’a.

    As both an ethnic and religious minority, Hazara Shi’a face intersectional discrimination. As Muslims, Hazara Shi’a do not face certain restrictions affecting other religions. However, extremist Sunni groups that operate within Pakistan – in particular, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – view Shi’a as apostates and regularly carry out attacks against them. The Hazara Shi’a population, who due to their ethnic identity are readily identifiable, are especially vulnerable as a result.

    According to some estimates, between the period from 2009 to 2015, 1,659 Shi’a were killed and 2,950 were wounded in a total of reported 320 incidents. The situation for Hazaras in Quetta is particularly serious due to their clearly identifiable features, as highlighted by the series of bomb blasts around Alamdar Road in Quetta in January 2013, which killed at least 91 people and injured 190 others, and a number of violent attacks thereafter.

    In addition to such high-profile incidents, there are frequent incidents of shootings and other attacks against individuals or small numbers of Hazara Shi’a in Quetta. While previously known to have been the most educated community in Quetta, figuring prominently in public life in Balochistan, their freedom of mobility has been heavily restricted due to threat of attack. At present the Hazara community in Quetta has been effectively ghettoized to two predominantly Hazara areas, namely Hazara Town and Alamdar Road. Insecurity has in turn affected other areas of their everyday life, including access to education and employment. This insecurity also manifests itself along gendered lines, with the mobility of Hazara women particularly restricted.

    Though the government has taken some welcome steps to address the situation facing Hazaras, including in the context of the National Action Plan, progress towards effectively addressing their insecurity remains limited. Indeed, just months after authorities expressed satisfaction with the reduction in attacks on Hazara Shi’a as a result of the NAP in February 2015, attacks have followed. This includes the killing of two Hazara Shi’a brothers in Quetta in November 2015 by gunmen; an attack gunmen August 2016 which killed two more members of the Hazara Shi’a community; and the killing of at least four Hazara women at the beginning of October 2016. The targeting of Balochistan’s legal community in a suicide attack August 2016 which killed over 70 people, further highlights insecurity in the area. As those who have been working on minority and related issues in Pakistan have long noted, addressing issues of extremism requires more substantive action, tackling underlying structures of discrimination and impunity in line with Pakistan’s international commitments.

    The film Shaheedo Tum Kahan Ho (O martyrs! Where are you?), directed by Mohammad Waseem in 2014, gives an account of the targeted killings of members of the Shi’a Hazara community in Pakistan, highlighting how they face discrimination in their everyday lives, while security concerns and death threats make routine activities like going to school or the market a potential hazard.

  • Pakistan currently has the largest Ahmadi population in the world: though their exact numbers are unknown, estimates suggest there are hundreds of thousands and even millions of community members in the country. Most were originally based in Qadian, India prior to independence, but after the 1947 Partition they migrated en masse to Pakistan. Here, they established a new city in Pakistan’s Punjab and named it Rabwah, meaning ‘higher place’ or ‘hill’. Despite their established presence in Pakistan, however, Ahmadis are among the country’s most persecuted communities, with many forced to conceal their faith for fear of attack.

    Discrimination against the community began as early as the 1950s, with the formation of anti-Ahmadi movements calling for restrictions and their designation as heretics. Following countrywide protests against the community, the state cemented this stigmatization with the Second Amendment to the Constitution in 1974 which declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims. This effectively imposed minority status on Ahmadis – a status which members of the Ahmadi community reject. A decade later, this persecution was reinforced by a 1984 presidential ordinance making it illegal for Ahmadis to ‘pose as Muslims’ or ‘refer to their faith as Islam’. Under this law, it became a criminal penalty to describe an Ahmadi place of worship as a mosque or their call for prayer as azaan. Even saying an Islamic greeting can be a non-bailable criminal offence for an Ahmadi in Pakistan. Blasphemy accusations, then, are among the most common forms of persecution for the community, aided and abetted by this legislative context.

    Against this backdrop of institutional discrimination, Ahmadis are marginalized in almost every sphere of public life. For example, a Pakistani passport can only be obtained after signing a declaration that the ‘Qadiani group’ – a derogatory term for the Ahmadiyya community, referencing their Indian origins – are non-Muslims. Large-scale public events are also regularly held in celebration of the Second Amendment, with speakers calling for further restrictions against the community. As a result, Ahmadis are frequently forced to conceal their identity to ensure they are not targeted. Even in death, however, the community is not spared, with Ahmadi cemeteries frequently desecrated. The extent of discrimination is such that Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate, Abdus Salam, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, is largely overlooked in his own country and the word ‘Muslim’ has been removed from the epitaph on his gravestone.

    In 2010, the Ahmadiyya community suffered the worst incident in its history when Ahmadi mosques were attacked during Friday prayers in Punjab’s provincial capital, Lahore, leaving at least 94 dead and many others injured.[1] Since then, increasing numbers of Ahmadis have left the country, although there is no data available to determine how many have sought asylum abroad.

    Top photo: Liwa-e-Ahmadiyya, the flag of Ahmadi Community. Credit: Ceddyfresse – Own work, Public Domain,

    Selected rights violations against Ahmadis

    March 2015

    Location: Lahore, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

    Tahir Mahdi Imtiaz, a printer of the Ahmadiyya monthly magazine Ansarullah, was arrested by the police on 30 March 2015 on false charges of blasphemy and under the anti-Ahmadiyya law, which forbids Ahmadis to propagate their faith. When the case reached the Lahore High Court, the judge announced Imtiaz’s bail but subsequently refused to approve his decision: judges, too, are at risk of being targeted when deciding on such cases.

    Later, when the case was heard again, the two-member bench of the High Court refused Imtiaz bail. At the time of writing, he remains in prison and is being prosecuted in an anti-terrorism court. In Pakistan, cases that do not pertain to terrorism are, at times, still sent to anti-terrorism courts because trials in these courts are faster.

    November 2015

    Location: Jhelum, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

    Qamar Ahmad, an owner of a factory in Jhelum, was charged under blasphemy legislation for the alleged desecration of the Qur’an. To prevent further tensions, police had cordoned off the Ahmadi mosque in the area, but a mob broke through and set it on fire. The homes of Ahmadis in the area were also attacked and valuables were stolen.

    In many cases, blasphemy accusations are made against individuals to settle personal scores, grab land or loot valuables. A case was registered both against Ahmad for blasphemy and against the mob for setting the mosque ablaze. But while those who attacked the Ahmadiyya mosque have been granted bail, according to the latest reports, Ahmad remains in jail pending his trial.

    December 2015

    Location: Rabwah, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

    Punjab’s counterterrorism department raided 80-year-old Abul Shakoor’s bookshop on 2 December 2015 and arrested him and the bookshop manager, Mazhar Abbas. The two were charged with the crime of propagating the Ahmadiyya faith, in contravention of Article 298-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code that details many prohibitions against the community. After hasty legal proceedings, Shakoor was sentenced for five years under Penal Code Section 298C – part of Pakistan’s notorious anti-Ahmadi legislation – and for three years under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Meanwhile, Abbas was sentenced to five years for selling books on the Ahmaddiya sect.

    For Shakoor, this was the latest in a series of discriminatory incidents targeting him for his faith, including the vandalization of his store by police earlier in the year, a three-year sentence imposed in 1990 for his wearing of a ring with a Qur’anic inscription and the looting of his home and optical store in 1974 during anti-Ahmadi protests.

    February 2016

    Location: Faisalabad, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Destruction of property

    Ahmadis were allocated a plot for a graveyard in Faisalabad in 1992, where people of the community have been buried for the past 24 years. But in February 2016, a group of men tried to prevent the burial of an Ahmadi woman and arranged for the police to intervene, who arrived and told Ahmadis to seek permission from senior officers for the burial. The superintendent of police allowed the burial to be undertaken, but the next day unidentified men were found trespassing in the graveyard. Since then, while Ahmadis still have ownership of the graveyard, other groups have made several attempts to take over the land.

    February 2016

    Location: Lahore, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Intimidation

    Threatening letters were dropped at the homes of Aqeel Ahmad and Irfan Masood (head of the local Ahmadi youth organisation) with the letterhead of Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious and political party with representatives in Parliament. The text of the letter is translated and produced below:

    ‘You belong to Qadiani Jamaat and have been elected head of its youth organisation. Accordingly, you are targeted. Abandon your house within two days and stop your on-going propaganda forthwith. You have no time after these two days. You were targeted last year as well, but this time we’ll act (God willing), President Jamaat e-Islami.’

    Last year, a similar letter along with a coffin was left outside Masood’s house as well as at the area’s Ahmadi mosque. The police were reportedly informed both times, but the case was not adequately investigated.

    March 2016

    Location: Rabwah, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Discrimination

    An advertisement placed by the district government in a leading Urdu daily newspaper auctioned 25 commercial and residential plots across two low-income housing projects and categorically stated that Ahmadis would not be allowed to participate in the process. The advertisement read: ‘Anyone related to the Qadiani/Ahmadi/Lahori/Mirzai sects cannot participate in the Area Development Scheme Muslim Colony, Chenab Nagar (another name for Rabwah).’ The advertisement further read, ‘Every aspirant has to file a duly certified affidavit stating that he/she has no relation to Qadianis/Ahmadis/Lahoris.’

    While ‘Lahori’ refers to a sect within the Ahmadiyya, ‘Qadiani’ and ‘Mirzai’ are derogatory terms used to address Ahmadis. The advertisement further stated that the plot allotment of anyone found to be related to an Ahmadi would be cancelled and any payment made by them confiscated.

    March 2016

    Location: Sheikhupura, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Targeted killing

    An Ahmadi resident of Sheikhupura, Qamaruz Zia, was stabbed to death by another man named Muhammad Waqas in broad daylight on 1 March 2016. When Waqas was presented before the district police officer on March 29, he confessed to the murder. In his confession, Waqas said: ‘I was alone at the time of killing and I did it on my own. I raised slogans after the murder that I had killed a Mirzai. I am proud of my act, that I have killed a blasphemer.’

    Such targeted killings are not rare in Pakistan, and are reinforced by the apparent impunity that many perpetrators have enjoyed.

    April 2016

    Location: Kotli, Azad Jammu and Kashmir
    Nature of incident: Hate speech

    In a rally organized by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), a mainstream political party that has been in power three times, former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf engaged in hate speech against Ahmadis. Politicians have been responsible for inciting hate against Ahmadis to win votes with the majority. An excerpt from his speech has been translated and produced here:

    ‘If anyone served the cause of Islam, it was only the government of Martyr Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (founder of the PPP and former Prime Minister who passed the 1974 Amendment). Bhutto took up a 90-year-old issue…the issue of Qadianis who had challenged the prophethood of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him)…[The PPP government] shut them up, twisted their neck and buried this mischief (fitna) (forever).’

    This speech was also aired on the ARY News TV channel, among the most popular channels in Pakistan. While this was an instance of the media airing a public event, there have been countless cases of hate speech against Ahmadis in the media, particularly in Urdu-language newspapers.

    May 2016

    Location: Karachi, Sindh
    Nature of incident: Targeted killing

    Fifty-five-year-old Dawood Ahmad was shot dead in Karachi, allegedly targeted on the basis of his religious identity. Ahmad was waiting for a friend outside his house when two unidentified men came on a motorbike and shot him. While Ahmad died, his friend was injured but survived. The victim, who was an active member of the community, is survived by three sons.

    Since 1984, according to the community’s own estimates, 30 Ahmadis have been killed in Karachi, yet not a single murderer has been brought to justice. In comparison to Punjab, however, there are much fewer attacks in Sindh because the number of Ahmadis in the province is much lower.

    June 2016

    Location: Attock, Rawalpindi
    Nature of incident: Targeted killing

    A 65-year-old Ahmadi doctor, Hameed Ahmed, was killed in a drive-by shooting outside his home in Attock, Rawalpindi. The two unknown assailants were able to escape after carrying out their attack.

    June 2016

    Location: Karachi, Sindh
    Nature of incident: Targeted killing

    A 50-year-old homeopathic doctor, Chaudry Abdul Khaleeq, was murdered at his clinic by armed assailants, in the same area of Karachi where Dawood Ahmed was attacked the month before.

    July 2016

    Location: Sargodha, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Destruction of property (place of worship)

    The Punjab police destroyed copies of sacred writings, including the Kalima, the first article of faith in Islam, from an Ahmadi mosque in a village in Sargodha district. On 27 July, police came to the village and told Ahmadis to remove Islamic inscriptions from the building. Members of the local Ahmadi community refused to comply and told the police that they would not defile the sacred writings, which were inscribed on porcelain plates. The police then, reportedly on the orders of the district police officer, destroyed the plates with Islamic and Qur’anic verses.

    Prior to this incident, police officials had visited the mosque a number of times, intimidating the Ahmadi community to remove these articles, but other villagers had come forward and supported their Ahmadi neighbours, saying they had no objection to the writings. But later, a group of religious preachers allegedly complained to the district police about the Ahmadi mosque, threatening to destroy it themselves if the police did not.

    August 2016

    Location: Islamabad
    Nature of incident: Hate speech

    An anti-Ahmadiyya conference was held on the outskirts of the federal capital, Islamabad. Among the people who attended were the heads of mainstream religious and political parties, federal ministers, the deputy chairman of the Senate of Pakistan as well as the deputy speaker of the National Assembly. A joint declaration was produced at this conference urging a ban on all Ahmadi activities and calling for them to be fired from any key posts. They also declared that it was forbidden to marry an Ahmadi and that all constitutional provisions against Ahmadis should be applied more strictly.

    September 2016

    Location: Jhang, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Intimidation

    A cleric in a local mosque started an anti-Ahmadi campaign, targeting a particular individual in the area, Muhammad Firoz, in his weekly sermons. The cleric spoke venomously against the Ahmadiyya community – referring to them as kafir, a derogatory term to refer to non-Muslims – and took a pledge from his audience that they would buy nothing from Firoz’s store. He also demanded that the word ‘Muhammad’ in his name should be effaced from the signboard on Firoz’s shop.

    This kind of hate speech has been previously seen in villages around Punjab, often employed to settle personal disputes or bring down a rival’s business. Ahmadis are the softest targets in such instances because discrimination against them is institutionally supported. This was also not the first time that Firoz was targeted: in 1974, a mob had set fire to his store. Jhang is particularly notorious in this respect because it is home to the sectarian terrorist organisation, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

    September 2016

    Location: Sheikhupura, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Destruction of property

    A factory owned by two Ahmadi brothers, Nasir and Zafarullah Mahmood, was set on fire while it was closed for Eid holidays in September. It is believed that the fire was started by someone motivated by religious hostility. The brothers manufactured plastic wares and by the time the fire services were able to extinguish the fire, two hours later, all the products, machinery and raw material had been destroyed. The brothers were treated as outcasts in their neighbourhood, with members of the local community allegedly boycotting their business.

    September 2016

    Location: Sargodha, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Hate speech

    An Urdu daily newspaper called ‘Islam’ published an advertisement by the Khatam an Nabiyeen (‘Seal of Prophets’) Medical Heart Centre in Sargodha. The text of the advertisement vilified the Ahmadi community and offered to ‘save’ Muslims from the ‘poison of Qadianiat’. Instances such as this leveled against the Ahmandiyya community are not uncommon, despite the fact that hate speech is a criminal offence in Pakistan.

    December 2016

    Location: Kasur, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Discrimination

    On 6 December, Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Department launched a raid on the headquarters of Jamaat Ahmadiyya in Kasur Punjab, reportedly arresting four people on charges of printing ‘banned’ materials. The accused were charged with blasphemy and terrorism offences. While recent measures, notably the 2015 National Action Plan, have been passed with the stated intention to crack down on extremist and hate speech, in reality their impact on minorities – particularly Ahmadis – has been minimal and even counter productive. Ahmadis have been regularly prosecuted for the possession or production of religious materials deemed blasphemous or offensive by authorities.

    December 2016

    Location: Chakwal, Punjab
    Nature of incident: Violent attack, destruction of property (place of worship)

    Thousands of armed protestors stormed an Ahmadi mosque in Chakwal, Punjab, following a sustained hate campaign against the community. Despite some police resistance, the crowd was able to force their way in, attacking worshippers and desecrating the mosque. One Ahmadi man reportedly died of cardiac arrest and several others were injured, while many other community members were reportedly displaced in the wake of the violence.