The Rutherford Institute's

Handbook on Religious Liberty
Around the World


A Brief Historical and Legal Description of Religious Liberty


The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, established as a Muslim homeland, declared independence in 1947 and joined the United Nations in the same year. Pakistan rejects the notion of a secular state. Islam is the state religion. Author Mustapha Pasha explains, “State ideology has long seen Islam as the raison d’être of Pakistan . . . Islam is the ideological essence of Pakistan.”1 Pakistani Muslims are often intolerant toward and persecute those who do not affirm the Islamic essence.2 Ninety-seven percent of all Pakistanis profess Islam, while Christians and Hindus account for only 3%.3 Pakistan has a history of legal and cultural intolerance toward religious minorities. Antagonistic non-Muslim sentiment is often the social norm, not simply a government-imposed policy. Candidates must profess Islam to run for political office.

Military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq sought to merge religion and politics as he ruled the country from 1977 to 1988. Zia implemented “Islamization,” imposing martial law during most of his reign, banning opposition political parties, and mandating provisions that threaten religious liberty. Zia created a Federal Shariat, or legal, Court (FSC), granting “jurisdiction over convictions or acquittals from district courts in cases involving . . . Islamic criminal laws; exclusive jurisdiction to hear [petitions] . . . challenging ‘any law or provision of law’ as repugnant to the Holy Qu’ran; exclusive jurisdiction to examine ‘any law or provision of law’ for repugnancy to the Holy Qu’ran.”4 The Constitution limits the FSC’s jurisdiction in Article 203-B, stating that “law includes any custom or usage having the force of law but does not include the Constitution, Muslim, personal law, any law relating to the procedure of any court or tribunal.”5 Although non-Muslims may not appear before the Shariat, they are subject to its rulings. In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled that Article 203-B excluded judicial review of cases emerging from the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance of 1961.6

When Benazir Bhutto came to power in 1988 as leader of the Pakistan People´s Party, she promised moderate treatment of religious groups, but faced and continues to face two main obstacles: political instability and Pakistani culture. Conservative Muslims feel that she is not aggressive in Islamicizing the country.7 Muslim extremists placed a $40,000 bounty on the head of the law minister for proposing amendments to 1991 blasphemy laws. The cabinet reportedly advocates two amendments to the blasphemy laws: requiring charges to be filed with the courts rather than the police, and giving a ten-year prison sentence to those who make false accusations.8 In 1994, the Supreme Court frustrated efforts of the government at conciliation when it ruled that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws apply to all prophets of Islam. Since Jesus is a prophet in Islamic teaching, Christians could be tried for blasphemy for worshipping Jesus.9 In addition, the Lahore High Court ruled that the marriage of a Christian couple is invalid if one of them converts to Islam and that converts are free to marry Muslims.10

Many who oppose fundamentalist policies contend that “the use of religion is essentially an abuse, a deliberate practice to pacify the masses or to numb their political sensibilities with vociferous remonstrations for a restricted public morality and the promise of heaven.”11 Whether fundamentalist politicians advocate their position out of conviction or political expediency, they have polarized religious communities and undercut religious liberty. Christian Solidarity International, in their “Suppression of Religious Liberty Around the World,” rates Pakistan as a “violat[or] of basic religious liberties.”


Constitutional Provisions and Legislation Relating to Religion


The Islamic Republic of Pakistan promulgated its most recent a Constitution in 1985. While the Constitution protects freedom of religion, this freedom is by no means absolute. The Loyola International Law Journal states:

The Pakistan Constitution distinguishes between derogable and nonderogable human rights. Freedom of religion is classified as a derogable right. Derogable rights may be suspended while a proclamation of emergency is in force, but only for a maximum period of four months without National Assembly approval.

Although Article 232 of the Constitution states that “an emergency exists when the security of Pakistan, in whole or in part, is threatened by war, external aggression, or by an internal disturbance ‘beyond the power’ of the provincial or federal government to control,” history shows that Pakistan is often willing to declare a state of emergency and abridge religious freedoms.12 The following constitutional provisions relate to religion:

Article 2: Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan.13

Article 20: Subject to law, public order and morality: (a) every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice 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: 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 (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 relate 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.14

President Zia introduced the Hudood Ordinances which “define crimes against Islam” and “enforce punishment for those who commit such crimes.” The Ordinance requires the testimony of four male Muslims in an Islamic punishment case, but does not permit the testimony of non-Muslims. Zia also instituted the Evidence Law and the Compensation Ordinance to expand the power of the Islamic state against religious minorities. The latter Ordinance stipulates that the perpetrator of a crime must receive the same punishment as the victim. However, law requires Muslims to pay half of the compensation in cases involving non-Muslims.15

The Objective Resolution, written in the 1940´s, mandates that “Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.” The Resolution was incorporated into the Constitution in March 1985.16 In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that the term “subject to law” means “subject to Islamic law,” effectively eroding freedom of religion in Pakistan.17 News Network International reports, “The court thus concluded that . . . fundamental rights are subservient to Islam.”18

ORDINANCE XX AND THE PENAL CODE. In 1974, a constitutional amendment declared the Ahmadi sect a non-Muslim minority because they do not accept Muhammad as the last prophet of Islam. The Ahmadis consider themselves Muslim and practice many Muslim customs as an important part of their religion. General Ordinance XX (1984) of the Pakistan Penal Code singles out the “non-Muslim” minority group Ahamadiyya for pejorative treatment. Ordinance XX was incorporated into the 1985 Constitution.

The United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities issued Resolution 1985/21 in August 1985 stating that Ordinance XX violates the “right to freedom of thought, expression, conscience and religion, the right of religious minorities to profess and practice their own religion, and the right to an effective legal remedy.”19 In 1986, the government of Pakistan submitted a report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in which they stated that they are “committed to protecting and promoting the cultural identity of minorities” in accordance with the Constitution which provides that “any section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture shall have the right to preserve and promote the same and subject to law established institutions for that purpose.20

However, in that same year, Pakistan, using the power granted it by Ordinance XX, inserted Section 295(c) into the Pakistan Penal Code, mandating death for those who blaspheme the Prophet Muhammad. The law, directed at the Ahmadis, has been used against Christians and Muslims as well. The law permits only Muslim judges to hear cases under this section of the Code.21 The U.S. State Department reports, “In 1993 a bill was introduced to extend the law to include defiling the names of the Prophet Muhammad’s family and companions. The latter bill, generally supported by anti-Shi’a groups as a means of persecuting the Shia’s, had yet to be acted upon [in February 1994].”22

Section 298(c) of the Penal Code prohibits Ahmadis “from indulging in anti-Islamic activities” subject to three years imprisonment and a fine.23 It “applies only to Ahmadiyya,” “prohibits Ahmadiyya from publicly using Islamic religious terminology in connection with their religion,” such as identifying themselves as Muslim, forbids them “from using religious titles, descriptions or epithets of Muslim origin, or from using the word ‘Masjid’ in connection with their place of worship. Ahmadiyya cannot refer to their faith as Islam, nor can they recite or refer to the form of the call to prayers as ‘Azan.’”24

In late 1992, the Supreme Court reviewed relevant sections of the Penal Code, and issued a favorable ruling to the Ahmadis by granting bail to members of an Ahmadi family accused of using Islamic expressions on wedding invitations. The Court observed that use of Islamic expressions by the Ahmadis “does not create in a Muslim . . . any of the feeling of hurt, offense, or provocation, nor is it derogatory to the holy Prophet Muhammad.”25 In 1993, however, the Supreme Court ruled against the Ahmadis regarding the constitutionality of Section 298(c). The Court rejected the argument that the Section violates the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution.26 The U.S. State Department reports, “The judge writing for the majority found that Islamic phrases are in essence a copyrighted trademark of the Islamic religion . . . use of the Islamic epithets by Ahmadis was equivalent to copyright infringement and violated the Trademark Act of 1940.” The majority also held that use of certain Islamic phrases is blasphemy. Ahmadis fear that the judgment will lead to more cases being brought against Ahmadis, and possibly more rapid convictions.27


Recent Reported Cases of Religious Intolerance


The heavy-handed treatment of religious minorities and deviants by General Zia encouraged religious fundamentalists and led to the suppression of religious liberty in Pakistan. As a Pakistani newspaper columnist lamented, “Now not only has theocracy been presented as a model for law and procedure but discrimination on the basis of religion has become a part of law.”28 Some of the most glaring cases of repression are as follows:


Blasphemy: Muslim activists in Pakistan have brought charges of blasphemy against religious minorities. Consequently, it is a criminal offense for the three million members of the minority Ahmadiyya community to profess, preach, and practice their faith.29 The U.S. State Department reports that “According to a respected Pakistani human rights organization, since 1986, 197 Ahmadis have been charged with blasphemy . . . in at least 25 separate cases. As of the end of 1993, there were no convictions. One case had been dropped, and two persons had been acquitted. At least four Ahmadis were charged with blasphemy in 1993.”30 An Ahmadi rights organization reported that, at the end of 1992, at least 2,133 Ahmadis had criminal cases brought against them, most of which were still pending. New cases were brought during 1993.31


Places of Worship: Ahmadi places of worship have been attacked with frequency since the 1974 amendment to the Constitution, and more recently, the 1984 passage of Ordinance XX and the Pakistani Penal Code. The U.S. State Department reports that, in June 1993, three youths “attempted to set fire to an Ahmadi house of worship in Lahore while Ahmadi elders were praying there.” Although the incident was reported to the police, the government took no action against the criminals.32

Passports/Travel Restrictions: The Pakistani government designates religious affiliation on its passports. In keeping with anti-Ahmadi legislation, it classifies Ahmadis as “non-Muslims,” preventing them from making the religious pilgrimage to Mecca, as Saudi Arabian authorities do not permit non-Muslims. The government issued an order in 1992 that required that a similar designation be included on the national identity card. Widespread public protest in 1992 probably persuaded the government to drop this “longstanding demand of fundamentalist religious parties.”33 In November 1992, the Provincial Assembly of Sindh rejected a bill that would place religion on the Pakistani national identity card.34 The Assembly urged the federal legislature not to include religion on the card, and the legislature did not submit implementing legislation in 1993.


As with the Ahmadiyya, the general climate in Pakistan is unfavorable toward Christians. In May 1993, two policemen beat a Christian man to death when he refused to purchase alcohol for them. Muslims are forbidden by Islamic Law to purchase alcohol.35 That same month, a Baptist Christian claimed that his wife was kidnapped from their home, forced to convert to Islam and marry one of her captors. Police have refused to file charges against the Muslims.36

In August of 1995, arrest orders were issued for six Christians who spoke at a national rally in Islamabad.37 Bishop John Joseph, Cecil Chaudri, Shakila Haikim and three others demanded a Pakistan free from “all discriminatory laws” one in which “all will be equal citizens” regardless of their faith.38 The speakers were accused of speaking against the state and disrupting public order.39 On September 24, 1995, the judge let the accused go free and declared that they could not be arrested further during the investigation without prior permission of this court.

Blasphemy: In July 1994, Muslim extremist leaders stirred up public agitation and branded those who wish to amend current laws as “infidels” and targeted prominent politicians, Christians and human rights activists for assassination. On July 9, bumper stickers calling Muslims to “find and kill” three Christian members of Pakistan’s National Assembly appeared in Punjab.40

The government has reportedly charged eight Christians with blasphemy, four of whom were charged in 1993. “We are being persecuted by law,” asserted Rev. John Alexander Malik, an Anglican Bishop in Lahore.41 Two Punjabi Christians imprisoned in 1993 refused bail and were acquitted after 15 to 20 months in prison. They both remain in hiding due to death threats by Muslim extremists.42 The U.S. State Department reports, “two other Christians were stabbed to death by their accusers without formally being charged.”43 Of the four charged before 1993, one was accused of “desecrating a copy of the Koran by underlining passages and writing in the margins.” He was reportedly murdered by fellow inmates after almost two years in prison.44 Another, a Presbyterian Christian arrested in December 1991, has been waiting on death row for 22 months for his appeal to be heard by the Lahore High Court. His November 1993 court date was rescheduled because of fundamentalist violence.45 One individual was acquitted in January but remains in fear for his life from local religious groups. In one case, three Christians were arrested in May 1993 and accused of writing blasphemous words on a mosque wall.46 One of the accused was a 13-year-old illiterate boy released on bail in November 1993. At the end of 1993, the two adults charged with blasphemy remained in prison. In February of 1995, after an international outcry demanding their release, judges dismissd the charges and offered safe haven to the boy, Salamat Masih, and his uncle Rehmat Masih.47 In another incident, a man was accused of blasphemy pursuant to an argument with a shopkeeper over less than 4 cents of candy. The shopkeeper refused to press charges, so a local Muslim religious leader filed the charges.48

A Pakistani Muslim extremist convicted of murdering a Christian teacher for blaspheming was given a 14-year sentence instead of the death penalty. He stabbed and mutilated the body 17 times in broad daylight in front of a crowd of onlookers.49

Land Disputes: In 1993, a landlord from the province of Sindh bulldozed over 30 homes, a church, and a school, destroying a 30-year-old Christian village instead of waiting for a civil court’s order regarding a land dispute. At the end of 1993, no action had been taken against the landlord.50 Christian villagers displaced by Muslim crime in the Nawabshah region of Sindh accused a Muslim tribe in the fall of 1993 of illegally taking their land. Muslims have threatened that “dire consequences” will ensue if the Christians return to the village.51

Places of Worship: In August, Pakistani police raided an Anglican church building under legal construction. After reviewing the church’s permits, the police allowed construction to continue.52 In June 1993, Roman Catholic institutions in Punjab were attacked by terrorists three times, wounding several nuns and a priest. The police responded slowly, arriving in each instance after the terrorists had fled.53


After the Babri Mosque incident in December 1992, one Indian newspaper columnist offered the following commentary:

The anger, passion and violence in Pakistan against the minority community deserves condemnation. Pakistan . . . has itself gone on a rampage in killing members of minority community and demolishing places of worship of Hindus . . . At least 23 people of minority community were killed in various towns of Punjab in Pakistan when enraged Pakistani majority attacked the minority community and demolished more than 30 places of their worship. The temples in Lahore, Multan, and other places were razed to the ground with the help of bulldozers with Pakistani police standing there by. Similarly, 10 of minority community were killed in southwestern Balochistan Province. It was time for the authorities in Islamabad to show political maturity and display a sense of good-neighborliness.54


Blasphemy: The Pakistani government prohibits proselytizing among Muslims. Three Muslims were charged with blasphemy in 1993. One of the Muslims was convicted and sentenced to death despite two government-appointed doctors declaring him insane. His case has been appealed to the Lahore High Court. The U.S. State Department reports that Dr. Khan, an eminent social worker, was charged with blasphemy in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab. In 1992, the government dropped the charges in Sindh. However, the charges were not dropped in Punjab, and at the end of the year Dr. Khan remained subject to arrest in that province.55



1 Pasha, Mustapha Kamal, “Islamization, Civil Society, and the Politics of Transition in Pakistan” in Douglas Allen, ed., Religion and Political Conflict in South Asia: India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992): 115.

2 Allen, 5.

3 Edward H. Lawson, ed., Encyclopedia of Human Rights, (New York: Taylor & Francis, Inc., 1991): 1181.

4 1985 Constitution, Art. 203-D(1) in Charles H. Kennedy, “Repugnancy to Islam-Who Decides? Islam and Legal Reform in Pakistan.” International and Comparative Law Quarterly Vol. 41, Part 4 (October 1992): 772.

5 Kennedy, 72.

6 Federation of Pakistan v. Mst. Farishta All Pakistan Legal Decisions (“P.L.D.”) 1981 SC 120 in Kennedy, 773.

7 Allen, 1.

8 Barbara Baker, “Muslim Fanaticism over Blasphemy Law Raises Tensions.” News Network International (July 26, 1994): 9-10.

9 “Pakistan: Blasphemy in Pakistan.” Economist (May 7, 1994): LEXIS 33.

10 M.L. Shahani, Advocate Supreme Court, Pakistan. “Outlawed by Faith.” Letter to The Rutherford Institute (August 1994): 2.

11 Pasha, 118.

12 “Pakistan Ordinance XX of 1984: International Implications On Human Rights.” Loyola of L.A. International and Comparative Law Journal, Vol. 9 (Summer 1987): 673.

13 Joseph Devamithran, “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” in Albert P. Blaustein and Gisbert H. Flanz, eds., Constitutions of the Countries of the World: Islamic Republic of Pakistan (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1993): 5.

14 Devamithran, 17-18.

15 Shahani, 1-2.

16 Kennedy, 774.

17 Shahani, 1, citing 1993 SCMR 1718 & 1772 to 1774.

18 “Pakistan.” News Network International: Special Edition (August 27, 1993): 2.

19 Lawson, 1181.

20 UN Doc. CERD/C/149/Add.12 in Lawson, 1181.

21 Shahani, 3.

22 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1994): 1377.

23 ibid.

24 “Pakistan Ordinance XX of 1984,” 679.

25 U.S. Department of State (1993): 1378.

26 Majority View-1993 SCMR 1718 & 1772 to 1774 in Shahani, 3.

27 U.S. Department of State (1993): 1378.

28 Peter Jacob Dildar, “Minorities Under the Law.” The Frontier Post (June 18, 1994): editorial page.

29 Amnesty International Report: 1993 (London: Amnesty International Publications, 1993).

30 U.S. Department of State (1993): 1377.

31 ibid, 1378.

32 ibid, 1377.

33 ibid, 1378.

34 Shahani, 2.

35 “Pakistan.” News Network International: Special Edition (June 30, 1993): 2.

36 ibid, 6.

37 John Joseph, “Catholic Diocese of Faisalabad.” (September 9, 1995): 3.

38 ibid.

39 ibid.

40 Baker, 9-10.

41 ibid, 10.

42 ibid, 11.

43 U.S. Department of State (1993): 1378.

44 “Pakistani Christian Takir Iqbal Dies in Prison.” News Network International: Special Edition (July 21, 1993): 1.

45 “Pakistan.” News Network International: Special Edition (October 26, 1993): 1.

46 “Death Sentence for Boy, 14, Rolls Pakistan.” Los Angeles Times, (February 19, 1995).

47 “Blasphemy Dismissal Enrages Pakistanis.” Arizona Daily Star (February 24, 1995), and Joseph, 2.

48 U.S. Department of State (1993): 1378.

49 Baker, “Murderer of Christian Teacher Gets 14-Year Sentence.” News Network International (July 26, 1994): 31.

50 U.S. Department of State (1993): 1377.

51 “Pakistan.” News Network International: Special Edition (October 4, 1993): 3.

52 “Pakistan.” News Network International: Special Edition (August 27, 1993): 2.

53 “Pakistan.” News Network International: Special Edition (June 30, 1993): 4.

54 C.K. Banerjee, “Attacks on Hindus in Pakistan Condemned.” (FBIS-NES-92-238, 10 December 1992): 44-45.

55 U.S. Department of State (1993): 1378.

Other Sources:

October 21, 1994: Letter from Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, Embassy of Pakistan.

November 10, 1994: Letter and information from Tariq Zameer, Second Secretary, Embassy of Pakistan.

June 6, 1995: Letter from Kamran Niaz, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Pakistan.

Source: Handbook on Religious Liberty Around the World, Pedro C. Moreno, Editor. Charlottesville, VA: The Rutherford Institute. This report is reprinted here by special arrangement with the Rutherford Institute and may not be reproduced or mirrored on another webside without written permission of the Rutherford Institute.

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