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1999 | 55th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (22 March - 30 April 1999)

The Christian minority in Pakistan

March 22 – April 28, 1999
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Franciscans International, the Dominicans, the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches wish to bring to the attention of the 55th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan .
Our paper addresses three areas of serious concern:

  1. The Separate Electorate For The Religious Minorities In Pakistan.
  2. The Blasphemy Laws 295 B And C Of The Pakistan Penal Code.
  3. The Government’s Bill To Adopt The 15th Admendment (Sharia Law).


In 1947, Pakistan came into existence following the joining together of the the Muslim majority provinces of East Bengal, Punjab, Sind, the North-West Frontier and Baluchistan. This brought together a total population of approximately ninety-five million people which formed the nascent Federation of Pakistan. (In 1971, East Pakistan became the independent state of Bangladesh.). In his address to the first Constituent Assembly Pakistan, on August 11 1947, the founder of the country M.A. Jinnah gave the following assurances to the minorities: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State . . Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state”. It would seem in the reality of today’s Pakistan that the words of M.A. Jinnah, the Father of the nation who led the movement for an independent Pakistan, have lost their significance
The Pakistan of today is a society torn apart by corruption, intolerance and violence which is a far cry from the original ideal of a progressive and tolerant country. Religious minorities are increasingly the targets of bigotry which is often instigated by extremist forces, Islamic political parties and their leadership. The failure of the successive governments to bring under control the religious extremists movement in the country has strengthened their hands. The lack of political will on the part of the government to put an end to these destructive trends has encouraged these groups to persecute and victimize individual and groups with impunity. So the government refrains from taking action against the extremist elements for reasons of political expediency, the siutation will remain unchanged.

1. The Separate Electorate For The Religious Minorities in Pakistan

In 1979, the military dictatorship of the late General Zia ul-Haq introduced an amendment to the electoral laws of the Pakistan which changed the system of joint electorate, as envisaged under the 1973 Constitution, to a system of separate electorates. The amendment was introduced at the request of the religious-political parties that subscribe to the view that non-Muslims in Pakistan are “Zimmis” or second class citizens. During the last two decades, successive governments in Pakistan have followed discriminatory policies that have prevented non-Muslims from holding key positions in the civil service and in the higher judiciary.
The system of separate electorates has the effect of denying religious minorities in the country the fundamental right of universal adult franchise. Under this system, a quota of seats are reserved for non-Muslims in the National and Provincial legislatures. This means that , (on the one hand), non-Muslim voters can only vote for non-Muslim candidates contesting the reserved seats and, (on the other hand) that, they cannot vote for Muslim candidates in the general elections. This policy of discrimination among voters on (the) grounds of religion has cut off the non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan from the main stream of national political life. Further, it has denied (to) them the right to participate directly in the national decision making processes as well as in the framing of national economic, social and cultural policies. Similar segregation has also been introduced at the (level of )local levels (bodies).
We strongly disagree with the rationale (rationalization put forward) that this (particular) provision of Pakistani law protects the rights of religious minorities. We see it rather as the (this) institutionalization of discrimination ( to be) a form of religious apartheid that officially restricts the rights of Pakistani citizens from fully participating in their society.
The system of separate electorates (as) enforced in Pakistan is in clear violation of Articles 2 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Articles 25 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

2. The Blasphemy Laws 295 B and 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code

The Blasphemy Laws in their present form have become a source of victimization and persecution of minorities in the country. Minorities suffer all manner (forms) of humiliation through false accusations made under the Blasphemy Law. In the present climate of hate, intolerance and violence in Pakistan, Blasphemy Laws have become a major tool in the hands of extremist elements to settle personal scores against members of religious minorities, particularly Christians. (In terms of) the law itself provides only, (it carries) a vague definition of blasphemy, yet blasphemy carries a mandatory death sentence in some cases. There are also serious problems with the mechanisms to implement the Law. Since the mandatory death sentence was introduced as a result of Amendment Act No. III (1986) to Section 295-C, many innocent people have lost their lives, including some accused persons who had not been brought to trial. For example, Niamat Ahmer, Tahir Iqbal and Manzoor Masih were killed even before the Courts could hear the cases registered against them. (Other) Many victims of Blasphemy Laws had (to flee the country) to seek safety and sanctuary in countries abroad and others are forced to live in hiding within the country.
In the present context, lawyers who appear in court on behalf of accused persons in blasphemy cases are the targets of intimidation and threats. The retired Judge of the Lahore High Court, Arif Iqbal Bhatti, who set aside the death sentence passed by the Session Courts in the case of Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih was shot and killed by an Islamic extremist. His killer, like that of Manzoor Masih, has not been brought to justice. In view of continuing threats and intimidation, it has become increasingly difficult to engage services of lawyers to defend cases registered under the Blasphemy Laws. In May 1998, (the) Roman Catholic Bishop John Joseph of the Diocese of Faisalabad took his life to protest against the Blasphemy Laws.
In the climate (environment) of intolerance which prevails and in view of threats and intimidation and the pressures brought on the judiciary, it has become nearly impossible to obtain a fair hearing in Pakistan for those charged under the Blasphemy Laws. In these circumstances, the lower judiciary has often been constrained to accuse and convict persons without proper study of the evidence placed before it. In one case, the Sessions Judge convicted Gul Masih, who was charged under the Blasphemy Law, and imposed the death sentence on him on the grounds “that the complainant had an outlook of a good Muslim; that he was a college student and that he had a beard”. Presently, a number of cases are pending under Blasphemy Laws. These include among others, cases against Ayub Masih, Nelson Munawar Rahi, Catherine Shaheen. In addition, two Islamic religious organizations have announced a prize of Rs. 1.3 million for the killing of Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih who are presently living in exile.
The Pakistan representatives to the UN Commission on Human Rights stated that the Government is extremely conscious of the dangers of the Laws and has instituted measures and appropriate safeguards against misuse of the Blasphemy Laws. However, recent cases of blasphemy at Gojra, Alipur Chatta (Gujranwala District), and at Toba Tek Singh prove that (a) the procedure for the registration of such cases has not (neither) been changed nor have any measures been introduced in the law to eliminate the injustice of the laws. This raises the question of the government’s commitment to real change. The reality is that police continue without consent to harass accused persons and their families (and do not feel threatened by the militant religio-political parties).

3. The Government’s Bill To Adopt The 15th Amendment (Sharia Law)

On 28 August 1998 the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif introduced a bill calling for an amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution (15th Amendment or The Sharia Bill) in which the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) shall be the supreme law of the land. The Prime Minister has subsequently been quoted (in the international press and by Amnesty International) as advocating the adoption of Taleban-style justice as a model of swift punishment and effective deterrence to end violence, crime and corruption in Pakistan.
While we acknowledge (recognize) the government’s declared intention to control corruption through the introduction of the Sharia Bill, we remain (maintain) seriously concern(s)ed that in the present climate of intolerance and religious extremism in Pakistan, the passage of the bill will add further to the sense of insecurity of the minorities and will give rise to further (create) sectarian strife within society leading to more conflict and violence.
(A recent statement by Amnesty International Pakistan states that “In its efforts to curb widespread political and criminal violence, the Government of Pakistan appears ready to contravene fundamental rights” and that “the steps taken by the Government of Pakistan over the past years have seen a steady erosion of fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution”.) We therefore ask the government to withdraw its bill on the 15th Amendment.
Further, we, Franciscans International and the Dominicans, the Commission on the Churches and Interntional Affairs and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, join with the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Justice and Peace Commission, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the inter-religious group “The National Christian-Muslim Coordination Commission” to ask the UN Commission on Human Rights to urge the Government of Pakistan to protect and promote more strongly the legitimate rights of the religious minorities of Pakistan. Specifically the Commission should urge:

  1. That the government of Pakistan abolish the system of separate electorates which is discriminatory in nature and promotes divisions in the society on the basis of religion;
  2. That the government of Pakistan repeal the Blasphemy Laws, especially 295 B, 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code.
  3. That the government of Pakistan take practical and concrete measures to instill values of religious tolerance in society by removing prejudicial parts of the syllabi for education.
  4. That the government of Pakistan discontinue on government controlled media any religiously biased programs that incite to hatred and intolerance.
  5. That the Special Rapporteurs on Religious Intolerance and on the Independence of Judiciary undertake visits to Pakistan at the earliest possible and submit their reports to the Commission.
  6. That for peace and harmony in Pakistan, the government withdraw its Bill to approve Amendment 15 to implement the Sharia Law as the law of the land.
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