Pakistan: a nation of minority rights abuses

After Jinnah died, without a national leader who holds the country together and with a shabby state, a vacuum opened up in Pakistan. This void has been filled by civilian and military leaders who, in the absence of a national identity, have since advanced their own competing visions of the state. Religious groups as well as civilian and military governments have sought to repackage Jinnah as an Islamic leader in order to increase the support and legitimacy of Pakistani society and to match their anti-Indian rhetoric. Not only was there an attempt to create a new identity, but there was a concerted effort to downplay and distort Pakistan’s history and Jinnah’s vision. As the New York Times Reported from Islamabad in the 1970s, Islamization and appeals to Islam are “a form of therapy to resolve a long crisis of national identity”.

This “therapy” found its fullest expression in the 1970s under the military rule of General Zia-ul-Haq. General Zia, who came to power after overthrowing Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Murders in 2011 of Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Prime Minister for Minority Affairs, and Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab. Both were fierce opponents of the country’s blasphemy laws, which discriminate against minorities; these laws were enacted during the reign of Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.

Yet it was not simply the passing of laws that would define Pakistan’s identity according to religious criteria. Zia admitted that in order to undermine opposition to his regime by major political parties in Pakistan, he needed the support of the religious far right. He thus embarked on a vast program of Islamization, telling a BBC journalist in an interview in April 1978 that his mission was to “purify and cleanse Pakistan”.

Any assessment of why liberal democracy did not take root in Pakistan cannot go without mentioning the overall role played by the mighty military in Pakistan. Pakistan has been ruled by its powerful army for half of its 69 years. The seeds of democracy in this fragile state have never really had a chance to grow. Unlike its neighbor India, where the army has confined itself to a strictly military role, Pakistani generals have been far too eager to remove elected governments at will, impose martial law and consolidate their own position. . The army, as the strongest and most organized institution after independence, was able to intervene and fill the void.

The invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet army in 1979 helped unpopular dictator Zia ul Haq strengthen his power. Western countries needed a strong military who did not have to listen to any civilian government. During this war from 1979 to 1989, Zia ul Haq received enormous support from the West – financially and militarily. Islamic fighters from all over the world have been invited to take part in the Jihad against the Russian Communists. During this period, Zia introduced Islamic Sharia law and civil society was oppressed in the worst possible way. For the first time in Pakistani history, religious fundamentalists have become influential and powerful – a deadly power they are not ready to give up until today!

Violation of religious freedom

Already under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, religious minorities were political victims. In 1974, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community was declared a non-Muslim minority. Ahmadi Muslims were not allowed to call themselves “Muslims”. It was forbidden to use Islamic expressions such as the Islamic greeting or the call to prayer. Even the expression for “mosque” was not allowed to be used for their place of worship. From now on, any Ahmadi who claims to be a Muslim or expresses his religious feelings should be punished with three to ten years in prison and a fine.

1986, the blasphemy law was introduced by the dictator. This law which targeted Ahmadis is also used today specifically against Christian minorities and critical citizens who dare to speak out against injustice. Anyone who defies the Holy Quran will be punished with life imprisonment. Anyone who uses derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet Muhammad will be sentenced to death.

Changes in the law relating to religious offenses have contributed to an atmosphere of human rights violation and religious intolerance in Pakistan in which violence against members of religious minorities has increased dramatically. Often personal conflicts result in a religious accusation with enormous consequences for the accused. Many times Ahmadis and Christians are killed without a crime and the state ignores the criminal offense. In the Pakistani media, Ahmadis are openly declared that they should be killed.

In his Global Watchlist 2020 report, the international NGO Open Doors listed Pakistan, noting that Christians face “extreme persecution in all areas of their lives, with converts from Islam facing the highest standards.” According to Open Doors, all Christians in the country “are considered second-class citizens, inferior to Muslims.” The NGO said Christians are often given jobs “perceived as low, dirty and dishonorable, and may even be subjected to forced labor.” The NGO also said the country’s Christian girls were increasingly “at risk of being kidnapped and raped, often forced to marry their attackers and coerced into converting to Islam.”

Perpetrators of societal violence and abuse against religious minorities have often suffered no legal consequences due to lack of follow-up by law enforcement, bribes offered by defendants and pressure on victims to drop out of business. Legal experts and NGOs continued to say that the full legal framework for minority rights remains unclear. Members of minority religious communities said there was still inconsistent application of laws protecting minority rights and the application of religious minority protections at the federal and provincial levels by the Department of Law and Justice, Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Human Rights. . Members of the religious minority community also said the government was inconsistent in protecting against discrimination and societal neglect, and that official discrimination against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Ahmadi Muslims persisted to varying degrees. various, Ahmadi Muslims suffering the worst treatment.

Freedom of press

In 2020 Pakistan’s press freedom ranking fell to 145 out of 180 countries in the annual press freedom ranking, an annual ranking of countries published by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), a non-governmental organization. international dedicated to safeguarding the right to freedom of information. Pakistan’s ranking in the world index has been declined for several issues such as murders of journalists, restrictions on media, removal of government advertisements, threats, harassment, violation of independent journalism, detention, l kidnapping and futile prosecution of journalists.

The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, an organization dedicated to protecting journalists, has highlighted Pakistan’s direct and self-censored state-sponsored hostility towards independent journalists working in the country. In recent years (around 2018 or 2019), seven journalists have been killed while fifteen others have been injured in various violent incidents. In Pakistan, sixty journalists have reportedly been charged under the anti-terrorism law. The government, however, cited the problem with the country’s law and order.

Women’s rights

Violence against women and girls, including rape, so-called honor killings, acid attacks, domestic violence and forced marriages, remains a serious problem in Pakistan. Human rights activists have estimated that there are around 1,000 honor killings each year. According to media reports, at least 66 women were murdered in Faisalabad district in 2018, the majority in the name of “honor”.

Women from minority communities remain more vulnerable to abuse; at least 1,000 girls belonging to Christian and Hindu communities were forced to marry Muslim men each year. The government has done little to eradicate these abusive practices.

Lack of a minorities committee

On May 5, 2020, the Pakistani government announced the establishment of a National Commission for Minorities. We can take it as a good gesture. However, this very important initiative has not been seriously considered. Since 1990, this type of ad hoc commission – rather a committee – has been set up on several occasions without any office, staff, proper mandate and rules of operation, and it has remained unable to create a positive impact and deal with issues. rights of minorities. Therefore, minority rights activists in Pakistan have long called for a Minority Rights Commission to be established as a statutory body. The said commission can only have its impact if it is constituted by a legislative process as an independent and autonomous commission and endowed with adequate resources.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on June 19, 2014, in its landmark ruling on minority rights, ordered that “a National Council for Minority Rights be formed. The function of the said Council should be, inter alia, to supervise the practical realization of the rights and guarantees granted to minorities by the Constitution and the law. The Council should also be mandated to formulate policy recommendations for the safeguard and protection of minority rights by the provincial and federal governments ”.

In the spirit of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of international law, the European Green Party (which works for the strengthening of human rights and the construction of a strong and democratic world) and several other international human rights organizations have expressed deep concern at the systematic violation of the rule of law and fundamental human and democratic rights in Pakistan.

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