Tag Archives: USCIRF

Pakistan's Constitution Must Be Amended To Remove Sectarian Clauses

The murders of over 90 Pakistani citizens last week because of their religious beliefs makes clear that Pakistan’s parliament must amend the Constitution to remove sectarian clauses that in part incite such violence.

Section 260(3) of Pakistan’s constitution defines whom the law considers a Muslim. This is exceedingly important because the constitution restricts certain government offices to Muslims. For example, Section 41(2) requires that the President be “a Muslim of not less than forty-five years of age.”

But more than simply disenfranchising some citizens, the sectarian clauses in the constitution have created second-class citizens of religious minorities, and given fodder for the hateful rhetoric of extremists that encourages such violence as was witnessed last Friday.

In fact, the massacre of the Ahmadis was not the first time that a religious minority has suffered violent attack in recent months. Last August, religious extremists attacked a community of Christians in Gojra, killing many and burning down several dozen homes.

Pakistan’s parliament and President Zardari were quick to condemn the attacks in Gojra and provide funding to compensate victims, but until the government purges the aberrant laws that extremists use to justify these attacks, future violence is all but inevitable.

Cornell doctoral student Basit Riaz Sheikh, agrees. Writing for English-language daily, Express Tribune, Sheikh notes that the sectarian tensions that increasingly flare up today are rooted in the regime of dictator Zia-ul-Haq.

Until 1977, when Bhutto’s government was toppled, Pakistan was free of any major sectarian and ethnic tensions. The ten years of Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorial regime would transform Pakistan from a tolerant society into one marred with ethnic and sectarian divisions and hate-driven politics. He fully crippled the religious freedom of minorities by imposing draconian laws in the name of the Anti-Islamic-Activity Act. Zia vanished, but we continue to pay for his sins.

The remnants of his era, in the shape of many in our media now and others, continue to insinuate hatred against minorities, the West, and all others who disagree with them. It goes beyond my imagination that we let these hate-mongers freely express their extremist sentiments on TV channels under the pretext of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom to spread hate.

To build a stronger and a united Pakistan, we need to cleanse our constitution of the provisions that continue to divide us.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has recognized the Zardari government’s progress in the area of religious freedom in Pakistan, but points out that until discriminatory legislation promulgated by previous administrations is removed, religious minorities will continue to suffer.

The Zardari government has taken some positive steps regarding religious freedom. In November 2008, the government appointed prominent minority-rights advocate Shahbaz Bhatti as Federal Minister for Minorities with cabinet rank. Mr. Bhatti has publicly promised that the Zardari government will review Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and that the government is committed to protecting the rights of minority religious communities, including by implementing a five percent quota for religious minorities in federal government employment. In March 2009, the government appointed a Christian jurist as a judge in the Lahore High Court. It is not yet clear what impact these developments will have on religious freedom, which has been severely violated by successive Pakistani governments in the past. Discriminatory legislation, promulgated in previous decades and persistently enforced, has fostered an atmosphere of religious intolerance and eroded the social and legal status of members of religious minorities, including Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadis, Hindus, and Christians.*

Article 33 of Pakistan’s constitution requires the state to “discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian and provincial prejudices among the citizens.” This vital mission of the government cannot be achieved while sectarian prejudice is codified in the nation’s laws. In order to protect the rights and the safety of all citizens, Pakistan’s Parliament should immediately move to amend the constitution by removing Section 260(3) and other sectarian laws.


*Emphasis added

US Commission on International Religious Freedom Condemns Attack on Ahmadi Community

The US Commission for International Religious Freedom roundly condemned the brutal attack on members of the Ahmadi sect during the Friday prayers in Lahore. The organization released the following statement on Friday:

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, reports indicate that gunmen attacked two mosques belonging to the Ahmadi community in Lahore, Pakistan, during Friday prayers.  The attackers seized worshipers and battled security forces, with scores killed. 

“USCIRF condemns this monstrous act of violence against a peaceful religious community and extends its condolences to the families of the victims,” said USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo.  “This is just one more example of the results of ongoing intimidation, thuggish threats and violence against the Ahmadi community in Pakistan.  The Taliban-associated extremists find cover in the anti-Ahmadi laws in the Constitution, Pakistan’s egregious blasphemy law, and the government’s unwillingness to protect the religious freedoms of this community. The government of Pakistan must take responsibility for changing this situation.” 

“The United States must vigorously press Islamabad to address these religious freedom violations or more violence is sure to follow,” added Leo.  “For starters, the U.S. government must urge for the repeal of the blasphemy law.” 

USCIRF has documented systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion in Pakistan for several years. Sectarian and religiously-motivated violence is chronic, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minorities from such violence and to bring perpetrators to justice. Religiously discriminatory legislation, such as anti-Ahmadi laws and the blasphemy law, foster an atmosphere of intolerance in the country and embolden extremists.  Growing religious extremism threatens the freedoms of expression and religion or belief, as well as other human rights, for everyone in Pakistan, particularly Ahmadis, women, members of other religious minorities, and those in the majority Muslim community who hold views deemed un-Islamic by extremists.  Since 2002, USCIRF has recommended Pakistan be named a “Country of Particular Concern” by the State Department, but the U.S. State Department has not followed that recommendation. 

Ahmadis, who may number between three and four million in Pakistan, are prevented by law from engaging in the full practice of their faith and may face criminal charges for a range of religious practices, including the use of religious terminology  Pakistan’s Constitution declares members of the Ahmadi religious community to be “non-Muslims,” despite their insistence to the contrary.